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Postcard from St. Lucia

Hey gang,

Sorry I’ve been absent here this week. We’ve had a couple of issues here at home I’ve had to deal with, not the least of which is I’ve stopped receiving emails of your new posts. So sorry if I’ve missed a post or two. I’m still subscribed, my email is still in there.

Has anyone one else had this happen to them. What did you do?

Second, our new house misadventure continues to unfold.

We called out our local power company to do an audit to find out why our power bills have been so jigundous. It turns out the area over our master bedroom on our second floor has no insulation covering it in the attic.

Ceiling temps in our upstairs hallway were 74 degrees.  Ceiling temps in our MBR were 85 degrees. It is no wonder our A/C continues to run all the time!

AND…

Our lovable new greyhound actually bit our nanny this week.

This friendly, submissive, 60lb ball of muscles turned on her and gave her a nip and broke the skin. Unacceptable! He actually growled at Mom today as she was trying to take some trash back that Chum pulled from the trash can. Not good!

So we are in touch with his trainers to try to figure this out. They call him a ‘fearful and not confident’ dog who is just coming out of his ‘honeymoon’ period in his new home, trying to establish himself, much like a child pushing some boundaries. Stay tuned. If he ever growls at these girls he has to go back. And we all agree that would be a shame.

These, along with more questions and anxieties arising for my cancer procedure next week, reminded me of my friend Jimmy’s saying, “When you attitude’s appalling, there’s a latitude that’s calling, so get yourself past that continental shelf.”

Coincidently, that verse come from Buffett’s “Party At The End Of The World”  (sigh)  ….

So I wanted to send you all a post card from our valentine’s day trip to St. Lucia a few years back.

First, I enjoy doing these Travel posts so much because doing the research and digging out out photos just bring back some great memories. So that is why this runs on.  if you don’t have the time right now but want to take a quick trip with us to the island of St. Lucia, bookmark this and come back when you have some time or need that  attitude fix.

If you only have time for a quick fix  right now, here is a great, professionally done video, courteous of the island. I find it to be very accurate as to what we saw and explored. You can get a good look at this beautiful, romantic Caribbean island in 4-6 minutes. Or click on it and read on for a nice relaxing backdrop to the story.

Where did you go/what was it like?

We chose St. Lucia in part as part of our quest to explore every island in the Caribbean and in part for the great all-inclusives that are on the island. More on that later.

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St. Lucia is part of the British West Indies. It celebrates a transient and colorful history from the days of pirates, new world exploration,and colonization, as all her sister islands do. You can get a good glimpse at her sorted-past right here.

The island hosts a myriad of twisting, winding roads that certainly keeps any tourist on the edge of his/her seat when traveling in a tour bus or shuttle! The trip to a remote part of the island to go zip lining was probably the most thrilling part of our getaway!

zip-liningThe island seems designed to be sort of a romantic destination due to its lush foliage (more on that) and resorts designed for couples only

flowers in the jungleThe topography of the island is very diverse, featuring a canopy of a tropical rainforest:

Visiting the rainforestto an actual live ‘drive in’ volcano at Sulfur Springs….

with some smelly sulphur gas rising

to twin mountain tops that are adoringly called the ‘Twin Pitons‘ in this romantic hideaway…

twin pitons….to a tropical flower garden, Botanical Gardens, that even any high testosterone male could enjoy! It features an orchid garden, white lilies, a wide assortment of colorful tropical plants; a tropical delicacy in flowers….

Red Lobster Claws

Red Lobster Claws

Red Crab Claws

Red Crab Claws

You can caption this one...

You can caption this one…

The history of the Botanical Gardens gos back to the French in habitation, when they saw the baths in the gardens having ‘healing qualities’.

There is a stream flowing through the gardens, with the waterfall featured in ‘Romancing The Stone’. The clear water flowing down this fall illustrates the vast amount of minerals in the water.

The romantic Diamond Head Falls can heal whats wrong with youThe romantic Diamond Head Falls can heal whats wrong with you

You see the water flowing around Sulfur Springs volcano is a whopping 340 degrees. This hot water dissolves a lot of the minerals found in the soil and rocky landscape. So when filming the clear water it captures the colorful minerals trapped in the water. Besides touristy baths, advertising healing powers, today’s tourism also features mud baths as well. You won’t get cold!

Where did you stay/what was it like?

When looking for a vacation destination we didn’t chose St. Lucia per se, we chose Sandal’s Resorts. We always enjoy a nice all-inclusive offering, some good water sports, and Sandal’s was hard to ignore.

Sandal’s is part of a larger chain with the motto, “Luxury Included” in the all-inclusives. And they really try to pull it off. Sandal’s is actually a ‘couples only’ resort. Their sister company, ‘Beaches‘, is a family oriented resort chain.

Lots of weddings at this 'couples' only resort

Lots of weddings at this ‘couples’ only resort

We actually chose St. Lucia because there happen to be 3 Sandal’s resorts on this one tiny island. This was a BIG perk when it came to dining. We stayed at the Sandal’s Halcyon, which was actually the oldest and most modest of the 3 Sandal’s resorts; the only one that could fit our budget.  But we weren’t slumming….

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Sandal’s Halcyon web site reads, “By design, this resort is built naturally into the environment with no building higher than the highest palm. Enjoy Classic Caribbean architecture and quaint, charming ginger breaded cottages, creatively designed to meld into the luxuriant surrounding landscape, during your ideal St. Lucia vacation.”

Oh, and its a couples only resort so no loud teenagers or exhausted toddlers. It just could be ‘romantic’.

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Below is a view from our room balcony…views from room balcony

The resort featured lots of lush tropical foliage…

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Some nice restaurants with great views…

Kellys dock side reest

Like at Kelly’s Dockside—dramatically extending 130 feet out over the water. It’s just one of six restaurants and seven bars, plus with there dine around program on St. Lucia there are sixteen additional restaurants at the neighboring Sandals Resorts to try.

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Some of the required water sports…

What, no diving?

What, no diving?

Tube Racing

Yea, that'll do!

Yea, that’ll do!

Being in some upscale settings (for once) we met a lot of nice people from all over the world here in the British West Indies.

Our friends Marilyn and Frank were staying for a month!

Our friends Marilyn and Frank, from Toronto were staying for a month!

We met some crabby locals too…

Good morning little friend

The grounds were lush and tropical as you would expect but with some FUN amenities that you might not expect…

I'm planning on doing this little treat by our new pool

I’m planning on recreating this little treat by our new pool

plus a pool or two that were absolutely toxic!

I'm not moving....

I’m not moving….

Plus, we were on the western side of the island, by design. So we had the opportunity to see this every night….if we could find the time!

The sunset our first day

The sunset our first day

All in all, not too bad for the ‘budget’ Sandal’s on St. Lucia!

What was the food like?/Where did you have the best food?

The good and the bad of staying in all-inclusives is that you rarely venture off the property to explore and experience the local cuisine. That liability was really mitigated with Sandal’s in St. Lucia. In fact it was a perk!

If any part of our stay at the ‘luxury included’ resort typified luxury it was the dining.

What do you think of when it comes to dining at all-inclusives?

The same breakfast buffets? In expensive entree’s prepared on flashy ways? Nothing too pricey or even tasty?

These Sandal’s resorts featured some literal Four and Five Star restaurants. This was no hype. They were excellent. And you didn’t need your wallet or a credit card to try the best thing on the menu….it was already paid for!

Gardens over Sandals Regency

Gardens over Sandals Regency

The best illustration of this was at the Sandal’s Regency French Restaurant, La Toc.

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We enjoyed a fantastic meal at La Toc. I tried a few new things that I have never tasted before. Like escargot for appetizers and caviar for sides with my beef wellington; at an all-inclusive!

It was great! It was a moment. It is what going on vacation in new places is all about. Memorable!

From the French Restaurant La Toc at Sandal's Regency

From the French Restaurant La Toc at Sandal’s Regency

We also took the Sandal’s shuttle over to the Regency to enjoy dinner at their popular Japanese restaurant, Kimonos!

Grande shrimp at Sandal's Regency's Japanese restaurant

Grande shrimp at Sandal’s Regency’s Japanese restaurant

In the true definition of ‘a small world‘ the people seated immediately beside us were from our hometown. What are the odds?

Anybody can do ONE set of chop sticks...

Anybody can do ONE set of chop sticks…

The other Sandal’s resort, Grande we visited too. And it was! It was a gorgeous resort on the tip of the island with more restaurants that really put ours to shame. We went there for one special evening too!

Sandal's Grande beach. The resort was grande!

Sandal’s Grande beach. The resort was grande!

What was the highlight of your trip

This survey asks what is the highlight of our trip?

As I alluded to earlier, the most thrilling part of our Valentine’s vacation wasn’t the zip lines but the ride to the zip lines!

We were dispatched in old worn out school buses that barely ran. No power! If you can imagine downshifting in a school bus on a 35% incline.

This bus had to make hairpin turns on narrow dirt roads at steep angles, both going in and coming out of the rainforest ( It didn’t rain) Every time we approached one of these turns I just knew the bus would just roll over down the mountain side into the jungle never to be heard from again.

But we didn’t. However I have no pictures to show you of the severity of this event (you see how I like a picture) so I will move on to memorable night number 2 (sort of).

The most memorable event recorded (thankfully)was our dinner over at Sandal’s Grande. We took the shuttle over early so we could explore. They had a private dining room on the end of a pier that was by reservation and currency only. Yes, in an all-inclusive, to eat in this private room at the end of the dock you needed some money!

We opted for the Bare feet Beach Restaurant where we could have a table right next to rolling surf.

A view from our table at Sandal's Grande Barefoot Beach Restaurant...where we could only look at the private dining room.

A view from our table at Sandal’s Grande Barefoot Beach Restaurant…where we could only look at the private dining room.

This was nice! And only the beginning.

It was dusk. The gentle waves just feet from our table. My favorite date in front of me. And I could order anything on the menu at this 5 Star resort and not have to worry about getting a bill.

And so, like all cheap frugal minds, I couldn’t make mine up. There were two entree’s that I really wanted to try. I couldn’t make up my mind. Analysis paralysis!

So, after a glass of wine an haggling with my server, he let me have BOTH entrees. Yes, I am a pig!

It was delicious, light, tropical, star lit night. And then our server said the dessert buffet was right upstairs!

WHAT?

Dessert Buffet? Do you know me? We are called the dessert couple by our neighbors. Buffet? Here?

So we marched up to the British Pub where they told us it could be found

Next upstairs to the 'British Pub'

No passports needed.

We found a table in the British Pub and then I spied it. A dessert Buffet!

Where are the plates!

for the dessert buffet

You see, they were teeny-tiny desserts that didn’t really fill you up. You could take all you wanted. Oh, and if you got thirsty, we were sitting right across from the after-dinner drink buffet!

just put it on my tab...

just put it on my tab…

It was incredible. I ate the best stuff. I countered it with the best, soothing beverages. And it wa endless.

I AM such a pig!

After I moved the notch on my belt back as far as I dare we eventually found the shuttle back to our resort. If you have a culinary background, or just like tasting great things like I do, this was heaven on  stick and worth the trip alone.

How could we ever top it off?

so comfy...the swinging bed

Yes, the swinging bed!

Luxury Included!

The last thing I remember

The last thing I remember

Any funny/embarrassing stories or disasters?

Not a good one but painfully embarrassing…

We had become good friends with the outgoing Activities Director at our resort. One day she asked if we would like to do a Dating Game type of game at the night’s activities, where they ask one person a questions and then pull their partner out and ask them the same question to see if they match.

Do you remember this game?

First we agreed we would NOT answer anything that puts the other person in an embarrassing light. We knew this part. Right?

We get there and right away we won a prize!

…for being the oldest couple on the stage!

She did her questions and then I did mine. The pressure was on! The last question, keep in mind this is a couple’s Dating Game, they asked me if my wife was a Doormat, a Chit Chat, or an Acrobat..in bed?

(gasp!)

I told them well she’s none of these…I can’t tell this stuff.

They insisted on an answer. I insisted she was not any of these! They insisted harder and brought the crowd in to the picture.

I failed. Whatever answer I said, it was the worst one! It was going to be no matter what I said.

The game was over. She steamed off. I groveled with apologies, promises, I’m sorry’s and more.

She was mad for the next 36 hours…on our vacation in paradise. PAINfully embarrassing!

How was the weather (and when did you travel)?

The weather was great. We wondered what it would be like with a tropical rainforest on the island. But all we had was a few morning showers at daybreak and a few around 4:00pm, never lasting longer than 30 minutes and that was it.

It was the kind of light rain you might welcome at a ‘couples only’ resort on a tropical island.

Most useful word/phrase you learnt.

“What time is the shuttle”. our days were planned around this, whether planning meals at other resorts or catching a commercial travel activity like zip lining or volcano hunting.

And the other useful piece of information that we have tried to build into our trips to tiny islands, “Always stay on the western side of the island!

going down

Our practice is to sit and watch the sun go down on every last day of a trip, wringing every lat drop of Travel and Escape out of our trip.

If I haven’t lost you yet, and want to see glimpses of this trip in action, click on the video and join us one more time. I think its worth it!

Sorry for the typos!

it is and continues to be a busy week!

I get back to them eventually

Hidden Gems: Curacao in the Netherland Antilles

I am in the process of doing a Guest Travel survey for one of my favorite travel blogs, EmilyLuxton: Explore, Dream, Discover. Emily accepts surveys from people taking special trips and so I wanted to offer her one of our favorite hiding spots, the island of Curacao. I sent Emily our story and she will post it next week.

I thought in the meantime I wanted to offer it to you. If you have some spare time this holiday and you want to go someplace exotic, come on along with us to Curacao!  Here is the survey for Emily:

My wife and I love to travel. We love to explore anywhere and dig into the history or discover the local people and culture. Every place is different and that’s what’s interesting to us. One of our greatest passions has been the water and beaches.

My wife, who is cold blooded by nature, doesn’t like to be cold and so each winter we try to take trip some place warm in the Caribbean Ocean. The warmer, the better! So what could be anywhere warmer than close to the equator, right?

Where did you go/what was it like?

So several years ago we looked for a nice resort, close to the equator (warm!) that offered great beaches and diving to cool off with. We found the hidden gem of Curacao, one of the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao in the Dutch Antilles).

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We chose Curacao because it is supposed to have some of the best diving in the Caribbean. The island boasts of some 60 diving locations and 35 beaches.

Close to the Equator, this island is little more than a stone’s throw from Venezuela in South America. In fact farmers from Venezuela ride boats to Curacao and sell them at their ‘floating market’; home to everything fresh, fruity and tropical!

the Floating Market downtown

The colorful floating market with fresh produce

Curacao is a small volcanic island, like most in the Caribbean. It has a diverse heritage being fought over and conquered by the Dutch and French in colonial times. You land on north side of the island than take a bus trip to the south side. When you reach the other side you sit atop a small mountain with a great picturesque view of the capital, Williamstad.

Curacao's 'Rainbow Row'

Williamstad is a colourful town, separated in the middle by a deep harbour for cruise ships. It is largely comprised of Dutch based architecture.

Dutch Architcture

On the east side of the capital (Punta) is the touristy area, filled with colourful, affordable shops, multi-cultural restaurants, night clubs and hotels.

shopping downtown

The west side of Williamstad is more of the professional and artsy side. The two halves are connected by a swinging pontoon bridge that actually swings open across the large harbour to let the large ships pass by.

poontoon bridge

Along the harbour in the Punta are many boats that make the trip across the sea from Venezuela. These boats are filled with the produce of that country and dock. It is a unique attraction called the Floating Market. Here you can barter for loads of fresh produce, both known to this traveler and unknown.

If you are interested in more of Curacao’s diverse history click here to find out more.

Where did you stay/what was it like?

Each time we visited Curacao we stayed at an all-inclusive called Breezes. Its rates about a 3 on a scale of 5, but it offers everything we look for in trips, free food and alcohol! ~ kidding. But it does offer one free dive per day, free diving lessons and the best part is there is a great man-made coral reef just a stone’s throw from the beach.

That is how far the reef is from the beach!

That is how far the reef is from the beach!

The mudslides were great for my wife. They pour free Amstel light on tap (Dutch heritage) and so we have gone back to this Breezes 3 times. It would have been four but I found someone bought this resort and is turning it into a Timeshare resort now.

Kids area from our room

The picture above was part of the Kid’s Corner part of the resort that we looked forward to taking our girls to.

Any time of the day, you can go to the dive hut, pick up some snorkeling equipment and go explore this reef. On the lagoon side are colourful fish, protected from the larger predators of the deep.

tangs at the reef

school of fish at the jetty

If you swim to the outer side of the reef it is like exploring the moon, with huge corals and underwater plants. Its like another world we never see…. lets go for a swim

Curacao - Underwater & west coast beaches-07

Curacao - Underwater & west coast beaches-13

This is some of the best snorkeling we have ever experienced and you can do it any time of the day right from the resort; no schedules or buses to catch. I even had a face to face encounter with a four foot barracuda that is STILL vivid in my mind.

I was looking down at the corals and fishes. I looked up to clear my mask and there he was about 30 yards away just looking at me. Huge! I froze! I remember our diving lesson where they told us barracudas are lightning fast and like to go for shiny things (rings, watches) thinking they are fish.

I folded my wedding ring under my other hand in a prayer type of position (literally…Help!) Then, I slowly backed away. I looked down to see where I was at one time, looked up, and she was gone!

Later I found her offspring hiding in the lagoon…where we swam!

A baby barracuda blending in in the shallows of our lagoon.

A baby barracuda blending in in the shallows of our lagoon.

One of the nice things about staying at Breezes was there is a nice aquarium within a 5 minute walk of the resort. This ‘open water’ aquarium has the dolphin shows, sea lions, swim with the fishes and more. Not to be missed is the eel feeding. I have never seen anything so vicious as these nearly blind creatures fight each other for the food.

The aquarium is also unique in that instead of a large filtration system it is actually maintained by the ocean. This aquarium has ocean rocks for walls and the ocean freely passes in and out the areas where the large fish are maintained. A perfect Ph!

the Curacao Aqurium

the Curacao Aquarium

Curacao boasts of 35 beaches around the island. We only had the one at Breezes. So one day we paid one of the staff of the resort to take us around to some of the better ones. Most of these beaches are small and secluded. Lovers or divers this is Shangri-La!

We visited some nice romantic beaches, romantic if our guide had not been along. A few of the beaches didn’t have any one there at all. We did some snorkeling, saw some of the scenery and then our guide took us to an overlook he described as Post Card at Kenepa Beach.

Postcard from Curacao

What do you think?

Those of you in the restaurant scene might know of a blue cordial called Blue Curacao. This liqueur is made on the island and you can go to this quaint factory and have some samples. The beverage originated from the slightly bitter oranges that grow on this island. It now comes in 4 or 5 colours.

Blue Curacao

What was the highlight of your trip”

The highlight of our many visits, to me, was that one beach exploration trip with our guide from Breezes. He took us to a secluded Jeremi Beach.

Jeremi Beach

No one was there. I hopped in the water and swam out to the edge of the cove along the cliff walls. As I reached the edge I saw, not one but two Atlantic Puffers (Porcupine Puffers) swimming together. Having a saltwater aquarium at home I recognized these two fish were getting more than friendly. They just kept a slow chase in circles, like they were courting each other.

Here is my distant pictures, on my disposable underwater camera. Can make them out in the center? They are both about the size of your head circling in the middle of the picture. .

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After watching them for several minutes, I swam back to get my guide and a camera. The fish either didn’t know I was there or didn’t care. I swam back to my same spot and they were still there. I wanted to get a picture of this but knew not to get too close as I knew from my aquarium they have a sharp beak for a mouth, often used for breaking up coral in search for food.

Keep in mind this picture was taken with a disposable underater camera. Not top of the line!  Then think about how far away  or deep those Puffers are. That’s easily 30 feet away yet a cheap camera can easily pick out the fish. This gives you an idea of how clear Curacao’s waters are.

 What was the food like?/Where did you have the best food?

Sadly, we did not get off the resort that often for meals; one of the downsides to all-inclusives. We did stay at a hotel, the Renaissance Hotel, on the mouth of Williamstad’s harbour one night. This attractive hotel was once a fort protecting the harbour in the 19th century.

We walked the streets and found a water side café with some great seafood. Again, the dining is diverse from the diverse heritage of the island.

800px-Waterfront_Dining_Willemstad_Curacao

Any funny/embarrassing stories or disasters?

We often make these Caribbean trips in the middle of winter to warm up. What better time to go then Valentine’s Day!  We don’t celebrate the day much so it’s our gift to each other!

One year my wife’s wedding ring broke about a month before our trip. I took it to get fixed and while waiting enjoyed looking at the various rings. I could afford a bit larger diamond now and so decided to trade in our diamond for a bigger one, have it reset in the original ring and then re-propose to my wife on Valentine’s night at Breezes. I had proposed on Valentine’s Day originally.

Well we picked a nice restaurant that night. Had dinner. Then I got down on my knee again, in front of everybody and asked if she would still have me. She laughed at me and thought I was joking! The curse of a vivid sense of humour!

and I proposed again

I gave her the new ring and she cried. She wanted her old one back! It was sentimental to her. That ring salesman didn’t tell me that would happen! I was in the dog house the next two days of the trip. Live and learn!

How was the weather (and when did you travel)?

The weather was hot but not as hot as you might think for the equator. We did get our share of sun.

I saw an old friend

I got some sun that day!

I think in the 3 weeks we have been there we might have seen about 3 hours of rain. Curacao does sit below the hurricane zone in the Caribbean so gets spared from most of those storms

Do you have any tips or advice for anyone planning a similar trip?

My only advice is if you visit there please make plans to explore the island and its many secluded beaches. There are other sites to see as well including a national park, national dive site and the Curacao aquarium and more.

With the closing of Breezes Resort we were forced to look for another family-friendly resort. A short swim or walk up the coast from Breezes, and right beside the aquarium, is a Dutch resort Called Lion’s Dive Resort. This is a beautiful resort but not the all-inclusive we look for.

Lagoon at Lions Dive Club

It does have the same man-made reef out front. It has its own dive shop on property, right beside Curacao’s aquarium and a very popular beach bar, Hemingway’s, that gets a good crowd at night.

We occasionally walked up to Hemingway’s, grabbed a local Polar Beer or Mojito and sat on the edge of the island just listening to the waves turn over at our toes and the Caribbean music in the background. It was very nice!

with Polar Beer and Mojitos

Traveling is not real difficult as the island is small. But many of these beaches are off the beaten path so a guide would be helpful if you do.

Most useful word/phrase you learnt.

Bon! This simply means “Good”. Its easy to say with a smile and always gets a smile back.

If you go to Curacao’s homepage they offer a handful of useful expressions. ’ it was my experience that the locals speak many languages there. I was quite impressed that the young staff at our Breezes spoke five languages with ease.

The island of Curacao is affordable, the hotel rates are cheaper than similar touristy Caribbean islands and its not the tourist mecca that some exotic locations can be.

So that’s the story of our passion for Curacao. Weekend at Bernies!

Can you think of a better place to spend next Valentine’s Day?

TRAVEL: Machu Pichhu

In my first Travel post I wanted to offer one of my favorite travel stories, visiting Machu Picchu, high up in the Andes Mountains (cool name for mountains, huh?) Ms. Iconicallyrare offers some great pictures of her visit and an introduction to the mystique of this civilization.

This was the first post I saw of Ms. Rare and have been following ever since. She does an interesting blog on themes from Travel to Fashion and Elegance. Thankfully, for this boy, she does Male Fashion posts too. She does not post that often, maybe once a month. But I saw she owns about 18,000 followers so just replying to comments must take 4 days!

Give her blog a look. And check out these great, vivid travel pictures from a land I would love to visit but may never have the chance. 

 

And please feel free to offer any great trips of your own! We all can’t travel to every great foriegn land so why don’t you tell us about one of your favorite places!

~ Iconicallyrare ~ The Tailored Life

On my trip to Machu Picchu, this is what I saw upon first approach…A fortified Inca town in the Peru Andes Mountains, thought to be built in the 1400s (exact date unknown).  

The invading Spaniards never found Machu Picchu during the war and so the Peruvians hiding away and thriving here remained safe. The site was not discovered until 1911 (Can you imagine discovering a place like this?). Machu Picchu is noted for its dramatic position, perched high on a steep-sided ridge.  No one is certain about why the inhabitants here appeared to suddenly evacuate this seeming paradise.

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