Machu Picchu - The Holy Site of the Inca

Even after visiting Machu Picchu, I still don't know what it actually was. I heard about 10 different theories from very knowledgeable guides (and here's a great National Geographic rundown). No one really knows but it didn't take away from the sheer awe that hit me on my first glimpse of the panorama. What I didn't get from my sixth grade textbooks and photos is how high up it is and how stunningly gorgeous the surrounding mountains are - and how you feel like you can almost touch the sky. What I recommend is hiring a great guide (e-mail me for my favorite, one of the best guides I've ever had!) but also leaving at least an hour or two for alone time - to just sit, stare, and soak in that you are actually there. After long plane rides, connections, a train ride, and a bumpy bus ride, you are THERE. And it's better than expected.

Love this shot because you can see how far down the river is

Stunning surrounding landscape

If I go again, and I hope to with my future family, I will still take the Hiram Bingham train, but I will also spend one night at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, the only hotel on site and owned by Orient-Express. I had tea there, and took a look around, but you have to book many months in advance. There are only 31 rooms, and because of where it is and protection rules, it will never expand. I also want to get some hiking in, though it's not for me to do the four-day Inca trail hike to Machu Picchu.

Afternoon tea at Machu Picchu Sanctuary LodgeMachu Picchu Sanctuary LodgeI'm really here!

The Orient-Express Hiram Bingham Train

I had my first truly luxurious train experience in Peru. Named after Hiram Bingham, who rediscovered Machu Picchu in 1911, this is one of the world's great train journeys. You start in Cusco, and it's 3.5 hours each way to a tiny town called Aguas Calientes. After arrival in Aguas Calientes, you board a 20-minute bus ride that takes you to the site of Machu Picchu. On the way there, there is some commentary and you're served a light lunch. I loved the fresh lemonade and hanging out in the back with the open-air observation car to watch the distinctly Andean landscape roll by.

Welcome champagne!

Andean landscapeArrival in Aguas CalientesThe closer you get to Machu Picchu, the more lush and verdant the terrain gets. On the way back, it's completely dark so you're served a longer dinner and the live music really gets everyone going. Two words: DANCE PARTY!! And a fantastic pisco sour. The train also arrives later and leaves later than everyone else - so you have a less crowded site at the end of the day. If you ride the Hiram Bingham, you can have tea in the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, the only hotel on site, starting at 4 p.m. before the train leaves.

Tea at Machu Picchu Sanctuary LodgeWaiting to board for the ride back to Cusco in Aguas Calientes

A perfect Pisco SourI love moments in life where you are with complete strangers that become very important because of what you're experiencing with them. This train ride was one of those days. I was with a fantastic group of people - much of the Orient-Express executive team that was there for the opening of Palacio Nazarenas, a fabulous British journalist, and the British ambassador to Peru. We were all on this incredible journey to see one of the world's most iconic sites. And it just bonds you in a way that you never forget.

New friends