Machu Picchu In Style, Cuz I'm Not A Backpacker
I admit I'm not one to always travel on a strict budget, so when my husband and I decided to travel to South America and visit Machu Picchu in Peru, we planned it with little frugality. I admire those folks who can live off the contents of a backpack for weeks and sleep in one of the hostels common in most cities. Frankly, my body is a wreck from past injuries, lack of flexibility, and the fact that I'm getting old. I just happen to also enjoy comfy beds in hotels, room service, and my big suitcase. And then there's my shopping passion, which includes finding local art and clothing, food shops, spice shops, kitchen tools, and other cool and useful things.
While in Peru, I bought a few of those items, and when it was time to go to Machu Picchu from Lima, my husband and I flew to Cusco, Peru where we stayed at one of the finest hotels in the world. I can't say enough about the Belmond Monasterio Hotel, which was formerly a monastery built in the 1500s. The gardens, restaurant, rooms, and service were absolutely over-the-top.
The concierge made arrangements for a driver to take us to the Ollanta train station where we boarded the PeruRail train, which had very nice seating with tables set for lunch service. There were huge picture windows that allowed for perfect views of the amazing Urubamba River and the towering Andes mountains. I couldn't keep my eyes off the scenery, so I just drank it all in.
The two hour ride seemed like only a few minutes, and once we arrived at Aguas Calientes, the little town set on the river, we couldn't wait to see more. Most people stay in the town and ride the bus the next day up to Machu Picchu -- take a train to Aguas Calientes and bus up to Machu Picchu, or backpack for three or four days on old trails and thousands of five hundred year-old uneven rock steps. There is only one hotel up the mountain at Machu Picchu, and it's just outside the entrance gate to the park, which is where we stayed. It's the Belmond Sanctuary, and it was absolutely worth the money to stay there. Although you couldn't see the Inca ruins from the hotel, the mountains surrounding them were spectacular, and the gardens were magnificent. They had a massage rooms in the garden and a terrace with seating areas. They offered a Pisco Sour tasting class before dinner, and live music from local talent.
The real advantage to staying there was having the opportunity to enter the gate to Machu Picchu at the opening hour of 6 AM before the buses started arriving every three minutes full of people. As we entered, we hired a local guide who took us on a two hour tour of the ruins and explained everything to us. It was well worth the fifty dollars to hire the guide. The other advantage of staying at the Sanctuary Hotel is that you can go back to your room and rest before re-entering up to two more times throughout the day with your original ticket. We made two visits that day, hiking on our own the second time. Although it was rainy season when we visited Machu Picchu, the crowds were much larger than those in the U.S. summer months. And although it rained several times during the day, it didn't prohibit anyone from hiking around in rain ponchos waiting for the sun, which made its appearance many times during the day.
At 4 PM each day, the hotel offers high tea, a buffet of sandwiches, cheese, pastries and tea. After the tea, we departed the hotel to get back to the train station in Aguas Calientes where we boarded the luxury train, The Hiram Bingham, named after the American man who rediscovered Machu Picchu in 1910. The experience on that train was first class! The decor was impeccable with crafted wooden moldings and art deco light fixtures. Each car was set up as a dining car with white linens, flowers, and crystal stemware. We were served five courses of food during our two hour ride, and a three musicians played for an hour in the lounge car where drinks were served for the duration of the ride. Again, we watched the amazing scenery from our large windows until the sun set. Too soon, we arrived at the train station where a private driver took us back to Cusco to the Belmond Monasterio Hotel for our final night in Peru. They had stored most of our luggage while we were away at Machu Picchu, and had placed it in a new room, which was a massive suite with even more amenities. I suspect that I'll never return to Peru to visit Machu Picchu, but I'll certainly never forget the experience I had there. And, I learned for sure, I am not a backpacker.