The next leg of Jo Kessel and her son’s journey saw the explorers take to the air, flying over the Andes to the vibrant region of Cusco.
To acclimatise to the high altitude we stayed a night in the nearby Sacred Valley of the Incas (which is en route to Machu Picchu) in what can only be described as a dream hotel, Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba. Not only is its elevated Andean setting spectacular, but so are the hotel’s interiors – think log fires and leather sofas draped with Peruvian rugs and cushions. The traditional farmhouse style Hacienda plays home to an organic plantation, where guests of Inkaterra can immerse themselves in the local farming community, harvesting their own produce through the ‘Earth to Table‘ initiative.
The next morning we breakfasted on sensational Quinoa pancakes and afterwards a guide from our tour operator Aracari drove us to Ollantaytambo, where we boarded a train which took us to the town of Machu Picchu Pueblo (commonly named Aguas Calientes for its hot springs), the gateway to Machu Picchu.
We dropped our bags off at our hotel (more of that later) and wasted no time in heading up to the ruins of the ancient citadel, otherwise known as the lost Incan City.
Sometimes when you’ve dreamed of something for so long, when it actually happens it can be an anti-climax. Seeing Machu Picchu for the first time, however, was everything I hoped it would be. The magnificence and the improbability of such an advanced city like this being built six hundred years ago at the top of a jagged mountain 2,400 meters high, took our breath away.
The Incans were geniuses, building walls without cement, which endured several centuries and earthquakes. Our guide told us how they worshiped the mountains and sacrificed girls as young as fourteen. Llamas roam free around the ruins and Gabriel had great fun trying to take selfies with them. Needless to say, the llamas did not behave!
From finding out about how the Incas were the only “big” tribe (Greeks, Egyptians etc…) who didn’t use cement to make their buildings, to attempting to take a selfie with a llama (I got one in the end), everything about it was amazing. And then the next day we climbed over 600m to get to the top of Machu Picchu Mountain – everyone else was panting! All the accommodation was great, and in the end NOBODY GOT ILL, which definitely proved the quality of everything at the Inkaterra Hotels.
The next day our breath was taken away quite literally…on a hike from the ruins of the citadel up to the summit of Machu Picchu Mountain, climbing the original steps carved out of the rock by the Incans. It took two hours (less to get down) but the on-top-of-the world view was worth every ounce of effort.
My only regret was not to have longer to enjoy all there was on offer at our final Inkaterra hotel, Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel. It was set in a glorious cloud forest, with its own orchid garden (home to 372 species of orchid), bear sanctuary (they rescue the endangered spectacled Andean bears of Paddington Bear fame) and tea plantation. Guests enjoying the Inkaterra bird watching itinerary at Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel have the opportunity to discover many of the 814 bird species registered within the Inkaterra properties. These include the iconic Cock-of-the-Rock, the Andean Mot Mot, the Golden Quetzal, Hummingbirds (18 species), migrating birds and many endemic species, which represent 93% of the total of bird species registered in Costa Rica.
Oh well, it just gives us a great excuse to go back again…very soon!
Overall I would have to say that this was one of the best ever holidays I have been on and I hope to come back to do the Inca trail ASAP!!!