Friday, September 7, 2012

Instagram: Peru's Sacred Valley and Incan Cities with Adventures by Disney



Last month, my teenage daughter and I traveled with Adventures by Disney to review the "Sacred Valley and Incan Cities" itinerary in Peru. It was a lifechanging, bucket-list experience that included time in Lima, Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu.

A few weeks ago, I posted my Instagram photos from our day in Lima. Here are some more of my Instagram photos taken during the rest of our trip, beginning in Cusco.



This is the Plaza de Armas in Cusco, facing the Cathedral. The fountain in the square is topped by a statue of the Incan warrior king.



We were high in the Andes. Behind my daughter, Aisling, is a glacial icecap.

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One morning we visited the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco, where our group watched a demonstration of how the artisans dye, spin and weave. Happily, we were able to do some serious shopping here. This place is the real deal, with reasonable prices.

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We spent a fantastic morning exploring the ruins at Ollantaytambo, at an elevation of 9,160 feet above sea level. At the time of the Incan empire, Ollantaytambo was the royal estate of Emperor Pachachuti, and during the Spanish conquest, it was a stronghold of the Incan resistance. The stonework and terraced farms here are amazing. Our group climbed to the top, as our incredibly affable and informative Adventures by Disney guide, Ernesto, described what life was like for the Incans who built this city and lived here.
 
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Another high point of the week was a Class III whitewater rafting trip on the Urubamba River, which winds its way through the Sacred Valley and encircles Machu Picchu. The Incans had, and the Andean people still have, a powerful and spiritual relationship with this river. We had a really fun group and quickly realized why our guide was nicknamed Loco. It was a blast.
 
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We spent one entire, marvelous day at Machu Picchu. In the morning, Rudy, yet another personable and knowledgeable Disney guide, led us on a guided tour of the most important features of the ruins. Then, after lunch, we had the option of hiking part of the Inca Trail with Rudy (which Aisling said was "epic, awesome, and amazing") or having a free afternoon to discover the ruins on our own.

I decided to explore more of Machu Picchu with a friend from the group. Ernesto advised us to find a still, quiet place and let Machu Picchu and Pachamama, or Mother Earth, speak to us. That was easy; even with tourists around us, this is a surprisingly quiet and spiritual place. Then, while we were taking a rest on a stone wall, we experienced a perfect moment of serendipity: a small herd of llamas appeared above us and ran down the hill right at us before dispersing to graze on the grass around us. It was pure magic.

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At the Awana Kancha Camelids Center, we got up close and personal with llamas, alpacas and even the rare vicuña. This was another great shopping opportunity, with good prices on high-quality woolen and woven items.

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I can't say enough about the top-notch experience we had with Adventures by Disney, from the beautifully-conceived experiences to the wonderful hotels and meals to the exceptional guides -- and so many little extras along the way. Because Disney took care of everything, there was no stress, which left us free to simply absorb, enjoy and reflect on all that we were experiencing. ABD offers family-friendly guided tours to bucket-list destinations all over the world, from Wyoming and Pennsylvania to European favorites like Italy, England and France to farther-flung destinations like China, Cambodia, Egypt and Peru.

For families with younger kids, I strongly recommend beginning with an itinerary in the US or Europe. This trip to Peru is perfect for kids 10 and up -- but in my opinion, it's even better for teens and college-age kids who have studied world civilization and have at least an inkling of the rich historical and cultural backdrop here. After all, this is likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most families. I can't think of a more fabulous and memorable travel experience for families with high school students.

See also my review of this Adventures by Disney trip on WeJustGotBack.com and Frommers.com.

Photos: I'm @suzannekelleher on Instagram.