Be­neath Machu Pic­chu

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - Escape - - PERU -

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.

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