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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Peru.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Peru.
The Urubamba River curves through Peru’s Sacred Valley, eddying and splashing toward Machu Picchu. Tourists seem to follow its momentum. They touch down in Cusco and hurtle through the Sacred Valley to get to that Inca citadel in the sky. Beyond a token stop at an alpaca farm or a weaving workshop, the valley rarely gets more than a passing night’s stay. Anywhere else, this fertile land of quinoa, sweet potato, and purple corn would be the main attraction. Here, ignored by most tourists, Quechua farmers tend their crops amid Inca ruins, 16th-century Spanish churches, and mountains said to embody the spirits of ancestors.
Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba, a National Geographic Unique Lodge, celebrates this often overlooked region. Lodge owners Jose Koechlin and Denise Guislain-Koechlin combined Inca-inspired masonry with Spanish colonial architecture, commissioned locals to weave textiles, and worked with area farmers to plant a 10-acre organic garden filled with native species such as golden berries and tree tomatoes. Guests go biking in the valley; learn to make chicha, or corn beer, on site; or follow a naturalist on a lantern-lit hike. And on their return to the lodge, Alfredo Quispetupa concocts a glorious pisco sour at the hacienda bar as the sun sets on the Andes.
Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba offers 36 rooms and suites with panoramic views. Naturalists provide information on lodge conservation projects, including Inkaterra Asociacion, which helps protect the biodiversity and local communities of the Peruvian Andes.
The glorious Choco: Just an hour from Quitos urban core, lies a land of birds, bears and astounding biodiversity…
The cloud forests that drape the rolling mountainsides to the northwest of Quito’s Metropolitan District hold record-breaking biological diversity. An enigmatic world covered in mist where thousands of tree, plant and orchid species abound and unfathomable bird variety thrives. Many municipal, state-run reserves and private conservation projects harbor excellent opportunities for adventures in nature, and a range of accommodation options for all budgets.
Quito is one of the most megadiverse cities on our planet in terms of bird species: a world bird capital, home to an unparalleled variety. Countless bird-lovers have turned Ecuador’s capital into one of the highest-ranking bucket-list destinations in the world.
The Andean Spectacled Bear, the only South American bear, is one of the Quito region’s most emblematic creatures. It’s amazing to think that over 45 bears live in the wild just 2 hours from the city. The city’s Andean Bear Conservation Program aims to consolidate a corridor for bears, through research, monitoring, education, communication and sustainable management.
Although elusive, several conservation projects exist that allow visitors the opportunity to spot bears in the wild, or at least see them through the images captured by dozens of camera traps.
The “Lost City of the Inca” is one of the most spectacular archeological sites in the world. Perched high on a saddle between two peaks, surrounded by thick jungle and often shrouded in cloud, it is almost invisible from below. A compact site of just 5 sq miles (13 sq km), it was built in 1460 by the Incan ruler Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui. Although frequently referred to as a city, it was more of a royal retreat for the Inca aristocracy. About 1,000 people inhabited the area and they were completely self-sufficient, being surrounded by agricultural terraces and watered by natural springs. Even at the time, few people outside the closed Inca community were aware of Machu Picchu’s existence.
The people who built Machu Picchu possessed incredibly advanced construction skills. Some of the building blocks weigh more than 50 tons, yet they are meticulously designed and fit together so exactly that the thinnest knife cannot be inserted between the mortarless joints. The ruins are roughly divided into two areas: the agricultural sector, consisting of terraces for cultivation; and the urban sector, with structures of varying size, canals, and steps. The design of the site reveals the creativity of the builders. The enormous walls, delicate terracing, and steep ramps could almost have been sculpted out of the rock by the elements.
The discovery of this major Incan site in 1911 was one of the most significant archeological finds of the 20th century. American explorer Hiram Bingham had set out to find Vilcabamba, the legendary last refuge of the defeated Inca empire, but instead he came across Machu Picchu. It took Bingham and his team several years to clear the thick vegetation that had covered the ruins. Underneath were houses, temples, canals, and thousands of steps and terraces. What made the discovery so exciting was the fact that the Spanish conquistadors had not found and plundered the site, and that it was also untouched by treasure hunters.
The Inca founded their capital, Cusco, in the 13th century and began a period of conquest. By the early 16th century, the Inca empire reached from Chile to Colombia and controlled around 12 million people. This well-organized civilization had a sophisticated economy and a road network of 20,000 miles (32,200 km). They ruled with fierce military might and had a strict social hierarchy, yet they also learned from the cultures they conquered. The Inca worshiped the natural world, seeing the Sun as the ultimate giver of life and their leader as its direct descendant. Mountain peaks, home of the spirits, were used for human sacrifice. Celestial events were monitored so they knew when to plant and harvest crops, and when to hold religious ceremonies.
With huge windows, the Temple of the Three Windows adjoins the Sacred Plaza, along with the Main Temple, which contains an almost flawlessly constructed wall.
Llama at Machu Picchu
The Inca used llamas as pack animals and they were also a source of wool, leather hides, and meat.
This sundial, the size of a grand piano, was extremely sacred and one of the most important features of the whole site. Winter solstice festivals took place here.
This large rock is believed to have been used by the Inca for their sacrificial rituals.
Preserved Brick Work
The Inca are admired today for their stone constructions, although it is not known how they man aged to make the blocks fit so closely together.
Comprising the residential and industrial areas, this is located in the lower section of the site.
Temple of the Sun
The only circular building on the site, this temple contains two windows positioned precisely to catch the first rays of the winter and summer solstices.
View of Machu Picchu
Made up of around 200 buildings and connected by more than 100 stairways, the ruined palaces, temples, and residences were built around large central squares.
There are regular trains from Poroy and Ollantaytambo, near Cusco, to Aguas Calientes, the closest town to Machu Picchu. The scenic journey takes 3 hours. From Aguas Calientes, a local bus zigzags up a steep, narrow dirt track to the Inca site.
The legendary Inca Trail climbs and descends a number of steep valleys and crosses three mountain passes of more than 12,000 ft (3,658 m). The breathtaking scenery includes snow-capped mountains, dense cloud forest, and delicate flowers. Cobblestones laid by the Inca, as well as the tunnel s that th ey constructed, can still be seen. It takes about f our or five days be fore hikers are rewarded with the unforgettable sight of Machu Picchu through the Sun gate (lntipunku).
c. 1200: The Inca found their capital at Cusco, Peru, and begin their far-reaching expansion.
1460: Machu Picchu is built, 7,970 ft (2,430 m) above sea level.
Mid-1500s: Machu Picchu is abandoned, possibly due to evil war over succession.
1911: The site is uncovered by US explorer Hiram Bingham.
1983: Machu Picchu is declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
SEPIA – SYDNEY – It’s the little things that count here. Take the salmon ball presented as an amuse-bouche: bite into it and a filling of smoked salmon roe provokes tantalising shock-waves of intense flavour. This is what chef Martin Benn does best: create seemingly simple dishes that astonish with their complexity, combining French techniques with Japanese ingredients such as dashi jelly, wakami oil and sobacha. Spanner-crab meat is teamed with sake-vinegar jelly, pea and horseradish and folded as carefully as origami; a simple curl of squid, decorated with miso-cured egg yolk and a wasabi flower, calls to mind the curves of a Miro painting.
And Benn’s nine-course menus end as strongly as they begin, with puddings such as The Pearl, a pristine sphere of white chocolate and finger lime.
KEENS STEAKHOUSE, NEW YORK – Keens serves fantastic steak but became famous for its even more fantastic mutton. It opened in 1885 and in 1935 served its millionth mutton chop. Somebody played a fanfare on a bugle that had supposedly been used in the War of the Roses. The manager gave a speech and waived the bill. The great shepherd in the sky alone knows how many mutton chops Keens has sold since then. A flock of a lot. Even without the fanfare and the speech, and even if you have to pay the bill, a Keens mutton chop remains one of the glories of Midtown Manhattan. Look out for the 50,000 long-stemmed clay pipes that hang, with a peculiar elegance, from the ceiling – not that you’re likely to miss them. Lillie Langtry, JP Morgan, Teddy Roosevelt and Babe Ruth ate here. You should too.
THE WHITE ROOM, AMSTERDAM – Arctic-white walls exuberantly encrusted with gold give this venerable 19th-century building its name. There the history stops. A recent revamp has introduced funky spherical chandeliers, a classy-yet-cool tone and an invigoratingly fresh take on the food. Chef Jacob Jan Boerma is guided by three culinary fundaments – ‘citrus, spice and vegetables’ – and his dishes are delicate, full of secrets and liable to mini explosions of surprising flavours. A slice of lime gives prawn tartare a zing as it slips onto your tongue; an intense zap of lemon lurks beneath a perfectly cooked piece of trout, with green-mustard sabayon. Wasabi, curry, Indonesian spices all play cameo roles. Each plate is feat of beauty, with bold colours, odd shapes and energetic composition.
INDIAN ACCENT, NEW DELHI – India’s restaurant critics are notoriously picky, which makes the non-stop gushing that has flowed since chef Manish Mehrotra’s opened here in2009 so significant. His genius lies in splicing global ingredients into regional recipes from India’s 29 states. So the stuffing he uses in the traditional kulcha – one of the country’s 400-plus breads – is chilli hoisin duck, or applewood-smoked bacon, or wild mushrooms and truffle oil. Kofta, the delicately spiced Indian dumpling, is made herewith tofu instead of paneer and served with a wok-tossed quinoa pulao. The result is not so much fusion as synergy: inventive twists that serve to accentuate the complex flavours of Indian food, and reason enough to plan a trip to the Indian capital.
EL MERCADO, LIMA – Lima’s culinary boom may have produced fancier restaurants but none, surely, is better loved than El Mercado, the casual lunch-only affair opened in 2010 by superstar local chef Rafael Osterling. Tucked away down a Miraflores side street, the permanently packed, semi-open-air space has the informal clatter and hum of an actual market with bartenders serving superb Pisco Sours to the endlessly replenished queue. As well as a full range of top-grade ceviches, the menu also includes excellent tiraditos such as the Nikkei (yellowfin tuna sliced thin, marinated in lime and served with sesame oil and avocado aioli). Other highlights include a superlative shrimp burger and the causa original, Osterling’s upmarket take on the Peruvian staple of mashed potato terrine layered with seafood.
At first glance, Titilaka’s neo-industrial entrance appears to have turned its back on new arrivals. But step into the airy lobby and it’s easy to why: the entire hotel is built to make the most out of South America’s highest, largest, most wondrously beautiful lake on the other side. Everyone comes to this corner of the world to visit Titicaca’s curious islands, but only guests at Titilaka get floor-to-ceiling views of the lake and its soaring dome of blue sky. And, as if this isn’t enough, there’s a wrap-around terrace with double beds and deck chairs from which to take it all in. The bright interiors are crafted by architect Jordi Puig, the owner Ignacio Masias and his sister Sandra Masias (also the team behind the smart Hotel Band the new Atemporalhotels in Lima).
Untainted sunlight streams in, warming the adobe brickwork, plush sofas, throws and rugs in bold Altiplano colours, and bespoke Pop-art pieces. During the day, a choice of 14 outings is offered as standard, ranging from rafting or exploring the archaeological site of Sillustani to taking a catamaran to Bolivia’s glorious, car-free Island of the Sun. On your return, indulge in a massage or kick back in your room – all 18 have lake views and heated floors, and most have big bathtubs. Start the evening with pisco-powered cocktails at sunset – a pit-fire is lit to tame the Andean chill – before a supper of New Peruvian dishes such as alpaca carpaccio, mountain trout ceviche and quinoa souffle. Before bed, make one final visit to the deck to see one of the best night skies on the planet.
WHEN PEOPLE HEAR OF Lima, the next word to cross their minds is most likely ‘beans’ and not ‘Peru’. And while lima beans are one of the more famous things to have originated from this city, there is more to this capital beyond ancient Mesoamerican produce that continues to be cultivated. For those who have heard of Lima, however, many still think that Lima’s history began in 1535, after the founding of the colonial city by Francisco Pizarro, the conquistador who toppled the Inca Empire.
But many forget that the first inhabitants of Lima settled in the area as early as 10,000 years ago. A pre-Inca civilisation had thrived in this coastal city for a thousand years before the Spanish arrived, leaving behind impressive huacas and beautiful ceramics. Huacas are just a smidgen of the attractions to be found in Lima. As the seat of the Spanish rule for 300 years, Lima also has wonderful churches and cloisters of monasteries that are worth a visit.
That isn’t to say Lima is just a ruin and relic-filled desert. The largest city of Peru is also the second largest capital located in a desert, after Cairo in Egypt. Lima is every bit a sophisticated cosmopolitan mega-capital. Peru is a multiethnic nation formed by the combination of a variety of cultures and races over five centuries. Indigenous ethnicities here include tribes from the Andes and Amazon, and colonial rule brought along European ethnicities like the Spanish. British and Croatian. Two of the largest groups of immigrants, however, are the Chinese and Japanese, who arrived as miners and railroad workers in the late 19th century. There are generations of Peruvian-born Chinese and Japanese that have had a large influence on Peruvian culture, especially in the country’s cuisine.
Then there are also the markings of a modern civilisation that continues to expand its global reach. High-rise condos are built right next to pre-Columbian temples, and ultramodern seaside neighbourhoods butt up against gritty shantytowns that cling to barren hillsides. In the museum-saturated city are also collections upon collections of sublime ancient pottery left behind by civilisations that have long gone extinct, as well as galleries debuting edgy art from local Peruvian artists that are beginning to catch the eyes of art collectors everywhere. Lima is right on the other side of the globe from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. Unfortunately, flying into the city’s Jorge Chavez International Airport is a minimum 30-hour affair. Routes with minimal transits will include stopovers at Amsterdam or Paris first, where there are daily flights into Lima.
Navigating Lima is neither an easy task. The chaotic network of confusing buses and unregulated taxis in heavy traffic make getting around complicated, time-consuming and quite frankly, daunting. However, your best option is still to take a taxi, as they are generally inexpensive. It would be wise to negotiate a price before boarding if flagging a cab off the side of the road, as many do not have meters. It is easier and safer to book a taxi by phone, otherwise, get concierge to set up a driver for the day. Don’t let the complications of travel stop you from visiting Lima, however. This city of contrasts that sees high-rise buildings right next to pre-Columbian temple ruins presents a multi-faceted city that readily introduces the rest of Peru.
Plaza de Armas of Lima – First timers to Lima must visit the birthplace of the city at the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Plaza de Armas of Lima (Plaza Mayor). It is from the plaza’s square that the city grew outward and the centre is where many historic moments have taken place. A charming water fountain marks the middle of the plaza and surrounding it are historically important and iconic colonial-style buildings: the Government Palace, Cathedral of Lima, Archbishop’s Palace of Lima, the Municipal Palace, and the Palace of the Union.
Huaca Pucllana – There’s no need to trek into the Andes to see vestiges of Peru’s ancient civilisations. Dotted around urban Lima neighbourhoods are a large number of historical ruins, known locally as huacas. Most are generally fenced off (the extent of the preservation done by Peru) but one of the more tourist friendly huacas is the Pucllana Temple, or Huaca Pucllana, in the upscale Miraflores district. Huaca Pucllana is said to have been built around the height of Lima’s cultural history, around 500AD. Seven staggered platforms form this great adobe and clay pyramid that served as an important ceremonial and administrative centre. Much of the site has been restored but excavations are an on-going activity that still uncovers ancient artefacts. For a romantic evening out, there’s an on-site restaurant where dinner comes with beautiful views of the 1,500-year-old ruins. Restaurant Huaca Pucllana stays open long after visiting hours are over.
La Herradura – Surfing is a popular sport in Peru, thanks to the long Pacific coastline in Lima. For beginners to the sport, Waikiki and Makaha beaches off Miraflores have a number of surf schools in the area. However, the best place to catch surfing action is at La Herradura in the district of Chorrillos. The swells here are much bigger and last longer. La Herradura is also a favourite spot for scuba diving with its diverse marine flora and fauna.
Mercado de Surquillo No.1 – Start your day like a local Peruvian by first heading out to the markets. The Mercado de Surquillo No. 1 (Surquillo Market) is a favourite with local chefs thanks to the sheer variety of fresh produce available. Locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables, herbs, and of course, cuts of meat, and even offal, fish and other seafood are just the tip of the iceberg of what can be found. Take the time to peruse and be amazed at other rare finds, like unpolished grains, cheeses and spices on display. Elsewhere in the market, find whatever you need for a well-stocked kitchen and pantry, such as kitchen and tableware from small businesses.
Maido – Peru’s diverse culture is best experienced at Maido by Mitsuharu. Mitsuharu Tsumaru is the Lima-born chef that heads operations here. Peru has the second largest ethnic Japanese population in South America (Brazil has the largest) and Maido serves up Nikkei cuisine, an amalgamation of Japanese-influenced Peruvian food (or vice versa, depending on whom you ask) that comes from more than 100 years of Japanese immigration into Peru. Tsumaru is a professionally trained chef who honed his skills in the nuances of Japanese cuisine back in sushi restaurants across Japan. Expect Japanese delicacies and techniques paired with Peruvian ingredients for artful creations like grilled octopus, botija olives, tofu and crispy black quinoa; guinea pig confit with molle pepper, chilled harusame noodles with sanbaizu (Japanese vinegar) and rocoto (a type of South American chilli).
The Arts Boutique Hotel B – The stark white stately mansion stands out in the romantic and bohemian district of Barranco. The historic manor was built in 1914 and restored just two years ago. It retains its charming Belle Epoque style of glamorous interiors with high ceilings, Italian marble fixtures, and grand living room illuminated by antique candelabras. Works of surrealist-style art hung in corridors adds a touch of modernity to the grand hotel. Each of the 17 guestrooms, spread between the mansion and three-storey annex, have been individually designed, making return trips here a necessity to fully appreciate the work put into The Arts Boutique Hotel B. In the afternoons, indulge in tea and finger sandwiches in the library, then make your way to the rooftop Sundowner Deck for a pour of traditional pisco sour.
BA has launched direct flights to Lima (not that we need much excuse to visit). Let’s see the top five things to do in Peru!
Named as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, this glorious Inca citadel swarms with tourists – but less so if you arrive early, on foot. High in the Andes, Machu Picchu was built in around 1450 and abandoned just a century later, as the Spanish conquistadors advanced through South America. It was only rediscovered by the outside world in 1911, by American Hiram Bingham.
The classic Inca Trail from Cusco takes four days, with extra Inca ruins along the way, and means you can arrive at Machu Picchu before the first train-load of tourists. Or check out alternative, quieter trails, such as the Salkantay Trek, which showcases even more diverse topography and ecosystems and a rare sidelong view of the Machu Picchu complex.
Many visitors spend time in the rainforest in the south of Peru, to tie it in with a pilgrimage to Machu Picchu. A much-under-looked alternative is to fly to the jungle metropolis of Iquitos, the largest city in the world that cannot be reached by road, to use it as a base for exploring the Peruvian Amazon.
After a five-hour speedboat trip up the river you’ll find yourself in remote primary rainforest teeming with a rich array of flora and fauna. Expect to see a huge variety of bird life, monkeys, caiman, pink river dolphins and perhaps even a sloth. Stay at an eco-lodge such as Muyuna Lodge, which only employs guides from the local community.
Before you arrive – According to legend, Manco Capac (son of sun god Inti) and Mama Ocllo (daughter of moon goddess Mama Killa) were sent to earth and rose from Lake Titicaca. They headed north until they reached the Cusco Valley, and the mountain of Huanacauri. Here they founded the Inca dynasty. Whatever the truth, Cusco was established around 1100; to the Inca, the city was the centre of their empire, the navel of the world. It is reputedly shaped like a puma, with the Rio Huatanay forming the spine, and the ancient ceremonial site of Sacsayhuaman the head. Squinting down from the plane as you fly in, you can just about see what they mean.
Earthquakes have hit the city over the centuries, most notably in 1650 and 1950, yet there are still Inca walls, built without mortar, that have withstood the test of time. Today, Cusco is a glorious mix of Inca and colonial architecture. Despite the deluge of tourists (and too much traffic for its narrow streets), it retains its charm, as well as a palpable sense of its layered history. At 3,400m, it is one of the highest cities in the world, so allow time to acclimatise, especially if planning to head out on the Inca Trail or one of the other great treks nearby. But you should allow time here anyway, to do this iconic city justice.
At the airport – There are no direct UK-Peru flights. Flights from London to Lima (via Madrid or the US) take from around 15 hours. Lima-Cusco flights take around one hour. Most flights arrive in the morning. Cusco’s airport is small but bustling, with hotel and agency booths, ATMs and money changers, plus oxygen tanks and coca tea for those already hit by the altitude. A major new airport is planned for the Sacred Valley, mooted to be open by 2017.
Getting into town – The airport is 5km south of the city centre. If you’re not being picked up by your tour company or hotel, take a taxi or colectivo (small bus) from outside the terminal; journeys should take around 20 minutes.
Other ways to arrive – Long-distance buses arrive from Lima (21-25 hours), Puno, Arequipa and other destinations. Some trains run to Cusco, although those from Aguas Calientes (for Machu Picchu) stop either at the village of Poroy, outside Cusco, or at Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley.
First Day’s Tour – Take a guide and driver, or a taxi, to the huge site of Sacsayhuaman, overlooking the city (you will need a guide to really make sense of it). Then walk back down to Cusco through the San Bias neighbourhood, the artisan quarter, with its galleries and boutiques. Stop for lunch (perhaps your first taste of guinea pig) at the legendary Pachapapa, which has a lovely courtyard. Or, if visiting the Museo de Arte Precolomblno, try its MAP Cafe – one of the city’s best. Carry on down the steep cobbled streets to the Plaza de Armas (right), Cusco’s main square since Inca times.
The cathedral here was constructed on top of an Inca palace; inside, the many artworks mix Biblical images with indigenous ones. The most famous example of this is the painting of The Last Supper, which looks familiar until you spot that there’s a chinchilla on the plate in front of Christ. The 1950 earthquake revealed the remains oftheOorikancha underneath the Santo Domingo monastery. One of Cusco’s most important Inca temples, the Qorikancha was dedicated to Inti, the sun god. End the day with a pisco sour and dinner. LIMO <|cuscorestaurants.com|> is known for its range of pisco sours; it’s also one of Cusco’s best restaurants, with views over the Plaza de Armas.
Top end: The newish El Mercado Tunqui is a tranquil boutique hotel in the restored premises of a former market. Situated five minutes from the main square, it has an excellent restaurant; at breakfast it serves a dizzying array of freshly blended juices. Doubles from US$190 (£114). Mid-range: Hotel Rumi Punku is centrally but quietly located. Its name means stone door, presumably because it has its own Inca doorway (a national monument); more modern features include a sauna and gym. Doubles from US$100 (£60). Budget: Hostal Inkarri is located on a narrow, cobbled street at the foot of the San Bias neighbourhood, near the Qorikancha. It is stylish for the price, and has two lovely colonial patios. Ensuite doubles from $US57(£34).
Stay or go? Stay. Even if you’re itching to visit Machu Picchu – either by train or on foot – you should linger: there’s enough to see and do in the city to keep you busy for days. If you do need a break from the urban buzz, head out to the Sacred Valley, the valley of the Urubamba River, where you can visit the historic Inca sites at Pisac, Ollantaytambo and Chinchero. If it’s a Sunday, visit Chinchero market (which isn’t as touristy as the more famous Pisac market), and the adjacent textile cooperative for a spot of shopping. The pre-lncan salt pans – or salineras – at Maras are worth a visit too. Specialist tour operator Journey Latin America offers various group and tailormade trips to the area.
On a continent endowed with magnificent pre-Columbian archaeological sites, this is the supreme showpiece. Machu Picchu’s strategic and isolated high-altitude setting coupled with its mysterious significance in the ancient Inca universe make this “lost city” one of the world’s most beautiful and haunting destinations. Abandoned by the Inca and reclaimed by the jungle, the 100- acre complex of temples, warehouses, houses, irrigation terraces, and stairs remained hidden from outsiders until American explorer Hiram Bingham was led to it in 1911 by a ten-year-old local boy. It somehow had been entirely overlooked and unaccounted for in the Spanish conquistadores’ otherwise meticulous records. Speculation about the age and significance of Machu Picchu (Old Mountain) continues, although current thinking suggests it was a retreat for Inca nobility most likely built in the 15th century.
On a clear day, the very fit should consider the hike to Huayna Picchu (Young Mountain), where the near-vertical scramble to the summit is breathtaking in more ways than one. The truly athletic can arrive at Machu Picchu’s 500-year-old Gate of the Sun after a three- to five-day trek along the Inca Trail. The Inca built many mountain trails, but this was their “royal highway” through the 100-mile-long Urubamba (or Sacred) Valley, the cradle of the Incan civilization. The trail affords an awesome journey through the scenic splendor of the valley – the bread basket and favored vacation spot for the nobles of Cuzco. The 35-mile Inca Trail crosses two passes – the higher just over 13,500 feet – and requires that travelers be tolerant of thin air in order to fully appreciate the drama of the scenery, the wealth of Incan outposts, fortresses, and mysterious, terraced ruins, as well as the colorful Andean villages all along the way. The trip is well worth the effort. The Sunday market in Pisac draws vendors and tourists from all parts; even more memorable is a trip to the network of linked hilltop Incan strongholds. Ollantaytambo, with its well-preserved, formidable fortress, is the valley’s other most-visited spot – an authentic Incan town that has retained its original street names, layout, irrigation system, and houses.
Machu Picchu has forever been known for its lack of decent hotels, leaving the market open to a nortorious hodge podge of backpacker’s crash sites – which is why the renovation of Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge has tourism officials heaving a great sigh of relief. Luxurious only by comparison with its competition, the refreshed hotel’s rustic simplicity is nonetheless as welcome as its envied location, just steps from the entrance to the ruins. Hotel guests have the unique privilege of wandering about the moonlit ruins after the crowds leave.
Never has so handsome a vessel plied the secluded waters beyond the confluence of the Ucayali and Marandn Rivers – the legendary inception of the mighty Amazon, 2,000 miles from the Atlantic. Originally built as a private yacht and renovated in 1997 in the style of a classic 19th-century riverboat, the 112-foot La Esmeralda features eight cabins and a spacious observation deck. Attentive naturalist guides point out the prolific wildlife of the primeval environs.
More species of primates have been recorded in this region than anywhere else in the New World, and the Ucayali also boasts a large population of both gray and pink river dolphins. Small custom- built excursion boats take off for narrow passages, flooded forest, and blackwater lakes, dropping passengers off for guided stops at little-visited riverside villages and hikes through virtually uninhabited portions of the Amazon jungle. On board, delicious meals are served in a dining area graced with floor-to- ceiling windows. Nighttime entertainment includes the spectacle of both southern and northern constellations.
Unpack on land at any of the five Explorama lodges in the 250,000-acre Amazon Biosphere Reserve, then head to the nonprofit Swiss Family Robinson-style camp called the Amazon Center for Environmental Education and Research (ACEER), a treetop system of ladders, cables, and netting. Visitors ascend some thirteen stories, or 125 feet, to experience the rain forest’s diversity from an ingenious multilevel system of aerial platforms and hanging pathways. From here you might spy one of the estimated two-thirds of the rain forest species that live in (and never descend from) the canopy – many of which still remain to be identified.
As some will remember from geography class, the legendary 3,200- square-mile Lake Titicaca is – at 12,500 feet above sea level – the highest navigable lake in the world. But only those who have visited it know of the luminescence of the light and the ever-changing play of color on its water. Titicaca’s singular beauty supports the ancient myth that Manco Capac and his sister-consort, Mama Ocllo, founders of the Incan Empire, emerged from these magical Andean waters. The Uros Indians created the lake’s eponymous floating islands centuries ago to escape conflicts with the land-inhabiting Inca. Their descendants still live on the springy forty-odd islands of indigenous tortora reeds, which are also used to make both their homes and their boats.
The two natural islands of Taquile and Amantani are hilly and peopled by hospitable Indians, whose bright-colored traditional dress and handwoven textiles are an irresistible draw for sightseers and shoppers. There are no cars or bicycles here, or even roads, but the gently terraced hills bespeak the islands’ proud agricultural traditions. Schedule your trip to Puno for February or November, when local celebrations turn this city upside down.
The mythical founding of the lakeside city of Puno is the reason for November’s fascinating Semana de Puno festivities, whose ornate and imaginative costumes, wild dancing, masks, music, and instruments are rooted in the Incan culture. February 2, Candlemas or the feast of the Virgen de la Candelaria, may ostensibly figure on the Roman Catholic calendar, but witness the famous diablada (devil’s dance) and the kallahuaya (medicine man’s dance) before deciding for yourself if it’s a Christian or pagan celebration. As many as 300 folkloric dances are performed in the streets of Puno throughout the year. If things are quiet when you arrive, ask the local tourist office for directions to the area’s nearest fiesta. You won’t regret the trip.