Visiting Machu Picchu is at the top of many travelers’ bucket lists, but there are numerous choices when it comes to places to stay. Some choose to stay at the entrance gate of Machu Picchu, where prices are sky high. Others stay in the touristy city of Aguascalientes at the base of the mountain. But to me, the most relaxing and pleasurable way to experience Machu Picchu is to stay in the Urubamba Valley (known as the Sacred Valley), which helps travelers deal with the high altitude in stages rather than catapulting them to the top at once, which can lead to dizziness and discomfort.
Sol y Luna, a Relais & Chateaux retreat
Sol y Luna is a new member of the Relais & Chateaux grouping and the most popular option for travelers seeking luxury and comfort in the region. Sol & Luna is located about an hour by car from Cusco in the town of Urubamba. The property is stunning, with mountain scenery as a backdrop from all angles. The hotel is owned and managed by a European couple that tends to the property as if it were their home (and in fact it is, as they live on-site).
The experience begins at reception, where guests are first greeted by what will become a museum-quality exhibition of contemporary artwork by local artists. Contemporary pieces are found throughout the property, including in the restaurants and guest rooms. It reflects the creativity and energy of the region.
Beyond support for local artists, sustainability and support for the valley’s children are the raison d’être of the hotel. In fact, the owners quit their high-paying corporate jobs with the specific intent of coming to the valley to help local kids. The hotel provides the means for them to do just that, and guests are always invited to tour the neighboring school if they’re interested.
Locally immersive—and supportive
It’s always great to stay with a hotel that supports the community, and the resort employs numerous locals that are passionate about sharing their region with visitors. The resort owner even sources products for the hotel’s boutique from local craftsmen and designers, which adds to the local touch.
If you’re lucky, you can be at the hotel when a local shaman pays a visit. Many guests are as interested in understanding the local culture as in visiting Machu Picchu itself. Families, especially, find this to be a fun experience.
Dining at the resort is another Sol y Luna highlight, with many of the ingredients grown in the region. In fact, the chefs have created a vibrant menu of local cuisine, and most guests eat all of their meals at the resort (many of the rates are all-inclusive). Killa Wasi restaurant offers a fine-dining atmosphere serving dishes like pumpkin lasagna and quinoa falafel for vegetarians to roasted cuy (local guinea pig) and roasted lamb. Chicha Wasi bar gets its name from the traditional Inca corn beer and serves a tasty pisco sour.
On the other side of the property (near the horse stables) is Wayra, serving up more local fare in a more casual atmosphere. Outdoor seating is available in seasonal weather, and many guests prefer to sit there enjoying the underground barbecue and grilled buffets. Lunch is served here family-style with course after course of local salads and grilled meat and fish accompanied by numerous local sauces—including the hotel’s own recipe of chimichurri sauce. The Cellar, a sophisticated, private basement dining area with stone walls accented by racks of wine bottles, can be reserved for special occasions.
Tip: Don’t miss the regular acrobatics show that takes place several evenings of the week at Wayra; there’s also an afternoon horse parade show that families love.
Rooms and the guest experience
Complimentary Wi-Fi is available throughout the property, which is great for uploading photos after a day’s adventures. Other activities include horseback riding (the most popular), hang gliding (often hosted by the hotel’s owner, a pilot himself), picnics by the lake, ATV riding in the hills, and local Peruvian weaving demonstrations. In warm weather, guests can swim in the hotel’s pool, but plans are in place to build a new, larger pool in the coming months.
The grounds burst forth with blossoming gardens and creeping vines that make their way up the side of the guests’ bungalows. Stand-alone casitas constructed with local stone and adobe bricks offer exceptional privacy and space here.
All of the rooms are decked out in the same Peruvian folk flair seen in public areas, including hand-painted murals and unique pieces, which vary from room to room.
Rooms are comfortable, decorated in warm tones, and accented with contemporary art and hand-embroidered fabrics. Beds are covered in Peruvian cotton linens and goose-down duvets. The smallest casitas do not have TVs, but do have small writing desks. Larger casitas have TVs, pre-loaded iPods and spacious living areas.
Marble baths come with soaking tubs, drenching showers with marble surfaces, dual vanities with L’Occitane toiletries, and large windows with privacy shades overlooking the colorful gardens. Many guests pass the time on their private terraces either soaking in the whirlpools or eyeing the majestic Andes.
In the end…
Obviously, the main reason for visiting the area is to explore Machu Picchu, and the best way to do that, unless you’re hiking, is by hopping a ride aboard IncaRail. The luxury experience at Sol y Luna is the ideal way to enjoy the area’s scenery while also dining on tasty Peruvian dishes on the way to Machu Picchu.
An open bar and multi-course meals help to pass the time. It’s important to remember the effects of high altitude though and drinking plentiful water is key.
What many guests appreciate most about this family-run hotel is the bespoke service and focus on community support, which is what drives the owners in all that they do. Sol y Luna is the perfect homebase for exploring the region and paying a visit to Machu Picchu.