Soaking in the energy of Peru’s sacred sites

By David Collins
This article appears on page 34 of the June 2016 issue.
Incan stone walls at Sacsayhuaman.

My 2015 “bucket list” trip to Peru came into focus in mid-July, when I realized that I would be turning 80 at the end of September of that year. 

I do a lot of traveling around the world for both business and pleasure, so when my wife and I travel for fun and discovery, I usually do the planning and bookings. Unfortunately, my wife was not physically able to go with me on this adventure. 

Making plans

I did my initial research looking at tour books on Peru and searching the Internet. I soon realized that booking hotels, in-country tickets and visits to the spiritual and historical sites I wanted to see would be very difficult on my own. However, I discovered in my search for a “tour” that most of the trips included two days’ touring Lima before heading up to Cusco, the Sacred Valley and, finally, Machu Picchu. 

Spending two days exploring Lima held no interest for me. 

I also wanted to use at least 4-star hotels on my trip and I wanted single occupancy. Arranging all of this felt like a big challenge until I discovered Peru for Less (Austin, TX; 817/230-4971,, which offered a 6-day package that skipped the two days in Lima and required no specific arrival or departure date. Just what I was looking for! 

Since I wanted to be able to experience the spiritual energy of the places I was going to visit, I would need time to immerse myself in the local scene without a tour guide directing my every step. By selecting my own departure dates, I could make sure I had enough “alone time” as well as time to do some meditation. (I have a spiritual soul and the head of an engineer and adventurer.) 

Getting there

Armed with a copy of “Turn Right at Machu Picchu” by Mark Adams, I caught the earliest Delta flight (5:30 a.m.) out of Los Angeles bound for Atlanta. This gave me a nearly 5-hour connection time for my flight from Atlanta to Lima. As there was only one flight a day from Atlanta to Lima, my strategy gave me at least three other flights from Los Angeles to Atlanta as backups in case my first flight was delayed. 

My flights were on time and I was met in Lima by Alicia, the young lady who had booked my tour. She escorted me over to the Wyndham Costa del Sol Lima Airport hotel, located directly across the street from the airport’s international arrivals hall. 

The next morning I headed back to the airport for a flight to Cusco. Lima’s airport is relatively easy to navigate, and my flight was on schedule. 

From my window seat on the plane, the spectacular snowcapped mountains and deep valleys we flew over were spectacular. It gave me a true picture of the mountains and valleys that Bingham had to traverse on his way to “discovering” Machu Picchu. 

A colorful parade in Ollantaytambo.

The landing into the airport in Cusco was one of the most magnificent and difficult I have ever experienced. The Airbus 320 had to be maneuvered through tight mountain passes before making a descending left turn between small hills to get to the runway. 

Walking off the plane and onto the runway at 11,000 feet in altitude, it became immediately obvious that oxygen levels were lower than at home. It was a fair walk to the baggage carousel, and my pace slowed markedly on the way to get my bag. 

Into the city

A very nice young lady from Peru for Less met me and escorted me to the car that would take me to my hotel. The area between the airport and the city’s historical center seemed typical of an older South American town, but the energy shifted into high gear as we approached the city center and the sights of Incan streets and walls came into view. 

We arrived at the Andean Wings Boutique Hotel. Its street-side facade was very plain, but the inside of the hotel was elegant and relaxing. 

The room I had for the next two nights was very comfortable and well fitted out. A nap helped settle down the altitude’s effects. 

The hotel was just a couple of blocks from the Plaza de Armas and several recommended restaurants and shops situated around the Plaza. 

On my arrival at the Andean Wings, the Peru for Less escort gave me a very thorough briefing on my tour activities scheduled over the next four days. She carefully explained the details of the site-admission tickets, one by one, to make sure that I understood the requirements for each, particularly the details of getting into Machu Picchu. (You have to show your passport to enter Machu Picchu.) 

She also had a great pocket map of Cusco and marked the locations of cash machines, shops and restaurants that were within walking distance from my hotel. Last, but not least, I was given an emergency phone number to call if anything didn’t go as scheduled. The Peru for Less office in Lima is staffed 24 hours a day. 

I went to bed with the feeling that I was in good hands. 

A sacred site

I met the day’s tour group (the group of seven to ten people changed with each day’s tour) in the early afternoon for our exploration of Cusco. Our first stop was Coricancha, a complex that contained the Temple of the Sun, which once featured a courtyard covered in gold. 

The most interesting part of this tour was the opportunity to see details of the construction of Incan stonework from the inside that one never sees in standing structures. 

Our second stop was the intricately decorated Cusco Cathedral. Its silver- and gold-decorated cedarwood statuary and columns were amazing. 

After the requisite church tour, we headed outside Cusco to Sacsayhuamán. This is an extensive site, and our guide took us on a path that saved the best for last. Turning into the heart of the complex to see the high, tiered Incan stone walls constructed in a nonuniform zigzag pattern was breathtaking. The walls looked like they extended well over a mile, with three levels of depth. 

As I sat absorbing the magnificently fitted stones, I mentioned to our guide that I felt I could hear the stones talking. His eyes teared over as he related the legend that says the stones talked to the Incan stonecutters so that the stones could be precisely matched when cut. We both walked silently back to our van, the rest of our small group chattering and sharing pictures. 

A view of the agricultural terraces of Písac.

As evening approached, I was tired but truly energized. When I returned to my hotel, I ordered up a pisco sour to celebrate a wonderful first day of touring. 

The Sacred Valley

My full-day tour of the Sacred Valley began with an 8 a.m. pickup from my hotel in Cusco. 

We entered the Sacred Valley at Písac, stopping to see the ancient Incan agricultural terraces there.

The Incas’ terraced method of farming was developed to make controlled use of the rainwater and snowmelt from the mountains for watering multiple types of crops. All crops were planted at the onset of the month that began the rainy season so that the seeds and the growing crops received just enough water to maximize food production. 

The crops were mixed and included a number of varieties of corn, potatoes, quinoa and other storable food plants. 

Visitors to this site can walk up to the housing for the caretakers at the top and across to a parallel series of terraces. 

What makes this site so special is that centuries-old farming methods illustrated there are still used by modern farmers on the steep mountains of the Sacred Valley. 

The next stop was at the central plaza in Písac for a bit of strolling and shopping and a very nice buffet lunch. After lunch, we visited the Temple of the Sun outside the town of Ollantaytambo.

This Temple of the Sun has coliseum seating that requires a climb of about 200 steps up the side of the mountain. On the summer solstice, seated viewers can watch the sun rise over the pinnacle of the mountain that is directly across from the temple. 

Other than the climb to the top of the seating area or across to trails leading back to the floor of the valley, I found little of major interest at this temple. 

At the end of the day, the members of our small group were each delivered to their respective overnight hotels. I stayed just outside Urubamba at Casa Andina Private Collection Valle Sagrado. This was a magnificent hotel in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. 

After the long day, it was nice to relax in this very comfortable resort. They had a spectacular dining room, where I rewarded myself with a nice, relaxing dinner in preparation for a 4:30 a.m. wake-up call to get ready for my 6 a.m. transport to the Ollantaytambo PeruRail station for the 7:25 Vista Dome train to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu. (It was obvious that other groups at the hotel had early transports as well because the breakfast buffet opened at 5:00 that morning.) 

Machu Picchu

Peru for Less had a very pleasant surprise for me, which I discovered upon checking in at the PeruRail ticket gate in Ollantaytambo. I had not looked at my ticket until I presented it to the gate agent. My ticket assigned me to Car “A,” seat 1. 

Since this train has cars that each have their own power and the route goes mostly downhill, there is no locomotive. My seat in the first car, first row, had a huge picture window in front of it! What a spectacular way to view the trip into Aguas Calientes, the “end of the line” for visitors to Machu Picchu. 

In the book “Turn Right at Machu Picchu,” the author talks about the transition from rocky mountains to jungle-covered mountains. On the train trip, I discovered that the transition from rocks to jungle took place in less than five miles. 

The jungle, even at 7,500 feet in elevation, was as dense and spectacular as that along the Amazon. 

A sacred cave below the Temple of the Sun at Machu Picchu.

After a bone-jarring, head-spinning, 20-minute bus ride from Aguas Calientes, I arrived at the main gate to Machu Picchu. The admission process was a bit of organized chaos as guides herded their flocks through getting the entry paperwork and passport checks. I was surprised at how efficiently the checks went, and I was gathered by my guide, along with the six other travelers in our very small group, and taken through a narrow entrance that opened to a magnificent vista of a large part of the Incan “city” of Machu Picchu. 

The reality of visiting Machu Picchu was overwhelming for me. To say it is a magnificent site is an understatement! 

It took me about 15 minutes to begin to separate out the jangled energy of the groups of people being guided through the site’s warren of streets, structures and plazas. The true heart and soul of Machu Picchu could be felt as long as I filtered out the people “noise” from the Incan heartbeat. 

In all of my travels, I can say that I have never experienced such feelings of urgency, sadness and joy all intermingled with the energy of such a sacred place. I then realized why I was so motivated to make this journey to Peru. 


The return train trip from Aguas Calientes to Poroy gave me plenty of time to let the energy of this day and the preceding days coalesce, and the van ride from Poroy back to my hotel in Cusco brought me back to reality. 

I spent most of the next day collecting my thoughts and reviewing my experiences. For some strange reason, this was the only day in Cusco when the altitude got to me, and I required a bit of oxygen and coca tea to settle things down. 

I had set my return schedule so I could depart from Cusco on LAN in the early evening and arrive in Lima and collect my luggage with just a short wait to check in for my Delta flights to Atlanta and on to Los Angeles. All told, my return took 24 hours from start to finish. 

With all 4-star or better hotels, breakfasts, pickups, transfers and tours, the Peru for Less services cost a total of $2,359, single occupancy. The LAN flight from Lima to Cusco and return cost an additional $322. 

I’m a Delta Diamond frequent flyer, so I was able to get an outstanding fare for a lie-flat seat to and from Lima and Los Angeles (in First Class on the domestic legs and in Business Elite on the international flights). 

From a personal point of view, this trip to become immersed in the Incan culture was well worth it, as were the travel and tour arrangements provided by Peru for Less.