An epic mini-adventure in Peru
Peru is rich in culture, breathtaking scenery and sightseeing opportunities, including the pinnacle of most trips, Machu Picchu. And with scenic rail journeys and plenty of internal flights, it can easily be explored as LuxuryBARED reviewer, Andrea Burns, discovered.
The words of Jon Bon Jovi, “Gonna live while I’m alive. I’ll sleep when I’m dead”, kept running through my head on my ‘epic mini-adventure’ in Peru. I call it that as I was only there four days, but with some early starts and an action-packed itinerary, it felt like a lot longer.
If a visit to Machu Picchu is on your bucket list, don’t hesitate. It’s easily undertaken in the average holiday time of two weeks or even less. It’s also quite fashionable, I discovered, as it turns out I was following in the famous footsteps of Cameron Diaz, Leonardo DiCaprio and Lucy Liu, to name a few. I started my adventure at the Country Club Lima Hotel, where it’s worth spending a couple of days getting to know the town and its highlights, including the main square, the Museum of Art of Lima and the Casa de Aliaga – an exquisite Spanish colonial house dating from 1535.
From Lima I flew to Cusco – a flight of 1 hour 15 minutes. Not wanting to get altitude sickness while there (at 3,400m), I took the advice of newly found Peruvian friends and ate light, breathed deeply, sucked sweets (easy!) and drank the local coca tea – it worked for me. A guided tour of the city included the Inca site of Saqsaywaman and the pretty main square, followed by an excellent lunch of local river fish at Map Cafe.
From Cusco I travelled by road (about 1 hour 45 minutes) through the Andes, passing some of the most stunning scenery I’ve ever seen: meadows, valleys, mountains – some snow-capped. Villagers were dressed in traditional ponchos and chullos, while some of the houses bore flags: white indicating that bread was for sale and red for chicha (alcohol made from fermented corn).
I then caught the train from Ollantaytambo – a pleasant spot to sit with a drink in the town square and watch locals go about their business. Pet-lovers be warned, guinea pig appears on the menu in cafes here. As the train (which took about 1 hour 30 minutes) passed through the Urubamba Valley, also named the Sacred Valley by the Incas (because it mirrored the Milky Way, which they held in high regard), I couldn’t take my eyes off the scenery.
On arriving at Aguas Calientes – the town of Machu Picchu – at the edge of the jungle where the mighty Vilcanota River roars, I checked in at the Sumaq Hotel Machu Picchu. There’s plenty to do at the hotel, including the ritual of the payment to Mother Earth, a traditional dining experience where lunch is cooked underground, and pisco sour-making lessons. For souvenirs such as pashminas, alpaca toys, slippers and tapestries, there’s the market. Stalls are quite repetitive, but negotiating on price (perfectly acceptable) can get you a good deal.
The only way up to the entrance of Machu Picchu is by bus – the first one leaves at 5.30am and the last one back is at 5.30pm. It took 25 minutes to climb the winding road up the mountain and there were incredible views back down the valley to the river. A word of advice: don’t sit on the right going up (or vice versa) if sheer drops make you queasy! On the way in, I stamped my own passport, which was novel. It must be shown, along with your ticket as only 2,500 visitors per day are permitted. At an altitude of 2,430m, I was up in the clouds and mist, although it did clear and the anticipated ‘wow’ view was revealed. It was this that I’d come for, the iconic panorama that is instantly recognisable.
My knowledgeable guide showed me the main sites of this Inca citadel, including the Temple of the Sun, while regaling me with fascinating stories, such as the one about the two families found living here when Yale professor Hiram Bingham discovered the site in 1911; the theories surrounding human sacrifice; and the shocking tale about the royal visit by helicopter in the 1980s that left part of the site irreparable. Thankfully, Machu Picchu is now protected by Unesco World Heritage Site status and so loved that it was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in a global internet poll.
Even though ‘I’ve done Machu Picchu’, I’d love to revisit. Hopefully next time as part of a tour including Peru’s Nazca Lines, Lake Titicaca, the Colca Canyon and maybe even the Amazon. Quite simply, the scenery, the experiences and the super-friendly people left me wanting more.
- The currency is Peruvian Soles, which you have to pre-order. US dollars are accepted in a lot of places
- Sunday is a good day for a bus tour of Lima as there is less traffic
- Request a forward-facing seat on the left-hand side of the train to Machu Picchu for the best views of the Sacred Valley
- Stay two nights in Machu Picchu; if you arrive on a very cloudy day, you can make a second attempt the next day
- Artefacts discovered at Machu Picchu are on show at La Casa Concha (The Shell House) in Cusco
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