Sacred Valley, Peru
Peru's Sacred Valley between Cusco and Machu Picchu does not need another luxury hotel or resort. Luckily, the just-opened explora Valle Sagrado is neither.
The explora group of hotels is well-known in Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina where they have three exclusive properties and several overland camps. The explora Valle Sagrado property is their first in Peru and it ushers in the explora ethos of being an all-inclusive "hotel base" from which discerning guests enjoy guided explorations.
Opened in July 2016, explora Valle Sagrado has 50 rooms including six suites. Those are about 40% bigger than standard rooms and have a separate jetted tub instead of a combined shower/tub, plus a desk. Frankly, you'll be spending so little time in your room that it's hardly worth the upgrade. It is, however, worth securing a room numbered 20 or higher because those have the best views of the surrounding mountains. Oh, and beware of the killer mini-shelf that runs above the width of the bed. It has a sharp corner that is placed directly above a power outlet so if you bend over to plug something in, your forehead is in grave danger. Rooms have the classic modern, clean, almost spartan "explora" look with muted colors and natural materials. It's a friendly room but not an addictive room and that's by design. The explora team wants you out there experiencing the surroundings.
Beds are large and luscious with German down pillows and monogrammed linens. They get even nicer after turndown when a generous slab of chocolate, elegantly wrapped in layers of rich brown paper, is laid on a pillow. During my visit the chocolate was from Chile, but they were looking for a Peruvian source. Bathrooms are ample and come stocked with towel warmers, plush robes and slippers, and a wide range of toiletries. These include the usual suspects plus thoughtful touches like lip balm (though it does not contain any SPF for the harsh Peruvian sun).
Rooms could use better soundproofing, however. I could hear footfalls on the exterior stairways and noise from the room above mine.
The angular and sprawling hotel was designed by the official explora architect, Jose Cruz. Located on a 75 acre site, the project took 12 years to complete, in part because Incan walls were discovered during initial excavation. This required the relocation of an entire section of the building and initiated an ongoing quagmire of red tape as archaeologists descended and Peru's Ministry of Culture began regulating the project. Sections of the Incan walls have been excavated and restored and archaeologists still work at the site on and off.
Apart from the Incan walls, there's not a lot around the hotel since it was built on working farm land that's still planted in corn and quinoa. Large sections of land abutting the hotel are being left barren to reveal the Incan walls and the effect is a bit desolate—as if the landscapers hadn't arrived yet. While I wouldn't quite label it as a digital detox, there is a type of forced unplugging at explora properties. There are no TVs and internet is only available in the main building where there are three computers for guest use. The lobby also offers a great library of coffee table books and plenty of nooks with fireplaces in which to read away the afternoon or evening.
Most staff members, 30% coming from neighboring villages, speak English. Service is remarkably polished despite the short time since opening, adding to the reassuring feeling that our "hotel base" is extremely buttoned up.
A table near the causal reception desk is perpetually stocked with fruit, nuts, house made granola, and quinoa bars, and beloved Peruvian Sublime chocolate. Bottles of SPF 50 sunscreen are a great touch. You also receive a high quality branded metal water bottle to be refilled before each adventure. If you forgot any other piece of outdoor gear, head for the on-site Patagonia shop where a large selection of clothing, footwear and other active wear is available at the same price you'd pay in the US.
There are more than 25 half– or full–day excursions available, including hikes, bike rides, and archaeological site visits. Excursions rotate daily to ensure a fresh selection and guests choose the following day's activities during one–on–one consultations with staff the night before. The explora tour vans and drivers are excellent, which is a good thing since most explorations require at least an hour in transit each way. Most excursions end with snacks and beverages set up al fresco complete with tables and chairs.
All explora guides are not only locally certified but NOLS trained as well. Guides from the new Peru property will be sent to some of the Chilean properties during the low season to learn "the explora way" from more seasoned guides.
I'm willing to chalk it up to opening jitters, but not all of the dishes on the rotating menus were winners. The gnocchi, for example, was weirdly sticky with a dry crust on it as if it had been placed under a heat lamp, and a lamb dish was extremely overcooked. Local farmed trout in butter, on the other hand, was succulent and light and a different lamb dish was cooked perfectly.
Breakfast is a start-to-finish winner with a massive buffet with house made breads and pastries including excellent croissants, a selection of fresh juices, fruits, meats, cheeses, eggs to order, great coffee, and much more.
The central bar is welcoming and well-stocked, including a selection of Candelaria Peruvian craft beers in bottles. The bartenders make a good martini and there's a nice selection of regional wines included in stay rates, plus premium wines to purchase.
A spa is currently under construction in the renovated remains of a house built in the 1700s by Mateo Pumacahua who is famous for opposing Peruvian indigenous rights crusader Tupac Amaru. The adobe house, which is a National Heritage Site so reconstruction must adhere to strict conservation rules, features original frescoes and will ultimately offer a wet sauna, a dry sauna, a 60 foot pool and three Jacuzzis which will be free for guests to use. Massage services, welcome after some of the more strenuous explora explorations, will come with an additional charge.
Web Address: Explora Peru
Total Number of Rooms: 50 including six suites
Rates: From $1,910 per person double occupancy for the three night package (four night and five night packages are also offered as well as custom packages) including transfers, all meals, all beverages (including alcohol) and all guided activities.
Review by Karen Catchpole and photos by Eric Mohl.