Time Travel: Exploring Machu Picchu, the Lost City of the Incas

Time Travel: Exploring Machu Picchu, the Lost City of the Incas
Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, an unusual luxury property because of its lush, Andean cloud-forest setting, is an outstanding option for a stay here.

But first, you have to reach the town, officially called Machu Picchu Pueblo but formerly known as Aguas Calientes for its thermal springs – now simply called Machu Picchu by most. In making your travel plans, you will need to differentiate the village from the archaeological site, also called "the historical reserve."

Nearly everyone arrives by train. To do so in style, book the Orient-Express Hiram Bingham train from Cusco.

Inkaterra rises up its terraced hillside from alongside the train tracks, making it easily accessible for travelers.

The award-winning, eco-conscious Inkaterra Machu Picchu is an Andean-style village tucked amid 12 acres populated with native birds, plants and an amazing wild orchid collection. Stone pathways lead to the one- or two-story, whitewashed casitas with barrel-tile orange roofs, many of them covered with moss and plants, so your jungle-like stay feels like luxe treehouse living.

Trained guides take you along nature trails on the grounds that wind past waterfalls and gardens, the hotel's working tea plantation, and the world's largest private collection of indigenous orchids.

Plus, there's a gourmet restaurant with views of the river and train tracks below (and free happy-hour pisco sours), a swimming pool and UNU Spa with a private, outdoor hot tub for two tucked in the foliage. A spa highlight is the Andean Sauna treatment, a candlelit, sweat-lodge experience in an "igloo" of indigenous bamboo and fresh eucalyptus leaves that smells heavenly.

Your Inkaterra Machu Picchu adventure is individually organized when you arrive at the hotel. This natural paradise setting is the perfect preparation for a visit to the enigmatic Lost City of the Incas.

The Machu Picchu Historical Reserve is, of course, "the biggie." Named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, the site is surreal: 15th-century stone-fronted terraces, stone temples, stairs, walkways and streets. "Machu Picchu," meaning "ancient summit" or "old mountain," is mysterious, full of wonder and awe inspiring.

To enter the site, you'll need the equivalent of $40 in local currency, cash only. You can get a Machu Picchu stamp in your passport just inside the entry gate, so be sure to take it along (safely tucked away).

Erick Torres, manager of Inkaterra's sister property in Cusco formerly worked here in Machu Picchu. He says of the sacred site: "It fits your soul somehow. It doesn't matter what it is, but you feel it. Once you're there, you feel it. It takes your breath away."

Inkaterra La Casona is Cusco's first luxury boutique hotel. This two-story structure is a meticulously restored, colonial manor house - perhaps the first 15th Century Spanish construction in Cusco that was built over an Inca complex. Later, it was occupied by Spanish conquistadores and their descendants.

Today, Inkaterra La Casona operates as a private manor for a limited number of guests. The large, wooden front door is always closed like a private residence, thus it is not open to the public for walk-in traffic. All facilities and areas are for the exclusive use of in-house guests only.

In fact, to maintain guests' privacy, no signage is posted, so be sure you have the street location for your taxi driver. One you arrive, you step from the street over a raised threshold and through a huge door into reception, where you're immediately greeted and become immersed in the beauty of the place. Next to reception is a quiet sitting area called "Zaguán" an old Spanish word referring to the entrance hall of an old colonial house.

Eleven suites are positioned on two floors. A wrap-around balcony overlooks the grassy courtyard with a miniature, stone circle where incense burns near sunset. Contemporary amenities within the suites create an ambience of comfort and exclusivity enjoyed by residents in centuries past. Particularly luxe is that each suite has a stone fireplace and a roomy marble bathroom with thermostat controlled heated floors, which are particularly nice during the cool season.

One of the best features of this quiet oasis is your own personal concierge who will make all your arrangements, from dining and excursions, to train or taxi travel. The service begins with in-suite check-in.

Also outstanding is its beautiful location on the serene Plaza Las Nazarenas, surrounded by Andean city sites and just steps from the city center with its iconic, soaring Cusco Cathedral.

But whether climbing down or up, remember to breathe deeply and take it easy as Cusco is at an elevation of nearly 11,000 feet and altitude sickness is real. That's why just minutes after stepping into your suite, you'll be greeted with a beautiful ceramic serving set holding the local coca tea. The Incas revered the coca plant as sacred and magical with healing powers.

La Casona's location on Plaza Las Nazarenas places it in part of an ancient Incan neighborhood. In the Colonial period, urban Cusco was defined by superimposed Spanish architecture over the Inca structures. When the Spaniards built their homes, they adapted the basic Incan structural elements and morphed these with their construction. Thus, the manor that is now La Casona was built and traced from the Inca layout with regular and linear geometry around the central courtyard.

Carefully restored to retain its historical heritage, Inkaterra La Casona presents modern luxury without sacrificing authenticity, capturing the sense of privacy and privilege experienced by those who once lived here.

The Inca people began as a tribe in the Cusco area around the 12th century, and modern Cusco still reflects hints of its stature as capital of the once powerful Incan empire.

From Cusco, you can visit the various valleys and villages surrounding the city, absorbing the magic and mysticism of the Incan culture; or use La Casona as a base for organizing excursions to other Peru destinations such as Machu Picchu.

©2009 Luxury Travel Magazine. Written by J.S. Fletcher and Kathy M. Newbern for Luxury Travel Magazine. Award-winning freelance travel journalists, Fletcher and Newbern often incorporate their romantic travels into their other business, www.yournovel.com, where they put you and your sweetie in your own personalized romance novel "wild" or "mild." They are also the creators of the award-winning travel blog/podcast/radio report, www.YourSpaReport.com. Visit it for their report on the spas of Inkaterra Machu Picchu and Inkaterra La Casona in Cusco.

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