It’s no surprise the Galapagos Islands and Machu Picchu are two of the most sought-after destinations in South America.  The thrill to experience these fascinating travel hot-spots are on many a person’s bucket-list, and if you aren’t likely to take another trip to South America, combining the destinations into one trip makes a lot of sense as they are relatively close to one another on the western side of South America.

Expertly led by the travel advisors at Voyagers Travel I soon realized how their knowledge of all things Latin America became invaluable throughout my “sensory-overloaded” two weeks of epic adventure.

This trip offered a series of “firsts” for me, and as an added bonus I was able to fully engulf myself into my “journey of discovery” with the unique perspective (for me) traveling like a tourist with my husband and not filming the destinations for my TV show “Travel Time with Linda”.

Still on a euphoric high I’m thrilled to share this travel guide as a wealth of knowledge to anyone contemplating this bucket-list trip.

While mapping our initial itinerary with Francisco at Voyagers Travel,

he suggested we stay a few nights in the quaint Old Town of Quito as a pit-stop to the Galapagos to experience the rich cultural beauty of this UNESCO World Heritage Site in Ecuador.

ILLA Experience Hotel

A place full of traditions, authenticity and charisma, this wonderful travel detour to Quito was indeed a highlight of our trip enjoying our stopover stay in this landmark city at the ILLA Experience Hotel. A luxury boutique property nestled in the warmest, most welcoming traditional neighborhood of  San Marcos; home to artists, writers and musicians and its present-day charm owes much to the tight-knit community of residents.

Illa’s “Experience Hotel” encourages its guests to really feel like locals, engaging and interacting with its community with its stylishly-restored historic house turned 10-room hotel that beautifully represents the exquisite style of mansions of Quito from the early 20th Century.  After our full day touring Quito’s “centro historico”, I went to sleep marveling at the spectacular view from our bedroom window of the iconic Virgin of El Panecillo; one of Quito’s most glorious landmarks that locals claim is the only Virgin Mary in the world that has the “wings of an angel”.

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Flights to the Galápagos Islands depart multiple times each day from the Quito and its historic center is a must-see representing one of the crown jewels in South America’s colonial culture.

From Quito we took a four-hour flight to Guayaquil to embark to the Galapagos Islands adventure and hobnob with nature.  If you’re wondering the best mode to experience this volcanic archipelago “by land or by sea”, Voyagers Travel provided insight that a luxury cruise on the Sea Star Journey Yacht is among the most stylish and preferred way to explore the destination and he was right.

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Serving as the inspiration for Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, I dove deep into this double World Heritage site, amped to have the opportunity exploring the Galapagos Islands wildlife rich waters for six wonderous days aboard South America’s leading boutique luxury cruise ship.

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The Galapagos Sea Star Journey Yacht features seven spacious Suites (about 270 sq.ft.) to accommodate up to 16 passengers, each equipped large stateroom with full amenities and panoramic windows to enjoy the wonderful landscapes.  A luxurious top deck equipped with two Jacuzzi and an array of lounges to sunbathe and relax while island-hopping.

Each day brought new excitement as we left our ship and boarded Zodiacs bound for various volcanic archipelago excursions —kayaking, hiking, swimming, snorkeling, all providing amazing access to the beautiful inhabitants of the Galapagos all of which do not fear human interaction whatsoever.

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Inquisitive sea lions and spiky marine iguanas bask in the sun between island and shore, while blue-footed boobies cut through the sky.  It’s a place where the animals, not humans take center stage.

So many up-close-and-personal encounters with the beautiful inhabitants of the Galapagos-the list goes on and on.  I thought nothing could top my close contact with “the friendliest animals existing on Earth” until I stepped foot onto Machu Picchu mountain and felt its incredible surge of powerful spiritual energy…I was smitten.

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The magic of Machu Picchu was made even more special staying at The Sumaq Hotel and experiencing its five-star personalized luxury touches.  Their warm Peruvian hospitality was felt from the moment of our arrival with welcome drinks and bite size treats at check-in and special thank you note waiting upon entering our Deluxe Andean Suite with its stunning view of the river below.

Named one of South America’s best hotels by Condé Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure, The Sumaq is located at the foot of the historic sanctuary of Machu Picchu offering serene views of the mountains and landscapes.

Its relaxing Aqlla Spa means the “chosen one” in Peru’s native language Quechua, and we had the pleasure of releasing the stress and imbalance of our travels with its mystically indulgent Couples Massage and entered a realm of blissful renewal.

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With our body and souls connected in perfect harmony and the spirit of the Ancient Inca at our core we were primed for our next day’s big adventure to bring the mystery of Machu Picchu alive with a Shaman-led Mystical Tour of Machu Picchu.

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This signature tour with The Sumaq’s authentic “in-house” Shaman Daniel, introduces guests of the hotel to the mystical world of the Andean Cosmovision, using the ancient temples and sacred landscapes around Machu Picchu.

The next morning, we woke up early to embark on our spiritual journey and meet our Shaman Daniel and guide Joel to visit the Lost City of the Incas.  It is believed that long ago, Machu Picchu only welcomed people from the elite of the empire into this holy city of the Incas, and from the moment I stepped foot onto its pathway, I felt an incredible connection from this historical archeological site. Photographs do not do it justice how truly inspiring standing inside this sacred city and feeling its powerful strength.

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Before we began our trek, Daniel led us in making an offering of coca leaves to Mother Earth “Pachamama”, asking permission to hike Machu Picchu and to give thanks for healing and abundance.  This ritual is a practice that has been observed for centuries, since before the time of the Inca, and throughout the Andes and is one of the ways of connecting to the spiritual realm, a realm beyond the physical.

The Sumaq Hotel

The Sumaq Hotel

We then began our moderately hard hike to the Sun Gate “Intipunku” meaning “the gate of the sun” in Quechua. Taking photos along the way we made it to the top in just over 2 hours rewarding ourselves with its stunning views and breathing in its magical aura.

Located 2,745 meters above sea level in ancient times Intipunku was once the main fortress entrance to the sacred Inca city.  Because of its location on a ridge southeast of Machu Picchu, the rising sun would pass through the Sun Gate each year on the summer solstice and for this reason it’s dedicated to the Sun God.

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As we made our way back down the pathway retracing our steps from hiking Sun Gate to enter the citadel I was on a “natural high” and felt nothing could surpass my expectations any further, but I was proved wrong. Our Shaman Daniel led us to a small shaded alcove for a private ritual to remove any negative energy and spiritually cleansed our pathway for renewal and abundance.  He then surprised us even further after feeling how connected my husband and I are, by performing an impromptu Andean Wedding renewing our wedding vows, a notion I had actually considered for our upcoming 30th wedding anniversary. It was beyond special and I marveled at how he had read my mind! I felt positively recharged from the experience.

Travels with Linda Cooper

Travels with Linda Cooper

Travels with Linda Cooper

That evening back at the hotel still basking in our once-in-a-lifetime experience, Daniel’s energy pulled me to find him in a back room at the far end of the hotel.  I found him in his ceremonial room having just performed a ritual still dressed in his full Shamanic costume (pictured below).

I mentally noted this was how I had envisioned he would look when we first met up for our tour.  While I was slightly disappointed initially that he wasn’t “dressed the part”, in a matter of hours I now had a deeper meaning as to what tools a Shaman must possess in knowing what our spirit needs and it has nothing to do with material things or the clothing we wear.  Feeling a tremendous sense of gratitude and blessings, I thanked Daniel once again for making our visit to Machu Picchu beyond our wildest expectations. It was the perfect end to our epic, bucket-list journey discovering South America’s most fascinating lands.

Travels with Linda Cooper