Beneath Machu Picchu
Keith Austin refuels in a village ecohotel not far from the madding crowds
HE grounds of the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel in Peru’s Cusco region are dense with trees and shrubs. It’s as if the place has always been there and the forest has grown up in and around it. As befits an ecolodge, its impact is so low it’s almost imperceptible.
Every morning, the staff impale bananas on the spikes around the resort, drawing a kaleidoscope of pale blue, yellow and red birds. Down by the pool and past a small sauna, a feeder has attracted the blur of an iridescent hummingbird that resolutely refuses to stay still for a photograph.
Somewhere not far from here is a great lump of rock that people are dying to tick off their to-do list but, you know, Machu Picchu can wait; I’m determined to snap that hummingbird.
The Inkaterra is an 85-cottage luxury resort in 5ha of natural forest. The lost city of the Incas? Been there, done that. Inkaterra? I want to go back.
Since the rediscovery of Machu Picchu in 1911, the number of people visiting the ruins annually has grown to 400,000 in 2000, and 1.2 million in 2013. What’s surprising, then, is that the village at the foot of the mountain, Aguas Calientes, is so underdeveloped.
The village remains small enough to walk around in an hour and bears no buildings more than four storeys, with plenty of backpacker and budget accommodation.
The Inkaterra is without a doubt the best hotel in the area and just a few minutes’ walk from the train station. Indeed, it’s so close that one of the hotel’s restaurants sits between two sets of tracks.
The resort has been built within a lush “cloud forest” in the Andean-Spanish colonial style with white walls, stone archways and terracotta tiled roofs made by local artisans.
The rooms are simply decorated – white walls, old wooden furniture and splashes of colour – in what the hotel calls the “authentic Andean ambience of barefoot luxury”.
But the real action lies outside, with daily nature walks around the grounds with professional guides.
Aguas Calientes is set between two rivers, deep in a gorge below Machu Picchu, to which the village owes its existence. Lonely Planet is a little disparaging, describing it “a bit of a no-man’s land, with a large itinerant population, slack services that count on one-time customers”.
It certainly has a once-overlightly feel, as if someone started to build a town and got fed up halfway through, but that’s half the attraction.
Haggle over wildly colourful souvenirs in the market by the station and then cross the open rail tracks to the village centre for lunch in one of several restaurants cantilevered over the Vilcanota River. The food and beer are cheap and cheerful. (By the way, you will, however much you say you won’t, buy a silly woollen hat with ear muffs, a pompom and little alpaca/llama motifs.)
And as for that old Incan ruin nearby – if you’ve booked on a tour, you’ll be transported 8km from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu by coach; if not, there are regular local buses (about $A14 a ticket). Or you can walk – a steep but wellsignposted hike of about 90 minutes. Whatever the method of ascent, it’s worth the effort. There are llamas up here but, curiously, very little bird life. They’ll be down at the hotel, stuffing their little Peruvian faces with banana. The writer travelled courtesy of Captain’s Choice Tours.