Kerryn ramsey’s visit to Machu Picchu is a highlight of her family’s exploration of Cusco and the Sacred Valley.
Kerryn Ramsey and family explore the delights of Machu Picchu, Cusco and the Sacred Valley.
Having just stepped off the plane at Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport in Cusco, Peru, the altitude at 3,400 metres is knocking us around. As my husband, myself and our two kids struggle through the terminal, we feel weak and short of breath. Fortunately, stalls selling coca tea are just outside. This tea, made from coca leaves, is a mild stimulant and legal in Peru, and after downing a cup, we all immediately feel much better.
Culture shock in Cusco
Our adventures begin in Cusco, a truly enchanting town full of Spanish architecture and narrow meandering streets. We have booked into the Hostal Wara Wara, a rustic hill-top pensione with a self-contained apartment, ideal for a family of four. We spend the rest of the day acclimatising and then hit the town. Plaza de Armas is a hotspot of restaurants, churches and colonial architecture. There is constant activity with festivals in full swing and political speeches taking place.
We watch dancers perform the Capac Colla dance. Women and girls dressed in
traditional dresses are joined by men and boys wearing woollen masks with grotesque faces. Many of the dancers have the body of a baby llama strapped to their back. As the band plays and dancers twirl, our kids are feeling a solid dose of culture shock.
Dotted around the plaza are touristy shops selling T-shirts, jewellery, artworks and handicrafts. We visit an impressive 15thcentury church, La Compañia de Jesús, and climb the rickety, stairs up the bell tower.
The kids are showing signs of historyoverload so I have just the antidote: Playbox Gaming Center. In this immersive virtual reality experience, they shoot zombies and fight aliens. After an hour of battle, the kids are ready for more of Cusco.
We have no trouble ushering them into the Choco Museo chocolate museum. I sign us up for the two-hour bean-to-bar workshop, starting with cacao beans and ending with a delicious block of chocolate.
We hire a taxi to take us to the nearby Sacsayhuaman ruins, an Inca fortress completed around 1508. This expansive area is dotted with ancient walls built of multitonne blocks fitted together like a jigsaw.
In the middle of the ruins is a natural rock slippery dip that the kids can’t wait to try. It’s high, steep and smooth from the thousands of behinds that have slipped down it. We spend an exhausting half-hour running up the rock face and sliding down again and again.
Through the Sacred Valley
Our day trip to the Sacred Valley starts in the best way possible at the Cochahuasi Animal Sanctuary. Dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating animals that have suffered from mistreatment, it is the home of llamas, vicuña, toucans, condors, pumas and spectacled bears. The kids are, quite simply, entranced.
About 50 kilometres away is Moray, a series of concentric circular terraces that looks a little like a Roman amphitheatre. Descend to its centre and you can feel the temperature drop by as much as 15 degrees.
The Salinas Salt Pools, situated at the bottom of a steep cliff, look like a patchwork blanket of ochre, brown and white. The 3,000 salt pans form a surreal landscape that offers endless photo opportunities.
A stop at a cafe gives us the opportunity to try a local favourite: roast guinea pig. The kids and I decline, but my husband reports that it tastes a bit like chicken.
Ascent to Machu Picchu
Intrepid adventurers walk to Machu Picchu along the Inca Trail, a slowly ascending trek of 43 kilometres that takes about four days. We catch the train.
We ride the four-hour Perurail Vistadome from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, a small town at the base of Machu Picchu. My husband and son enjoy playing chess on a cafe terrace overlooking a small waterfall while my daughter and I go shopping. You can never have enough Peruvian earflap hats!
Access to Machu Picchu is split into two sessions: 6am to midday and midday to 5.30pm. We have morning tickets so we are up before sunrise to catch the bus up the mountain. The dozen hairpin turns and sheer drop down the mountain has the kids’ eyes standing on stalks.
The perfect Machu Picchu photo spot is at the Gatekeeper’s Hut. I drive my family like unruly llamas until we stand on the rocky outcrop and gaze down at the ancient ruins at least we would if the mist wasn’t so thick.
Fortunately, the great god Wiracocha smiles on us and the mist clears an hour later. Machu Picchu exceeds all expectations and we climb terraces, soak up the vista and marvel at the skill and effort to create such an evocative place. The llamas wandering around only add to the enjoyment.
The train trip back to Cusco is unbelievably happy; we all feel light of heart and reinvigorated of spirit. When I ask my kids what they think of Machu Picchu, they give it the highest possible accolade. “It’s awesome!” they say in unison.
01 Llama overlooking Machu Picchu © aaabbbccc/shutterstock 02 Peruvian kids © Brigitte Bolduc/shutterstock 03 Meeting the locals © Kerryn Ramsey 02 03