By Julie Crump, After a 12 hour flight, I arrived in Lima, where I was met and transferred to the Belmond Miraflores Park Hotel. Miraflores is the name of the district in which the hotel is located and is one of 43 districts in Lima, each with its own mayor and city hall. I spent the next morning on a city tour, learning about the fascinating history of Peru. We visited a private home, Casa Aliaga, which has been inhabited by generations of the same family since 1536. We also saw the Plaza Mayor, location of the presidential palace and baroque cathedral, where in 1977 the remains of Don Francisco Pizarro were found. Pizarro discovered the Kingdom of Peru and won it for the Royal Crown of Castile but was later beheaded, and the box in which his head was kept is now displayed beside his coffin. Our last stop was the Larco Museum to see the pre-Hispanic collection of gold and silver artefacts, then it was back to the hotel’s Belo Bar for afternoon tea.
Next morning I took an early ninety minute flight to Cusco and transferred to the Sacred Valley, stopping along the way at Awanakancha, a farm of Llamas and alpaca. We visited a village set on the Urubamba River amid snow-capped mountains, known for the Ollantaytambo ruins, a massive Inca fortress with large stone terraces on a hillside. Major sites within the complex include the Sun Temple and Princess Baths fountain. The old town here is an Inca-era grid of cobblestoned streets and adobe buildings. Before lunch we visited the Seminario ceramic studio, which keeps alive ancient Peruvian techniques and design. Later we went to Moray, an archaeological site which contains unusual Inca ruins, mostly consisting of terraced circular irrigated depressions, the largest of which is approximately 30m (98ft) deep. It is though that these were used by the Inca to study the effects of different climatic conditions on crops. Afterwards we visited the salt mines at Maras.
On day four, we caught the train to Machu Picchu – a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the new seven wonders of the world. We travelled in a domed carriage with large picture windows on the side and ceiling. The the top of the historic sanctuary is 2450 metres above sea level amid the Andean Cloud forest and sheltered within the mountains is the Picchu Citadel, a favoured retreat for the Inca nobility. Early the next morning I went on an eco tour to visit the ‘spectacled bear’ rescue centre which studies the only bear species native to the Southern Hemisphere, also known as Paddington Bear. Afterwards my guide took me back to the top of Machu Picchu where I climbed to the Sun Gate, at the end of the Inca Trail, with amazing views of The City of Clouds.
Back in Cusco, I visited the Coricancha which contained the Temple of the Sun which was not only the most sacred site in the Inca religion but was considered the very centre of the Inca world. Little remains today except some sections of its fine stone walls which hint at the site’s once massive size and the legendary stories which tell of the enormous quantity of gold used to decorate the temples and its golden garden. We also saw the Sacsayhuaman fortress, which rests on an artificially levelled mountaintop, and consists of three gargantuan walls surrounding a paved area containing a circular stone structure believed to be a solar calendar. The ruins also include a 500,000 gallon water reservoir, citadels and underground chambers.
We continued onto Qenqo Temple, carved out of a gigantic monolith stretched across a hillside joining man-made tunnels to natural chambers. One of these chambers features an amphitheatre likely used for the mummification of the Inca chiefs and sacrifice to the sun, moon and star gods who
were worshipped at the site. Lastly we visited the Basilica Cathedral and the main town square. Early the next morning I caught the Belmond Andean Explorer train from Cusco to Puno, considered to be one of the top ten railway journeys of the world. The journey takes 10 hours and includes a
market visit, lunch and afternoon tea, music and dancing in the bar car and spectacular views along the way. Lake Titicaca is the second biggest lake in South America and the highest navigable lake in the world at 3812 metres above sea level. On my last morning I took a boat trip on
the Lake to the Uros floating Islands, made from Totora, a reed that grows in the lake.
There are 87 islands inhabited by 2000 people who travel across the lake by reed boat. After a short ride on one of these boats, we visited the Capital Island where there is a restaurant and rooms to rent for anyone that wants to experience an overnight stay. We then travelled to Taquile, a rocky Island with a colourful tradition that has been kept alive for hundreds of years. We watched skilful craftsmen and the villagers sang and danced. This whole trip was amazing with the highlight being Machu Pichu, something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. It should be on everyone’s bucket list!