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Trails of the Inca

From the legendary Spanish quest for the fabled “El Dorado” city of gold to the buried cities under Lake Titicaca, the mysteries of ancient Peru have fascinated explorers, treasure hunters and conquistadors over the last 20,000 years.
Trails of the Inca

By:Hillary Latos

From the legendary Spanish quest for the fabled "El Dorado" city of gold to the buried cities under Lake Titicaca, the mysteries of ancient Peru have fascinated explorers, treasure hunters and conquistadors over the last 20,000 years. The beautiful Peruvian landscape is characterized by dense forests, wild mountains and majestic lakes dotted with remnants of ancient civilizations which hold the keys to wisdom bestowed by the gods.

To truly immerse yourself in the history of the Incan culture start at the capital of Cusco. This sacred ancient city lies 11,154 feet above sea level, and was formerly the important capital of the Inca Empire in 1100 A.D. Ancient Cusco was closely linked to the Sun and chosen as a sacred city as it functioned as an observatory for marking solstices, equinoxes, and eclipses to determine the Incan calendar and the accurate timing of Inca religious and secular activities. The city was laid out in the form of a puma, a sacred animal to the Incas that symbolized their Empire. The belly of the puma was formed by Cusco's main plaza, the river Tullumayo was its spine, and the great head of this gigantic beast was formed by the 15th century fortress of Sacsayhuaman. This is an amazingly well kept fortress that shows the advanced Inca architectural techniques with huge cut-stone blocks fitted together so tightly that mortar was not needed.

Located in the heart of Cusco's historical district, around the city's main square, Plaza des Armes, the JW Marriott Cusco is perfect spot to explore this fascinating city. Built on the grounds of the 16th century Saint Augustin Convent the JW Marriott Cusco was meticulously restored to preserve the history and culture of the city while creating a luxury 5 star destination. The stunning lobby and expansive courtyard reflect the elegant Spanish Baroque style characterized by the Colonial rule with homage paid to the Incan culture including original Incan walls and historical tours detailing the archaeological finds onsite including a well preserved mummy.

The luxuriously appointed rooms feature oversized marble bathrooms and tufted pillowtop beds with oxygen enriched systems to assist in acclimating to the high altitude. Or simply relax and unwind in their indoor pool and spa that features treatments that incorporate ancient Incan rituals and healing ingredients. Dine and relax in their casual Qespi bar and lounge or experience fine Peruvian cuisine at the Pirqua restaurant in a regal setting overlooking the Baroque cloisters in the stately courtyard. The flavorful Peruvian cuisine is somewhat of a melting pot of culinary tastes brought by the many immigrants who have come to Peru blending Amerindian and Spanish cuisine with influences from West Africa, Arabia, China and Japan resulting in exotic dishes that have familiar flavor overtones with an Andean flair.

If you are feeling adventurous in the culinary front, Peruvian cuisine is about as exotic as it gets where the indigenous specialties are alpaca stew and grilled cuy, guinea pig cooked in spices. For less adventurous types one of their most popular dishes is the "Lomo Saltada", a Peruvian version of beef stirfry with a soy sauce sautéed beef tenderloin sautéed with vegetables and chili peppers. The spicy and bold flavors are only enhanced by an authentic Peruvian pisco sour, which are often infused with herbs or muddled fresh fruit and the drink of choice amongst the locals.

Embedded within a dramatic landscape of the basin of the Amazon and the peaks of the Andean mountains is the historic sanctuary of Machu Picchu rising nearly 8000 feet above sea level. It's considered to be one of man's greatest architectural and cultural achievements which demonstrated their devotion to the Gods and was created as religious retreat inhabited by scholars and royals. The site was so sacred that it was abandoned by the Incans in the 1530s when they feared the Spanish would find and destroy it in their conquest. Though Machu Picchu can be reached by hiking the Inca trail taking anywhere from three to seven days, it is also accessible by the Inca Rail train which traverses through the gorgeous and lush sacred Urubamba Valley to Aguas Caliente.

From there, a bus winds through the mountain offering unsurpassed views of the magical valley and mountainous landscape. One of the most impressive characteristics of Machu Picchu is the architecture that used massive blocks of granite that was transported high into the Andean mountains and finely cut using bronze or stone tools to precisely interlock like a huge jigsaw puzzle. As the Sun God was the most important deity in their culture, this site was chosen for its position to the sun. Visit the solar observatory that rises up from a large pyramidal table-stone where sacrificial ceremonies were performed by an Inca priest in an attempt to prevent the complete disappearance of the sun.

Though Machu Picchu is one of the most well known and studied sites, there are thousands of unexplored and undiscovered ruins that still exist far beneath the Amazon or buried under modern civilization including the Lost City of Gold. As you return home you will be forever changed by the natural beauty of Peru and legacy and mystery of the ancient Incan civilization that has inspired explorers, historians, and authors for centuries.

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