The magnificent Inca citadel of Machu Picchu is nestled high in the rugged Andes Mountains. When people think of traveling there, the famous Inca Trail comes to mind. The Inca Trail is a multi-day trek through mountain passes at elevations up to 14,500 feet. Sure, the scenery is beautiful and some operators even provide porters to carry your baggage, but at the end of the day, you’re still sleeping in a tent. No, thanks.
Baby Boomers, in particular, are not interested in the “roughing it” approach to seeing this bucket list destination. Boomers love adventure, but they also want to rest their tired feet in a luxurious resort and enjoy a multi-course meal at the end of the day.
Is it possible to get it all at Machu Picchu? Yes, it is.
1. Where to stay in Machu Picchu
During my two-week stay in Peru with AdventureSmith Explorations, I had the opportunity to stay in four luxurious mountain lodges. The last one was the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel in Aguas Calientes, the tiny town below Machu Picchu, just 68 miles from Cusco. This intimate Andean village resort with terraced hills, waterfalls, and cobblestone paths was hands-down the most memorable property I experienced in all of Peru.
I took a scenic train ride through the Andes from the town of Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes (“hot waters” in Spanish). As we walked from the train station to the hotel grounds, I was struck by the stunning property, set in 12 acres of exquisite jungle paths including the world’s largest native orchid collection, containing some 372 species.
My cozy whitewashed adobe casita was fitted out with high-end finishes and decorated with an understated simplicity. My bed had a unique wrought iron headboard and at the end was a vibrant local handmade textile. There was a high, beamed ceiling and a fireplace, adding to the comfy charm. On chilly nights, hotel staff came and lit the fireplace for me. In the morning, I sipped my cup of local coca tea in front of the large picture windows, as the lush jungle and flowers enveloped me.
The Inkaterra was awarded the Conde Nast Traveler 2017 Reader Choice Awards for #3 Best Hotel in South America and #15 Best Hotel in the World.
2. The Food
The restaurant offers fine dining with wall-to-ceiling glass to take advantage of the views of the lush mountains and the Vilcanota River. The menu is extensive, offering both local and international dishes, a large selection of wines, and of course the requisite pisco sour – Peru’s national alcoholic beverage. I indulged in squid ink tortellini with cream and cheese, and it was divine.
For a bit with more local flavor, the colorful town of Aguas Calientes is just a 5-minute walk. We found a plethora of small cafes and bistros with authentic local food.
3. The Town
The bustling downtown of Aguas Calientes – also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo – is nestled in the gorge below Machu Picchu. The city is a bit touristy, but it’s hard not to be drawn in as you are hugged by the surrounding forested cliffs, Spanish colonial architecture, and flower-adorned plazas.
A river runs through the center of the town, with two footbridges for pedestrians to cross. There are also thermal baths that claim to have curative effects.
4. The Shops
Next to the train station is a labyrinth of stalls selling all manner of handicrafts and souvenirs. If you are in the market for the colorful traditional hand-made alpaca textiles, this is the place to find both variety and bargains. I did buy a multi-colored woven blanket and a coordinating hand-embroidered pillow cover at a great price and would have purchased a lot more if I’d had more room in my suitcase.
5. The Machu Picchu Experience
The Machu Picchu Inkaterra was an ideal starting point for the true purpose of our journey – Machu Picchu. In the early morning, we started the journey to Machu Picchu with a rollicking uphill bus ride. After passing through the entrance, I climbed a series of very steep steps and ten minutes later was rewarded with the iconic, postcard-perfect view of the “sanctuary” with the Huayna Picchu Mountain towering in the background. Machu Picchu had been on my bucket list since my early 20’s (before it was even popular) and seeing it in person was even better than I’d anticipated.
It takes about three hours to hike through the mysterious citadel, and with the new regulations put in place in 2017, you must be accompanied by a local guide at all times.
Article first published by JustLuxe, February 2018.
Here’s a guide to planning a trip to Machu Picchu.
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Disclosure: The author was honored to be the guest of AdventureSmith Explorations during her stay in Peru, but as always, the opinions, reviews, and experiences are her own.
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