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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I always say, the best places in the world are the hardest to get to. An eight hour flight to a one hour flight to a thirty minute bus to a three hour train to a 4am alarm clock to a thirty minute bus to here. Totally worth the journey when “here” is the amazing Machu Picchu. Being there, when the doors opened (and relieved we didn’t fall off the mountain on the bus ride up!) in the quite morning air, soft diffused light, and sounds of nature alone was more of a spiritual feeling of being one with the history of humanity, earth, and astronomy. A connectedness that is so easy to forget or not feel in our real lives at work in New York City.
We spent the first part of the morning hiking up paths to vista points, turning back to take it all in, photograph the majesty then continue on until we reached the farthest perch. We sat for a very long time, made some time lapses, watched birds soar through the valley, inhaled the smell of incense from people who came to meditate and feel the energy of this astonishing place and just be. Be in the moment. I was there, one of my dream places, and this moment meant so much to me.
Our entire journey to Machu Picchu was arranged by Grey Line tours which I can now highly recommend. Our private guide who took us to the citadel, Hector, was incredible and patient with us. He let us do our thing, took us to the best photographic spots and peaceful places and waited until we were ready for all the information… and boy did I have A LOT of questions. I won’t fill you in on the history of Machu Picchu, hello wikipedia, or even share too many photographs. I think, for this moment, it is best lived and I hope everyone has the chance to experience this place as I have and feel that thing which can not be expressed in pixels but in LIFE.
Machu Picchu. Did it. As my Dad and I like to say “Check.”
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All my life I have dreamed of taking the Hiram Bingham to Machu Picchu. Pulling up to the station in Cusco to board we found the proud historic royal blue train cars waiting for us in pristine fashion. My heart fluttered as I peered in the windows, a foreshadowing of what was to come in glimpses of white linen table tops and sparkling glasses just waiting to be filled with life. Usually when I choose to take a train it’s because I want to be able to work for those few hours of a journey…. but not here. The beauty of the old train cars, the history of luxury travel, the celebration they created demanded all your attention. We sat on red velvet seats and drank pisco sours to the beat of live musicians in the lounge car. We took pictures and smelled the fresh mountain air off the back of the last train car while we wound around and around mountain passes. We dined on classic Peruvian food paired with locally made wines and watched the river flow by in a happy steam leading us right to the heart of Machu Picchi and the next leg of our adventure found only in south america…
The last romantic train trip I took was on this journey….
See more about Peru HERE & all my South America stories HERE
Finding a balance between historic and new is a very fine line. I have never stayed in a hotel that has walked that line more perfectly than Inkaterra La Casona.
Tucked away on a quiet square just a few blocks from the main hubbub, this very small 11-suite luxury boutique hotel subscribes to the discrete way of life where luxury exists in pride, quality, history, upkeep and experience. Why I love it: the hotel was originally built as a mansion in the 16th century first occupied by Conquistadores and to this day maintains the design and architecture of the original manor.
So here is how it goes, you step into an antique carved wooden door back in time, the smell of eucalyptus dances around your body. They hand you a cup of the local ‘coca tea’ which comes in handmade pottery crafted by the owner of the hotel. This was my first experience with coca tea which was not unlike a green tea in taste, coffee in effect but most notable made from the same plant used to produce cocaine. So there’s that. On the second floor you find your suite, peacefully facing the inner courtyard dripping in colonial history and begging to be instagrammed (which I did here, and here, and here and here, and here). The room is warm and soft with original textile murals, baroque wood colonial furniture and those beautiful Spanish accents including white adobe walls so thick each room has to have it’s own wifi. The heated tile in the bathroom leads you to one of those perfect bathtubs which can (and if you’re me, will) be filled with a bubble bath infused in local aromatic oils. Biggest surprise… when you get into bed at night to the roaring fire at the foot of your bed, you’ll find a chocolate on your pillow and a hot water bottle under your sheets.
The best part about this hotel aside from the beauty of preserved history is their commitment to the future through conservation and programs such as Carbon Neutral. Beautiful and smart- doesn’t get more perfect than that.
In sum, TOTAL ROMANCE.
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I could barely sleep on the overnight Lan Airlines flight down to Peru on our next leg of #OnlyInSouthAmerica adventure. Machu Picchu has been on my travel wish list since I fist learned about it in elementary school but before we could make the main trek we started out in Cusco, the historic capital of the Inca Empire before the Spaniards conquered it in the 1500s. You can see the layers and layers of history and culture – the original Inca walls resting under European style architecture. You discover a city that is more rich and mystical than what meets the eye as you learn about the centuries of battles, a lost culture, a mixture indigenous roots and Spanish influence and a strong connection to the earth. Mostly in Cusco, I enjoyed walking the little narrow streets, up and down the corridors, looking at the women in their amazing hats as they went about their day.
Most people ask me first about altitude sickness. I did not get sick, however, I would get winded on the first day walking up hill and just overall felt tired I think from lack of oxygen. By my 3rd day in Peru I was totally back to normal. It also made the effect of one pisco sour feel like you had ten… which I kind of loved. I also loved the flavor and effect of coca tea which was offered everywhere we went as a way to help ease altitude sickness… mostly for me it was like drinking ten cups of coffee.
Other things about Cusco I loved: the ceviche game here is STRONG. I have yet to have a ceviche as good since. The San Pedro market was amazing to see. An aisle for meat, an aisle for flowers, an aisle for cheese, an aisle for potatoes, it was endless and so rich with culture. Also, fruit smoothie with beer in it– game changer. Cacao tea, who knew! Wandering through all the little shops tucked away in courtyards to hunt down the perfect alpaca sweater or hand made pottery bowl was also very fun and with a very friendly exchange rate.
As a place that has such a strong unique culture there are exotic things you can try such as chicha beer (it was purple!) made from corn or the most popular dinner dish for locals- guinea pig… both things I’m glad I tried but I’ll leave those (and the frog juice to cure headaches!) to the locals.
If I ever find myself on the way to Cusco again I’ll look forward to the way the city transports you not only to a different place but what feels like a different time…
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