Indagare member Carroll Pierce traveled to Peru with her husband, Bob, and four daughters, in December 2009. Their itinerary took them from Lima to the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, to Cusco and finally, to the Atacama Desert and Santiago, in Chile.
Here are impressions from their journey to Machu Picchu.
We left the Hotel Rio Sagrado at 6 a.m. for a 7 a.m. train to Machu Picchu. I had the girls’ Christmas stockings and gifts in one of my daypacks. My other pack was stuffed with clothes for the night in Machu Picchu. Our train was delayed for three hours, as there had been a landslide over the tracks. Part of the tracks was damaged and covered in dirt and rocks. There was an air of expectation in the station. The time in the station passed quickly and the ever-increasing crowd of passengers made for great people-watching. We took the panoramic train up. Our guiding company had secured us seats in the first row of the train, and we appreciated the unobstructed view of the tracks. We stayed on until the end of the line in Aguas Calientes. The train stopped at “Kilometer 82” to let off hikers who wanted a four-day hike into Machu Picchu. The train also stopped at a station that was a four-to-five hour hike to Machu Picchu. (Some of our group might have considered this option if we’d known about it in advance.) Porters took our bags to the hotel while we went right to the bus for the final twenty-minute bus ride up to the entry gates of Machu Picchu. We had lunch at the Sanctuary Lodge. (We were glad to get in out of the rain and not have to eat in the cafeteria next to the lodge, but the food was overpriced and of disappointing quality, and the service was mediocre.) Only one of my daughters wished we’d stayed at the Sanctuary Lodge, as she’d have preferred not having to ride the bus up and down. The rest of us were glad to be down in the town and appreciated the space of the Inkaterra and the town.
It was rainy and cloudy when we entered Machu Picchu late afternoon. This was the perfect time of day to go. The crowds were thinning. Having a guide is the only way to see the ruins, and we were surprised by how many people were walking around unguided. Machu Picchu is breathtaking. At 7,970 feet, the city is as one would expect from it’s reputation: staggering. We kept asking, How? And Why? and having our guide answer all of the questions enriched the experience. There are llamas that graze on the terraces of Machu Picchu. The clouds cleared and the sun came out as we hit the mid-way point of the ruins, and the “wow” factor went way up. Make sure to get the optional, and very cool, Machu Picchu stamp on your passport as you leave the gates.
We were all pretty shot by the time we checked in to the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel that afternoon. The early wake-up calls, vans, trains and outside time had caught up with us, so the duvet-covered beds and fireplaces in each room were a welcome sight. It was pouring rain during our entire stay but the hotel has umbrellas at every door so getting about and staying dry is easy. We lit a fire in our fireplace and cranked the space heaters to dry ourselves out. The girls decided to open their stockings Christmas Eve so that they could sleep in on Christmas morning. The large gathering room on the upper section of the property had a huge Christmas tree and blazing fires. The hotel was full for the holiday and it had a festive atmosphere. We ate Christmas Eve dinner down in the dining room close to the railroad tracks. There was a pre-set menu of nice-sized portions of turkey and fish, all washed down with Chilean Champagne.
Word of Advice: Don’t try to visit Machu Picchu in one day. There are too many opportunities for glitches, as evidenced by our outbound train delay. Many of the travelers in the station were day-trippers and we could sense their anxiety. A leisurely guided tour of Machu Picchu is what the site deserves.
The girls negotiated to sleep to 9 a.m. This felt wonderful, as we’d been going hard. Being outdoors in the rain all day and trying to stay dry and warm is tiring. If the weather had been clear that morning, Bob and Emma had agreed to a 4:45 am wake-up call from Adriel and a sunrise hike to Wayna Picchu (scary). It was not clear, so we all slept late. Christmas morning breakfast was festive. There were mostly Americans in the hotel. At our mid-morning checkout, we left our luggage at the front desk. The porters would bring it down to meet our late-afternoon train. Despite the pouring rain, the girls rallied and we set off again up to Machu Picchu. Despite all wearing rain jackets, we bought some cheap “M&M” colored rain ponchos to help cover more of our body. Lillian was the smart one and wore her rain pants. We should have all remembered to pack them. Longer style ponchos would have been best as they fit over the body and a backpack. Our guide told us it was raining “alpacas and llamas.” We hiked up to the Sun Gate. It should be a 45-minute to and hour hike, but some in our group needed breaks and encouragement, so it took longer. The path is wide and safe. For only the last few minutes does the path turn narrow and one must use caution. One should think twice about doing this hike, or the Wayna Picchu hike, if fear of heights is an issue. The view from the Sun Gate is worth the effort and the bragging rights.
We ate lunch at the Sanctuary Lodge. It was the same experience as the day before, but again, we were glad to not have to eat in the crowded cafeteria. We took a late afternoon train back to Ollantaytambo. The train staff gave an informal modeling show of Peruvian fashions. It was cheesy but fun. We had front row seats and again an unobstructed view of the tracks. The skies had cleared and the light on the mountains and valley was that lovely late afternoon light. A van took us from the station to Cusco. The trip was two hours and we made our Christmas day calls back to the U.S. It was dark when we reached Cusco. We were tired, hungry, wet and still in our hiking gear when we walked into the Casa Cartagena hotel. We were instantly revived and felt we’d have made a much more appropriate entrance if we’d been in skinny jeans, boots and a well-cut jacket. We couldn’t wait to get showered and throw on some of the non-traveling dinner clothes we had. Despite being housed in an old colonial mansion, there were sleek Italian chairs at a bar with a hot pink under-counter light. The immaculate interior courtyard has a five-foot illuminated white orb set in a pool of water. It all felt right. (Notice the triptych of Machu Picchu in the entry.) Our bedrooms were enormous with high ceilings. The walls were whitewashed with frescos along the top. My bathroom was sleek white with a huge soaking tub. For contrast, there were four simple orchids hanging from palm-sized bits of bark on the bathroom wall. The shower was a simply a showerhead behind a plate of glass. All of it was luxe, cool and unexpected. There was only one other couple in the dining room for dinner.
(Note: When we were planning the trip, we had originally wanted to stay at the Monasterio, but it was fully booked. Overall, I am so glad we did not clear off the wait list. Casa Cartagena was much more exiting. Leeds and I poked around the Monasterio, which looked tired, boring, and predictable.)
Despite the urge to explore the charming cobbled streets, we took the van and guide up to Sacsayhuaman: another Incan ruins site. We also made a quick stop at an alpaca textiles shop, which offered not only a large and authentic selection of blankets, scarves and sweaters, but also a stunning balcony view of Cusco. We tried to eat lunch at Granja Heidi but it was closed so we ended up at the Inka Grill. It was the most comforting food we’d eating to date—pizza and Andean chicken soup. It was filled with tourists but we didn’t mind as it was warm and the food was fast, fresh and familiar. After lunch we made a quick stop at Peruvian crafts market (not worth it—the best market was in Pisac) and a somewhat rushed tour of the city. Some of the girls opted to find their way back to the hotel. Leeds and I hit three of the shops on Melissa’s list. Bob toured the cathedral. Bob, Leeds, and I toured the Temple of the Sun—a must do. The streets are so charming and are perfect for wandering and exploring that I wish we’d had another day here.
Back at the hotel, Lillian and I relaxed in the spa plunge pool. As it got dark outside, a spa attendant lit several dozen large pillar candles scattered throughout the pool. It was magical. We debated between eating at MAP Café and Fallen Angel (now closed) and opted to eat at Fallen Angel, a great choice. The interior was a most unexpected and pleasant surprise! We ate at a water-and-fish-filled glass-topped bathtub. Two of the gals sat on a brass bed strewn with red leather heart pillows. The rest of us sat on leopard and zebra striped stools. A DJ was spinning in a glass-enclosed room behind the bar. The bathrooms are a must-see. I don’t remember the food, but the pulse and energy of the restaurant woke us right up after a busy day.
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