After getting our jungle cruise on, and before we hit the jaw-dropping Machu Picchu, we spent 2-1/2 days in the beautiful Sacred Valley. This valley sits at around 9,000 feet – Denver, Colorado, by comparison, is 5,300 – and is a beautiful spot amidst the grandeur of the Andes. Much of the Andes are completely undeveloped, so you have nothing but jagged, tree-covered peaks poking through the clouds.
While it does have some impressive Incan ruins, the Valley is less sightseeing intense, which can be a lovely break between the wonders of the Amazon rainforest and jaw-dropping Machu Picchu. Brand g puts its guests at the Tambo Del Inka, a 5-star contemporary lodge that is simply stunning – one of co-owner Jeff’s favorite hotels ever.
An Incan blessing ritual led by a local shaman. (Brand g includes this event as part of your time in the Sacred Valley.) This was a truly moving moment on the back lawn of the Tambo Del Inka. (This was not, incidentally, a commercialized “pet the dolphins”-style event operated by the hotel; they simply allow ceremonies like this to occur on their property.)
If you’re anything like me, you rush through much of your life with far too little time spent appreciating the wonders around you; and this “Pachamama” ritual was a wonderful moment of connecting with nature and the spirit world, whatever you consider that to be. I felt the presence of angels, and it wasn’t even the altitude.
If you’re not traveling here with Brand g, these types of rituals (along with individual shaman readings and other ceremonies) can be arranged on your own; but buyer beware. Some are apparently just shy of something you’d encounter on a Disney ride. Make sure you get the real thing.
Across from the Tambo Del Inka sits the gallery and (huge) shop of a renowned Peruvian artist, Pablo Seminario. Seminario is a can’t-miss shopping stop if you’re in the market for pottery and ceramics. Pablo’s designs are wide-ranging, and there’s literally something for every design aesthetic. (We favor contemporary, and there were a number of pieces with a contemporary flair.) His signed pieces can be had for as little as $50-100. FYI, they package the pieces extremely well; we hand-carried a large bowl home with no problem, other than the finger pointing that occurred when my husband and I tried to blame each other for buying something so big.
Following our respite here, we journeyed down to Machu Picchu, which actually sits lower – 6,700 feet – than the Sacred Valley’s 9,000. This entailed a train ride (via the Vistadome train) through the beautiful Peruvian Andes to Aguas Calientes, the village which sits just below Machu Picchu.
Tip: Be sure to bring sunglasses and sunblock for the train ride – the train’s windows extend halfway across the roof (for scenery gazing), and the sun is very strong this close to the equator. You’ll thank me when you don’t get skin cancer.
At Aguas Calientes, we spent an overnight in order to allow for two separate visits to the sacred Incan citadel. Machu Picchu is a (slightly terrifying) 25-minute bus ride up the mountain from Aguas Calientes. The drivers have driven it thousands of times, but glancing over the edge of this mountain road with breathtaking drops (and no guard rails) produced a lot of shrieking and crying. Then the other guests asked me to shut up.
Wow Moment #1:
Feeling like we had Machu Picchu to ourselves. This UNESCO World Heritage site is in danger of being loved to death, and the Peruvian government has put strict capacity controls on it, which helps to make it less tourist-infested than in the past. But the day we visited, there was a huge soccer match between Peru and Venezuela, and 95% of the people that did come left early; so the last two hours we were there, we had the place virtually to ourselves. It was magical to wander this Pompeii in the sky and take photos with literally no other human beings in them. (See the photo below.) Add to that a 72-degree, sunny day, and you have the recipe for an unforgettable moment.
Wow Moment #2:
See that giant peak sitting behind Machu Picchu? That’s Huayna Picchu, and you can hike to the top. (Stilettos are discouraged; wear a chunky heel.) It’s not the easiest hike; it can be narrow, and the altitude can make you feel like a three-pack-a-day smoker. But, according to the 17 people in our Brand g group who did it – it finishes big. The views you get from atop it are phenomenal. Of course, I didn’t want to work that hard, so I just stole the photos of my friends. (They’re probably regretting that shared Google Photos page now.)
Brand g’s hike that day had an extra special moment: a proposal. When they reached the summit, guest Jeremy asked his partner (Brand g trip host Randy) to marry him. One of our friends videotaped it, and it was an incredibly sweet moment. Jeremy had promised Randy a croissant when they reached the top, and when he pulled out a ring instead, a delighted (but always droll) Randy replied, “I was really looking forward to that croissant.”
From Machu Picchu, we journeyed upwards again, to the highest-elevation spot of our visit to Peru: the city of Cusco, which sits at 11,000+ feet.
Cusco is immensely scenic, with an extraordinarily photogenic Old Town, and Incan ruins right downtown. Here, we stayed in another 5-star property, the Palacio De Inka, a hotel created from a former palace. It’s like staying in a museum – the public spaces are filled with Peruvian antiquities, and there are mazes of archways and wonderful little spaces.
Wow Moment #1:
The “palace” rooms at the Palacio Del Inka are, to put it mildly, stunning: high-ceilinged and grand, with big windows and lush accoutrement. There are, of course, more standard room types in this hotel, as well, so if you want an Instagram-ready moment, ask for a Palace room.
And at breakfast time, go meet Juanita. She’s the adorable alpaca who lives at the hotel and hangs out in one of the courtyards posing for photos.
Wow Moment #2:
One evening, we did a Pisco tasting and dinner at a hip restaurant called Republica Del Pisco. Pisco is the “tequila” of Peru, and the Pisco Sour (much like a margarita, but with an egg white froth on top) is the national drink. Here, we tasted various Piscos, then moved to a long table where there were 40 stations set up for us to each make our own Pisco Sour.
A lot of egg whites were consumed. Just sayin’.
Wow Moment #3:
The final afternoon of our stay in Cusco (and the conclusion of our trip), Brand g took us to a beautiful nature reserve, where we had an “Out of Africa”-style moment: champagne and appetizers on the grass, then a stellar picnic lunch (from one of Cusco’s most popular restaurants) served under a beautiful tent. It was the perfect cap to a perfect trip.