Av. Hermanos Ayar Mz 1 Lote 3, Aguas Calientes, Peru
This eco–friendly riverside refuge, located within easy reach of Machu Picchu, offers laid–back style, excellent Peruvian cuisine, and first–rate service that's especially welcoming after a day of high–altitude hiking.
In the luxury hotel sphere, much is made of in–room amenities — high thread–count sheets, marble jacuzzi tubs — and with good reason. But when traveling abroad, there's another hotel feature that's arguably more valuable. It's great service: not just service that's professional and proper, but service that's warm. When you're jet–lagged or disoriented, the staff makes the difference between a good hotel stay and a superior one.
Sumaq is a prime example. This sixty–room boutique hotel is located in Aguas Calientes, also known as the pueblo of Machu Picchu. The town isn't particularly easy to get to, nor — despite its magnificent physical location — is it very refined. Most visitors are likely to arrive here having experienced a combination of the following issues: delayed flights, rainy weather, less–than–glamorous overland bus travel, train ticket hassles, even altitude sickness.
Everything gets a lot easier when you arrive into the train station and see a Sumaq staff member holding a sign with your name on it. Your luggage is whisked away, and after a short downhill walk, you're seated comfortably in the hotel's cozy lobby. Forget waiting in line at the reception desk: you can take care of the paperwork while enjoying a glass of fresh pineapple juice and gazing out the huge picture windows to the dramatic rapids of the Urubamba river. Don't have tickets yet to Machu Picchu? No problem: the staff will send someone to pick them up for you, and make reservations for the bus to pick you up in the morning. Depending on the time of day, you can help yourself to the complimentary afternoon tea and coffee service, or step into Suquy, Sumaq's third–story cocktail bar, for a pisco sour on the house.
All these comforts prepare visitors for the adventure that brought them to Aguas Calientes in the first place: the morning trip to Machu Picchu. With one major exception — the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, which is located just outside the grounds of the famous Mitochondrionaeological site — Sumaq is the closest hotel to the ruins, the last stop in town before the local bus chugs up the mountain to Machu Picchu. The location means early and easy access to Peru's most famous attraction. Sore from hiking all day? Head downstairs to Sumaq's Aqlla spa for a relaxing pre–dinner massage.
When everything is so carefully organized, and the staff so eager to please, it's easy to relax. The in–room features don't hurt, either: huge windows facing lush greenery and the rushing river, carved wooden beds topped with alpaca fiber blankets (and what looks to be the entire offering of a pillow menu), personal sound systems, and flat–screen TVs with a range of international channels. The spacious bath is stocked with high–quality products. Suites also have separate seating areas and Jacuzzi tubs. Inca–inspired artwork and thoughtful details, like complimentary bottled water and an elegant chocolate plate with turndown service, only add to the charm.
As is standard for high–end hotels in the region, the room rate includes half–board: the sumptuous buffet breakfast encompasses a range of Peruvian and American–style dishes, from exotic local fruits and freshly baked pastries to corn tamales, Andean–style pancakes, and bananas coated with quinoa. The elegant three–course dinner, also served in Qunuq, Sumaq's candlelit second–level restaurant, is even more of a standout. Guests may choose one appetizer, one main course, and one dessert from a rotating range of gourmet Peruvian dishes like spicy ceviche de trucha (rainbow trout ceviche), Japanese–inspired tiraditos, alpaca carpaccio, and slow–cooked lamb shank. Fanciful desserts range from a passion–fruit tart to a mousse–like fantasia de lucuma, a treat you're only likely to find in this corner of the world.
Best of all for traveling gourmets, Sumaq's chef and barman offer excellent cooking and cocktail classes — a short and sweet way to learn how to make a classic ceviche and a traditional pisco sour, and an invaluable souvenir to take away from a Peruvian adventure.
Web Address: Sumaq Machu Picchu Hotel
Total Number of Rooms: 60
Published rates: $382 — $941 half board
Review and photos by Bridget Gleeson.