Hiking the Inca Trail in Luxury with Mountain Lodges of Peru
Home/Peru/Hiking the Inca Trail in Luxury with Mountain Lodges of Peru
A few months ago I was invited to take part in an exciting new way to explore the Inca Trail. Of course, I took this opportunity by the horns and here’s what happened…
Hiking the classic Inca Trail in Peru is widely regarded as a ‘must do’ activity when travelling in this historical country. The beautiful route follows original paths worn by the Inca civilization and takes walkers through spectacular mountain scenery ending at the famous citadel of Machu Picchu. However, 5 days of trekking at high altitude and camping each night can be quite demanding, and up until recently, this was the only option. Now, however, a new option is on offer for those who can’t bear the thought of such a long time without a shower or facing the elements for 5 days straight whilst sharing a small tent. Mountain Lodges of Peru have recently launched a brand new way to explore this beautiful and vibrant region, where guests can stay at luxurious lodges and hotels between days of discovering the culture and trails of the Andean region. Each day there is a choice of activities for each person taking part in the programme, which makes this perfect for couples or friends travelling together who have different interests or fitness levels. To give a better understanding of exactly how this works, I have written a diary-style blog on my experience.
I arrived into Cusco a couple of days before the MLP (Mountain Lodges of Peru) program began, which I would highly recommend, as this way you can have a couple of days to explore this fascinating city and also acclimatize to the altitude. On the evening before the first day, we all met at El Mercado, a charming hotel located just a couple of minutes walk from the main square. We were given an informative briefing, which included refreshments, and also a gift bag containing a water bottle, compass bracelet, pencil, tags for our luggage and a print out of the day-by-day itinerary. At this point we were also given a duffel bag to put our personal belongings in as there are restrictions on what you can take on the train to Machu Picchu. The rest of our luggage was safely tucked away to be delivered to our hotel when we return to Cusco in a few days.
We met the guides and also discussed the different options for each day and were told when we would need to let the guides know our choices. After the briefing, we went for dinner as a group which was a great way to get to know our fellow travellers.
The courtyard is at the heart of this pretty building.
El Mercado offer an excellent breakfast!
Rooms are contemporary with traditional elements.
Today the two options we had for the morning activities were as follows;
A cultural activity visiting a textile center, the town of Pisaq and it’s famous market
A 3 hour hike from Amaru to Viacha (including a pass of 4,300m)
I chose to do the cultural activity and each group departed from the hotel in separate minibuses. We drove out of Cusco and after a short while, stopped at a textile centre where we were able to observe local people using traditional weaving techniques and making a selection of crafts. The centre is also home to all 4 species of camelids which can be found in Latin America (Llama, alpaca, guanaco and vicuna) and each pen has a large stack of alfalfa which visitors can feed them with. Unsurprisingly, this went down very well and everyone enjoyed feeding the rather cute-faced and friendly animals. Before we left, we had some time to browse the shop which sells the crafts made in the centre before jumping back on the minibus.
Our next stop was the colourful town of Pisac, in the Sacred Valley. With one of the best markets in the region, it is popular with tourists, but still retains an authentic feel. Here, we enjoyed a visit to a local kitchen where we were offered fresh empanadas (a traditional pasty) and also watched some silver jewellery being made. Afterwards, we had an hour to wander the market before we continued to a fabulous walled garden. Situated just a short walk from the main square, the stunning garden is filled with native plants and flowers, which attract hummingbirds. It was a warm, sunny day and I thoroughly enjoyed the time we spent here.
A local woman shows wool dying techniques at the textile centre.
Empanadas being served in Pisac – yum!
A llama enjoying being fed at the textile centre.
We left the town of Pisac in our minibus and drove a short distance to a restaurant high in the mountains where we met the other group who had done the morning trek. Here we all enjoyed a very traditional lunch of potatoes and meat (including ‘cuy’ which in the UK we know as guinea pig) cooked underground with hot stones. The food was good and the people very friendly, and we all left with full bellies. From the restaurant we walked a short distance down the mountainside to the Incan ruins of Pisac, where we were treated to a spectacular view of this impressive site. The surrounding landscapes were beautiful and extremely photogenic, however, as we descended to the ruins themselves the heavens opened and out tour of the Incan site was cut short.
After all running full pelt back to the minibus through the heavy rain, we were back on the road an en route to our lodge for the night. Upon arrival, we checked into our comfortable rooms and then immediately made full use of the Jacuzzi in the garden, where we all had a beer and swapped stories from the day. An hour or so later, we had a wonderfully presented (and tasty!) dinner, plus our briefing, before calling it a night. A pleasant surprise when I got into bed was a cosy hot water bottle between the sheets – a perfect end to a great day!
The cosy reception area features a fire pit.
Each room is spacious, bright and with a patio facing the gardens.
The outstanding food is extremely well presented.
Today we all took part in a morning group activity together. We walked out of the lodge and into the town of Lamay, where the lodge is located. We were given a brief tour of this small town, where we could see locals going about their daily life, before being picked up by the minibuses and heading off to the ruins of Ancasmarca. This little-visited site soon became a firm favourite with everyone for a number of reasons; it was extremely quiet with very few other tourists and the views were wonderful. Plus, there were a number of pretty wildflowers and birds to be spotted throughout the walk.
After this visit it was time for the group to split again. The options today were;
A cultural activity visiting the small town of Choquecancha including a textile demonstration and lunch
A 2.5 hour hike from Quelquena to Huacahuasi (including a pass of 3,840m)
A 4 hour hike from Cuncani to Huacahuasi (including a pass of 4,220m)
Our wonderful porter and her 2 horses.
Celebrating taking a dip in the lake!
The unique ruins of Choquecancha.
Today I decided to opt for the longer hike, a choice I did not regret. We drove through remote and magnificent scenery to reach the starting point of the hike, where we met our porter, a lady who was in charge of 2 horses. One carrying food and water supplies, the other in case any of us needed help getting up the mountains… We trekked through breathtaking scenery, and today the weather held out for us which made the day even more enjoyable. The walk was of moderate difficulty, but very rewarding, and we even managed a dip in a high altitude lake!
The last hour or so was downhill, finishing at our lodge for the night. Huacahuasi Lodge has a magnificent location, on a rugged mountainside overlooking the small town and river. Huge windows dominate the main reception and dining area, offering views out over the surrounding scenery. Luckily, we had blue skies which enabled us to see the snow-capped peaks in the distance. As with every evening, we had some time to relax (and most of us at this point enjoyed the hot tubs on the balcony of each room!) before dinner and the briefing.
The beautiful bar and dining area of the lodge has huge windows overlooking the scenery.
Rooms are simple and very comfortable.
The bathroomns feature locally made hanicrafts.
A private hot tub on the balcony of each room is what awaits guests after a long day of hiking!
Today was the longest day of all, but also one of the best if you like hiking. As with the other days, 3 options were given including a cultural activity;
Visit the market town of Calca and a museum of historical artifacts followed by lunch. In the afternoon time to explore the town of Ollantaytambo.
A 3 hour hike from Lares pass to the village of Totora
A 7 hour hike from Huacahuasi Lodge to Patacancha (including a pass of 4,470m)
I decided to go for the longer hike, as having walked the Inca Trail a couple of times previously and always camped, I was interested to see what the experience would be like of staying in a nice lodge at the end of a long day in the elements. I was not disappointed! Yet again we had wonderful weather, dry and partly sunny, which made the whole experience exceptionally good. The landscapes were outstanding and we passed some small Andean communities with herds of llama and alpaca. Lunch was served in a small and remote house, and consisted of a warming quinoa soup, a mushroom and tomato pasta dish followed by a traditional dessert made of purple corn.
A lone alpaca grazing on the mountainside.
At the top of the high pass at 4700m!
These curious local children joined us at our lunch stop.
The beer tasting platter at the craft brewery.
At the end of the hike, we were met by our minibus and driven onward to a local craft brewery where we met up with the whole group. Here we enjoyed sampling the locally made beers and celebrating the end of another unforgettable day before heading off to our next lodge – this time in Urubamba. Dinner was freshly baked pizza (from the lodges own pizza oven) and as usual a briefing was given to us before we retired to our rooms.
Kuchu Rumi Lodge
Each casita has a lounge and kitchen for guest comfort.
The pretty outdoor dining area and pizza oven.
Rooms are simple and comfortable with traditional textiles for decoration.
Today we began with a visit and guided tour of the Incan ruins at Ollantaytambo, a large and impressive collection of buildings and terraces which offer a fascinating insight into the past. There was an option to hike up to the higher section of this site, but with this exception, today everyone did the same activities. Next, we jumped aboard the Peru Rail train for the journey to the small town of Aguas Calientes which is located at the foot of the mountains in which Machu Picchu can be found. This 2-hour train ride begins in dramatic mountainous landscapes and ends in the thick and colourful cloud forest, so the ride offers beautiful views throughout.
Catching the train at Ollantaytambo station, which took us to Aguas Calintes and Machu Picchu.
One of the many pretty orchids at Inkaterra.
The ruins of Ollantaytambo.
A little visitor at the train station!
Upon arrival, we walked the short distance to our hotel (less than 2 minutes!) – the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel. Surrounded by stunning gardens, featuring hot springs and a delightful display of orchids, this hotel is simply fabulous. We had a couple of free hours to explore the property before dinner, so I chose a dip in the hot springs and signed up to the free 2-hour tour of the gardens and cloud forest which the hotel offers. As a keen bird watcher, I arrived to meet the guide with binoculars in hand and camera in the other! After observing some unique orchids and colourful tanagers we continued into a deeper part of the forest where there were ancient carvings on a large rock precipice. Suddenly, our guide hushed us and spun around, walking quickly in the opposite direction. He had heard the famous cock-of-the-rock! A bright orange bird, which is the national bird of Peru and also happens to feature on the logo design of Inkaterra. Despite its bright colours, this bird is notoriously shy and difficult to see – but luck was on our side and we had a fleeting glimpse of this iconic creature! Having been to both Peru and Ecuador a number of times and never seen one, I was absolutely over the moon!
After the excitement of the nature tour, we headed off to dinner and enjoyed some extremely well presented food before the usual briefing and bed.
Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel
Each room is white washed and beautifully decorated with views over the surrounding gardens or cloud forest.
Each guest recieves a welcome gift – I got 2 little zipped pouches!
If you are a foodie – the meals are simply fabulous.
The bar area is cosy and very comfortable.
Our final day was the one everyone had been looking forward to – the day we visit Machu Picchu! An early start was made easier by a wonderful breakfast spread at Inkaterra, and then we walked a couple of minutes to get the bus in town which would take us up the mountainside to one of the most famous landmarks in the world. After a 40 minute journey slowly winding upwards, we disembarked the bus amid many other excited tourists and entered the site. Your first view of Machu Picchu is always breathtaking, but even as someone who has seen this place in the past, it still holds the same magic. As with most of our trip, the weather was fine and the visibility good, so we had perfect photo opportunities and views.
After a guided tour of the site, we had time to explore on our own or we could choose to make the rather steep and somewhat challenging climb to the top of Huayna Picchu (the mountain which sits behind the citadel). The last time I visited I hadn’t made this climb, so I opted in, and after a rather nervous start, I managed to climb to the top in good time. The views are sensational and as long as you can stomach the sheer drops on either side, I would highly recommend doing it.
Enjoying the classic view of Machu Picchu.
The main citadel of Machu Picchu
The Incan people were famous for their stonework, as demonstrated at Machu Picchu.
The view from the rather high Huayna Picchu!
In what seemed like the blink of an eye, we were headed back down and back on the bus to Aguas Calientes again. The morning had flown by at this special place, but not without hundreds of photos being taken! We stopped for lunch back at Inkaterra, collected our luggage and boarded the train back to Ollantaytambo where a minibus was waiting to drive us back to Cusco.
Upon arrival, we checked into our last hotel of the trip, a colourful property called El Retablo. The charm of this hotel was apparent from the moment you arrive, and I really liked it! We said a sad farewell to our guides who had been nothing short of outstanding throughout our 5 day adventure, and then wandered into Cusco for a final meal as a group.
The quaint courtyard.
Everything from the textiles to the tiles is handmade and painted locally.
Banana and chocolate pancakes for breakfast!
Today, I enjoyed chocolate and banana pancakes – a personal favourite – at the hotel, before leaving Cusco.
The Mountain Lodges of Peru option is incredible. I was so impressed with the different activity options on offer, which is perfect for those who have different interests. It doen’t matter if you are more interested in hiking, culture or history, there is plenty to satisfy everyone. The guides were professional and knowledgeable, with a great sense of humour and really felt like a part of the group. Everyday was different and exciting and gave a great overall feel of this unique Andean region. If you don’t want to walk the whole Inca Trail but still experience it, and enjoy a spot of luxury at the end of each day, this is definitely the choice for you.
To find out more about Mountain Lodges of Peru, click here.