11 Days in Peru, Truly magical, Truly Bonding, a Bucket List Destination
By Linda Shepro
I can say for certain that Peru had been on my bucket list for a long time. I had many friends who had traveled to the land of the Incas, bringing home beautiful memories of ancient ruins, gentle, open people, strenuous hiking, and “aha” moments. Yet, as we planned the trip I did not fully comprehend the breathtaking scenery, beautiful crafts and keepsakes, outstanding food and mysteries of the lost civilization of the Incas in this beautiful melting pot that was a delight to the senses in multiple ways.
We designed a trip for an active, physically fit group that ranged in age from 22 to 74. We included a variety of accommodations that ranged from absolute luxury to adventurous rustic in order to fully experience Peru across a number of biodiverse environments within a budget that did not break anyone’s bank.
As with all trips, we selected what we believe was the best destination partner whose guides would be the best fit for the members of the group. We ascended upon Lima for a leisurely couple of days to take on the sights of the country’s capital and largest city. In this bustling metropolis we stayed in the artsy Barranca district known for its restaurants and museums and beachfront promenade. This area of Lima was easy to navigate by foot, but beware the crazy drivers of Lima who view lanes and traffic signals as a suggestion of sorts. Being in the capable hands of our private guide, we were able to freely explore a variety of neighborhoods and fully enjoy the city before we embarked on our journey to the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu and Cusco.
After a short flight to Cusco we were met by Fernando and Daniel, our private guides for the Sacred Valley. Our party of 13 toured our way through small towns and ancient ruins, enjoyed a sumptuous lunch in a converted castle, interacted with locals in the town of Urubamba, did a test run of our day hike to Machu Picchu at the ruins of Awanakancha and arrived at Sol Y Luna, for a two night stay in beautifully appointed cottages. The highlight of our visit to the Sacred Valley was our private meeting with a Shaman and the interpretation of our place on the earth, among the most spiritual ceremony and “coming together” that I have ever experienced. We each came to the Shaman with special wishes for our family and friends, an experience that touched each of us in a special way. Indeed, we all shared hopes of peace, community and bonding with the spiritual world that day. For many of us the Shaman got to work right away with blessings for our loved ones as we returned back home.
The trip to Machu Picchu from Urubamba to mile marker 104 was also a special experience. The scenery from the train is spectacular and the service impeccable. Disembarking at kilo marker 104 for the 9-mile trek to Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate, we were as excited as kids embarking on an adventure of a lifetime. With a walking stick and daypack and two guides to accompany us, we set out at 9am for a grueling, yet uplifting hike on a rocky narrow path on the side of the mountain as we ascended and descended stairs and trails that took us through ruins and waterfalls, through open sunny areas with steep drop offs, to shaded forested areas that seem like meandering paths. To contemplate the Incas carrying people and supplies on this very trail and creating a path for future generations is mind boggling. The achievement of the hike itself and the scenery was exhilarating and a favorite of all of us, regardless of the time it took to maneuver the trail, from the fastest hikers to the slowest, I can say with certainty that the arrival at the Sun Gate looking down at Machu Picchu is a life affirming event that everyone should experience. While some may decide to take the longer 4-day camping hike for 33 miles, for our group the day hike was perfect and for each of us a day of great pride and accomplishment.
The next day was spent at Machu Picchu exploring and learning about this fascinating site, discovered by Hiram Bingham, a professor at Yale in 1911 as he was in search of the Lost City- thought to be where the Incas left all their riches of gold, silver and copper. Above the Urubamba River, MP is thought to have been abruptly abandoned in the 1500s and lay vacant, known to only a handful of locals until Bingham’s discovery. Truly a wonder of engineering and the strength of human beings, with only theories to support the reason it existed, how many people it could support, and how in the world it was built in the 1500s in such a physically intimidating place. We stayed a 15 minute bus ride down to the base of Aguas Calientes, the town full of cultural flavor and good dining experiences. Pueblo Inkaterra is built on beautiful grounds, with plenty of amenities and activities to enjoy. It is just a short walk to the bus station in the early morning for a short bus ride to the entrance of MP.
After Cusco we enjoyed a slow ascent via train to Cusco. At 12000 feet this magical city enabled us to shop, eat, explore galleries, local markets and relax. The Casa Cartagena was a group favorite, built into an old monastery, the staff and accommodations were world class. Hiking to and from the main square we encountered school children in preparation for the Lunar festival in later July, interacting and photographing them as they practice ancient dances and celebrate customs of their rich ancestry. Cusco deserves a few days to fully absorb. By the time we had acclimated in Sacred Valley, hiked to Machu Picchu, we were able to enjoy this city with few physical complaints, although hiking the ancient cobblestone pathways at that elevation gets the blood pumping!
From Cusco we flew to Puerto Maldonado to experience the Peruvian Amazon. Here the accommodations were rustic, our rooms open on one side completely to the nature and sounds of the amazon. We enjoyed day hikes and boat rides and learned about this fascinating world, seeing capybaras, macaws, parrots monkeys, caiman, the thrill of seeing jaguar tracks, learning about the forest canopy, the special plants and trees with medicinal qualities. We worked up an appetite with twice daily hikes and sharing a special camaraderie with our guides and camp hosts.