I was 11 years old when I heard this name for the first time. I was intrigued even by the sound of it. I read and studied about it for months and then my father took me to visit it. Not even for one second did I ever imagine that Machu Picchu would become, only 7 years later, the cornerstone of who I am now.
Machu Picchu means Old Mountain in Quechua the official language of the Tahuantinsuyo also known as the Inca Empire. This magnificent piece of architecture was built in the XV century by the Incas. For centuries Machu Picchu was hidden to the world. The Spanish conquistadores never found it, and the few Quechua people who knew its location never gave it away and in some cases they had forgotten it. Whoever chose the location of Machu Picchu, could not pick a more stunning place. The city is dangerously perched on a plateau between the mountains Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu. It is a steep slope located about 500 feet above the Urubamba River or Willkamayu “Sacred River” in Quechua. There is no doubt that the design and construction of something of this magnitude in this remote place was a monumental task. Thousands of workers were needed to clear the site, lay the foundation, build hundreds of terraces and erecting all kinds of buildings such as the Temple of the Sun, the Main Temple, the Intihuatana or Solar clock, the liturgical fountains, the royal tombs, the Palace of the Princess or the Ñusta Palace, the Sacred Plaza, schools, nunneries and more.
I have been to Machu Picchu more than a hundred times and I still think it is one of the most amazing places on earth. It is quite a journey to get there but it is worth every minute of it. Arriving through the “Inti Punku” Sun Gate or driving up there from Aguas Calientes and walking into the citadel is breathtaking in more than one way ( 7970ft above sea level). My perfect trip to Machu Picchu would be flying to Cusco from Lima with one of the many daily 1hr flights operated by LAN, one of the largest airlines in Latin America, serving North America, the Caribbean, Oceania as well as Europe and it is a member of the Oneworld airline alliance. I would try to arrive to Cusco around 10am which gives me a couple of hours before lunch time to acclimatize to the Imperial City and its 11,200 ft.
Where would I do that? Nowhere else but at the Belmond Hotel Monasterio, a former monastery and national monument dating from 1592. This delightful property combines centuries-old charm with luxury hotel service, inspired restaurants and boutique rooms and suites, all clustered around a tranquil central courtyard. The ideal hotel from which to discover the delights of Cusco, its doors open to a vibrant scene of old and modern architecture, markets, galleries and restaurants serving ‘new Andean’ cuisine. It was recently visited by King Harald V and Queen Sonja of Norway. This used to be my home in Cusco for 3 years, oh boy do I miss it!
In the afternoon I recommend to make an appointment right next door at the HYPNÔZE SPA in the recently inaugurated Belmond Palacio Nazarenas Hotel. The spa is inspired by Inca and Andean culture; Hypnôze has created its own brand of organic products using indigenous Peruvian ingredients, such as herbs, Andean salts and coca leaves. Early next morning, off to Machu Picchu. For many, a trip to Machu Picchu is a once in a lifetime experience so this journey has to be done in The Belmond Hiram Bingham train which assures a magical journey, never to be forgotten. Every trip has one right way to be done and this is my way.
Named after the explorer who rediscovered the Inca citadel in 1911, the train has two dining cars, an observation/bar car and a kitchen car. Decorated in the style of 1920s Pullman carriages, each has been furnished in polished wood and brass with large comfortable armchairs. It is a train fit for a king which reminds me of one of my last trips on it, guiding His Highness United Arab Emirates Prince Tahnoon bin Zayed and Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, United Arab Emirates Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, the current UAE King’s favorite uncle or as he asked me to call him after a couple of delicious Pisco Sours, just Nahyan. After crossing the beautiful Sacred Valley of the Incas, in a picturesque 3hr train ride, you will arrive to Aguas Calientes around noon.
Machu Picchu is a full day activity so I recommend you to go to your hotel to have lunch and rest and then decide if you want to have a quick look at Machu Picchu before it closes at 5pm or to explore the town and its unique flora and fauna. The Inca citadel is located 500ft above Aguas Calientes or a 20 minute ride away from it so here are my two Hotel recommendations. One option is to take a respite at the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel in one of their 85 private “casitas” little houses. Every hotel casita offers you a privileged space for retreat and repose at the foot of Machu Picchu. Terra cotta tiled roofs crafted by local artisans, amongst lush gardens, artfully landscaped for serenity and solitude. Accommodations and reservations range from the opulent Villas Inkaterra, with private terraces and plunge pools, plus round-the-clock butler service; to more intimate lodges that provide a perfect sanctuary for simple relaxation.
My second and last recommendation but not less luxurious or comfortable is the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge. It is the only hotel located adjacent to the ancient Inca citadel of Machu Picchu. It offers its guests exceptionally easy access from early morning to late afternoon, when most of the day visitors and buses have left. Sit out on a terrace and savor Peruvian cuisine based on produce grown on the Lodge’s own plot: this delightful hideaway is the perfect place to relax and unwind in the shadow of the Lost City.
I had the privilege to be in Machu Picchu numerous times. I also had the opportunity to live in Cusco and the honor to study at the “Qhichwa Simi Hamut’ana Kuraq Suntur” High Academy of the Quechua Language and to learn about this marvelous place and its cordial and warm people by interacting with them in their own language.
A Honey Moon or a Family Trip. Alone or with friends, this is a trip you will never forget.
NYC is to me what the Sun is to Superman. A source of energy. However, Machu Picchu is the place I always go back to recharge my soul, to find peace and inspiration.
Machu Picchu is my Incan Big Apple.