A Luxury Travel Review of the Lodge at Machu Picchu
Most every world traveler is thrilled about the idea of seeing Machu Picchu! But then they groan a little after reading about the increasing tourist numbers and the long bus lines required to get there. I had the same response. It can be a little spirit-deflating. But despite these potential ‘downers’, my husband and I recently completed a 10 day Hybrid travel trip to Peru and our experience at this ancient Incan wonder was one of the highlights!
During our initial travel planning, we quickly discovered that it wasn’t just an easy hop-skip-jump to get to Machu Picchu. (You can read more about Options for Getting to Machu Picchu here.) We had limited travel days, and wanted to save time for exploring the Sacred Valley and Rainbow Mountain as well. My husband, being a professional landscape photographer, was interested in seeing the site in both the morning and in the late afternoon, to capture the different lighting unique to these times of day. In addition, we were interested in climbing Huayna Picchu, if we could fit it in. How were we going to do all of this without multiple bus trips back and forth to Aguas Calientes? Belmond Sanctuary Lodge was the solution.
We are hybrid travelers who typically enjoy simple low-cost, local accommodations, in combination with more upscale, luxury experiences. So we looked at our budget, assessed all of our transportation options and where we could balance out our travel budget, and took the plunge. It was worth it! And we’d do it again.
The Belmond Sanctuary lodge is situated just outside the entry gates of Machu Picchu. It is the only overnight accommodation this close to the site. The next closest hotels are in in Aguas Calientes, which is a twenty-minute bus ride down the mountain. That alone may not sound like a big deal. But it’s not the bus ride that is inconvenient. It’s the lines to get on to the bus that can put a damper on your visit. And if you are a photographer staying in Aguas Calientes and want to experience the citadel at both Golden Hours, you’d have to go up and back, and wait in those lines four times in total to do it. There are no cabs or any other way to get up and back to the site - unless you want to hike. That did not appeal to us.
I’ll get right to it. Here is what we thought were some of the real benefits of paying the higher dollar to stay at the Belmond for a night. The most obvious perk is the easy access to the citadel entrance. When we arrived by bus on check-in day, we got settled into our room around noon, ate lunch, took a nap and then entered the ruins for the first time around 3pm. This was the perfect time, as the majority of tourists only spend two hours at the ruins and were already waiting in line to catch the bus back down the mountain. By 3:30pm, aside from about 100 other people, we almost had the place to ourselves. The next morning, for our second visit, we got up at 5:30am, walked the 3 minutes to the entrance and beat the busloads of people from the village below who had been up since 3:30am in order to get there. We spent the next few hours taking photos, watching llamas grazing and enjoying the relative quiet. By 8:30am, as the crowd filed in, we walked back the 3 minutes to our room, slept for an hour, ate breakfast and then re-entered the park to climb Huayna Picchu. We loved it.
This smaller Belmond property is rated 4-star and has 31 rooms and suites. They tend to fill quickly in high season, so advance booking is highly recommended.The property layout is simple, stylish and surrounds a lovely courtyard with stunning Huayna Picchu views.There is a quiet, lush walking path that weaves through the hotel orchid garden, leading you to the spa and open-air treatment areas. You can even find a small hot tub hidden amidst the dense foliage. It really is quite the tranquil oasis.
Our King room was simple in design but very comfortable. The linens were so divine that I wanted to take the pillows home with me! I think we may have been upgraded (bonus!), as the room we were given also opened up to the courtyard lounge area but had its own furnished terrace as well, a nice touch. I loved that the towels in the bathroom were large bath sheets, that fluffy robes were provided and that the bath products were of really nice quality – details I look for in any hotel of this level. The mini-fridge was stocked with snacks, water, soda and juices and all contents were included for the guests. I wish more hotels would make this simple gesture. I also enjoyed the evening turn down service. Little touches like this make such a big difference to my stay.
Since we only stayed one night, and we were quite busy during the day at the Citadel with our two entries and Huayna Picchu climb, I didn’t make the time to get a spa treatment. However I can tell you that if I had, I would have had one in the open-air ‘Temple’ – a beautiful platform, surrounded by lush trees and with a panoramic view of the mountains. It looked incredible.
With our room price, Half Board was included. This meant that a full breakfast was included as well as a choice between lunch or dinner. We chose dinner and paid for our own lunch after we checked in. The evening meal was terrific. We ordered anything we wanted off the menu, including appetizer, main, dessert and any wine with wanted with˙each course. All plates were a culinary delight and beautifully presented. Before dinner, we wandered down to the bar for a cocktail and found a pisco tasting and cocktail mixing class being presented to several of the guests. We joined them part way through the samplings and then enjoyed a fresh made Pisco Sour. We never saw either the tasting or the cocktail on our final bill, another nice touch by Belmond.
The breakfast the next morning was equally fulfilling. Not only could we order anything off the menu, but there was also a full buffet complete with options for multiple ethnicities. If we had paid separately for both of our dinner meals, wine, as well as our breakfasts, we would have spent ~ $300USD. So when you consider that in the price of the room, the value becomes even more evident.
This is where Belmond earns its reputation. From the moment we walked through the doors to check in, we felt like we had a personal concierge interested in every moment of our stay. And we were only staying there for one night. We were welcomed, interviewed for any service or food preferences and given a tour of the grounds. We didn’t find out until check out that there was a Belmond kiosk at the train station where they will transport your larger luggage up to the hotel for you, so you don't have to lug it through town or take it with you on the bus. This is one are I would say needs improvement: communication prior to your arrival. No one from the hotel had indicated this service was available until we until it was casually mentioned at check out. But that is a minor, and easily remedied grievance.
Two final Belmond benefits that we really appreciated were the changing/shower area for guests and the lounge area at the train station. After we had checked out of our room, we climbed Huayna Picchu – a sweaty, challenging endeavor. Afterwards, since our room was no longer available, the concierge showed us to a full bathroom and changing area complete with shower, in order to freshen up before we headed back down the mountain. And once we arrived at the train station and picked up our transported luggage, we were given access to a private lounge area to comfortably wait for your train back to Cusco.
Yes, staying at the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge was an expensive add-on to our Peru vacation. But we asked ourselves these questions: How unique is this experience? Will we come here again? Can we make up the extra money in some other aspect of our trip? And the answers made our decision easy.
Standard King room (double occupancy) – Half Board package -$1,050 USD + 10% service charge per room, per night. Go here to see best prices for your dates.