Tales from the road

ABBA in the Andes: Misadventures on the Inca Trail

There's a time and a place for ABBA.

I admit to having a good deal of space in my heart for our lovely Swedish cousins. Being brought up in Scotland in the 1970s with grandparents living on the south coast of England, we had endlessly long car journeys every summer.

The drives were made longer by my father's love of loud classical music courtesy of BBC Radio 3, interrupted only by an occasional update on the isobars in South Ustire - or the silage situation in Ambridge. For what seemed like a few precious moments over the course of the seven (hundred) hours of driving, we'd get a cooling draught of catchy ABBA tunes before being plunged back into some endless atonal symphony.

And yet...even with my Pavlovian positivity to their music, I draw the line at singing ABBA at a Machu Picchu sunrise.

I remember being told the story by a weary traveler who had come to the end of the challenging, high-altitude, four day trek along the Inca Trail, drawn ever forwards by the image of the sun's first rays hitting the citadel, communing in hushed awe. What she actually got was several hundred people perched all over the Sun Gate, jostling for their piece of peace when a group of still-drunk friends launched into a bout of ABBA-oke in the Andes. Moment well and truly ruined. As ever, it's all about timing...

My colleague Zoe puts it really nicely when she writes:

"Standing at the foot of the steps leading up to the sun gate, the air was similar to that at the start of the London Marathon. We all jostled to get closer to the gate, the excitement and nerves palpable in the atmosphere around us all. I remember feeling physically nauseous, it was early, I had waited my entire life to see Machu Picchu and the stress of beating the crowd to the top (not to mention the first buses of tourists) was making my adrenaline surge. The crowd cheered as the gates were opened and, like cattle being let out of the winter barns, we were off- the steps steep and the climb seemingly endless.

I pushed hard, ran, and ran until the sound of the crowd petered out way below me down the mountain. There were just a few of us this far ahead, not speaking, barely breathing and sweating profusely in the humid air. As we got to the top, I burst into tears, the sight of Machu Picchu appearing out of the mist below - empty all for the appearance of a few llamas - was all I'd wanted for such a long time. I sat down on the grass, red-faced, sweaty, relieved, gloriously happy (even though my lungs were on fire), and took in the awe-inspiring beauty and stillness of the citadel...for approximately 10 minutes. The tooting busloads had arrived with their flag-wielding guides, and people poured into the site squabbling and selfie-taking. I heaved myself up and spent the rest of my visit desperately trying to avoid the large groups that seemed to be around every stone corner, and genuinely thinking, 'This cannot be the only way to experience this, can it?'"

And she's right, it's not. Partly it's about timing your arrival to allow the most relaxing experience, but I think it goes much deeper than this. Most visits to Cusco, and along the Sacred Valley of the Incas up to Machu Picchu, are focused entirely on 'The Inca'. This is to say the history, the past, the rocks and stones and artefacts of centuries past, punctuated by an occasional picturesque weaver or llama herder. That makes Machu Picchu the be-all and end-all of the visit. And therefore, someone singing Dancing Queen really does blow a hole in your vacation experience.

Peru sacred valley mercedes chicha c sarah pura
Sacred Valley

At Pura, we try to take a different route with our trips to the Inca heartland. Of course we go to Machu Picchu, it would be madness not to, it's incredible. But what we do differently is to spend time along the way with the people of the Sacred Valley, not treating it as an outdoor museum, but as a culture made of thriving communities who happen to live in spectacular, fascinating surroundings. It's the drinks with Mercedes or dinner with Emma around which memories are formed, memories which are clearer and louder than any amount of misplaced ABBA.

I hope you enjoy our newly revamped, refreshed portfolio of Peru vacations. All with the Inca Heartlands at their core but with all sorts of glorious additions to enjoy in this most wonderful of South American countries.

P.S. Sometimes there is good reason to blend Peru and ABBA...

Share your story with us