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Peru: A Great Experience for Historians, Nature Lovers, and Everyone Else

by: McKenna Williamson

McKenna Williamson is a senior studying history at WVU. She went on the semester abroad to Peru during May 2017. She plans to attend law school after finishing her degree at WVU.


In May 2017, I had the opportunity to join a study abroad to Peru, “Latin American Studies In Peru,” with Dr. Michele Stephens and a group of 12 other students.  The study  abroad program focused on Peruvian culture and history and participants came from a variety of majors, but I joined the trip as an opportunity to practice my Spanish and learn about Latin American culture at the same time.  We spent a week in the capital city of Lima, where we explored the beautiful seaside Miraflores District and the historic downtown district with amazing colonial architecture.  My favorite part was our tour of the Monastery of San Francisco, which was completed in 1674.  I enjoyed the rich history of the building and its Spanish architecture.  It made the history of the colonial period come alive.  Here, we toured the chapel, the convent, and the catacombs.  


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After a week in Lima, we spent another week in the Andes, travelling between Cuzco, Ollantaytambo, Machu Picchu, and Puno.  We spent a night in Cuzco, which was the capital of the Incan empire before the Spanish arrival.  We toured Incan ruins, such as Sacsayhuamán, a citadel in the capital city of the Incas that was built over a thousand years ago, and learned about their society, particularly their social order and religious practices.  The large plaza pictured was used for ceremonies, and the walls behind it served as defenses in many battles.  


From Cuzco, we traveled through the Sacred Valley of the Incas to the town of Ollantaytambo, where we were able to enjoy the beauty of the Sacred Valley on hikes to hidden Incan ruins.  Because of the way they were built, the buildings were largely in tact, and we could easily imagine how they looked five hundred years ago.

From Ollantaytambo, we took a train to Machu Picchu.  Machu Picchu is the famous “Lost City of the Incas” because after the fall of the Inca Empire, it was not rediscovered until 1911.  We learned that the Inca Empire imported men from all over the empire to aid the construction of Machu Picchu, which illustrated the complexity of the Incan Empire.  Although it’s exact purpose is unknown, our tour guide emphasized the religious significance of Machu Picchu.  Machu Picchu is far more amazing than it seems in pictures.  Most pictures are taken from above so that it just seems like a few small buildings, but it is actually an entire city with very complex infrastructure, including religious centers for ceremonies (including human sacrifice) and a self-sustaining system of water transportation that began at the top of the mountain and flowed downward.  The social hierarchy of the city was apparent because the higher classes lived at the top of the mountain so that they got the cleanest water. 


After Machu Picchu, we traveled to the city of Puno, where we visited the Floating Islands, which are artificial islands created by indigenous people to evade the Spanish conquistadores.  We spent the night on Amantani Island with indigenous families in the middle of Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake.

This was an amazing trip to go on.  I learned about Peruvian culture and history while experiencing a country that is unforgettable.  Dr. Stephens is taking students on this trip again, May 15-27, 2018, and her knowledge of Latin American history and culture made the trip a great educational experience.  I highly recommend this trip to everyone; it was a once in a lifetime experience!  There is a plethora of aid out there to help cover the cost, such as the Eberly College’s Academic Enrichment Program and departmental scholarships through the Department of World Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics.

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