When I was asked to write about Peru and Inkaterra’s involvement in the country’s quest for promotional eco-tourism and a more sustainable existence, my mind was overrun with visions of the Inca trail. All the ruins and imagery of Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley and those gruesome Inkan sacrifices (but then, maybe, I just watch too many films?).
Anyway, I don’t want to go over old ground and advise you through the tourist check-list. You’ve seen all that in guidebooks, brochures and postcards. I initially came to look at the crumbling architecture in Sacsayhuaman and Koricancha, and, of course, Machu Picchu – one of the New 7 Wonders. And, yes, it is an impressive tick off the bucket list, especially in the mist and the chill of early-morning, when the treasure hunters and gangs of tourists are still in bed carrying the pains of last night’s Pisco Sour overdose.
What you should do is spend time in Cusco in the southern Sierras – capital of the Inca Empire. Sit in one of the many beautiful squares and drink coca tea, watch the astonishing life of the city unfold. You should light a candle in the Cathedral Basilica and try on alpaca socks in the gift shops.
Stop and watch the street-performers juggle. Listen to the schoolboys who play their wooden sikus. Smile at the wrinkly grandmas who lean against the old walls of the Hatunrumiyoc Palace cradling lambs and dressing guinea pigs in colourful, miniature clothing. You should drink chicha in small plastic bags from the night-time street-vendors and eat skewers of pink, plump chicken hearts.
Visit the Museo del Sitio del KQoricancha and see the display of mummies, their skulls modified by Incas with hammered holes in their foreheads. Take a guided tour of the Sun Temple, the central site of worship for the Incas; and attend as many of the Inkaterra excursions as possible.
During my stay at Inkaterra La Casona located near in the San Blas Bohemian district of Cusco, an impromptu band of locals strike-up outside my room on the one night when I’m experiencing the sickness of being at 11,152 ft. They banged their drums and rang their bells and whistled through Andean panpipes. You should make time for these jolly jamborees, listen to the songs and watch the indigenous population who keep alive these ancient traditions.
In the heart of the Sacred Valley of the Incas, Inkaterra recently opened Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba. Here you can walk among their Ecological Farm and pick at the medicinal plants and native foods of the region. A night expedition takes you across the peaks that encompass the Valley, walking with oil-lamps and listening to ghost stories and tales of Supay, ruler of the Incan Underworld.
You should also try, as I did, the local guinea pig. Don’t balk at the idea. It really is rather good. A fatty and tasty critter, with skin like Cantonese duck. Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba havehas a first-rate restaurant with a few different guinea pig options. Be brave and sample the local fare.
Take in all of the history, but find time to relax, too. Consider the train over the bus. The Inca Rail Princess train to Machu Picchu from Cusco – stopping at Ollantaytambo – is the ultimate in rail luxury. And book massages at all of the Inkaterra properties. They left me floppy-limbed and jelly-legged.
Inkaterra Reserva Amazónica is the original Inkaterra lodge. Opening to the public in 19765, it’s slap-bang in the Amazon rainforest of Southern Peru and only reachable by boat, offering guests an unrivalled experience of jungle life. Make sure you stay here. It’s unlike any lodge I’ve stayed at before.
There are numerous expeditions available at Inkaterra Reserva Amazónica, a service now synonymous with the Inkaterra package, as well as a 344-metre long canopy walk, some 29 metres high above the jungle. Brave it. Do it. Look up. Then climb up and be rewarded with astonishing views of the most famous rainforest in the world.
Finally, remember to pack pints of deadly insect repellent. And keep your eyes peeled for the carnivorous vampire bats.
A guest post by David J Constable