24th July of this year marked 100 years exactly since Yale man and National Geographic explorer Hiram Bingham puffed and sweated his way up to the jungle-covered ruins of Machu Picchu. A century later, travelers who want to take in this true wonder of the world aren’t limited to explorer-style bivouacking; rather, there are now a wide range of accommodations, dining experiences, spas and adventures that rival the best in the world. So, in honor of Machu Picchu, Hiram Bingham and the incredible cultural patrimony of Peru, I would like to show you what a luxury trip to Machu Picchu looks like today.
Most visitors begin their journey in Lima. A short stay allows you to soak in the glorious colonial past of Lima’s central plaza. Palms, tropical-yellow buildings with exquisitely-carved wooden balconies and Spanish palaces sweep you back in time. Before becoming too nostalgic, head for the modern and very hip Miraflores district. Hugging the green cliffs, Miraflores offers visitors an incredible vista of the Pacific, where sunsets are tinged with not a little romance. It also is at the heart of Peru’s gastronomic revolution (read about it in CN Traveller). Refresh yourself with tart, spicy ceviche at celebrity-chef Gaston Acurio’s La Mar or revel in his refined dishes at Astrid y Gaston. Allow yourself to be lulled to sleep by the sound of the sea as you rest at the incredible Miraflores Park Hotel.
An early-morning flight sweeps you away from the coast over the breath-taking snow-covered Andes to Cusco, the mountain capital of the ancient Inca empire. Before you even notice the altitude, your private guide and driver escort you to Peru’s Sacred Valley. This drive winds up through the hills surrounding Cusco and takes you across the high purple altiplano. Mountains rise steeply in the distance while cows and sheep graze roadside. Descending into a warm valley, follow the wide Urubamba River to the secret garden that hides Sol y Luna‘s beautiful luxury casitas. Relax in your own little home, enjoying the scent of the flowers, birdsong and complimentary local chocolates. Enjoy an evening at the chef’s table with a selection of fine wines before returning to a roaring fire and a relaxing bath.
The next morning you’ll awake to brilliant sunshine and decide whether you’ll ride horses in the face of the glorious Andes, kayak brilliant blue lakes, soften your muscles in Sol y Luna’s beautiful spa or perhaps try them all! You’ll visit Inca ruins, ancient towns and vibrant artisan markets. You may even join a local chef as he shops for the freshest native ingredients and teaches you to prepare Peru’s best dishes. You’ll lunch the Peruvian way with a “pachamanca” al fresco experience: adobe-roasted potatoes and meats. The evening brings performances of traditional local dance and excellent, tart pisco sours.
Now that you’ve acclimatized, you return to Cusco. This Andean city is a brilliant mix of Inca stones, indigenous tradition, Spanish architecture and colonial culture. From the Plaza de Armas, set like blue, green and red gemstones against the background of the dusty Andean foothills, you can explore cathedrals rich in Cuzqueña School art and golden woodwork. You’ll discover Incan history in glorious museums and enjoy an emperor’s perspective as you gaze down on the city from the Inca fortress of Sachsayhuaman. Perhaps you’ll spend one evening in the incomparable, historic Monasterio Hotel (Richard Gere and Jim Carrey were recent guests) or perhaps you’ll opt for the more intimate pleasures of Inkaterra’s La Casona – a refined restoration of a colonial mansion. Regardless, you won’t lack for dining choices, from the nuevo-Andino perfection of Gaston Acurio’s Chicha to the rich tapas and select piscos of Cicciolina.
Walk past exquisitely crafted Inca stones, take your photo with a gaily-decorated alpaca and then stroke the soft sweaters and scarves made from this Peruvian camelid’s wool. Listen to the ancient Quechua language, still used to do daily business at the local market, and revel in the joyful music and brilliant costumes at an exhibition of Peruvian dance.
In the morning, prepare for a journey of a lifetime as you board the blue and gold Hiram Bingham train. Beautifully appointed in the old-world style of 1920s Pullman cars, this train journey not only harkens back to a time when travel was incredibly special and incredibly luxurious, it also takes you from high mountain scenery to cloud rainforests, redolent of South American adventure. You will enjoy exquisite cuisine and awe-inspiring views as you relax in the glass-encased observation car.
Upon your arrival in Machu Picchu town, your private guide will escort you to the completely unique Sanctuary Lodge. Perched just outside of the citadel of Machu Picchu, this property allows you to sleep and dine steps away from this world-famous place.
A place that photos can not do justice. The surrounding peaks are impossibly steep, green with rainforest growth. The river rushes white far below. Clouds drift in through the valley, hemming the city in and creating the impression that you are floating high above the rest of the world. The buildings of Machu Picchu are carved of grey stone, seemingly out of the mountain itself. As you stand, surrounded by wonders of nature and human history, the sense of tranquility and wonder is unlike anything else. Your stay in the exclusive Sanctuary Lodge means that you, unlike many tourists, will see the sun rise and set over the ruins as your private guide brings the stone and stories to life.
The Hiram Bingham train brings you back to Cusco, where you enjoy one more day browsing the great markets, steeping yourself in the clear Andean air. You fly to Lima, stroll through the bohemian beauty of Barranco, taking in the Pacific one more time. By the time you board your homeward-bound flight, you are relaxed and as tranquil as a Machu Picchu morning. You sleep, satisfied.
Emily Guilmette is the Marketing Director at Kuoda Travel.