Titilaka on Lake Titicaca is undoubtedly the most luxurious hotel I have ever stayed in. Named one of Conde Nast Traveler's "Top 20 Hotels in the World," part of Titilaka's appeal is its secluded location at the tip of a peninsula on Lake Titicaca. Surrounded only by small local farm villages, a private beach where locals spend their summer weekends, and the vast sparkling lake, Titilaka is a private sanctuary on the water. We stayed in a "sunrise" room that felt almost as if we were sleeping in the lake, and the sunrise shone beautifully over-top the waters' horizon into our window each morning.
Titilaka's experience is complete with a variety of excursions of your choosing, whether it be kayaking for as long as you please on the crystal clear waters, biking through the countryside, or taking a boat out to the Uros Islands. The hotel is decorated with rugs and tapestries hand woven by members of a nearby community, and clean white cabana beds on the many decks provide the perfect place for relaxation. Complete with on-site massages, complimentary tea every afternoon, some of the most delicious food in Peru, and a perfectly blended pisco sour, Titilaka most certainly lived up to its reputation.
Colca Canyon is the second largest canyon in the world but is often mistakenly overlooked on many Peru itineraries. Driving through the winding roads offers never-ending views of the landscapes from the snow-capped glaciers and the many mountains to the terraces and valley below. We enjoyed the scenery throughout the day, the highlight being stopping for a picnic at what felt like the highest viewpoint around. Looking out onto the unbelievable landscape while eating a perfectly ripe, locally grown avocado sandwich was unforgettable.
We visited the Condor's Cross where we tried to spot the country's famous bird. Moments after we arrived, a small tremor caused the land beneath us to shake briefly, long enough for almost twelve condors to emerge from the valley below. I'm not usually an enthusiastic bird watcher, but seeing these huge creatures soar in mass above the dense mountains was pretty spectacular. The day was wonderfully rounded out with a dip in the hot springs at the Colca Lodge under the stars.
It didn't take Cuzco very long to earn its spot on the list of best cities I've ever visited, despite the altitude. The city and its surrounding attractions are not only beautiful but uniquely fascinating, and I could have stayed an extra week just to explore the streets, the culture, and the nearby ruins.
My visit to the Almudena Cemetery in Cuzco was probably the only cemetery visit I've ever enjoyed. It's more of a small village than a cemetery; filled to the brim with thousands of square glass boxes inside which lie unique tributes to loved ones. There is a small monthly fee for renting one of the cases, and family members and friends pay frequent visits to maintain their loved ones case. Each glass case is meant to reflect the personality of the person who died, and there are small, almost doll-house like figurines there to represent what was important to that person. Small fake passports, Eiffel Tower statues, tiny cases of beer, and figurine dogs are just a few of the many tributes found. Peering into these cases gives you an idea of what the person might have been like, and it's fascinating to think of what small objects have been left to signify a life. Some cases are larger than others, with some even continuing underground. With the size and intrigue of the cemetery, it would be easy to get lost for hours exploring the various memorials.
Following Almudena, I headed uphill to Sacsayhuaman where the remains of an Inca ceremonial center can be found. Here, huge interlocking stones create a giant wall, each boulder carefully fit together tightly without any mortar. The area was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and offers breathtaking panoramic views of Cuzco.
I've seen the iconic shot of Machu Picchu more times than I can count, and I had no doubt it would be a stunning site. I didn't, however, expect to be very surprised by it. I knew what it looked like, I've read about it for years, and I was pretty confident I knew what the experience would be like. Contrary to my assumptions though, Machu Picchu far exceeded my expectations, and surprise me it did. All those times I've looked at photos of Machu Picchu I never considered what it might be like to be inside the site, to actually explore the ruins from the pictures. It felt far larger than life than any zoomed out photo could have ever indicated.
I also was not expecting those mountains. The surrounding mountains seem to go on for miles and they hug the ancient site with an enormity not capturde in photos. Despite its popularity, Machu Picchu lived up to its hype. Seeing the meticulous way the stones were placed, the thoughtfulness that went into the astronomy aspects of the site, and the beauty of the terraces and mountains made me appreciate Machu Picchu more than I ever could have before my visit.
The Sacred Valley is colorful and winding; a valley that stretches seemingly endlessly from the town of Pisac to Ollantaytambo. Walking from the small town of Urubamba all the way to the bottom of the valley, we passed gushing waterfalls, huge cacti, and watched as the mountains loomed bigger and bigger as we descended downhill.
We also had a chance to walk through the valley with a local farming family and their alpacas from their farm. We walked by a glass-like lake while the alpacas walked calmly alongside us, stopping every now and then for a snack of grass or to run to catch up with their owners. These fuzzy creatures were a joy to have around for a few hours.
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