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This month marks the hundred-year-anniversary of the "re-discovery" of this Inca citadel by Hiram Bingham. Machu Picchu deserves its clichés--'place of a lifetime,' 'bucket-list destination'...'mystical'...'amazing'... Sometimes, it's okay to simply stick with others' adjectives; the thesaurus isn't always a good thing. You're not necessarily an 'unoriginal tourist' just because you agree with scores of published accounts that describe a site the same way. The distinctive trapezoidal windows of Inca construction almost always frame compelling views--the magic of stone. You're in the heart of the Andes; for a moment, stop seeking words. Drink in the view.
One of my favorite places when I visited Peru in April was the famous Lake Titicaca in Puno. At 12,500 feet above sea level and nestled between Peru and Bolivia, Lake Titicaca is the highest commercially navigable lake in the world. The lake has a fascinating history: Incan mythology cites it as the place from which the rest of the world emerged. On any trip to Peru a visit to Lake Titicaca is a must-do, and make sure to wake up early enough one morning to catch a beautiful sunrise over the lake.
Although we wanted to hike the Inca Trail we didn't have the time. At first we were disappointed, but when we were able to get to Machu Picchu before all of the hikers arrived we felt a little better about our decision not to do it. If you are unable to hike, for whatever reason, take advantage of getting to the site as early as possible. It was great to have the place basically to ourselves for a little while.
This store is just a little ways off the main street of the San Blas arts district in Cusco, but definitely worth the diversion. Inside, funky, modern jewelry and handbags are mixed with neatly hung vintage dresses, shirts, and jackets. The walls are covered with artistically placed magazine pages that reflect the style of the wares for sale. It's one of those stores where you go in thinking "oh I could get a souvenir here" and end up buying one or more of the beautiful bobbles for yourself.
We were among the first 50 or so people into Machu Picchu in the morning and the fog completely set the scene. It really made you feel like you were in a lost city and helped you understand how it could have been lost for so long.
This place intrigues me to this day. I still wonder if the mystery will ever be solved. Why did the Incas leave this city? Why build it on top of a mountain? How did they come up with an elaborate way of building this city without a written language? The trip to Lima > Peru > Aguas Calientes is a journey itself. This is definitely my top recommendation for anyone looking for an adventure!
On the way from Arequipa to the Colca Canyon, the road traverses the altiplano--an average of 4000 m/12000 ft above sea level. Wild vicuña and their domesticated llama cousins kept us company in the thin air, with snowcapped volcanoes on the bright, cold horizon. To know who belongs to whom, the Quechua-speaking herders adorn their llamas with red-yarn 'earrings.' Vicuña wool, once the exclusive property of Inca royalty, is gathered only once every few years; each animal produces only about a pound of wool a year. A few decades ago, only a few thousand were left in the wild; fortunately, they've recovered and still thrive on the Andean plateaus.
The route to Machu Picchu has gotten smoother, thanks to two hotels outside Cuzco. Aranwa Sacred Valley Hotel and Wellness resort is built on a 17th century hacienda and has one of Peru’s largest spas. Treatments feature coca leaves and camu camu, a fruit from the Amazon. To prepare for a trek, check into the Hotel Rio Sagrado and book an altitude acclimatizer massage at Spa Mayu Wilka. Photo courtesy of Aranwa Hotels. This appeared in the June/July 2013 issue.
When you're in Cuzco, one of the best ways to spend a day is to visit the picturesque Andean village of Pisac, especially on a Sunday when the town holds its weekly farmer's market. Villagers from miles around travel to the Sunday market to barter and sell their produce and handmade goods, everything from fresh vegetables and pungent cheeses to colorful dyes and handmade alpaca goods. You can also enjoy delicious snacks like this freshly-baked bread that's so hot it burns your fingers, and it tastes even better than it looks. The easiest way to get to the Pisac Sunday market is to hire a taxi in Cuzco, which costs around $15 each way; those on a budget can take the local bus for only $2 each way. The road to Pisac travels through the Andes and looks out over the beautiful Urubamba Valley, so make sure to stop along the way for a birdseye view of the region's fertile farmlands surrounded by the glorious Andes mountains.
We made it to camp after a really long day of hiking. Our guide asked if wanted to be in awe a bit more that day. We obviously wanted to! We trekked through the camp and a little out of the way to arrive at the amazing Winay Wayna. It ended up being one of my favorite sites on the trip. Over looking the river and lush mountains. You feel at peace in the silence at Winay Wayna. Away from the world.
The town of Ica is just a few hours south of Lima, and 10 minutes from Ica is the true oasis of Huacachina... Jump on a bus from Lima, which are quite luxurious these days, or get onto a group trip in a combi (mini-bus) from an outfitter. You'll arrive in Huacachina and see this green hued lagoon with palm trees and small sleepy buildings. It is right out of the Lawrence of Arabia scenario, and the gigantic dunes all around simply seduce you to climb, climb, climb the dune summits, which afford you views of the never ending desert sand in every direction.. If you can see a sunset or sunrise, do try as it is one of the best memories of my South American travels! After you get over all the awe, strap a san board to your feet and barrel down the dunes with the wind blowing your hair back..... You can rent boards in Huacachina and enjoy simple fare lunch/dinners at the small cafes and restaurants. Also a handful of simple hostals here if you want to stay a couple days and soak up the desert...
In the San Blas district of Peru, was the restaurant Pachapapa. This was by far the best meal we had in Peru. It was nestled in a courtyard and all the dishes were prepared in an oven next to us. Quite spectacular. DELICIOUS!
Lima's Larco Museum showcases remarkable chronological galleries providing an excellent overview on 3000 years of development of Peruvian pre-Columbian history. Located in a beautiful 18th century mansion built over a 7th century pre-Columbian pyramid, it is surrounded by beautiful gardens including some incredible cactus. The museum feature wonderful collections from Ancient Peru and the famous erotic archaeological collection, one of the most visited Peruvian tourist attractions. Some will make you giggle.
Lake Titicaca is the largest navigable lake in the world. It's worth taking advantage of it's navigability to find your way onto a boat to Isla Taquile from Puno. The island is inhabited by a cooperative society of people who welcome travelers to their terraced island where they grow several varieties of potatoes and corn. Climb to the top to one the many restaurants built upon these terraces and enjoy a lunch overlooking the expanse of Lake Titicaca.
By Mariana TschudiEveryone in Lima knows Canta Rana—some consider it the best cevichería in the city. The owners’ son has a spot in the main market called Canta Ranita where the ceviche is just as good, and even though it’s a stall, the place has tons more personality. I especially like their sudado [a fish dish made with lime and tomatoes]. Mercado el Capullo, Jr. Unión 147. Photo by David Nicolas Giraldo. This appeared in the July/August 2012 issue.
La Casona by Inkaterra in Cusco, Peru is so gorgeously, sumptuously decorated it's hard not to be constantly wowed and counting your lucky stars for being on premises. Rooms are exquisite: velvet couches and chairs, a table by a window looking out onto the little plaza, truly over-the-top stone and marble bathrooms. Very expensive (like $500+) but worth it.
Last year when visiting Peru's beautiful Lake Titicaca, my husband and I went back and forth about whether to visit the lake's famous Uros Floating Islands. We'd received mixed reviews from travelers who'd already visited the islands. Ultimately we decided to give it a shot and hired a private boat for the trip to the islands as it didn't cost much more than a group boat and the owner catered more to our schedule and interests. Our decision to visit the Uros Floating Islands was one of the best we made during our trip. Aside from learning about the Uros people's fascinating culture, one of the young Uros men, seeing how interested we were in learning about how the Uros live on their reed islands, treated us to a really special experience - a ride in his traditional reed boat! When visiting Lake Titicaca, I definitely would suggest that you visit the Uros Floating Islands for a glimpse at a life lived literally on a lake. It was unlike anything I'd seen before or since.
This natural rock formation has been giving people thrills for centuries, and when you visit Sacsayhuamán, you can help keep it polished to a high shine by taking a slide yourself. A hard-won note, however: don't try to slow yourself down by using your hands. Doing so may cause you to catch a fingernail in a fissure and rip it pretty much off. Use your heels instead.
It's hard to predict the weather of Andean afternoons in Cusco, Peru. The skies were capable of rapid change- clouds suddenly split open to allow for cascading bursts of bright light, then just as quickly seal back together to encompass the Plaza de Armas in a somber shade. This church, on the Southeastern side of the Plaza de Armas, Cusco's town square, is often mistaken for the city's main cathedral, due to its ornate architecture and twin bell towers. With the clouds encircling the spires, it can be a cause for pause for believers and non-believers alike, as it invites the curious traveler to enter. What awaits inside are layers of artistic and architectural influence left by the Spanish conquistadors and intertwined with the native Indo-Andean cultures, creating a unique religious decor as host to Catholic services. Beware, by the time you re-enter the square the skies will surely have shifted.
Cap your trip to Machu Picchu with a pisco sour on the Orient-Express train ride back to Cuzco. After boarding this luxury train for dinner and the return journey, everyone meets in the bar car for a drink. Live music, the rocking of the train, and the excitement from just experiencing Machu Picchu is a buzz to remember. Soon all the passengers are dancing as they travel through the steep mountainsides under the stars. —Lauren Maggard This appeared in the August/September 2013 issue. Image: courtesy of Orient-Express
After four days on the Inka Trail our reward was Machu Picchu at sunrise through the sungate. Took this shot a bit later as clouds rolled in. The hike and the breathtaking experience of seeing Machu Picchu at dawn were well worth it. The trip of a lifetime indeed!
After a night in Lima, we flew to Cusco and headed directly to Willka T’ika outside Urubamba in the Sacred Valley. It’s a couple thousand feet lower than Cusco — and a terrific base for exploring the region. Tile-roofed cottages are set amidst carefully tended gardens, with much of the food grown at the lodge.
A homestay where you you can stay, relax, and live with the nature and the people of the floating islands of Uros - Lago titicaca - Puno - Peru
Larcomar houses spectacular views of the Peruvian coast. Nestled atop Miraflores, this high-rise park and shopping mall is a great place to people watch and sip a coffee - a relaxing departure during your time spent in Lima.
I hired a taxi driver to explore Awana Kancha's Museum of Life in the Andes. It was a great way to experience the living arts of the local people. The first stop was to meet the lively animals that graciously provide the fibers for the fabric. The best part was, that unlike a zoo, you interact with all of the animals and even convince them to pose for the camera with a little bit of fresh feed. I saw alpacas, llamas and the rare vicunas along the pathway before moving on to learn about the natural procuring, dying and weaving processes of many of their textile traditions.
Trek through the Andes to the 15th-century Incan ruins of Machu Picchu on the lesser-traveled Salkantay Trail. Four luxurious lodges—three with outdoor hot tubs at the foot of craggy peaks, the last in a lush avocado orchard—will serve as your accommodations. At the first, Salkantay Lodge, men from the Quero area give offerings to Pachamama (Mother Earth) to ensure your safe passage. Along the 39-mile guided hike, you pass icefalls and glacial lakes, climb up mountain passes circled by Andean condors, and walk through coffee plantations and orchid-filled forests. Then, from the Incan archaeological site of Llactapata, you’ll spot mystical Machu Picchu in the distance. —Kelly Lack Mountain Lodges of Peru, (877) 491-5261. From $2,560 for a seven-day trip, including meals and lodging. This appeared in the July/August 2011 issue. Photo by Alex E Priomos. See more hut-to-hut hikes.
The legendary Pisac Marketplace on Sundays. Just a short taxi ride from Cusco, this place is filled with everything you can imagine. It is split into two areas, one being the art, textiles & souvenirs, and the other side being a food market where the locals bring their produce to sell/trade. There are vendors who serve boiled or fried corn with seasoning, which is excellent! Don't be surprised to see a cow head sitting next to a bowl full of fresh fish. You can easily walk away from this place with all of the gifts you would want to bring home for your loved ones. After visiting the market, check out the ruins of the old fortress & terraces which overlook the town.
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