Of course I’d heard of Lake Titicaca but I wasn’t sure if it actually existed or where to find it, a bit like Timbuktu or Coventry. However, it turns out that not only does it exist, it does so in a stunning way.
Titicaca sits high up in the Andes mountains at 12,500 ft and at its longest stretch is 190 km long. It contains a number of islands that people continue to live on and some of those “islands” are made of reeds which float on the water.
The lake is plonked across the border of Peru and Bolivia. We decided to boat out to Isla del Sol from the Bolivian town of Copacabana – not the one from Barry Manilow’s classic hit, but weirdly, for a town thousands of feet above sea level, they have cultivated a little beach town vibe where Barry’s song wouldn’t be too out of place.
Isla del Sol is a proper island made out of rock and not one of the floating variety. There are about 800 people living on the island, farming the land and providing basic services to tourists like Maura and myself. The locals are as rustic as you could wish for, to the untrained eye they look as though they haven’t changed their lifestyles for centuries. The women wear traditional dress, with a hat firmly on at all times, even when coaxing laden donkeys and tired children up the steep sides of the island.
There are llamas waiting around corners to surprise you as you trek around the island, plus the aforementioned donkeys, the usual array of farm animals, some of which have the freedom of the island, and various birds of prey circling and swooping overhead, presumably eyeing up the tiny piglets wiggling about.
The real gem of this place is the expanse of beautiful blue water which has the sun beaming down on it all day. Add to this the backdrop of the Andes peaks and the feeling you can reach out and almost touch the thick blanket of stars in the evening and you’ve got yourself a place that feels quite mythical.
Machu Picchu was one of those places I had dreamt about visiting ever since I knew it existed, making it top of my list of things to do whilst travelling.
Before leaving the UK I bought our tickets for site entry, by that time the tickets for the Inca Trail had sold out, but in all honesty that didn’t bother us as it was the ancient city we wanted to see.
To get to Machu Picchu we drove from Cusco to Ollantaytambo and from there took a train to Aguas Calientes. This journey alone was epic.
On the drive we passed through snow capped mountains. We had a couple of hours in Ollantaytambo which is a tiny town/village where the locals mill about without any apparent regard for the impressive Inca remains towering over them. The train from there cuts through the mountains along the valley floor, following the path of a fast flowing river – at times we were uncomfortably close to the river edge. We saw glimpses of people living on the lower edges of the mountain and valley floor in what seemed like an impossible place to inhabit but also impossibly beautiful. The cherry on the top for me was when horses appeared out of nowhere to gallop alongside the train.
Agua Calientes has no roads and is only accessible by train. In fact the town is little more than 2 rows of buildings either side of the tracks. When a train went past it sounded as though it was coming through our hostel. The first time this happened my life flashed before my eyes (and I might have jumped into Maura’s arms).
We decided to get up at 5am to get the first bus up to Machu Picchu in an attempt to see the site before too many people turned up. So we trudged up the road from our hostel in complete darkness only to join the hundreds of other people already standing in the bus queue!
However, we were soon winding our way up to the site on what felt like a roller coaster climbing to its peak before it chucks you down the other side; either that or my adrenaline had gone into overdrive with the prospect of fulfilling a childhood dream. Maura was calmly sitting next to me taking everything in her stride.
Finally, we arrived. We clambered up the side to the top and saw the view that draws so many pilgrims to this other worldly place. The adrenaline subsided and was replaced with awe and contentment. I won’t describe Machu Picchu other than to say it lives up to the hype and suggest you take a look at our pictures as they will do a much better job than me.