Sacred Valley, Peru
Travelers typically come for Machu Picchu, but explora Valle Sagrado is convincing guests Peru's Sacred Valley is worth exploring in more depth.
Perhaps best known for its locations and overland tours in Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina, the explora Valle Sagrado is the hotel group's only property in Peru. Opened in 2016, Valle Sagrado follows explora's philosophy of offering guests daily, often one-of-a-kind explorations, then returning to the comfort of an all-inclusive luxury hotel base in the evening.
When you see the property for the first time, the buildings don't jump out at you, and that's exactly the point. Designed by Chilean architect José Cruz Ovalle, the hotel went through a series of changes during construction after the discovery of Incan walls on the nearly 70-acre site. Excavated and restored, the Incan walls now monopolize the front entrance. To the back, it's cornfields and mountains as far as the eye can see.
Explora Valle Sagrado features 44 rooms and six suites spread throughout four buildings. Rooms have an airy look and feel; two muted-blue chairs, along with a couple of bed pillows, and the bed skirt are the only true pops of color to be found. Furnishings are natural and simplistic, made from blond wood. Instead of a headboard, the king bed is backed by a wall of horizontally lined wood. Bedside tables have no drawers, just two open shelves. Electrical outlets are not located in particularly convenient locations to charge electronics. I moved my bedside table about a foot away from the bed, to reach an electric outlet. The repositioning allowed me to use the open shelf design to charge electronics. Be sure to bring a power adapter. They are not standard in rooms.
The exterior back walls of rooms consist primarily of windows providing views of mountains and cornfields. The two smallest windows open, allowing fresh air to flow through the room. Blackening shades pull down easily and block out light when it's time to sleep. A long wooden bench that runs underneath the windows is split in two by a fixed table, perfect for spreading out hiking gear, or keeping a map open for reference. A bottle of purified water is refilled regularly, and every evening rooms are stocked with a thermos of warm water, a selection of herbal teas, and chocolate.
Bathrooms are well designed to be seamlessly used by two people at the same time. A long vanity with two sinks is open to the room. Behind a door to one side is the toilet; behind a door to the other side is a shower and jetted tub. Towel warmers and cushy robes are provided. Slippers feature biodegradable soles. In addition to expected toiletries like shampoo, conditioner, and lotion, unexpected extras including lip balm and portable tissue packs are provided.
Suites are a bit more roomy, with a larger chunk of floor space dedicated to a sitting area with loveseat and chairs. That difference aside, suites offer identical amenities and have the same overall look and feel as standard guest rooms.
There are no televisions in any of the accommodations, and Wi-Fi is only available in common areas. However, I typically had a strong cell reception from my room.
More than 30 explorations are available, ranging from both full and half-day hikes, bike rides, and overland treks done traveling by van. Guides sit down one-on-one with guests every evening before dinner to help determine explorations for the next day. Interests and physical ability are taken into consideration. Explorations range from easy and moderate, to Advanced and Expert. The altitude of explorations range between 2,800 and 4,700 meters above sea level (9,186 and 16,404 feet); some travelers need more acclimatization than other. Guides typically suggest guests start with explorations at lower altitude and work up slowly toward high mountain peak destinations. Most explorations require an hour or longer in motion each way in one of explora's vans. Drivers typically have drinks and snacks waiting for guests when excursions are completed.
Machu Picchu—a main attraction in the area—is an option recommended for guests staying a minimum of five nights. However, it is not included in the property's all-inclusive rates. It has an additional cost of $350 per person.
All guides are impressively multilingual. They have the Wilderness First Responder (WFR) Certification, plus the skills to provide first aid in remote areas if necessary. Explorations take place in small groups of no more than eight people.
All explorations meet in the Living Room, the hotel's take on a hotel lobby. Once there, guests are encouraged to fill their water bottles, (upon arrival, all guests receive a metal water bottle that's theirs to keep.) and load up on snacks. A table not far from a huge wall map of the Sacred Valley is well-stocked with dried fruits, nuts, homemade energy bars, and chocolate. Complimentary sunscreen is also within easy reach. Lunch and dinner in the restaurant are something to look forward to a daily basis. Menu selections change every day, but always include a selection of soups, salads, and Peruvian dishes. Servers are happy to recommend favorites and explain classics like Peruvian causa (mashed potato casserole) with seafood. Alcohol is included. The bar, open daily from 11am to midnight, offers a wide range of beer, wines, and spirits, including a number of cocktails made with Peruvian pisco. (Pisco tastings are also available.) Breakfast is a combination of a buffet and made-to-order dishes. The buffet offers a nice selection of breads, pastries, fruits, meats, cheeses, and fresh juices. Individual breakfast orders were a bit disappointing. Servers seemed not to be as fluent in English, though genuinely happy to try and make corrections when needed.
On the backside of explora Valle Sagrado, a short trail that runs alongside dueling corn fields delivers guests to Casa de Baños Pumacahua, or the Pumacahua Bath House. A colonial house originally built in the 17th century, it's been restored and remodeled, finding new life as a spa. Along with an outdoor pool and two hot tubs, guests can take advantage of steam rooms and saunas. Massage services are available for an additional fee.
Staying warm and dry is key to enjoying the Sacred Valley to its fullest. Explora Valle Sagrado offers a detailed list of recommended gear for guests to pack, but if something is forgotten the on-site shop is well-stocked with everything a guest might need, at prices very comparable to what you'd find in the United States. The shop also carries a nice selection of local handicrafts including alpaca blankets and jewelry.
Peru visitors who are looking to do more than just rush through the well-trod tour path from Cusco to Machu Picchu should set aside three to five nights to experience the real Sacred Valley away from the tour buses. With an all-inclusive stay at this explora property, you can get into nature with local experts who really know the area.
Web Address: Explora.com
Total Number of Rooms: 50
Rates: : Starting at $1,170 per person, based on double occupancy, for 3 days and 2 nights, including all meals and alcohol, daily guided explorations, entrance fees to all national parks except Machu Picchu, transfers, gratuities, and Wi-Fi.
Review by Dana Rebmann, photos by Rebmann and Karen Catchpole.