Mery Calderon is the founder and President of Kuoda Travel, a tour operator that pioneered private luxury travel in Peru. Born and educated in Cusco, she is an expert in the Andean region and has shown countless guests the majesty of Machu Picchu and the warmth of Peruvian culture.
After growing up in her mother’s souvenir shop and earning her degree in tourism, Mery went on to supervise operations for the leading luxury properties and tour operators in Peru. An epiphany struck after watching her high-end guests being herded onto a group tour bus: travellers electing to stay in the best hotel in Cusco should have access to private guides, private transportation and a much more personalized experience. Thus, Kuoda Travel was born. Ever since, Mery has dedicated herself to the growth of her company via providing flawless operations and impeccable friendly customer service.
What is it that you do exactly?
If we have guests in Cusco, my priority is visiting them. I make it a point to know every guest by name. Sometimes I meet guests at the airport or check in with them at their hotel. I like to personally know how they feel about Peru, South America and their travel experience overall. And, I love to promote my country. Whether a guest is traveling with us or someone else, as long as they enjoy Peru, I am happy.
When I return to the office, I answer emails and then check in with our Travel Designers, who create the client itineraries. I answer questions and make suggestions. I have daily meetings with our Operations Supervisor and we discuss all guests currently in the country. Perhaps we’ve just learned that a particular traveler loves music – we’ll then work together to find ways to include a concert or private music lesson in his itinerary.
I also keep in touch with our suppliers (guides, hotels, restaurants, etc.) on a daily basis. My goal is to learn something new about what I can offer my guests each day.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
As a young woman, career aptitude tests showed that I should be an engineer, but I loved meeting people from other places and so I went into tourism. It’s the same today – I love meeting people from all around the world. I also love seeing how life-changing trips can be or how special. For example, sometimes a trip is the only time a family can really spend together. We had a family travel with us last year. Now their 15 year old son is coming back to spend two weeks volunteering with us and learning Spanish. One guest, after traveling with us, asked us to find local organizations and projects to support, and I was so proud that we had inspired him and that he put this trust in us. I love when people come as visitors and leave as friends. Many guests keep in touch and have even hosted me in their home countries.
What would you say are the 3 best places you’ve ever stayed?
I love hotels with history and personality. For example, one of the best places I’ve ever stayed was the Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica in Peru’s Amazon rainforest. Inkaterra is the pioneer in Peruvian eco-tourism and they combine incredible knowledge and attention to detail with comfort and luxury. I learned so much about sustainable tourism while I stayed there, and falling asleep to the sounds of the jungle is incredible.
Another wonderful place is the Mansion Del Angel in Quito, Ecuador. It simply feels like romance – the hotel for honeymooners. This is a boutique situated in a colonial mansion. There are just six rooms so you feel like you are a guest in someone’s beautiful home. It is so friendly and peaceful – just perfect.
Finally, I would say the Quinua Villa Boutique in Cusco, Peru. It’s not as luxurious as the Inkaterra La Casona, but the owner – an Italian historian – has given each of the five boutique apartments a personality, so the experience of staying there feels very personal.
What’s been your most memorable dining experience to date?
I would have to say a late afternoon lunch in the MAP café in Cusco. This is the café of the Museo de Arte Pre Colombino, which is basically a modern glass box snuggled in a corner of the beautiful colonial courtyard of the museum. The food is impeccable – delicious Peruvian classics, like ceviche or creamy Aji de Gallina (juicy chicken breast in a creamy spicy sauce), served with modern precision. It is essential to relax, let the fabulous wait staff take care of you and enjoy one of Peru’s best pisco sours! What I love is that despite the modern ambiance and the world-class food, MAP never loses the feeling of being an intimate, friendly café. Plus, you can visit the museum before or after your meal, which is truly one of Cusco’s best.
Have you rubbed shoulders with the rich and famous, either through your work or your travels?
Our guests are highly accomplished individuals. We’ve had everyone from well-known writers, to perfume designers to presidents of large corporations to retired school teachers. That said, I must adhere to our policy of privacy and discretion when it comes to our clients.
I will say that I was visiting Cusco’s Monasterio Hotel one afternoon when I was told Richard Gere was in town. That was quite thrilling!
What currently ranks highest on your travel wish list?
I very much want to visit Patagonia right now. It sounds so pristine, intriguing and magical. And while I’m passing through Argentina, I would love to learn to dance tango.
Thank you for taking part in our interview, Mery. We don’t usually get to cover South America as much as we’d like on A Luxury Travel Blog, so it’s been wonderful to enjoy some of your insights.