OK, I appreciate it seems a little crazy to tackle Machu Picchu three days in a row, all using a different approach… but that is the curse of the overly analytical 😉 On the plus side, I have lots of insight and advice to offer others.
I felt a little guilty staying at the Sanctuary Lodge. That is the insight you gain by being on the ground in foreign countries talking to locals. I am still a newbie to travelling in developing countries but naively always hoping I am doing something that will provide me with a lot of pleasure and also – for bonus karma points – help the local community.
What I have learned is that you need to pay attention to how your dollars are spent. As a spoiled western traveller it is easy to go five star and put all your funds into the pockets of multinational corporations who hardly need your support as they employ their international tax advisors to avoid paying their share of the infrastructure from which their profits flow.
Peru taught me to pay more attention next time to do my best to support local entrepreneurs and assist the local economy in moving forward. I also find most of my expensive hotel experiences have been a bit soulless (Claridge’s one of the only exceptions – DO put it on your bucket list!).
The Sanctuary Lodge was a bit more soulful but that was due to the interactions with the staff. It certainly isn’t a “must do” but one night is fun. You get to take pictures of Machu Picchu from your hotel room. It is not the Sheraton at Iguazu Falls though. The park opens at 6am and closes at 5pm and staying right outside doesn’t offer much of an advantage over the bus from Aguas Calientes.
It did allow me to roll out of bed a bit later than round one and be in line before 6am so I could wander around the site almost alone. I had already stood at the famous spot to watch the sunrise so instead I climbed to the Guardhouse for a great view of the tourist descent on Machu Picchu…
David had kindly offered to be my unofficial guide once his official tour was done. When he was helping me figure out the travel arrangements for my solo travel plans in the Sacred Valley we’d discovered he was going to be in Machu Picchu doing an early tour the same day I would there – and he would be free by 9am… so no need for me to hire a stranger as a guide.
Since breakfast was included in my room rate, I scored some food post Machu Picchu and pre-David meeting. Since I had been travelling alone, I had been eavesdropping and couldn’t tell how challenging the hike to the Sun Gate was but I knew David would be able to give me advice I could trust.
He said it wasn’t that hard and the chance of dropping off a cliff thousands of metres was pretty low so I signed up. It really is worth doing. It’s good exercise and the view from the top is spectacular. (It’s where the serious tourists who hike the Inca Trail first appear at Machu Picchu – it’s recommended not to do it first thing in the morning to give them a chance to pass through). I would highly encourage you to sign David up as your guide J As in the Sacred Valley, he was knowledgeable, patient and charming.
He also seems to be part mountain goat. He grew up in the neighborhood. So it’s great to watch him in action but I liked to stand a little further from the edge for photos 🙂
Once we had checked off the Sun Gate, he took me to the Inca Bridge. I think the English girls I met later in the day had the name right – they asked, “so, did you go on the scary bridge?” 😉
Of course, David thought it was nothing and wanted me to take photos of him posed precariously on the edge showing how steep the drop off is. In the end, I decided to brave it and went right to the end. There is a cable next to the cliff you can hold as you cross. It’s wide enough for at least a couple of people but not much more. The view is spectacular though as long as you don’t suffer any vertigo.
Having burned some serious calories prior to noon, I figured I deserved lunch in the sun at the Sanctuary Lodge peeking out at the Andes. I asked David to join me and got more insight into local culture.
It was almost too much but I went back in the afternoon to score some final shots of Machu Picchu. It was nice to be so relaxed and I took photos of a couple of English girls and gave them my tips. I then had them yelling “hello” for the next hour or two as we traversed Machu Picchu until close with most of the tour groups already back on their bus.
The perk of spending SO much time at Machu Picchu was that I was totally relaxed by night three. Since I was staying at the Sanctuary Lodge and only had to walk a handful of feet to dinner, I dressed up. It got me into some interesting conversations as a backpack and trekking attire is the norm.
The highlight of the Sanctuary Lodge experience was the pisco tasting I discovered by reading my mini English newspaper at breakfast. I am always fascinated by local specialties and pisco is a Peruvian thing. I understand the Chileans are trying to copy but only Peruvian pisco really counts 😉
If you appreciate spirits, it’s definitely worth having a bartender tour you through Peruvian piscos. The food at the Sanctuary Lodge is also wonderful and the service is first rate. I tipped my pisco guide really generously. That’s the one thing that I think does work. Bring lots of US dollars in small bills when you travel. In Peru people wanted soles so that made it easier but in most countries crisp US dollar bills buy more than you might expect and you know the cash is going directly to a local you like rather than to a bank account in the Caymans.
Just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything I took the Vistadome train back to Cusco the next day. I think it’s worth trading up from the Expedition as the price difference is small but the service experience on the Vistadome is at a high caliber. PeruRail definitely offers some of the best rail service I have ever experienced.
The train service included entertainment – music, fashion show… and a dancing lion in traditional costume. I really would have been content to just watch the lion and take photos. But, no, I became part of the show! I just don’t say “no” very well… and someone needs to participate. I feel bad for the performers when everyone rejects them… I have now danced impromptu for an audience on four continents – only two to go! (both are in the plan in the next year)
A word of warning – dancing backwards with a lion on a moving train when you don’t know the steps will test your balance! But you will make the guy in the lion suit very happy. He will growl at you – or was it a purr? I am pretty sure it was a loud, aggressive purr… but I already had a dinner date when I got to Cusco 😉