By Steve MacNaull
Of course, we marvelled at Machu Picchu on a recent foray to Peru. After all, the Lost City of the Incas is the type of eye candy to warrant being named to the New Seven Wonders of the World list and snag UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
But in all honesty the best part of the trip was spending time with my 20-year-old son Alex. You see, Alex won’t travel with me anymore unless the destination is ‘epic’. So Machu Picchu turned into a father-and-son trip of a lifetime.
In fact, on the week-long journey Alex and I spend more time together, talk, laugh and experience more than we have in the entire three months prior that he’s been at home for the summer from university.
In what might seem like an odd choice for a dad and his 20-year-old, we make this journey with Adventures by Disney. Now don’t get Adventures by Disney mixed up with the Disneyland and Disney World concepts of rides and posing with Mickey and Minnie Mouse. It’s a family-friendly group tour company that packages up bucket list itineraries around the globe utilizing the quality ‘Disney Difference’, according to Kitty Phillips of Disney Destinations.
“Adventures by Disney groups are always small and have two guides, one from the U.S. and one local expert,” she explains.
“We also go to the greatest places, stay in the best hotels, take care of all the logistics for you and by special arrangement by-pass all the lineups. It’s like your own personal Fast Pass around the world” (in reference to Disney’s line by-passing Fast Pass system at its amusement parks).
By the way, Adventures by Disney also does tours of Egypt and the Great Pyramids, safari in South Africa, Australia, Ecuador and the Galapogas Islands and Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos.
Now back to Machu Picchu.
It comes on day five of a week-long trip so that it arrives like a crescendo after a long tension-filled build up by both the tour guides and the amongst-the-group chat.
Our gang is quiet on most of the bus and train ride up to Machu Picchu because it’s early morning. But the buzz picks up again as we make the final approach.
Steve MacNaull“You are so lucky to be going here,” says guide Ernesto Ore by way of understatement. “Machu Picchu is a pilgrimage – a spiritual journey – that most Peruvians only do once in their lifetime.”
Fellow guide Rudy Chalco is less heavy when he tells us he calls it ‘Machu Picture’ because it's one of the most photographed places in the universe.
We’ve already heard all the Machu Picchu facts and figures: built around 1440 as a showpiece Inca royal city in the Andes Mountains with religious, agricultural and astronomical importance, it was abandoned for unknown reasons around 1530 and forgotten until explorer Hiram Bingham discovered it again in 1911. The jungle was cut back to reveal well-preserved ruins with agricultural terraces, food warehouses, temples, plazas and homes.
After going through the front entrance there’s a big wall and then you turn the corner for the big reveal: the Machu Picchu ruins lay on the valley floor with the distinctive twin peaks hovering in the background punctuating the view.
Initially we’re speechless and then the fawning starts. To start with it’s unoriginal 'wows' and then we start articulating that it’s exactly how we imagined it or it’s not at all how we pictured it.
The quintessential Machu Picchu view is right there so everyone poses for their marquee photos. It may be unoriginal, but everyone has a smile on their face nevertheless.
For the rest of the day we wander the ruins, complete with roaming llamas making cameos, and hike part of the Inca Trail to Sun Gate enjoying the spectacle and the sunshine.
We don’t even mind when the Andes’ notoriously fickle weather sees the clouds roll in the late afternoon and it rains a little. Precipitation is seen as a blessing of the gods.
Machu Picchu is at a relatively low (Andes-speaking) 2,438 metres elevation. At certain points on our itinerary we’re as high as 3,810 metres.
Adrenaline PicturesWhile we’ve heard a lot about altitude sickness (dizziness, headache, stomach upset and worse) we avoid it by drinking coca tea, lots of water, eating and drinking alcohol lightly and getting lots of rest.
Machu Picchu is certainly the highlight of a trip to Peru, but there’s lots more to do. So we white water raft on the Urubamba River; check out the wares at the Centre for Traditional Textiles; visit other Inca ruins; watch Peruvian dance and Paso horse shows; and eat and drink our way through Peruvian cuisine ranging from ceviche (raw fish salad) and alpaca stir fry to fresh white wines and pisco sour (the local liquor mixed with lime juice, egg whites and sugar).
If you go...
• Adventures by Disney does eight-night itineraries in Peru under the Sacred Valleys and Incan Cities banner year-round.
• Package includes all activities, admissions, hotels, most meals, ground transportation, guides and internal flight from Lima to Cusco (the launch pad for Machu Picchu).
• Cost is US $3,439 for adults and US $3,269 for kids.
• Check out AdventuresbyDisney.com.
• Air Canada flies three times a week non-stop to Lima from Toronto. Or Canadians have to connect through New York, Miami, Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles or San Francisco.
• General information at VisitPeru.com.