May 26, 2017 | By Rosie Holliday
I recently returned from a trip to Peru, where I was able to visit the iconic Machu Picchu. It was nothing short of fabulous. It really does live up to expectations.
The train ride getting there is a blast, but you have to choose the right train. The train we took to Machu Picchu from Ollantaytambo was with Inca Rail and included lunch, not to mention musicians. Great fun! The Belmond train would be the one to take us back, as they offer a wonderful dinner and entertainment. Not a good idea to drink too much before spending the day at Machu Picchu!
The drive from Aguas Calientes up to Machu Picchu takes about half an hour with breathtaking views down the sides of the mountain. Don’t forget your passport as it has to be shown before boarding the bus and before entering the grounds.
UNESCO-protected Machu Picchu is limited to 3,000 people a day and to climb Huaya Picchu you have to pre-book, as it’s limited to 400 people. There are two climbing’s a day. A lot of people seem to think they should stay at the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge right at Machu Picchu, however, food for thought: rooms are small, it’s crowded during the day as the bus drops everyone off at its front door, and if you do want to get up and see the sunrise before anyone else, you need to line up to get into Machu Picchu by 5:45am to beat the 6am bus from Aguas Caliente. Some very limited views from the hotel.
I was pleasantly surprised by Aguas Caliente, it had a very border town/trekking feel to it with gorgeous views all around and at least two lovely hotels. It is an expensive town as everything has to come from Cuzco or elsewhere. We stayed at Sumaq which means beautiful in Quechua and had a wonderful stay hosted by the very gracious Anibal Clavijo, with an incomparable meal that one person said rivaled a Michelin star restaurant. I can only concur!
The Inca trail which everyone asks about is a 3 night/4 day trek and has to be booked 6-7 months in advance. Porters carry supplies as donkeys are not allowed, as they can damage the trail. You pass through about 8 Incan sites and it is closed in February. The Salkantay Trail has more landscapes and no Incan sites.
We checked out the Inkaterra, which is also a great choice and took the train back to Ollantaytambo and then the bus to Cusco going up in elevation from 900 ft to 11,000 ft.
For those who may have trouble adjusting to the altitude, coca tea and leaves are readily available and the reason to start your trip in the Scared Valley then Machu Picchu is for this reason: to gradually acclimate.
Fun tip, there are over 100 different designs of hats in Peru! Each community has their own design and they started originally to hide the shapes of their heads from the Spaniards, who were fond of killing the Incan people. Also, single ladies in the Sacred Valley can be distinguished by their bright clothing.
Cusco is much bigger than one would think as it has a population of half million people which is down from the 10-12 million in Inca times. Cuzco was the capital of the Incan Empire and means the “navel of the world” in Quechua.
A delightful surprise was the excursion to Moray an old colonial town whose people own and mine the Maras Salt mines. 5,000 salt pools divided among 289 families. A bag of salt here can cost you three soles which is about $1 and the same at the airport could be $30!
The ingenuity of these Incan people is mind-boggling. Moray had an agricultural experimental center growing different crops at different levels and then telling people the best elevation to grow those specific crops. Incredible!
We stayed at the Belmond Palacio Nazarenes Hotel which was just spectacular. In the same square is Plaza Las Nazarenas which we also looked at as well as the La Casona Inkaterra hotel which was originally a 16 C Manor house with 11 rooms that had a very intimate feel. The Belmond Monasterio also a very historic and lovely hotel had the ability to have oxygen pumped into 80 of the 123 rooms. Incidentally all hotels keep a supply of oxygen on hand.
The Palacio del Inka on Santo Domingo Square was a beautiful hotel, but was a bit difficult to negotiate and specifying the right room type would be crucial.
This was an exciting trip to Peru and I look forward to when I can go back to explore more of this amazing destination.