Cusco, Ollantaytambo, Machu Picchu
Arriving at a charming hotel Casa Boutique Spa Encantada hotel, up a spiral staircase, to our room, overlooking a balcony with red flowers and an incredible view of Cusco. At breakfast in the stone-walled area with ceramic Pucara bulls, we eat omelettes, sweet French toast, drink cinnamon tea and passion fruit juice. Savouring every bite, savouring every moment.
A cab picks us up, driving down tiny, steep side streets to meet a City tour guide at the basilica Cusco Cathedral on the Plaza de Armas. It’s amazing! Inside is opulent and intense in a baroque, golden, colourful way — think Dolce & Gabbana. We admire the incredible artwork in this cool, dark, hushed Gothic interior. Jesus is often depicted wearing a skirt – ahead of his time? Or the painters concealing his modesty? One mural depicts Jesus and his disciples eating the local delicacy of guinea pig. Ew. The Last Supper.
Climbing the stone stairs at Sacsayhuaman, the view here too is breathtaking, with a white statue of Christ, a water temple and a shop.
Today’s tour begins at the Pisaq market: full of brightly woven handicrafts, ceramic Pucara bulls and flutes. Our spiritual guide shows us the shimmering salt pans in Maras and the terraced circles of awesome archaeological site Moray.
A visit to Calca, the Sacred Valley of the Incas, then a stop at Urubamba for a buffet lunch at Tunupa Restaurant. It’s a very wedding venue with the pan pipes playing Beatles’ song Imagine. Through the arches, the lush green garden is like a utopia! There are brown alpacas feeding on the lawn, a running river in front of a towering mountain, beautiful flowers and hanging weaves. Absolutely stunning.
Up 200 steps of the impressive ruins with large rectangular Inca stones forming arches. Here we check into a cute hotel set amongst the original Inca terraces with a pretty garden and views of the archaeological site. Dinner consists of Pisco sour and chicken fajitas at a local café. Sleep is to the sound of the running river.
We head into the square for a drink and a browse around another market, buying beautiful hummingbird paintings. A taxi to the station to take the Inca Rail to Aguas Calientes. Lunch is included with a fragrant lemongrass drink. An open carriage at the back allows us amazing views of mountains, glaciers, hikers, blue skies, and rapid rivers rushing over enormous boulders. The honk of the train and the smell of lemongrass beats travelling on the Central Line any day.
Our lovely Casa Del Sol hotel room in Aguas Calientes has wood panelling and a large window overlooking the Vilcanota River. We head into the square for a Cusqueña Dorada beer and a game of colourful Jenga. Dinner is at restaurant Mapacho Craft Beer & Peruvian Cuisine (found on the Foursquare app) for pizza and an early night. Early start tomorrow!
After a fitful sleep listening to the roar of the river we're up for a ridiculously early breakfast. At 5.30am we walk to the bus queue in a light drizzle, pleased we packed Pac-a-macs. Green buses head up steep winding chicane bends to the top of the mountain.
Here we meet our guide, who says the mountain is to the left and takes about four hours. So, we turn right to Route 2. It’s foggy but luckily the patches of mist are clearing as our guide speaks.
We walk around the walled, terraced site, marvelling at the awesome sight of Machu Picchu. The dark green mountains soar majestically over the stone ruin walls as we scramble like ants up the hilly terrain. We see the head and body of the Andean Condor sculpted on the floor.
Our guide leaves us and we turn left at Route 2 to head the one-hour climb up rocky stairs to the Inca sun gate. It’s a sweaty, steep scramble up. Well worth the view at the top. Sparrows flit around tall orchid plants and colourful mountain flowers. The steep descent down feels like a quarter of the journey on the way up.
Paddington loves it here and is photogenic in the pictures, his red hat and blue toggled jacket contrasting against the steep backdrop of triangular stone walls on the green descent. We see llamas romantically necking as we head out, enjoying an ice cream before joining the bus queue down.
iPhone at 14.52: Flights Climbed: 133 floors, Steps 14,002, Walking Distance: 7.7km. Battery: Low.
My phone must think it’s been stolen!
The physical exertion, adrenalin, thrill, fear and excitement is followed by the inevitable crash. We’ve completed this epic lifetime opportunity; thrilled, yet sad that it’s over.
Come down the mountain come-down.
We wander into town, browse in the markets and up to Treehouse restaurant for lunch. Sitting on a bench, we watch the world go by – most of it wearing hiking boots, zip-off trousers and kagouls. Dinner is at a Peruvian and Italian gastronomy restaurant Incontri Del Pueblo Viejo
Sunday: A scenic walk past three bridges and along the river up to Baños Termales – hot springs. The granite rocks have been recently carved with Inca motifs. We sit in the 36ºC murky pool full of minerals which feels great on the skin.
Back at our hotel for the set lunch: Potato soup with beef jerky in it. Trout and quinoa are delicious and beautifully presented. Gooseberry cheesecake tastes divine. Bill settled, bags grabbed, the concierge walks us to the train station, through the market, past a brass band playing out our departure.
The Peru Rail train back is even nicer inside. It feels brighter and modern with a glass ceiling and Inca wallpapered cream walls, but there's no outdoor carriage. On the three-and-a-half-hour journey the view is of babbling rivers and grand mountains – I can see why the Incas worshipped them. I gaze out of the window at cows, horses, pigs, farming and terraces on the leisurely train journey.
‘Life is a journey, not a destination’ seems more applicable here than on the 179 bus.
Taxi from our train to Cusco for a fleeting one night’s stay at Antigua Casona San Blas.
The hotel is lovely, all white with wooden furniture, like a Spanish Finca. The dining room has grey quilted chairs and ten green bottles filled with gladioli. Dinner is a prawn kebab starter to share, followed by Cesar salad and a glass of Intipunku red wine, a Peruvian Malbec.
Next stop the Amazon rainforest...
Written by Crystal McClory
Contact Abbotts Travel to book your trip. Tel: 020 8989 944
Read about Luxury Rail & Sail to Machu Picchu on the Star Clipper and Belmond train.
Click here to read previous destinations of Paddington in Peru: Puno, Lake Titicaca and Taquile Island