It’s hard to follow up the historic fantasy of La Casona or the romance of the Hiram Bingham train with anything other than the citadel itself, but between here and there we found one such place.
Tucked away in a a jungle of amazing flora and fauna in the heart of the Andean cloud forest was the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, a mountainside refuge for the body and soul. It’s exactly how you want to stay in a forest: with hummingbirds outside your door, orchids in bloom everywhere, fireplaces always aglow, and the view of a roaring river below captivating you. Trains arriving in and around the mountain through the Vilcanota Valley take you back to a time when travel was truly an adventure. The afternoon rain showers make relaxing in the tub or having a pisco sour on the porch seem like the perfect thing to do.
First built in the 1970s for backpackers, the owner had a vision for an ecological boutique luxury resort complete its own gardens, a tea farm where all production is made by hand, bear rehabilitation center and an impressive orchid garden. Our suite was built from local stone, adobe, stucco and eucalyptus beams and had not one but three showers, two located outside. A deep soaking tub (OBSESSED) and an outdoor private hot tub.
I loved the attention to detail and exclusivity felt here, so much so that when it was time to check out I totally forgot I had to do that, I was just right at home.
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Of all the activities Juma Lodge provides, my favorite was the jungle walk, a serious hike through the Amazon Rainforest. The breathtaking flora and fauna, the steamy nature of the air around you, the wild views of dense tropical rainforest reaching stories high above your head to the fallen leaves under your feet. It was – in one word – BEAUTIFUL. Leaving the lodge by boat, we ventured to a new part of this dense forest. I loved when our boat would enter into the tree canopies; it was like entering a magical world full of natural secrets. We started by clearing the path through the jungle with a machete, then learned how to climb Acai Trees like the natives by making rope out of leaves, how to communicate far distances with a stick and a tree, that Babasu Gongoin (beetle larvae) tastes just like coconuts (and according to our guide, Bill Gates loved them on his walking tour!), and how to separate palm leaves in order to fold them into forest crowns. Not your typical Monday activities in Manhattan!
After a refreshing swim at the end of our hike (remember it’s like 100000% humidity) we had lunch cooked over an open flame and took a dip to cool off. That evening we went fishing for piranhas which later became part of our family style meal. The journey to get here, the monkeys, and being forced to disconnect from the rest of the world will put this place, deep in the heart of the Amazon, forever deep in mine.
and FYI- Manaus is only a 5 hour flight from Miami, what adventure you take from there is up to you!
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One of the coolest unexpected experiences of the Amazon and our stay at Juma Lodge was meeting these guys. While touring the resort, the guide told us that two monkeys lived in the area, and when they jump on you, it’s important to not be startled, to stay calm and not scream because you wouldn’t want to frighten the monkey. They also told us to keep our doors locked whenever we left the rooms, because the monkeys liked to ‘help themselves’ to your belongings and make a huge mess of it. He also warned that if we hear a “knock” on our door to not open it all the way, to crack it first and make sure it’s not a monkey trying to get in. We all chatted in excitement about all these little tips over dinner and tucked ourselves in for the night hoping we would get to see one of these little guys the next day.
Well… see these monkeys we did. Around 6:30 am the knocks on the door started coming! Just as the guide had warned us, it was monkey time. Up and down the resort they went, waking everybody up. They crawled on us, they cuddled in our arms, they swung from our bodies with their tails, they napped on us in hammocks, and they stole the limes from our cocktails. It was amazing. I’ll never forget napping in the hammock, hearing the pitter-patter of little monkey feet coming and then seeing his head popping over the hammock edge…and in he came to join me. It was a blast.
Monkey love – The female monkey was absolutely 100% head-over-heels in love with our travel companion Zach. Any time he was outside his room she was in his arms. As the trip progressed, the deeper she felt and even started swatting Kelly away to keep him all to herself! He couldn’t move without her attached to him and if he was in his room she’d knock and try the door knob repeatedly!
I love when life gives you these memories you can never plan for, an experience you didn’t know was possible. Such an adventure… just monkeying around.
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All the greatest adventures require a great journey to reach them. This would be the third time, after Safari and Patagonia, I have dedicated over a day just in travel to reach a destination… but it is worth every transfer. Two flights, two buses and two boats and halfway through there, we said goodbye to WiFi and cell service. After passing pink dolphins, and navigating through large trees jutting out of the water, we motored up to the Juma Lodge just as the sun was setting. Being so far removed from modern civilization, we had ventured into an unknown world.
On Juma Lake in the Amazon River, we climbed the stairs to our treehouse bungalows. Our first night spent in the rainforest, we lay on the deck looking up at the night sky, almost bursting with stars of every size and color. We started to live by nature’s standard – it was such a funny thing, the moment we took away the every day technologies, we were all in bed by 10pm and up at 7. And what a wake-up call it was. Each morning we would hear a “knock” on our door, up and down all the cabanas, only to find a monkey waiting outside, climbing up your limbs to be cradled in your arms or sit on your shoulders. It was an awesome experience. We would swing in hammocks on the deck, suspended high above the waters below, and relish in a afternoon thunderstorm that brought a bit of relief from the humidity.
I think back on this experience and I can’t believe it lives in my memories. To see a part of the world so untouched, still so mysterious, and so influential in our modern day medicines and sciences, it almost felt spiritual, like we were sleeping close to ancient gods and all they could do was smile down upon us.
Where the two rivers meet – the above image illustrates the Rio Negro (black water) and the caramel-colored Amazon River flowing side by side but not mixing due to the different makeup and temperatures of the two rivers. This was the last Instagram I got out before we lost service!
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… and oh, the falls. The beautiful nature of almighty water displayed in the grandest of dramatic fashion. God must have been truly inspired when he painted this masterpiece. Layers upon layers, walls among walls of never-ending falling water. I stood on the footbridge in the center of it all, mist wrapping around me in a whirl and felt the freedom of letting go and floating away into the fog of whiteness. It was a breathtaking romance, a real rapture between power and might, and breaths of teardrops. Iguassu Falls, when witnessed by Eleanor Roosevelt, caused her to say, “Poor Niagara!“…and I think that says it all.
The best view of the falls, however, is underneath the falls! A real river safari, a true Brazilian adventure. We screamed, we laughed, we got totally soaked and begged for more. There are these moments in life when you sit back and say, “Am I really here right now?!” I knew when coming to Brazil I was going to experience a lot of color, culture for sure, but oh, the COLOR. Such a welcome escape from the cold gray winter days back home. Sitting on a log in the middle of the Bird Park, my eyes were feasting on the red, blue, yellow, pink, and green feathers flying around me. Colors so vivid and saturated you can’t help but stare in love. The bird park, a refugee camp for birds that have been injured or rescued to recover, was a real study of natural beauty…
Cataratas, Brazil: This is what adventures are made of.
Alone in the natural wonders… if you stay here you can experience the falls before they open to the public. Wearing a white Tibi crochet dress.
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After the exploration of Santiago and Valparaiso we took a dramatic turn to the northern part of Chile and the very remote Atacama desert. Though I’ve seen some beautiful desert landscapes, nothing compared to the foreign view we found here which reminded us more of MARS than any place on this earth. Even the name of one of the expansive vistas, Moon Valley, solidifies you are not alone in your galactic references. It’s hard to imagine that something so obscure, otherworldly and barren can be so beautiful but it is! The endless sky, the ever changing colors, the sculptural nature of rocks from behind massive dunes. Over our 3 day tour of the Atacama desert we would discover llamas in the wild, a town kept alive by 15 people, no stop signs or red lights and nothing even close to an advertisement, salt flats and volcanoes, rock engravings, valleys and geysers and the *most* unbelievable night sky I have ever seen you can find #onlyinsouthamerica.
I was quite enchanted with the colors of the salt flats, the O’Keeffe nature of the gradients, especially just after the sun had set and the mountains were a wash of early evening violet. These low valley salt flats, a result of the surrounding volcanic mountains, are very shallow and when I touched my hand under the surface I watched my skin wrinkle and dry out as if I was instantly aging myself by 30 years.
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