Hi everyone. I’m recently back from a terrific hiking trip in Peru to Machu Picchu, The Sacred Valley and Cusco. AMAZING. I’ve traveled a lot and this was at the top of “wow” experiences. Machu Picchu is nestled in or above the clouds a few thousand feet up in the eastern Andes, and when you descend you’ll find yourself in lush Land and of the Lost jungle. This makes for a palette of blue sky and green green vegetation, rather a Rothko-esque landscape of broad swaths of color. Machu Picchu is up HIGH – eagles and condors circle nearby and one truly does have the feeling of being at the top of the world.
And of those Incas. They really blew me away. No one knows exactly what Machu Picchu was used for but some scholars feel it was a mountain-top haven for Incan nobility, about 300 people, and the architecture shows evidence of numerous temples, astronomical viewing chambers, gardens, plazas and super-clever irrigation and farming terraces. Machu Picchu was built around 1450 and abandoned a 120 years later when the (devilish) Spanish Conquistadores were attacking the Incan empire and generally killing everyone in their path as they looted all gold. The Spanish never found Machu Picchu so it was preserved (and hidden for centuries by jungle overgrowth) instead of destroyed. With 9 of 10 Incas killed by the invaders, and the culture decimated by murder and disease, be thankful for small blessings.
This all sounds quite depressing and it’s true, it’s hard to shake the feeling of what if, had the brilliant Inca culture had more of a chance to thrive. When one arrives at Machu Picchu it is impossible not to be humbled and awe-struck. And the hiking, if you want it to be, is rigorous. The Inca must have been in terrific shape because narrow and steep stairs lead up up up to the peaks of the surrounding mountains, leading to incredible vistas of the entire valley and perfect vantage points for spying approaching invaders. Smart.
Another super smart invention are the salt pools in the Sacred Valley. So cool! Incas found a rare underground salt water stream in the mountains and tapped it, creating channels that fill pool after pool on the side of a peak. You can see them behind me in the picture above. Once a pool is fill, the water is redirected to another pool, and the original pool is allowed to evaporate, revealing pure salt crystals you can put on your popcorn (I’ve tried it – delish.)
Machu Picchu is a 3 1/2 hour train ride from Cusco, the former capital of the Inca empire, and another world heritage site. The sophisticated and charming city is laden with Spanish cathedrals, Incan culture museums, cobble stone streets and top-notch restaurants, reflecting the recent Peruvian food renaissance. After a week of dusty trails my friends and I thought we had entered a mirage when we checked in to the Belmond Hotel Monasterio – what a treat! Peru, I’ll be back. Where have you been lately that blew your mind? Let me know! xxooSteph