A Dream Trip to Peru & Ecuador: Machu Picchu

Photo by kudomomo (flickr)

Machu Picchu's Sacred Plaza - by kudomomo (flickr)

My parents, Suzan and Ron Wynne, have long inspired me to be curious about the world.  Between them, they have passions for history, geography, geneaology, politics, photography, art, music and food from around the globe.

They’re also itinerant wanderers:  Mom’s the trip researcher, and Dad’s willing to drive (or stop) absolutely anywhere.

A few Junes ago, they took their dream trip to Peru and Ecuador…and carried our imaginations with them.

For this trip, in a switch from their usual independent travel style, my parents agreed that they wanted an organized tour, rather than schlepping their luggage across South America.  They booked their two-country journey with a U.S.-based company called Adventure Life.  My mom came across their ad in Smithsonian Magazine, and it turned out their prices were way cheaper than her other top tour company choice, Lindblad.

Ollantaytambo - Photo by Suzan Wynne

Ollantaytambo - by Suzan Wynne

The main focus of the Peruvian portion of their trip was the sacred Inca site of Machu Picchu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

While Adventure Life’s direct involvement with my parents’ tour group of 20 people (mostly couples) could be neatly described as “hands-off,”  AL did arrange for a fabulous freelance guide in Peru, Ayul Acuna Cardenas.  Cardenas is now the director of Tanit Trails, a sustainable tourism company based in Cusco.

The night before they visited Machu Picchu, they and their group stayed in the village of Ollantaytambo at Hostal Sauce, a small, simple and lovely hotel on the main square.  Early the next morning, they toured an ancient Quechuan terraced ruin and a little something of the town. The level of poverty was deeply disturbing to most of the group; while their hotel had running water and sanitation facilities, this wasn’t the case at most locals’ homes.

Photo by Cyril Bèle

Photo by Cyril Bèle

Leaving Ollantaytambo, they boarded a train bound for Aguas Calientes, the town just below Machu Picchu; the 90-minute trip followed the course of the wild and winding Urubamba River, passing from cactus-strewn desert fields to a jungle of giant ferns and heavy undergrowth.  Grateful anew for their decision to book a tour, they remember sitting in a comfy, air-conditioned train car, watching small groups of hikers across the river plod their way over the sun-baked hills to Machu Picchu.

Their Aguas Calientes hotel, the Machu Picchu Inn, featured colorful local art and lovely gardens, a welcoming place on that hot, muggy day.  After having lunch, the group took a shuttle to the Sanctuary Lodge visitor’s center at the entrance to Machu Picchu.  A stunning but very expensive place to stay, the Lodge has an excellent (and comparatively reasonable) restaurant that shouldn’t be missed.

Photo by Suzan Wynne

Photo by Suzan Wynne

During their visit to the site itself, excavations were continuing; they were able to watch archaeologists uncover part of a wall behind the Sacred Plaza.  At 8,000 feet and about 95 degrees on a June afternoon, making their way around the Urban Sector (the ruins and structures circling the Sacred Plaza), was both exciting and exhausting.  Needing a rest for their weary bodies and boggled minds, they found a cool, shady spot on a hill overlooking the Plaza, where they could watch a parade of birds, squirrels…and international tourists.

Near sunset, it was time to take the last shuttle down the mountain.  Finally a bit cooler, though, no one really wanted to leave.

That evening, back down in Aguas Calientes (Spanish for “hot waters”), most of the group went to the local spa fed by hot springs.  They enjoyed the hot, warm and cold spa pools, but the iffy attention to cleanliness?  Not so much.

My parents offer the following advice about this experience:

  • Avoid going near the bathroom and changing room
  • Wear your bathing suit under clothing and take a towel from your hotel
  • Make sure that you have flip flops with you

Photo by Suzan Wynne

Photo by Suzan Wynne

The next morning, their group was back on the mountain.  Some hiked portions of Machu Picchu’s classic Inti Punku, or Inca Trail, some took the 1-3 hour hike to the sacred mountain of Huayna Picchu (open to visitors only between 7AM and 1PM each day).Some (that is, my clever parents) took the shuttle to the Lodge entrance for a gorgeous lunch followed by tiny scoops of perfect vanilla ice cream in a tulip cookie.

Afterward, they teamed up with others in the group to see areas they’d missed the day before. While sitting on a shaded wall to catch their collective breath, a llama wandered by and lizards were playing chase in the rocks by their feet.  Above them, low-hanging clouds and windswept trees sheltered literally hundreds of birds.

Ashlar stonemasonry - Photo by Suzan Wynne

Ashlar stonemasonry - Photo by Suzan Wynne

The wall beneath them had been built by master Inca stonemasons using the ashlar technique, where dry stones are fitted tightly together without the use of mortar; Machu Picchu’s site is prone to earthquakes, and this system has kept most of the construction here intact since the 1400s.

As they made their way back down the steps to the Sacred Plaza, chinchillas skittered into their hiding places among the excavated ruins.  They made one last visit to the Stone Condor (a temple/torture chamber between two huge rocks that resemble the hunched wings of a condor) and the still-impressive House of the Priest, then went to have one last glimpse of the excavators’ progress.

Awed into silence, they shuffled, dazed, onto the train back to Ollantaytambo for the night.  The next day, they would spend their final Peruvian day in the ancient Inca stronghold of Cusco.


Continued in

A Dream Trip to Peru & Ecuador: Cusco


  1. Hmmm…. can you elaborate on why you should avoid the restroom and changing room?

  2. Suzan Wynne says:

    Well, in response to Sheila’s request for elaboration (I was trying to be delicate about this) about the spa restroom and changing room: it appeared that the floor was used by many as a toilet. The smell was horrific and the visuals no better. After seeing the changing area/restroom, I found myself wondering about the cleanliness of the spa waters and paid close attention to not getting my face near the water. Since our visit was a one-shot affair, things might have been better on another day.

  3. Mom, that’s horrifying! I’m really glad you took the details a little further…I can’t imagine anyone wanting to subject themselves to this experience! I’m so glad you made it home healthy. 🙂

  4. Well hello Melanie’s Mom! Thanks for explaining why and oh my gosh I understand now.


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