Jonny discovers Peru’s Sacred Valley with Explora Valle Sagrado
Explora currently have four hotels; Explora Patagonia in Torres del Paine National Park, Explora Atacama in San Pedro de Atacama, Explora Rapa Nui on Easter Island and the newest edition Explora Valle Sagrado, which South America specialist Jonny has recently returned from. Explora also operate travesia’s which are private nomadic journeys across some of South America’s most inhospitable yet beautiful areas, including a route between Chile and Bolivia (across the Salt Flats). They are also in the middle of building a fifth hotel in el Chalten, Argentine Patagonia. Explora offer discounts for guests combining their hotels or returning to stay with them. Please contact one of our South America specialists for more details.
In July I was invited to stay at Explora Valle Sagrado which is one of the newer additions to the area and the latest opening by the luxury Chilean hotel group, Explora. Explora Valle Sagrado is their first hotel outside Chile and having stayed with them in the Atacama Desert and Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia, I was eager to see how this one would match up.
Explora’s concept is the same at all of their hotels, but completely different to anything else in the Sacred Valley. Unlike other hotels, they offer fully inclusive packages to their guests with all meals, drinks, guided activities (using their own, specially trained guides) and transfers included.
Peru’s Sacred Valley of the Inca’s is without doubt one of the country’s star attractions. A region rich in history, hugely dramatic scenery and conveniently located between Cusco and Machu Picchu, it’s slightly lower elevation* and temperate climate means it’s a sensible place to acclimatise or end a holiday to Peru.
It’s also somewhere that has no shortage of excellent places to stay, from luxury hotels like Belmond’s Rio Sagrado and the colourful Relais & Chateaux hotel Sol y Luna, to less expensive but perfectly comfortable and characterful hotels like Inkaterra’s Hacienda Urubamba.
‘Explorations’ are what Explora are famous for. Guided activities which guests choose whilst at the hotel with the help of the hotel’s own expert guides. It means you have complete flexibility over what you do and it allows guests to choose activities based on their interests, how they’re feeling and even the weather. Travelling companions and families don’t have to choose the same excursions and Explora have put their own spin on many of them to give their guests a different experience to other tourists visiting the area (one example is the route we took into the Inca terraces of Moray, we approached from the back which avoided the crowded main entrance where the main tourist buses arrive). All activities are in small groups, but with group sizes never exceeding eight, they still feel incredibly private.
With more than thirty explorations to choose from, varying from cultural to active, half day and full day, there is something to suit everyone. Guests can choose to visit famous attractions like the salt pans at Maras or market town of Ollantaytambo or get away from the well-known and hike in the deserted but spectacular, high-altitude Puna. Variety is the spice of life and Explora certainly have that.
Peruvian cuisine is known across the world and Explora have recently partnered with acclaimed chef Virgilio Martínez to make sure guests experience the best of it during their stay. A native from Lima, Virgilio is the owner of Central restaurant in the capital (currently ranked six in the world) and also MIL in the Sacred Valley so it is a huge coup for the hotel. Virgilio’s new menu has put great emphasis on ingredients from the Sacred Valley, so expect to try delicacies like black quinoa, seared alpaca and trout with ayrampo (an Andean cactus). Meals are a culinary journey and are paired with wines from across Latin America, as well as local cocktails, craft beers and old favourites like gin & tonic, all of which are included in the hotel’s open bar policy.
Although most of the day is spent away from the hotel, the beautiful interior of the main lodge and rooms make you excited to return. Natural woods, local textiles and soft lighting give it a warm ambience throughout and the large windows running the length of the building offer spectacular views at sunset, when the surrounding mountains turn a dark red. The hotel’s fifty rooms are decorated in a similar fashion and all overlook the cornfields and just a short walk from the main building.
When not on explorations guests can relax in one of the hotel’s many cubby holes or at the Pumacahua bath house, where there is an outdoor heated pool, jacuzzi and various treatment rooms. A juxtaposition to the main lodge, the bath house dates to the 17th century and has been beautifully restored by the hotel’s restoration and archaeological team.
I spent four nights with Explora, but I could have stayed longer. Peru’s Sacred Valley is a treasure chest to explore and the flexibility and variety of activities the hotel are able to organise make it the perfect base. There is an emphasis on ‘active’ but don’t let that put you off - there is always a choice of things to do and the guides are careful at explaining the activities so you know what to expect and can pick accordingly. Activities in small groups make it a good option for single travellers too and for those incredibly short on time, Explora even offer excursions to Machu Picchu and Cusco (which means you can visit both on a day trip and avoid overnighting). Although it can appear expensive on the service, when you consider everything included in your stay and how little there is to pay locally, it’s actually incredibly good value and very similar to other high-end hotels in the area.
Getting to Explora is simple. There are regular flights to Cusco from many cities in Peru, but most tourists will arrive from Lima which is a 1 ½ hour flight. On arrival in Cusco representatives from Explora will be waiting for you and it is then a 90-minute journey to the hotel.
*Many of the hotels in the Sacred Valley are around 2,800m above sea-level, compared to Cusco which is closer to 3,400m and Lake Titicaca at over 3,800m (Machu Picchu is only 2,400m). Three or four nights in the Sacred Valley is an ideal way to adjust and reduce the likelihood of suffering from altitude sickness in other parts of the country.