Smithsonian Journeys Dispatches

A Fantastic Day at Machu Picchu

Smithsonian travelers visit Machu Picchu, many for the first time. Photo: David Scott Palmer.

Smithsonian travelers visit Machu Picchu, many for the first time. Photo: David Scott Palmer.

Peru is a remarkable place in so many ways, with Machu Picchu, voted one of the seven wonders of the world, on just about everyone’s “bucket list.” “Awesome!” Fantastic!” “I can’t believe it!” “How could anyone ever have built this?” are just a sample of the impressions of my first-time visitor companions.

The hills of Machu Picchu. Photo: David Scott Palmer

Yet as extraordinary as that first sight of the 15th century ruins are to everyone, it is not long before we realize how much more there is to this beautiful and rugged country. Terraces line the hillsides of the Sacred Valley, with the Moray agricultural research station close by, both testaments to the ingenuity of the Incas in being able to meet the food needs of all of their subjects. Range after range of snowcapped mountains stretch to the horizon, leaving us in wonderment over how either indigenous cultures or Spanish conquerors could have overcome such daunting physical obstacles to leave their stamp.

Machu Picchu. Photo: David Scott Palmer

Photo: David Scott Palmer

And as impressive as the physical beauty and the six to sixteen centuries-old ruins are, we also see all around us the vibrant presence of living cultures and are able to experience a small part of their daily routines. We meet with a community of women in traditional garb who dye their alpaca wool with the same variety of local materials as their ancestors and weave an array of colorful goods.

Woman weaving alpaca wool.

Photo: David Scott Palmer

We watch a lively Sunday parade in Cuzco’s main square and lunch in homes of local families, who share their culinary gifts and their warm hospitality.

We also cross the waters of Lake Titicaca to share a morning with the Uru people on the islands they have made from the reeds of the lake for centuries, since fleeing to the water in the 1400s to avoid Inca domination.

The Uru people live on lake Titicaca

Photo: David Scott Palmer.

In Peru there is so much to see and appreciate, to savor, and to reflect. With such an interested and interesting group of travelers, we learn so much more together than we ever would separately. Amazing country, wonderful people, unforgettable experiences…What more could one ask?

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