20 September 2016
After one night in Peruvian capital, Lima, at the Belmond Miraflores (which is gorgeous, by the way) I set off in great excitement to the Sacred Valley of the Incas which is where I’d decided to begin my trek to Machu Picchu. Once in Urumamba, I took my time wandering through Hotel Sol Y Luna (a Relais and Châteaux property) which is an experience all on its own. With a backdrop of mountains, a smattering of candy-coloured casitas, glorious gardens bursting with flowers, its own horse ranch, two restaurants and a beautiful spa, it embodies the tranquil spirit of the Andes.
Escape the crowds
The Sacred Valley was the epicentre of the Incan Empire and is packed with ancient hotspots and awe-inspiring landscapes. Relaxed and refreshed, I spent one full day happily exploring the nearby site of Pisac and Ollantaytambo, an old fortress.
The following was devoted to Moray and Maras—both often overlooked but in my humble opinion not to be missed. At Moray I marvelled at the temples and residential ruins, all without the crowds associated with other sites. I only saw one other tourist!
Maras is known for its salt mines. Salt water seeps from the mountains into pans, hundreds of them, from which locals have been harvesting salt for centuries. The pans took my breath away—I wasn’t expecting them to be so dramatic. If you go during the dry season they’re actually a dazzling white.
Set at around 11,000 feet, Cuzco is the perfect place from which to acclimatize for your trek (many people spend a few nights there but having had a couple of days in the Sacred Valley I stayed for two). For my trek, I’d opted for the less traditional 4-night Lares Trek, a non-linear option which involves being dropped off each day to hike a circular route before driving to your new hotel each night.
The great thing about this trek is that you’re not required to hike each day. There are plenty of curated cultural activities such as traditional weaving or learning about local cuisine to keep you occupied if you want to take things more slowly. It’s perfect for families or groups with mixed abilities and interests. It allows you to soak up the incredible scenery by day (and I wont lie, the hikes are reasonably challenging) and then relax over a delicious dinner in comfort in the evening.
Gateway to Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu was my final stop and where I took a half day guided tour, which I thoroughly recommend. There I stayed at the glorious Belmond Sanctuary Lodge. It’s the only hotel at the top of the mountain neighbouring the famous site; it’s totally unique. The food was sublime, the staff attentive but not overly so, and of course it has the most amazing forest views, particularly at sunrise and sunset. It’s worth every cent.
Back in Cuzco I spent my last night at Casa Cartagena. As with many hotels in this area which can range from former monasteries to old world buildings with Inca foundations, Casa Cartagena is steeped in history. A restored colonial home, this boutique property stands out from the others with its on point blend of the old and new.