Machu Picchu – A Dream Come True!

by Emma Hackwood
machu picchu in peru

Dreaming of travelling to Peru? Flight Centre’s Stephanie Ell recently travelled there and managed to check off one of her dream vacations from her bucket list!  She shares the highlights of her trip with us:


My “bucket list” is a pretty big one to fill, but this trip had been on it for over 10 years ever since I saw a picture of Maccu Picchu in a magazine.

I had a tour booked with Intrepid which would allow me to hike the Quarry trail along the way.

The Intrepid representative met me in Lima late at night and brought me to the Hotel El Faro in Miraflores (a suburb of Lima) where I was to meet the rest of our group the next day. I realized upon landing in Peru that this trip would be nothing like my previous trips to Mexico; I would really need to use what little Spanish I had collected over the years!  I made due with wildly pantomiming, drawings and crazy gestures! *Bonus *your money goes really far here! $1 is almost 3 Sol!

Miraflores is a beautiful, serene city; the waves crashing against the hills, the lighthouse park, all the unique Spanish style homes (I love architecture) and the people are so friendly and helpful. I spent the day wandering the city and went to the outdoor tourist market and then over to the Huca Pucllana ruins – a pyramid site they uncovered in downtown Miraflores. It was simply amazing. It is one of the only solid pyramids found that is made entirely of hand formed mud bricks!

Intrepid Peru

When our tour met up I was nervous, as I usually travel alone or with a loved one, but the guides are so friendly and the group was full of truly amazing people! All of Intrepid’s guides are local to the cities you are in so that was reassuring. The guides’ knowledge and insight were impeccable. Teresa from Intrepid took us on a walking tour of Miraflores and we finished it off with learning how to make Pisco Sours!

The next day we took the local transport bus to Lima. This city is filled with insane energy! Picture downtown Vancouver with barely any street lights and people honking to communicate and driving like they have no time to breathe! Yet somehow Peruvians just know when to step out to cross the street.

We visited the market there which had all kinds of local artisan fares and amazing embroidery. A lot of their items can take over 5 months to make as everything is handmade and hand-dyed. I bought some beautiful, heavily embroidered table runners for my family members and some llama magnets. We visited their main town square and visited some of their oldest and ornate churches; I’ve never seen anything quite like them. On our walking tour we also sampled local food vendors who make this mixture from corn that they bake in corn husks on the grill, it was delicious!

Our flight to Cusco was the next day. I was nervous as the altitude is 11000 feet and they really scare you with what COULD happen at that altitude! I landed and was perfectly fine, although the sensation of not being able to take a full breath of air is weird and takes a while  to get used to. We took a walking tour in the afternoon with our new guide Maritza, sampled alpaca at a local restaurant and washed it down with the local “Inca Cola” -Peruvians love sweet things! We also visited their daily food market and then settled in to La Posada Del Abuelo for the night!

In the morning we drove to a wildlife sanctuary “Sanctuario Animal de Cochahuasi” and saw the local effort to save the wildlife, which included two giant condors! After that we drove out to a village in the mountains and met local people and saw how they made their dyes (from ingredients ranging from cactus juice to baby urine) and their living (growing over 500 types of potatoes!) This is where I realized altitude might give me trouble-we were at 14000 ft and I couldn’t breathe. It felt like a bird was trying to escape my chest. The local women there sat me down and put some kind of eucalyptus plant under my nose and rubbed my face with a horrible smelling alcohol mixture. I was told afterward that locals don’t understand altitude sickness so they weren’t actually helping me, but rather performing an exorcism on me!

We drove back to the hostel and then took a bus to Ollayantambo to plan our hike over 15000 ft passes the next day!

In the morning we drove to a sacred sight and climbed a whack of stairs (did I mention nothing is flat in this country?) This temple was beautiful; we made our offerings to Pachamama and climbed down to begin our trek.

hiking in Peru


We got all our gear ready and they started to pack the horses and then we were off! About 30 minutes into hiking I was out, completely exhausted. I was horribly disappointed but my body just needed more time to adjust that I didn’t have. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to complete the hike because my heart was slamming like a crazy thing in my chest. The Intrepid guides were awesome; Maritza, went back to town with me and stayed with me the two days in Ollayantambo waiting for the hikers to come back. We did local small hikes to the surrounding ruins and wandered the city and had great food! When in altitude all you need to do is stop and slow down when your heart races and it will eventually pass. It just takes longer for some.  Ollayantambo is such a unique city. I am only 5 ft 11 inches tall but I was taller than most houses! Tee ruins used to be cold storage in the hills and they built the tiers for farming.

The next day it was time to meet up with the others and take the Perurail to Aguas Caliente (where we would stay before going to see Machu Picchu). I was so excited! The train is awesome . It had skylights and the staff were extremely kind! It’s easier to breathe here as the elevation dropped almost 4000 ft! We spent the night at a local hotel and were up ready and raring to go the next morning to complete my dream; visiting Machu Picchu! It takes about 20 minutes onthe bus to Machu Picchu. It was a winding, harrowing drive but then…there… it… IS!!!

Intrepid Peru

Machu Picchu is amazing. It is surrounded by other ruins as well that you can get permits to climb. This city took over 50 years to build and you really have to be standing in it to grasp the size, the planning, the sheer magnitude of it all. It will change your life to come here. I just sat and revelled in it for a long time on one of the many tiers. It spans the whole mountain top, llamas are running around half wild, people are everywhere. Its an odd sort of energy to be here!

That afternoon we took the bus to Aguas Caliente and then train back to Ollayantambo and another bus to Cusco. A long day of travel, arriving at about 9 pm. The next day we visited the local ruins and temples at Pukapukara, Saqsaywaman, Q’engo and Tambomachay. I highly recommending visiting this park! It spans acres and is truly amazing. The ruins used to be plated in silver and gold before Spain conquered the area. We finished the day’s events with the local staple- guinea pig at “Quinta Cuyeria Bellavista”.

Intrepid Peru

People actually have many guinea pigs living freely in their households wherever you go! Unfortunately they are not pets! I can’t say I can recommend the taste though.

That night we took salsa dancing lessons at “Mythology”. It was one of those clubs that you would never find if you didn’t know what you were looking for.  I has a blue door on a long white wall and inside was a full on nightclub!

We parted ways with Maritza and the Intrepid crew that night and thanked them for an amazing trip. Having local guides that know the cities made all the difference in learning about the culture and enjoying the places we visited!


Looking for more information on travelling to Peru with Intrepid? Contact Stephanie Ell a Travel Manager with Flight Centre Willowbrook based in British Columbia by connecting with her online or calling 1 866-375-0787.