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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 inA Dream Trip to Peru & Ecuador: Cusco