Machu Picchu, a 15th-century Incancitadel, is the best-known archaeological site in South America. This bucket list destination was built around 1450 AD and abandoned a century later when Spanish conquistadors invaded the region. The Spaniards marched inland from the Pacific destroying most significant Incan settlements, but never discovered Machu Picchu. Hidden nearly 8000 feet up in the Andes, it was unknown to the outside world until American historian and explorer Hiram Bingham set out to confirm a myth about the lost city of the Incas in 1911.
Getting here is a planes, trains and automobiles adventure. LATAM Airlines out of JFK to Peru, change planes and fly to Lima then Cusco. LATAM’s premium business experience makes the plane trip bearable: seats recline into beds, gourmet meals are created by renowned chefs and wines selected by an award winning sommelier. In Cusco we hop into one of Viajes Pacifico’s automobiles and transfer to the Ollantaytambo train station, and ride Peru Rail’s Vistadome train, with 90% panoramic views so we can appreciate the beauty, to Aguas Calientes.
As we roll out of Ollantaytambo the famous Inca Trail is nearby and we see backpackers crossing the scenic Urubamba River, embarking upon a four-day athletic adventure. Our adventure is different, we step off Peru Rail’s Vistadome in Aguas Calientes and hike four short minutes to the town’s only five star resort: Sumaq Machu Picchu Hotel.
My introduction to the Incan culture is magical and mystical thanks to the Peruvian and Andean cultural immersion at the Sumaq Machu Picchu Hotel, spectacularly located on the banks of the Vilcanota River in Aguas Calientes. I left my Houston home nearly twenty-four hours ago, but I’m not tired, I’m invigorated. The luxury 62-room property has recently renovated guest rooms and public spaces featuring historic Peruvian and Andean themes and symbols while featuring world-class modern amenities. The best amenity is Sumaq’s location. Most people visit Machu Picchu from Cusco and spend a big part of their day in transit. The bus ride up to Machu Picchu from Sumaq is less than 20 minutes and you can spend your day taking in the historic sights. Food is a big part of our adventure. We learn to prepare Peruvian Ceviche and Peru’s flagship cocktail, the Pisco Sour at a cooking demonstration before heading to Qunuq for a six-course degustation tasting meal. Qunuq creates innovative dishes with ancient Peruvian culinary traditions and exciting flavors. Salmon trout cubes, lamb shank and avocado risotto are menu standouts.
Finally, Machu Picchu. Early morning hikers head up Hiram Bingham Highway. We bought tickets days ago and were lucky to get some of the limited seats on the bus. We stand in line in the center of town on Av. Hermanos. Machu Picchu is considered the heart of the Incan culture. Built with polished dry-stone walls, many buildings have been restored to their original glory. We join the crowds, go around a bend and see the first of many terraced fields. The landscape is simply breathtaking and quite unbelievable. Terraces were carved at different elevations so the Incans could grow crops at various temperatures; they seem to go on forever. Even though we are 7972 feet up, there are hills much higher; I see hikers on one of them. Our group entered at the main entrance. Those who made the four-day trek from Ollantaytamboenter the much higher Sun Gate. We walk carefully on the narrow, steep stone steps and winding trails and look down upon the main city where the Incas lived and worshipped. Symmetrical stone structures set amid green fields. One of the mysteries of Machu Picchu is how the Incas transported the giant blocks of stone to the top of the mountain and assembled them.
Shaman Willko Apaza leads “Mystical Machu Picchu Experience,” exploring the spiritual side of the legendary site. Using his natural gifts, and traditions from ancestors, he introduces us to his Andean beliefs and the Incan culture. His message is one of a new beginning. As he chants and dances around us clearing negative energy, we are invited to imagine all the peace and love in the world, feel the weight of the sacred rock, absorb the sun’s rays and connect to each other in a new way. Going beyond a historical lesson and sight seeing excursion, Willko reveals the mystery of Machu Picchu and the magical connections with the Pachamama (Mother Earth) and sacred temples. Rituals and ceremonies are part of the Incan culture. Offerings to Mother Earth are part of daily life for locals in the regions around Machu Picchu. Shaman lead them to a realm beyond the physical world where they are open to emotional and spiritual healing.
Coca is a Peruvian symbol of community and respect and plays a significant role in these ceremonies. We participate in the ceremonies; some of us have our Coca leaves read.
Arac Masin is a traditional Andean wedding. We witness the magic as one is performed on the hotel’s terrace. With the terrace draped in greenery and flowers, a shaman calls upon the Incan gods to guide relationships to last eternally. Available to engaged as well as married couples, guests immerse in the Andean culture with this ceremony.
The trip to Machu Picchu is worth every minute and hardship. There are crowds, but they all seem to be in awe, as I am, and very respectful. It’s a long way to Machu Picchu.
By Laurette Veres
The eight-hour Mystical Machu Picchu Tour costs $400 per person, including transportation, entrance ticket to Machu Picchu, private guide and authentic Peruvian shaman.