Machu Picchu lay hidden in a dense, overgrown jungle for 350 years until Hiram Bingham discovered the ruin high in the Andes Mountains of Peru in 1911. The Yale history professor and archaeologists spent several years cleaning up the Inca site before it was opened to visitors. Now, the World Heritage Site is considered one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
If you have a bucket list, the Lost City of the Incas is probably on it. But getting there is still a challenge. For Americans, the journey involves up-to-date vaccinations and flying to the capital city of Lima and then to Cusco, the ancient capital of the Incas. (We flew LAN Airlines roundtrip from Miami and between Peruvian cities.)
From Cusco (elevation 11,000 feet) you travel via bus through the beautiful Sacred Valley to Ollantaytambo and then board the charming Inca Rail for an exciting two-hour journey to Machu Picchu Pueblo (elevation 6,500 feet). During the rainy season, some of the rail lines are closed because of mud slides; hence, our rail adventure might have been longer.
From the train station in the village, it’s a short walk to Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, a lovely resort nestled in the trees overlooking the Urubamba River. The resort is made up of bungalows clustered around the reception areas, dining room, and gift shop. It is one of five resort properties associated with the Inkaterra Asociacion, a nonprofit organization that is devoted to conserving Peru’s biodiversity and cultural resources.
At Inkaterra Machu Picchu the wait staff handed us Pisco Sours (Peruvian welcome cocktails) upon arrival and then escorted us to our rooms. That afternoon, we found the nature preserve on the grounds to be lush and lovely, an ideal habitat for tropical orchids, butterflies, birds, and the resident spectacled bear, just like Paddington in the storybooks. A wonderful dinner and a good night’s rest prepared us for visit to the Machu Picchu Citadel (elevation 7,970 feet) the next morning following a 25-minute bus ride.
Rain had ruined the plans of photographers who had risen at dawn for the best pictures, but by mid-morning Machu Picchu Citadel was there in its entire splendor in the clouds. We learned from our Inkaterra guide that the sacred site was built around 1450 as a retreat for the Inca ruler Pachacuti, and abandoned a century later. It was never fully completed because of conflict among Inca rulers and the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in 1532.
Sadly, the capture and death of the last Incan ruler, Atahualpa, at the hands of Francisco Pizarro, marked the beginning of the end for the Inca empire. The conquistadors tore down the Inca palaces and temples in Cuzco, leaving the Inca walls as the foundation for the Spanish-style buildings and churches that now dominate the city.
The Palacio del Inka Hotel, where we stayed, was centrally located in the most historic part of the city of 300,000. After a morning walking tour, we flew to Puerto Maldonado in Peru’s Amazon Basin and then traveled by jitney and powered river boat to Inkaterra Hacienda Concepcion. We slept under mosquito netting in well-appointed bungalows and gathered in the main lodge for cocktails and meals.
While some members of our group trudged through the mud one morning, we enjoyed looking for wildlife on the lagoon. On the second day, we climbed the 98-foot tower for an adventurous canopy walk involving seven long bridges connected by platforms through the treetops.
Back in Lima, the founders of Inkaterra gave us a beautiful farewell dinner before we took the midnight flight back to Miami. (At the beginning of our tour we had spent a few days at the Westin Lima and enjoyed tours by Condor Travel. Highlights of our Lima trip were the Mira Flores area overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the Larco Museum, offering in-depth exhibits and lectures on the Inca culture in advance of our trip to Machu Picchu.)
Off to the races
Spring brings steeplechase and flat track racing to the Mid-Atlantic, including the Winterthur Point-to-Point, May 3 on the grounds of the famous du Pont family mansion. Other steeplechase events take place in Monkton, Md., Butler, Md., Middleburg, Va., The Plains, Va., and Charlottesville, Va.
The upcoming 2015 Triple Crown races kick off May 2 with the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville. The Preakness Stakes, at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, is next, on May 16, followed by the June 6 Belmont Stakes in Elmont, N.Y.
The Preakness, now in its 140th year, is the shortest Triple Crown race, just 1-3/16 miles, and is today one of the largest single-day sporting events in the United States.
The Preakness InfieldFest will feature headliners on two stages, the MUG Club, and other attractions, while 13 exciting races will take place on the track throughout the day. The Cadillac Three, a high-energy “country fuzz” trio from Nashville, will headline the Preakness Kickoff Concert Series at Rams Head Live in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor on May 9. (preakness.com)
Also in the Mid-Atlantic
Last month’s Wildwater River Festival in Webster kicked off West Virginia’s rafting season, which runs through early fall. The Mountain State harbors nearly 2,000 miles of rivers and streams, the most challenging being the New, Cheat, Gauley, and Tygart rivers. The New River, with Class I-V rapids, runs through the 1,000-foot-deep New River Gorge over the course of 14 miles. It travels under the spectacular New River Gorge Bridge, the longest steel arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere and an attraction in itself.
The Gauley River extends for 30 miles, with the Upper Gauley offering Class III-V rapids that are best suited for experienced rafters, and the Lower Gauley offering exciting, but less challenging, rapids. With the release of water from the Summerville Dam in the fall, the Gauley presents the greatest whitewater challenges in the East at that time of year.
The Cheat River has a variety of rafting experiences over the course of its 12-mile run, including Class III-V rapids sought by the most experienced rafters. The Tygart River is best known for Wells Falls, considered the biggest drop in the Monongahela River Basin. The popular sport is also enjoyed on several other rivers around the state, including the Potomac, Meadow, Shenandoah, Big Sandy Creek, and Bluestone rivers. And don’t forget the many opportunities for boating, canoeing, kayaking, water skiing, jet skiing, and water tubing that can be found around the state. (wvriversports.com)
If you’re planning a trip to Virginia’s Historic Triangle this summer, don’t forget you can save money by purchasing tickets for more than one day or one site, plus the tickets may be packaged with lodging.
The History Is Fun combination ticket provides unlimited admission for seven consecutive days to Jamestown Settlement and Yorktown Victory Center ($21 for adults, $10.50 for ages 6-12 when purchased online). Package variations include “Historical Gardens,” “Art Escape to Williamsburg,” and “History, Shopping and Fun!” as a free bonus.
The Jamestown and Yorktown Four-Site Value is good for seven consecutive days of unlimited admission to Jamestown Settlement, Historic Jamestowne, Yorktown Battlefield, and Yorktown Victory Center ($35 for adults, $23 for ages 13-15, $12.50 for ages 6-12).
America’s Historic Triangle gives you seven consecutive days of unlimited visits to five sites — Jamestown Settlement, Historic Jamestowne, Colonial Williamsburg’s Revolutionary City and Art Museums, Yorktown Battlefield, and the Yorktown Victory Center ($89 for adults, $41 for ages 6-15).
Williamsburg Flex covers seven consecutive days of unlimited visits, from spring to mid-fall, to six sites — Jamestown Settlement, Historic Jamestowne, Colonial Williamsburg’s Revolutionary City and Art Museums, Yorktown Battlefield, Yorktown Victory Center, and Busch Gardens ($193.50 for adults, $152.20 for ages 6-15). From mid-May through Labor Day, the Williamsburg Flex ticket includes Water Country USA. (888-593-4682, 757-253-4838, or historyisfun.org)
Carol Timblin welcomes travel information at email@example.com.