My Disney Adventure in Peru
By James Ruggia
August 23, 2012 11:45 PM
When traveling in a destination like Peru, Adventures by Disney might not be the first brand that comes to mind. Of course, it wasn’t all that long ago that you might have said the same thing about Tauck or Collette, two brands that didn’t have programs outside of North America until the late 1980s.
I traveled to Machu Picchu earlier this month with my daughter Celeste on a tour offered by Adventures by Disney. I came with the highest of expectations for a site I’d wanted to see my entire life and the experience easily exceeded all of my expectations. And I wasn’t disappointed.
Adventures by Disney’s nine-day Sacred Valleys and Incan Cities featured some of the finest, most attentive guides that I’ve ever had on a tour. Leading a group that ranged in age from five to 57 (sadly, that would be me), both guides were able to move from discussions of Pre-Columbian culture and Andean biodiversity to playful storytelling for the children.
Furthermore the sheer clout of one of travel’s most legendary brands provided access where other groups might have been turned away. Up at Machu Picchu, for instance, Disney gets its guests into the restaurant of the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge (an Orient Express hotel), while most other visitors to the park must return to the town of Aguas Calientes, a journey of about 30 minutes each way on a winding road of hairpin turns, which is a little like a jaunt on Disney’s Indiana Jones Adventure ride itself.
Disney’s well-earned credibility attracts a traveler who would probably never attempt a destination like Peru. For many potential clients, an aura of confidence radiates from the Disney name that penetrates much of their trepidations about visiting foreign lands. While Adventures by Disney’s new brochure features destinations you might expect, such as Alaska, Southern California and other “safe” journeys, it also includes places that you probably would not associate with the typical Disney brand loyalist: the Galapagos Islands, Egypt, Indochina, several European countries (including a new journey to Scotland), South Africa, China, Central America and more. You can find out more by visiting Disney’s travel agent website.
Adventures by Disney gives you an opportunity to reach clients you might not ever have gotten to go abroad before. If you go back a few years, before the U.S. government imposed its new passport regulations in response to the 9/11 attacks, there were about 20 million Americans with passports. Today there are more than 100 million. Throughout the industry, conventional wisdom holds that these new passport holders aren’t in play for long-haul destinations, but Adventures by Disney is a strong enough brand that can make even the most timid travelers feel safe under the aegis of Disney, even in some of the world’s most exotic locales.
As for Machu Picchu, it would still be beautiful even if it sat in a cornfield, but its Olympian setting at between 8,000 and 9,000 feet literally steals your breath. While it may be the crowning jewel of Pre-Columbian civilization in the Americas, it’s not alone. Chichin Itza, Tikal and the pueblo dwellings of the Anasazi at Mesa Verde in Colorado all offer a glimpse of peoples we are finally beginning understand more than 500 years after Columbus set sail.
Thirty-two thousand miles of Inca Trail weave in and out of rain forest and cloud forest alongside rivers with such legendary names as the Amazon and the Urubamba. The trail scales the dizzying heights of the Andes to reach a crescendo at about 8,000 feet in the ruins of Machu Picchu, the ancient city that poet Pablo Neruda once described as “a city raised like a chalice.”
The Incan architects and priests who imagined Machu Picchu built it where the high Andean tropical climate meets the moister Cloud Forest. Thus the site stands in misty contrast to the drier heights surrounding it, even some mountains capped by glaciers.
Peru is one of those countries that is both blessed and cursed by its greatest tourism icon. The magnitude of Machu Picchu is so great that it has a tendency to cast the rest of the country’s attractions in shadow. A full 70 percent of all travelers to Peru visit Machu Picchu, so many that the government, in order to protect the site, has set a limit of 2,500 visitors a dat. Most of those visitors travel along a well-worn tourism trail that runs from Lima to Cusco (the oldest continuously inhabited city in the Western Hemisphere) to the Sacred Valley and the Urubamba River, Ollantaytambo and the train up to Machu Picchu.
Great as all of that is, there’s a lot more to Peru. In the Cusco region alone, archeologists have found some 7,000 Pre-Columbian sites. The Incas themselves were only the latest of dozens of Pre-Columbian Peruvian cultures. In Peru, besides Machu Picchu you can also visit Lake Titicaca, often called the world’s highest navigable lake, with its famous floating islands.
At Condor’s Cross, you can look down from 15,000 feet at wheeling condors soaring above the Colca Canyon. At Tambopata Reserve, you can explore the Amazon on expedition cruises and much more. Three completely different landscapes dominate Peru: the Pacific coast, the high alpine heights of the Andes and the jungle areas along the headwaters of the Amazon.
Thanks to Adventures by Disney, I got a chance to see Machu Picchu and many of these other Peruvian sites. It wasn’t the way I expected to visit the country, but it was a great experience, especially since I could thoroughly enjoy it with my daughter. And that’s what Adventures by Disney is all about.
James Ruggia, executive editor, usually covers Europe and Pacific Asia for TravelPulse.com.