We thought we were prepared, but we really weren’t. Our first glimpse of the
colossal pre-Columbian city, standing regally under a piercingly blue sky, moved us emotionally and physically.
We were both surprised by our reaction to the 15th-century Inca site perched almost 8,000 feet above sea level.
My 21-year-old daughter Annalyse draped her arm around my shoulder and I melted into the magic of the ethereal moment.
Breathing heavily in the thin air at 8,000 feet, we were acutely aware of being intensely alive: oxygen rushed to our lungs and blood pulsed through our heads. We stood in awe and silence as witnesses to a vanished civilization.
Visions of other ancient architectural monuments flashed through my mind. Machu Picchu ranks with Anchor Wat, the Great Wall and the pyramids as extraordinary human endeavors.
The grandiose setting, above geometrically terraced slopes between two perilous peaks brought to mind the poet Pablo Neruda’s description Machu Picchu as located “between the wings of the earth.”
We wandered through the perfectly chiseled stonework around the zigzag fortifications, while our local expert guide explained the construction, history and theories of this imposing citadel.
The “Lost City of the Andes” was built in just 75 years and then abandoned after 100 years of habitation.
Hike along the Inca Trail
Then Annalyse and I left the group and hiked along the Inca Trail. Huffing and puffing at 9,000 feet, we climbed the jagged stone steps to the Sun Gate. Our tough two-mile hike was enough to get a feel for the thirty-two thousand miles of the Inca Trail that meanders through the rain and cloud forests of the Andes.
We fulfilled a life-long dream to visit Machu Picchu on a tour offered by Adventures by Disney. You might not think of Disney for an international adventure trip, but think again. In the last decade they have expanded their expertise far from the Magic Kingdom. They have perfected twenty four different adventures on six continents. Peru, Italy, England and France are among their most popular. Disney Adventures attracts multi-generational families and couples who are Disney Brand Loyalists as well as travelers who seek the security, service, high quality and predictability that Disney offers in exotic locations.
The “Adventures by Disney’s nine-day Sacred Valleys and Incan Cities” features many “extras” that only a legendary brand like Disney with resources and clout could offer; a spectacular sound and light show with costumed dancers on stilts, an Arabian horse show, dance performances and a feast in a private colonial mansion in Lima. Our home for three nights was at a luxury hacienda in the Sacred Valley, with a renowned French chef, superb cuisine, a fine wine list and a spa.
Our Disney group consisted of families with school age kids, as well as several middle-aged couples. We bonded quickly into a cohesive jovial group. The well-behaved kids added a sparkle of childlike awe and wonder. When an Andean weaver taught them how to weave or the adventure guides told them legends about the ancient Incas, we adults watched and listened closely, vicariously enjoying their thrill.
Many empty nesters, like me, have adult children but no grandchildren. The Disney Adventure combined the best of both worlds. I shared an amazing experience with my twenty-one year-old daughter, (who lives far from home), and enjoyed interacting with the little kids on trip.
In Lima, before we set off for the Cusco area, we visited two outstanding collections of sophisticated pottery, tapestries and exquisite gold jewelry at the Private Largo Museum and the Casa Libre of Peruvian history.
Learning About Pre-Columbian Cultures
The Lima Museums were just the beginning of our crash course in Pre-Columbian history and art. As our journey evolved, we learned from some of the most knowledgeable and charismatic guides I’ve ever had on a tour. They were able to cross the generation gap to discuss Pre-Columbian culture or Andean potatoes as well as entertain us with stories that made history come alive as we visited a cornucopia of archeological treasures.
After a short flight to Cusco we traveled to a small Andean community to meet local weavers. They ranged in age from teenagers to mothers with babies swaddled on their backs and elderly grandmas. They showed us how they spin wool, dye it, and weave textiles according their 2,000 year old tradition. Then they let some of the children and adults try their hand at the loom. Their non-profit Center for Traditional Textiles helps preserve an ancient art and support nine neighboring communities.
The adrenaline and anticipation built as we slipped into wet suits and hard hats before a raucous white water raft trip down the Urubamba River. Each raft adopted a team name and chant and we competed for positions on the river and advantages in water fights. Without the kids, it might have seemed been contrived or corny, but with the children chanting, whooping and hollering between rapids, everyone joined the fun. We were a close-knit group of adventurers floating down the Urubumba River, anxiously waiting for the next set of wild rapids, (class 1-3). In the quiet stretches of the river we took in the stunning views of the Andes Mountains and the Incan ruins high above.
Every day we visited ruins, ate like royalty and had at least one big surprise. One morning we stopped at a working ranch where kids and parents patted and fed llamas and alpaca. Another day we pigged out on roasted alpaca, chicken, pig, veggies and a variety of potatoes at a traditional Andean feast, known as the Pachamanca. It was cooked over hot coals in the ground similar to a Hawaiian luau.
Thanks to Adventures by Disney, my daughter and I got a chance to visit Machu Picchu, Cusco, Lima and many other Peruvian sites. It was a great, well-orchestrated family experience.
“Remember our trips to Disneyland? ” Annalyse commented.
“We always returned home with fantastic family memories, and Disney did it again in Peru. “