Destination: Peru: Sacred Valley
Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge
Location, location, location. Sitting just outside the entrance gates of one of the greatest archaeological sites in the world can do a lot for a hotel’s reputation. The Sanctuary Lodge, now run by Orient-Express, has always been the only hotel to offer beds within walking distance of Machu Picchu. The dormlike structure was built in the early ‘40s to house archaeologists. It sits in a cloud forest high above Aguas Calientes, the town in which the trains arrive and only yards from the visitors’ entrance to the site of Machu Picchu.
Over the years, the building, which was built to house the archaeologists excavating the ruins, has been renovated and upgraded. Its thirty-one rooms now have TVs and some Andean touches, like alpaca blankets and framed textiles, but they still feel like dressed-up dorm rooms. (Wi-fi is available only in the restaurant and bar.) Aside from the walls of vintage photos that show Hiram Bingham and his team during the earliest excavations, in the 1910s, the dining room resembles an attractive cafeteria. But there are now a range of massage and aromatherapy services for weary hikers on-site.
Today a building could not be erected so close to a UNESCO World Heritage site, and this one will never be expanded, so proximity, not opulence, is why you pay the high room price. While it used to be that guests staying here could have Machu Picchu to themselves after the day-trippers had returned down the mountain, but the closing time was changed to 5:30 pm ruling out these exclusive night visits and buses now continue to run until after the site’s main gates close and before they open, so you no more have exclusive access to the ruins than do those who choose to stay at the Sumaq Machu Picchu or Inkaterra’s Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel. Rooms from $852, depending on size and season.
Note: Book early, as this is one of the toughest reservations in Peru to secure.
Who it’s right for: Those who want to be as close as possible to Machu Picchu and want to avoid many bus rides up and down the mountain to and from Aguas Calientes, but who don’t mind paying a lot for small, simple rooms.
Who it’s wrong for: Those who would rather be in a more family friendly resort-like hotel should choose the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel.
Indagare Tips: The best rooms are the two mountain-view suites, which have little patios on a shared garden that overlooks the cloud forest and facing mountains. The suites have a sitting area, separate from the bedroom and feel less claustrophobic because their doors open to the outside. In order to be first in line for entrance into the park, you must be outside the lodge by 5:40am, as the first van from Aguas Calientes arrives at 5:45am (suffice it to say that when my boyfriend and I emerged from our hotel at 5:50am, there were already at least 60 people ahead of us).
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