Peru - Machu Picchu and Posada Amazonas
Land Based Adventures
The ancient Incan site known to the world as Machu Picchu is nestled high in an Andean Cloud Forest, and derives its name from the peak it sits upon which translates to "Old Mountain." And while Machu Picchu is undoubtedly one of the most amazing cultural and historical sites on this earth, it is important to not overlook the entire Incan and native Peruvian society from which it was created.
Our journey began upon a late evening arrival and overnight in Lima, followed by an early morning flight to the ancient Incan capital of Cusco in the Andean mountains. Situated at over 11,000 feet, the stone buildings of Cusco dotted the valley and foothills of the surrounding mountains as our plane swept through a jewel blue sky. We were met by our tour representatives and transferred by van up and over the foothills and down into the Sacred Valley to our first stop the ruins of Pisaq. There are two sections to this ruin--one is more fortress-like and the other seemed more devoted to living and worshipping. Pisaq was relatively small, but the intricate stonework and stunning views were well worth a visit. A young Peruvian man in traditional textiles quietly played the reed pipes, and we left P’isaq with a haunting melody echoing over the stone walls.
Next, we drove to our charming hotel, Willka T’ika (Sacred Flower), to drop off our belongings before heading out for an excellent lunch at a hacienda overlooking the Urubamba River. After lunch, we explored the magnificent ruins of Ollyantaymbo. Ollyantaymbo itself is one of the most picturesque and oldest Incan towns in all of South America, with ancient fountains, canals and streets known as "calles." Reaching hundreds of feet into the mountainside, the fortress is impressive; not only for its fortifications and fountains, but for the steep terraced fields that no doubt supplied and nourished this stronghold of Incan warriors and craftspeople. Watching the golden light set over these ruins was the perfect end to our first day.
Back at Willka T’ika, we enjoyed an abundant and fresh vegetarian meal followed by a hot soak under the stars in our very own herbal flower bath!
Our next day brought more beautiful weather and one of the loveliest drives of my life through endless hills and fields of quinoa, potatoes, and lush grass dotted with sheep to the village of Chinchero. There, Nilda, a woman who has worked tirelessly to revive the ancient tradition of hand spinning, dyeing and weaving, greeted us. The women and girls demonstrated this intricate task and treated us to a typical snack of fresh corn cakes, potatoes and coca tea.
We chose to relax in the afternoon and enjoyed the sunlight in the lush gardens of our hotel, Wilka T’ika, which we were sorry to leave the next morning! But the lure of Machu Picchu had us up at 6am, and waiting for the train at the platform at Ollyantaytambo.
The journey by rail to the ancient site follows the Urubamba River and the foot trail to Machu Picchu, offering stunning views of the Andean peaks. Upon arrival to Aguas Caliente we took the shuttle bus to Machu Picchu winding up the mountainside through cloud forest dappled with sunlight and dissipating clouds. Once there, we practically raced to the gates for our first glimpse of the ruins--a jewel nestled in the bowl of surrounding peaks. Several postcard-worthy photos later, we climbed up to the watchtower, and then enjoyed a short walk along the trail connecting Machu Picchu with another Inca fortress where we viewed the famous Inca Bridge. Our guide regaled us with the histories, myths and theories surrounding the citadel before officially entering the ruins. Ambling around the temples, dwellings, terraced plots and open areas of Machu Picchu, we were impressed with the intricate stonework and the solidity of these buildings, which have stood the test of time. No pictures or descriptions do the sheer scope and majesty of the site justice and I feel privileged to have seen it with my own eyes. After several hours of exploration and a fantastic lunch at the Sanctuary we chose to re-enter the ruins to catch the golden afternoon light and the uncrowded sunset hour.
A return down the mountain took us to the Pueblo Resort one of the best resort hotels I've been to- set amidst forest and gardens this attractive collection of casitas, bungalows and villas overlooks the river and is home to a variety of birds, plants and orchids. We very much enjoyed our cozy room with its fireplace and we took advantage of the massage and Andean sauna offered by the nearby spa and a guided walk through the grounds.
After a pleasant morning exploring the town of Aguas Caliente, we reluctantly said our farewells to Machu Picchu and headed back by train to Cusco to explore the churches, plazas, and shops of this ancient Incan capital. Our room at the spectacular Monasterio, formerly a monastery housing monks and priests, was an absolute delight.
Strategically repacking our bags, we took a short flight to Puerto Maldonado and marveled at the seemingly endless broccoli-like hectares of Amazonian rainforest. Welcomed by a hot and steamy tropical jungle, we were then transferred by bus and two hours by motorized canoe to Refugio Amazonas, a new lodge located alongside the Tambopata River and National Park. Our days here and at Posadas Amazonas Lodge were just incredibly fascinating and so much fun! Slogging through the mud on the trails was worth every effort to see giant river otters on a beautiful oxbow lake, caiman at night, or colorful (and noisy!) macaws at the clay lick, not to mention the awe-inspiring views from the canopy tower! We learned a tremendous amount about local life on the river and at the farms and nearby botanical centers. Our indigenous private guide was a master at spotting monkeys in the trees, clouds of beautiful butterflies, and even a fuzzy and harmless tarantula! I will never forget the extraordinary sounds of night settling over the lamp-lit lodge: a raucous symphony of bird calls, insects and distant monkeys.
As we left the Amazon by canoe, our stunningly clear sky streak was broken with a sudden furious rainfall that lasted about two hours--and we enjoyed every dramatic second of it! Back in Cusco, we were struck once again by the rolling red hills, beautiful Colonial buildings and ancient Incan stonework. Our last evening was celebrated with great food, wine, and, of course, a long hot shower!
Peru--its people, history, culture and incredible landscapes--will stay with me forever... Truly a travel dream come true!