Any part of the world that’s touted for its legendary treks deserves a lodge that’s equally captivating. Fortunately, Explora Sacred Valley – a remote hacienda with roaring fires and architecturally arresting wooden walkways – does its Machu Picchu-adjacent location justice: staying here gives you access to on-site guides and a lengthy list of organised outdoor adventures. But once you’ve delighted your senses on the all-inclusive Andean feasts, plentiful pisco sours and the property’s 17th-century manor-turned-spa sanctuary, you might be tempted to hang up your hiking boots and stay indoors for a while…
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from $1037.66, excluding tax at 18 per cent.
Rates include all meals, drinks, airport transfers and most guided excursions.
Before excursions, be sure to swing by the snack buffet in the lobby. There, you can grab a paper bag and fill it with fresh fruit, nuts, trail mix, chocolate bars, coca leaves (for relief from altitude sickness) and dried golden berries (your soon-to-be favourite treat).
At the hotel
Adventure gear for sale and free WiFi in common areas. In rooms: Explora bath products, robes, reusable water bottles and hot tea.
Our favourite rooms
Standard rooms here are anything but run-of-the-mill. They’re generously sized with ample storage to accommodate even the most gear-heavy hiker, and their vaulted ceilings, wall-to-wall woodwork and oversized windows with views of the surrounding mountains and cornfields make you feel like you’re one with the great outdoors even when you’re only exploring the farthest reaches of your queen-size bed.
The pool is next to the spa, detached from the main lodge – it’s essentially a sanctuary from a sanctuary. Amblers will appreciate a late afternoon float in either the heated pool or one of the hot tubs to relieve well-trodden tootsies. There are also lounge chairs around the lido as well a mini-fridge stocked with cold beverages.
You’d be hard pressed to find a hotel that has worked as tirelessly as Explora to make sure guests get a memorable massage. The property teamed up with restoration experts and the Archaeology Institute of Peru to transform a 17th-century manor into a spa, now called the Pumacahua Bath House. The building sits on an Inca-era foundation and was once home to Mateo Pumacahua, a Peruvian independence hero who led the Cusco Rebellion in 1814: you can meditate on all that history as you relax in a treatment room, lounge on the terrace, or steam your way to bliss.
The dining room and bar here will be a sea of Patagonia and North Face, so there’s no need to bring your finest duds. Instead, fill your suitcase with layers to wear on excursions – trekking pants, a fleece and windbreaker are always a good idea. The hotel has hiking poles to borrow and there’s an on-site gear shop should you forget your beloved neck gaiter.
Family-friendly excursions and child-carrier backpacks are available. The hotel can provide foldaway cots in rooms, as well as booster seats for drives, and there’s a children’s menu in the dining room. Staff will also be happy to heat milk or baby food.
Grab a table by the window so you can look at the Andes while you eat your Andean cheese.
Fleece on fleek.
All meals are served in the same dining room, but there’s enough variety in the food – both Peruvian and international dishes – that you won’t get bored. Breakfast is buffet style with a spread of pastries, fruit, yogurt, cheese and meats for a quick bite before an excursion, as well as made-to-order eats (try the quinoa pancakes) for a more leisurely morning. Lunch and dinner are three courses with a daily soup, often topped with grated Andean cheese, then a main course – grilled alpaca with quinoa risotto, perhaps, or buttered trout with capers – and finally dessert with plenty of local flavour (profiteroles with ice cream made from Peruvian herb muña, for example). And as you’d expect, the wine list is heavily South American, with pours from the major regions in Chile and Argentina.
If you’re doing it right, every excursion will end at the lobby bar with a cocktail in hand. The mixologists get inventive here with golden berry pisco sours and pineapple-and-rosemary chilcanos (pisco mixed with lime juice and ginger ale).
Breakfast is served from 6:30am to 10:30am, lunch from 12:30pm to 3pm, and dinner from 7:30pm to 10:30pm.
Between Cusco and Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley is a stretch of land at the foot of the Andes Mountains where the Inca civilisation once flourished.
The closest airport is Alejandro Velasco Astete International in Cusco, about a 90-minute drive from the hotel. If you’re visiting from abroad, you’ll most likely pass through Lima’s Jorge Chavez International – Peru’s main airport.
Ollantaytambo, about a 45-minute drive from the hotel, is the closest station. It’s also your gateway to hiking nirvana, as it’s the railway to Machu Picchu. (If you book your Machu Picchu visit through Explora, they’ll arrange the train tickets and transfers.)
Navigating the streets in the Sacred Valley can be more challenging than traversing the area’s ancient trails. Even the dirt road leading up to the hotel is a narrow one, so you’re better off relying on hired drivers rather than renting a car. Explora will arrange airport or train station transfers at no charge, as well as provide rides to all excursion sites.
Worth getting out of bed for
The hotel’s planned-to-a-tee excursions – including guides, transfers and picnic meals (for full-day adventures) – give you more than 30 reasons alone to get out of bed. Of course, the ancient Inca citadel on everyone’s mind will be Machu Picchu, and Explora can get you there, with or without the optional two-kilometre hike to Inti Punku, or the Sun Gate (the hotel’s Machu Picchu excursions require an additional fee, unlike most of the others). Other notable treks include Moray, a half-day exploration of ringed Incan ruins that may have been part of an ancient farming experiment, Five Lagunas, a walk past several lagoons and herds of llamas and alpacas in the Andes, as well as a bike ride along the Urubamba River.
Anyone in search of souvenirs will appreciate the Cusco excursion, which starts at the fortress of Saqsaywaman, where you can get a bird's eye view of the city, then winds down to the main square. Lunch is included at a local restaurant, but afterward, you’re free to wander on your own. For all manner of alpaca accoutrements (sweaters, scarves, stuffed toys), take a stroll through the stalls at the San Pedro Market. For more upscale shawls made of baby alpaca and silk, plus sweaters and coats for both men and women, visit a Kuna store (there’s one on the Plaza de Armas). If you’re a speedy shopper and still have time before meeting up with the group, take a peek inside the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, where there are entire galleries devoted to artifacts made of shell, silver and gold.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this boutique hotel in the Sacred Valley and unpacked their baby alpaca shawls and Peruvian panpipes, a full account of their adventure break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Explora Sacred Valley…
It’s true that if you’re visiting this part of Peru, a certain level of acclimatisation is necessary: the Sacred Valley is 2,900 metres high, after all. Experts will tell you that the best way to beat altitude-related ailments is to take it easy, which is pretty much a prescription for a stay at Explora Sacred Valley, where taking it easy is practically an artform. Start by sliding into the jetted tub in your room – be sure you also have a mug of hot tea within reach (housekeeping will replenish your supply each day, don’t worry). Then, head to the spa and indulge in a water circuit, slowly making your way from pool to hot tub to steam room (not too fast, of course:, mellow is the name of the game). Next, it’s off to the main lodge where you can burrow under a hand-loomed Peruvian blanket next to the fire while you wait for dinner to begin. Once you get a whiff of Andean potato pie, saunter (easy does it) to a table and sit down to feast. As your epicurean adventures draw to their close, ask for extra caramel mousse on your pecan cake (doctor’s orders, more or less). And once you’ve been there a few days, it gets even better: acclimatisation technically doesn’t allow for much booze, but once you’ve fully adjusted you can throw some pisco sours into the mix. That’s where the fun really begins…
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