A luxurious retreat at the Rio Sagrado…

Nestled into a hillside alongside the roaring Urubamba River and with the craggy mountains of the Sacred Valley as a backdrop, the Belmond Rio Sagrado property is beautifully placed for those looking for a serene getaway, located halfway between Machu Picchu and Cusco.

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Rio Sagrado means ‘Sacred River’ in Spanish and the connection with the river, mountains and earth are evident in many aspects of the hotel.  When you arrive you are seated in a cosy study, filled with books and with a huge telescope for viewing the night skies, which were so important in Incan times.

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Originally constructed as a family vacation spot, with the original villas now accommodating larger groups of up to 10 people,   the Rio Sagrado hotel has expanded out over a hillside, with a variety of different rooms and options. Natural materials are a feature, and the way that the rooms and casitas mould over the hill makes you feel that it’s grown organically.  With only 23 rooms in total, it’s a small, boutique hotel with a feel of exclusivity.

Food is a feature, and we were offered a delicious pachamanca picnic by the river.  El Huerto (the Orchard) restaurant is a delicious fusion of Urubamba’s best-kept culinary secrets and provides elegant dining by the river.

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A highlight is an outdoor heated pool, fantastic for year round relaxation, which sets this hotel apart from most other SV Hotels which only offer unheated (and therefore cold!) pools.   A beautifully appointed spa is located in a wooden and stone building and offers a luxurious range of treatments using local therapies.

As you would expect for a property of this standard, the Rio Sagrado rooms have been created with careful attention to detail.  Balconies are carefully concealed from their neighbours using plantings of indigenous trees, and you can shower looking out over the landscape –with your private parts modestly obscured by clouded glass! Large beds, pima cotton sheets – and heated wooden floors, as expected from a hotel like this, your stay will be extremely comfortable.     We also were pleased to see recycling options in the rooms.

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As the aim of the hotel is to getaway from the busy world, relax and connect with nature there are no televisons in the rooms, but wifi is accessible if you wish.

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Finally a word on access – the hotel does offer one disabled/easy access room at the top of the hill and provide a golf buggy to access all locations in the hotel, including the restaurant located near the river. Otherwise, access to the rooms is via a series of steep steps and may not be a wonderful option if you struggle with climbing or descending steps!

 

Hotel Sol Y Luna: Heaven on Earth

The name, Sol y Luna evokes a connection with the stars, sun and moon which in turn reminds us of the Incan connection with the heavens.  The Incas believed that the Sacred Valley was a reflection of the Milky Way and with warmer climes, lush vegetation and flowers; the Sacred Valley was literally heaven on earth.

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The 2013 Trip Advisor Traveller’s Choice Awards placed the Sol y Luna Hotel at Number 1 Hotel in South America, – and it was included in the list of top 25 hotels in the world  – no mean feat!

And yet, despite being located in ‘Heaven on Earth’ and such a prestigious accolade, these rammed earth, rustic bungalows, set in abundant, beautiful gardens are natural and not in any way overconfident or boastful.  They fit in with their surrounds, and are in harmony with the earth.

On the day of our visit, it rained and we ran from Casita (little house) to Casita, enjoying the space, winding paths and flowers.  Each room has its own unique touch, decorated in a simple, yet elegant manner and you can imagine enjoying the space with your family.

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The decoration in common areas (reception, library etc.) has been done by a Limeno artist…. and is very memorable, quirky and fun!  Contemporary pieces are found throughout the property, including in the restaurants and guest rooms. This really adds to the atmosphere of the site and sets this hotel apart from the other hotels in this price range in the Sacred Valley which belong to chains and are a little less personalised.

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Their spa is housed in a stunning building, surrounded by extensive stained glass walls, and named Yacu Wasi – “the house of water”.  It is a space that seems made for a peaceful, pure restoration, but possibly also an understated indulgence!

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Having grown organically since being first built in 1996, the Hotel Sol y Luna now offers a series of different standards of room, all of them bungalow style.  The Casitas are very nice, well decorated but a little older and simpler. The Deluxe Casitas are very large, luxurious and decorated with attention to detail – they are clearly Peruvian, yet with modern amenities to complement.

The property has two restaurants, both known for their great meals and high quality cuisine.

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And perhaps if we haven’t provided enough superlatives about this great experience, there is the fact that Sol Y Luna has a foundation that supports children’s education in the Sacred Valley.  This belief that tourism needs to give something back mirror’s Majestic Peru’s own beliefs.   Sol y Luna’s Association now supports not just local schools, but provide Vocational training and other initiatives that support a stronger local economy.

Sol y Luna is much more than a hotel – it is an experience.

 

Travel to Cusco in February, the wet season

Why should you visit Cusco in February, the height of the wet season?

Here at Apus Peru we can’t take credit for this great piece written by someone at the the South American Explorers Club some years ago, but we are publishing it because its so TRUE!!

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We firmly believe that February is THE time of year to be in Cusco – and here’s why:

• It is the warmest time of year, meaning that you will not find yourself wearing Llama blankets wrapped around your waist as your new stylish evening attire.

• Carnival in Peru is celebrated by perfect strangers attacking each other in the street with water bombs, foam, eggs etc. It is taken for granted that anyone who ventures out of their house is “playing” – there are no rules, other than that your attacks must be directed at a member of the opposite sex.

• Ever wanted the chance to visit Machu Picchu all by yourself, or alone with your loved one? Well, now is the time to do it – with the Inca Trail closed and wimpy tourists favoring the coastal sunshine of Lima, you can enjoy an almost deserted Machu Picchu – the mist just makes it more atmospheric.

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visiting machu picchu on a rainy day (with a baby – who is under the umbrella on the back!!!)

• February is one of the best times to appreciate the natural beauty of Cusco. The valley turns a lush green, and due to the bursts of sunshine and intermittent torrential rain, there is a very high chance of glancing impressive rainbows over the Imperial City of Cusco. Just remember to bring your rain jacket.

• Low season means high bargaining power for the tourists who are here, and some discounts on accommodation and food.

Apus Peru addition:  it is true that the Inca Trail is closed for maintenance during February but that doesn’t mean that you can’t trek in the Lares region or on short day hikes.  It also doesn’t mean that the Inca Trail is closed.

for more information on wet season in cusco check out our wet season trekking inforrmation

 

Rooftop Kitchen – A Recipe for a Great Experience

Rooftop Kitchen – A Recipe for a Great Experience

My experience of a rooftop outdoor cooking class in Cusco!

In Peru, food has always been a big deal! But these days, as Peruvian cuisine has gained worldwide recognition, visitors to Peru are actively requesting experiences that allow them to engage with one of the most original cuisines in the world!

Peruvian cuisine’s newfound status in the world of gastronomy is due in part to the efforts of Chef Superstar Gaston Acurio, as well as those of other famous chefs like Micha Tsumura and Virgilio Martinez. These talented chefs have contributed to the elevation of native Peruvian dishes to haute cuisine.

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Our chef and teacher, cutting up a Peruvian yellow ají pepper

The number of cooking schools in Lima and Cusco has proliferated along with this newfound fame. Even though I’m a person who’s not into cooking, I recently decided to challenge myself and find out what the fuss was all about. When I signed up for the class with Rooftop Kitchen, I brought with me the assumption that a cooking class was for people that were already interested in cooking. How wrong I was! In fact, just by participating, I became more interested in cooking than I had been for a very long time!

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I became more interested in cooking than I had been for years.

Firstly, the tour of San Pedro Market, where we “perused” the aisles of colorful market stalls for fresh and unusual ingredients, was frankly awesome. San Pedro Market was designed by Gustavo Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame) Though earthquakes and the ravages of time have detracted from much of its original character, it’s still possibly one of the most varied markets on earth.

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Entryway to Cusco’s famous San Pedro Market

I had lived just one block from San Pedro Market for two of my first years in Cusco, so I’d spent a lot of time there. However, familiarity sometimes causes you to miss the magic, and on this tour I had the joy of visiting the market with two Brazilian foodies who went crazy for the variety, color, and strange-ness of many of the different types of food. And even though in my explorations of San Pedro I’d seen many of these foods before, I hadn’t known their full names or especially what they were used for. Every misconception I’d held was blown out of the water as I learned fascinating facts about the colourful herbs, veggies, cheeses, meats, and fruits that I’d hitherto passed right by without taking notice! This of course, is one of the advantages of taking a guided tour – you get information packaged in a way that you otherwise wouldn’t, and are therefore able to absorb pertinent information about a subject more deeply than you would without guidance.

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Colorful fruit stand at Mercado San Pedro

From San Pedro Market, we went a little out of the center of downtown Cusco and headed up to the 11th floor of a residential building for an Awesome and very different view of the ancient Inca capital. The entire kitchen and rooftop area was set up beautifully with excellent attention to detail. The incredible view, especially as the sun went down, was a massive winner for me!

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View from the Rooftop Kitchen at dusk

Rooftop Kitchen describes their tour as providing “unique insight” into Peru’s food and culture through the use of regional products like quinoa, yellow peppers, and fresh trout; and the menu itself as consisting of “fusion gourmet” dishes.

First up on the menu were pisco sours: with lots of shaking and fun, it was the perfect way to loosen up and laugh with my group.   Then, we headed out on the deck for breathtaking views, enjoyed our drinks, and got a chance to know one another. A recipe for a great social and educational experience!

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Here’s to making a great Pisco Sour with friends!

Relaxed from the fun of the Pisco Sours, we prepared an appetizer of Fennel and Olive Oil Trout Tiradito with Red Quinoa and Red Wine-Glazed Turnips. While our chef did a great job explaining the elements of the dish, I also learned a lot from the questions of others on the tour that were truly passionate about food.

The main course was a Red Quinoa “Quinotto” with Wild Mushrooms and Blue Cheese. (Just in case you don’t know, a Quinoa Risotto is known as a ‘Quinotto’ in culinary circles!)

Hats off to the crew at Rooftop Kitchen for choosing a couple of dishes that were fancy – yet extremely simple- to prepare. We had a great time and headed home feeling inspired.

And in case you are wondering – no, I haven’t made the dishes at home yet. But they gave us the recipes, and I am inspired to do so soon!

– Ariana Svenson

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Try it, you’ll like it!

Take-away tips

Cusco Cooking Class in General

  • Even if you are not a keen home –cook, the classes are done in such a way to make you feel entirely competent PLUS you get some tips which actually caused me to feel more enthusiastic about cooking at home than before!
  • The class was lots of fun, and it was interesting to follow the connection from the market to the kitchen.
  • Why not cook your meal and engage with Peru, rather than just go to a restaurant. What an awesome immersion experience!

 

The Rooftop Kitchen stands out for a number of reasons –

  • Other schools have a storeroom of products to choose your items from. I really enjoyed the market visit, where we got to see lots of local color and purchase fresh ingredients.
  • Rooftop Kitchen is on the 11th floor in a residential area with a truly sensational view of Cusco!
  • The class was professionally presented and loads of fun!

Choco Museo Workshop: Chocolaty Delight for the Entire Family

The Choco Museo is a museum in Cusco that’s all about Chocolate! It’s located just 2 blocks from Cusco’s Plaza de Armas in a beautifully appointed building that boasts old European-style balconies where you can delight in a handcrafted chocolate dessert while people-watching over Plaza Regocijo below.

The museum offers galleries dedicated to the history, biology, and culture surrounding chocolate. They also offer a two- hour workshop appropriate for kids and adults, during which participants learn about chocolate “from bean to bar”.

Claire from the Apus Peru office recently participated with her 4-year-old daughter, Chloe. Claire loved the class because it was an opportunity to learn about the origin of chocolate and the chocolate production process while  sampling delightful goodies along the way! Chloe loved it because she got the chance to immerse in the process: she toasted the cacao beans, chose her brightly colored fillings, and, best of all, ate as much chocolate as she could during the entire length of the class. As a matter of fact, she is still asking when she can go back!

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Can’t resist a taste!

During the chocolate class, you are guided through the whole chocolate-making process, “from bean to bar.” You prepare your own chocolate by first peeling, toasting and grinding the bean; then filling and processing it into something that resembles the finished product we know and love. You can choose the fillings of your choice, from coffee beans to almonds; from coconut to Maras salt and everything in between!

You will also be shown how to prepare “Chilate”from cacao paste. This chocolate drink is a predecessor to today’s cocoa drinks. It was first drunk by the Aztecs and Mayans of Mexico, and later by the Incas of Peru According to the staff at Chocolate Museo, the best chocolate in the world, comes from Peru and it is very quickly snapped up by the most famous chocolate producers in Switzerland.

At the end of the class, the delicious concoctions you created are packed, wrapped, and ready to go. The class is a great experience for children, if they can resist the temptation to gobble up their entire chocolate supply during the preparation process! An amazing, cultural, culinary, and deliciously ‘chocolaty’ experience, the workshop is appreciated by “children” of all ages!

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Grinding the cacao beans

Cusco province boasts an amazing jungle region where some of the best organic cacao in the world grows naturally. The cacao plant bears large yellowish to reddish pod-like fruits that have a delicious creamy white flesh. The flesh is full of ½ inch long brown seeds; these seeds are the part that are toasted and ground for use in chocolate production. It’s said that sometimes the cacao takes on a hint of mango or olive flavor when those plants are cultivated nearby.

A Choco Museo workshop usually lasts 2-3 hours, and can be a private or a group class – perfect if you have a spare half-day in Cusco. Everyone will enjoy this delightfully sweet family experience!

-Claire Heath

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A delightful chocolaty experience!

Mother Daughter Trip to Machu Picchu

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Machu Picchu

A few years back, my daughter, Angela and I, took a mother-daughter trip to Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas. The trip was an effort to spend time together in a serene and beautiful place, in order to recapture the feelings of peace and companionship that had previously characterized our relationship with each other.

My daughter had reached the age (15) where she looked upon most of my behavior, if not grounds for outright disownment, as utterly cringe-worthy to say the least. Where previously we had gotten along famously, now she could hardly stand to be in my presence, and she let me know it with sarcasm and eye-rolling, many, many times per day.

I know I was supposed to know this would happen, but it hurt anyway. I guess nothing really prepares you for the arrival of this phase. I mean my daughter and I had been best friends. Until she turned 13, we did everything together. We knew one another’s thoughts. We even looked alike. So when my daughter felt the need to rebel against a mother as open and wonderful as I knew myself to be, I felt bewildered and hurt. The trip to Machu Picchu was an attempt to spend time together in a tranquil setting and to allow ourselves to relax enough to remember the basic connection that must be still there, lurking underneath the turbulent waters of our current interaction.

The turbulent waters of the Urubamba River below Machu Picchu seemed to define our current relationship.  (“Rio Urubamba” by Manuel Menal licensed under CC BY 2.0)

 

Did I forget to mention that we were living in Peru? We had moved to Cusco several years before, as a family, and Machu Picchu was a three-hour train ride from the ancient Inca city. So when I was at my wit’s end with Angela’s distance and sarcastic attitude, I suggested that the two of us take a trip to Machu Picchu together.

We boarded the train to Machu Picchu at Ollantaytambo, early ion a Friday. morning The spectacular views of the Andean countryside outside of our train window were intriguing. I tapped Angela on the shoulder to point out a young woman herding sheep on the hillside of a thatched-roof village. Once I convinced her to stop playing with her I-phone and take a look, I could see she was impressed. There were country folk at work tilling the fields, lambs bleating beside their mothers, and a mist that caressed the hills and inspired a curious sorrow inside me that felt like a longing for something I could not name.

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A shepherdess and her flock on the route to Machu Picchu

My daughter and I arrived in the village of Aguas Calientes at the foot of Machu Picchu.We checked into our hotel and went for a soak in the Aguas Calientes hot springs, Aguas Calientes means hot water, and these enjoyable thermal baths are only a five-minute walk from town.

After pizza at a local restaurant, of which there are many, we tucked in for the night. In the morning we took the bus up to the ruins, a fifteen-minute ride that ascends a narrow and steep road. Not for the faint of heart, as looking down below at the rapidly churning Urubamba River can make one quite giddy.

We entered the citadel, and a profound sense of mystery and awe overcame us, a feeling that’s hard to convey in words. There, laid out before us, was the ancient stone village, its structures seemingly a part of the surrounding woodland. We climbed around the original Inca steps and stooped to crawl into the stone houses. A people of long ago, a people we could barely imagine, had made their home here, in the midst of the cloud forest. They had lived, breathed, ate and slept here, worshipped their gods, danced and dreamed in ways that we knew nothing of, but which had profound meaning for them.

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A people we knew nothing about had lived, breathed, ate, and slept  here…

My daughter and I climbed up on a ledge and sat down on the escarpment. We looked across at the Huayna Picchu (Young Man) Mountain. Machu Picchu Mountain, across from it, is the Old Man. They towered over us, seeming to communicate with their solid presence and to be alive in ways we didn’t understand, yet could sense

Silence fell. And for a moment in time, a young woman and a not-yet-old woman allowed the magic of this amazing place to fill us, momentarily pausing our struggle and allowing each other to just be.

by Laurel Thompson

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Angela and I after our mother daughter trip to Machu Picchu

A Short Trek with the Llama Pack Project

Everyone wants to see llamas while in Peru, and a trek with The Llama Pack Project is an excellent chance to do just that, while at the same time supporting an eco-friendly enterprise.

We heartily recommend this trek as a great option for a family outing while you are staying in the Sacred Valley. Additionally, farmers, animal lovers, or those with an interest in animal husbandry would find this to be a satisfying activity!

My family and I opted for the half-day trip, which was basically a short, steep hike up a hill, accompanied by a herd of llamas. Miss M loved the hike: she casually took the hand of one of the herders and off she went! The climb was quite hard for Nana, who, at 71, is fit, but the hill was rather steep.

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Miss M casually took the hand of one of the herders and off they went!

This was a fantastic chance to get up close and personal with llamas – and these are just not any llamas – these are purebred llamas, large, robust, and handsome. Miss M became friends with two cute females, Chincha and Aceituna – though we were cautioned not to let her get too close, as these are still animals from a herd. (i.e., they are friendly, but not super tame)

Getting up close- but not too close

Getting up close- but not too close!

We loved hearing about the work of the Llama Pack Project. Like our non-profit project, Threads of Peru, this NGO is dedicated to the revitalizing of ancient traditions in Peru -in this case the use of llamas as pack animals.

The llama, a species of the camelid family, was first bred by ancient Peruvians for carrying loads in the Andes. Much larger than the other domesticated camelid, the alpaca, they have certain attributes that make them gentler on the environment than mules and horses. For one thing, they are easier on foliage: mules and horses cut grasses and plants close to the ground when grazing, rather than nibbling the green leaves off as camelids do. Most importantly, camelids have soft padded feet that don’t cause erosion like the hooves of horses.

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The llamas’ soft feet don’t cause erosion like the hooves of horses do.

Over the past few centuries, since the time of the Spanish conquest, the llama has fallen into disuse as a pack animal. Its relative, the alpaca, has always been valued for its fine fleece, but the cargo-carrying ability of the llama was perceived as much less valuable. Llamas were also perceived as less useful than Spanish mules or horses, which can carry up to 20% of their weight. Since their weight is greater than that of a llama, they can be given heavier loads. A 1200 lb. (545 kg.) horse can carry up to 240 lbs.(109 kg.) ; in contrast, a 400 lb. (182 kg.) llama can carry 80 lbs., (36 kg.) at the most.

Contributing to the devaluation of the llama was the fact that the local people allowed llamas and alpacas to breed together, creating a smaller llama with inferior wool as compared to a pure alpaca.

Enter the Llama Pack Project, aiming to improve the breeding genetics of the llama, and by doing so have the llama re-valued (and therefore used more), thus creating another source of income for high Andean communities. They started out four years ago with breeding sire “Guapo” (handsome in Spanish), a purebred llama who is capable of carrying a large load. As a stud sire, he is rotated among 9 communities in the Sacred Valley and Lares region, and is improving the genetics and animal husbandry in those areas.

Large beautiful llamas

These large, beautiful llamas are the result of improved animal husbandry.

In addition, the folks at Llama Pack Project have been educating the local people on the value of using llamas for transporting goods and carrying equipment on tourist trips.

This is where travel agencies like Apus Peru come in. We can play a significant role in generating a groundswell of support for the idea of re-introducing llamas to common use in the mountains.

If you would like Apus Peru to organize a llama trip for you and your family or companions, please email us at reservas@apus-peru.com

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Trekking with llamas- a family activity.