Monday, April 2, 2012
Most visitors to Machu Picchu don’t see much beyond the famous Inca site. But the town itself has some hidden gems, and after an excellent day of exploring the ruins of Machu Picchu, I set out to discover what else the small Peruvian town had to offer.
Given my love of animals, my first priority was the local fauna. Lucky for me, my accommodation, Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, offered an excursion to its spectacled bear project. There it rescued and rehabilitated members of the endangered Andean species.
Three bears were on site that day, and all of them were busy eating their breakfast when we arrived. While observing them, we learned that spectacled bears were mostly frutarians, preferring the watermelons and avocados in their enclosures to the chickens that hung tantalizingly from the ceilings.
As they roamed (one even walked on a tightrope without any training or prompting), I couldn’t help thinking of Paddington bear, London’s famous mascot. He came from “darkest Peru”, where the only bears are those of the spectacled variety. Sweet!
After visiting the animals, I went on another excursion in the gardens. This one started at the hotel’s small tea and coffee plantation, where we learned about the tea-making process. It reminded me of my stay at a tea plantation in Sri Lanka last year, what with the techniques being very similar.
The walk continued through the property’s immense orchid collection, past its hummingbirds, alongside its resident Andean Cock-of-the-Rock (Peru’s national bird), across its herb garden, next to ancient Inca (or pre-Inca) rock paintings, and up to a waterfall.
The scenery was beautiful, and I continued to be amazed at how much more there was to Machu Picchu than just the ruins.
That included the town. Most visitors to Machu Picchu write off the town as a sad tourist trap. But the local market was as vibrant as any I saw on my trip, and the small plaza with its pretty church was welcoming despite the fog and drizzle.
Walking up the main street, which was lined on both sides by colorful restaurants and shops, I wandered into a Mexican place for tortilla soup. There I met other travelers from Lima and Australia as I enjoyed my lunch in the small dining room.
At 2:30pm I left Machu Picchu to travel to Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley. My train journey was with Inca Rail, which had offered me a ticket in its business class carriage.
I had a very comfortable leather seat at a four-person table, and during the hour-and-a-half ride down the mountain I enjoyed complimentary coca tea, chocolate, and crackers. Before I knew it, I arrived in Ollantaytambo and my time in Machu Picchu officially came to an end.
I was sad to leave the Inca site after discovering that there was even more to the area than I ever imagined. But future adventures awaited me on my travels through Peru, and even the mighty Machu Picchu couldn’t keep me from exploring more of what the country had to offer. To be continued…