Perched high in the Andes, Inkaterra La Casona hotel is a full Incan immersion. The quiet 16th-century manor house was once training grounds for Incan soldiers, home to a conquistador and lodging for Simon Bolivar, Peru’s El Libertador. Today, that heritage is evident in antique furnishings, local art in the rooms and bright traditional Peruvian rugs. The 11 suites don’t sacrifice any modern touches: each room holds top-of-the-line mod cons and unexpected touches such as heated floors to soothe feet after a long day climbing local ruins.
11am (later if you pay for an extra half-day). Earliest check-in, 1pm.
Double rooms from £289.90 ($400), including tax at 10 per cent.
Rates include Continental breakfast. To avoid paying 18 per cent tax, guests must present a passport (issued outside Peru) and an immigration card.
Participate in the house's traditional to connect with its rich history. The concierge can also arrange private excursions to historic sites in Cusco and the Sacred Valley upon request.
At the hotel
Spa treatment room, free WiFi. In rooms: fireplace, flatscreen TV, CD/DVD player, iPod dock and Inkaterra’s home-made bath products.
Our favourite rooms
The Balcón suites are La Casona’s most tranquil. Each has a dining area, stone fireplace and balcony overlooking the courtyard. One also includes an original frieze dating back 400 years. Plaza Suite Two, once occupied by conquistador Diego de Almagro, is the biggest room and includes Pre-Colombian textiles and antique mirrors.
A good pair of sunglasses will help you see the sights in the intense mountain sunlight. Binoculars are available at the front desk – perfect if you want a bird’s-eye view of the nearby Incan fortress of Sacsayhuamán.
One baby cot is available free for kids up to two, subject to availability. Extra beds (US$110) are available for older children in the Balcon Suites. A 'child-explorer kit,' with flashlight, coloured pencils, magnifying glass and snack, can be purchased.
The hotel uses restored furniture and was built with organic insulation. Ownership group Inkaterra is carbon neutral and participates in several local conservation programs. If it can be, it’s recycled.
Take a seat on the terrace, near the eye-catching antique cross.
Anything goes, as long as it’s warm. Cusco evenings can get pretty nippy, so invest in some alpaca jumpers when you’re out on the town.
The small dining room and terrace are serene guests-only affairs with a menu showcasing local ingredients, including Andean trout, Peruvian cheese and yucca, served on handmade terracotta plates designed by the owners. Another favourite wraps chicken in smoked bacon and serves it with a yucca cloud.
None as such, but the hotel will mix a drink anywhere you choose. Pick one of the local specialties, including pisco sours, maracuya sours (made with passion fruit) – or aguaymanto sours (using tart groundcherries).
Breakfast is served from 5am until 10am (ideal for anyone looking to get an early start for Machu Picchu); lunch is midday right up to 4pm; dinner is available from 6pm until 10pm.
Spirits, hot drinks and snacks can be ordered anytime.
La Casona is set in the centre of Cusco, in Plaza Las Nazarenas.
Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport (+51 084 222 601) is a 10-minute drive from the hotel. Several airlines, including Lan (www.lan.com), Aeromexico (www.aeromexico.com) and Iberia (www.iberia.com) operate flights to and from Peruvian cities, including Lima, Arequipa, Juliaca and Puerto Maldonado.
There is no train route from Lima, but the local station does depart for Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca via Poroy Station, a 25-minute drive from the property. PeruRail (www.perurail.com) is the best line for travels to Puno (home to Lake Titicaca) and Machu Picchu.
Cusco is not particularly car-friendly. The streets are narrow and parking can be difficult to find. There is no parking at the hotel.
Worth getting out of bed for
Cusco is the gateway to Machu Picchu, and few make it to town without pressing on 110km to see the majestic Incan ruins (accessible by train, trek or helicopter) Closer to town, the 15th-century stone fortress of Sacsayhuamán towers over town. On the Plaza de Armas, the grand Catedral features high ceilings, elaborate carvings and an altar encased in silver.
On Plaza Nazarenas, the square just outside, the Pre-Columbian Art Museum is home to MAP Café (+51 084 242 476), a fine-dining restaurant that prepares standout dishes using local ingredients, including cuy (guinea pig), lucuma (the latest tropical superfood) and quinoa. Two blocks from La Casona, Cicciolina (+51 084 239 510) serves tapas on the second floor of an old colonial house. Named after a fiery local chilli pepper, Limo (+51 084 240 668) serves traditional Peruvian ceviche and wok-fried lomo saltado on a balcony overlooking the town’s main square.
Pacha Papa (+51 084 241 318) is a casual cluster of outdoor tables across a patio just five minutes’ walk from the hotel. Order typical regional dishes, including grilled alpaca or baked guinea pig.
Take a break from coca tea to try Peru’s national cocktail, the frothy, tart pisco sour. Three blocks from the hotel, taste the city’s best at El Pisquerito (+51 084 235223), a tapas bar that shakes up clever experiments on the classic.
Burning thighs. When I look back on my time in Peru, that is still the overriding sensation. Mrs Smith and I had just finished a five-day Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu and boy, did our legs ache! As excursions go, it had been a massive lactic acid trip. So what we really wanted was a nice place to sit down for a bit, maybe have a lie down, perhaps even a rub down. So imagine our relief when we arrived in Cusco at the vast heavy wooden doors that opened to reveal a stunning Colonial manor than has been converted into a relaxing retreat: Inkaterra La Casona.
The first thing Mrs Smith and I did upon checking into our Balcon Suite was to fill the enormous tub that bestrode the decadent bathroom. Not for naughty reasons; it’s just that we’d not had a proper wash all week. I can scarcely remember a more enjoyable soak – or a more luxuriant one. The entire bathroom looked as though it had been lavishly hewn entirely from white marble.
When we emerged, smelling much more fragrant but a little woozy from the steamy heat, we stepped into fluffy white his and hers robes and padded next door to the spa for a very sensibly pre-booked his and hers massage. I’d love to tell you in detail how amazing the treatment was but the truth is I fell quickly and soundly asleep. Although perhaps that tells you everything you need to know.
Returning to our room we flopped onto the massive bed and got stuck in to the complimentary chocolates (Peru produces the highest quality cocoa in the world) and wine (an Argentinian Malbec – Peru produces some of the world’s worst wine). Not exactly isotonic, but restorative all the same.
When we finally emerged from our quarters the sun was already setting. Rested and far more alert than when we hobbled in, we could take in our surroundings more fully. Inkaterra La Casona, we discovered, is a sumptuously and sensitively restored 16th Century colonial mansion, built from 1585 around a central courtyard garden that is framed by colonnaded cloisters. Lit up atmospherically at night, it looks like a film set. There are only 11 rooms so it has the feel of a home. Indeed it was once the residence of Diego de Almagro, one of the original conquistadors who conquered the Incas. And in 1825 El Libertador Simon Bolivar stayed here, the man who led Peru to independence from Spain.
What you’ll find today is a chilled out hotel run by a very attentive team. The décor is a successful blend of the modern comforts you would expect in a luxury boutique establishment (heated floors, room service) and the traditional charm (Andean antiques, Peruvian rugs and throws) you would hope to find in a tastefully restored building full of history and antiques.
It’s the kind of place where you can curl up on a plush cream sofa in the drawing room in front of a log fire with a weighty coffee table book while the staff ply you with cookies and coca tea to ward off altitude sickness. For it’s not just the city’s impressive architecture that will take your breath away – at 3,400m, roughly ten times the height of the Empire State Building – the air is a little thin. Newcomers may need a day or two to acclimatise. And in the evenings you’ll want to wrap up in the locally made baby alpaca scarf, hat or poncho bought from one of the local artisans that line the steep streets.
You might reasonably expect the gateway to the one of the natural wonders of the world to be an absolute hellhole with its stream of year-round tourists. Happily, Cusco is arguably Peru’s best city, certainly its prettiest. There was a time when it was deemed the centre of the universe – literally. It was the capital of the Inca Empire and its name Qosqo means ‘navel of the world’ in Quechua. The ancient city was knocked down and the Spanish built a splendid colonial town on the Incan foundations that still show through in places.
With Peru enjoying its burgeoning reputation as one of the world’s most on trend culinary destinations, there’s a cluster of fantastic restaurants and top quality hotels here. La Casona Inkaterra is at the very top end of this town. Many of the city’s better bars are in the immediate vicinity if you’re up for a night on the pisco, the local tipple. Right next door to the hotel in the Pre-Columbian Art Museum is MAP Café, a fancy fine diner. But our favourite restaurant was the nearby Cicciolina, serving inventive ceviche and incredible Peruvian tapas – a great way to sample a lot of local specialities. However, we didn’t quite have the stomach for cuy (guinea pig), Peru’s national dish.
On returning to the room, still a little unsteady on those aching legs, we found a hot water bottle in our bed. Then in the morning we feasted on a sumptuous breakfast with plenty of healthy local options such as fresh fruit, yoghurt and ripe avocado to chase away any semblance of hangover, and set us up for a day of exploring the spectacular surrounds.
If you are going to go to Machu Picchu once in your life – and let’s understand each other here: you simply have to, for it absolutely lives up to the hype – then you must reward yourself with a stay at Inkaterra La Casona afterwards. Even if you cheat and get the train instead of trekking.