Step back in time at Hotel San Agustin Monasterio, Urubamba

When the wrought iron gates part and you step into this distinctive hotel, be prepared to step back in time to Peruvian yesteryear.

The San Agustin Monasterio of Recoleta hotel offers the once in a lifetime opportunity to stay in 17th Century Franciscan Monastery and convent!    Such an opportunity is relatively rare in this price range and this is a wonderful chance to stay in an extremely atmospheric cloister, located alongside a beautifully renovated chapel.

p1100608

There are two parts to the hotel, in the original section there are small, and simply decorated rooms around the Cloister which includes tiles from the original building.  It is also decorated with artefacts from the church and other relics). The other part of the building is a newer wing done in keeping with the original building and includes very cute suites with two stories including a romantic loft for the bed.

P1100613.JPG

Rustic, old world and charming the Monasterio de Recoleta is run by the 3-4 star San Agustin hotel chain and has a cute personal restaurant, lovely gardens and places to connect.  They are extremely proud of their ‘Bio Huerto’ (organic orchard) and have numerous fruit trees around the property and their own fruits in season in their restaurant. They also offer a magnetic healing garden.

p1100616

For those considering an un-paralleled and unique Peruvian wedding or renewal of vows, the chapel has been restored with attention to detail and there is a beautiful atmosphere.   Weddings can be arranged at this hotel, please contact Apus Peru for more details.

p1100623

The Hotel San Agustin, Monasterio of Recoleta, is technically in Chichubamba (and the community apparently still use the church on festival days) but on the outskirts of Urubamba, but it feels very remote and isolated.   There are opportunities to walk around the hotel, or, if you wish, into Urubamba itself, though this would be a longer walk.

p1100624

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.

Rio Sagrado (19).jpg

 

 

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.

Rio Sagrado (20).jpg

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.

rio-sagrado-picnic-by-the-river-3

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.

Rio Sagrado Junior Deluxe (higher than Standard) (5).jpg

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.

Rio Sagrado Junior Deluxe (higher than Standard) (2).jpg

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!

 

Mother Daughter Trip to Machu Picchu

1_Mapi

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.

Sheep herding in the Andes

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.

2015-08-22 12.13.40

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

IMG_20150716_175706

Angela and I after our mother daughter trip to Machu Picchu

The Two-Day Inca Trail Family Hike

Maria, Jesus, and their teenage daughters, Itzia and Maria, are about to start a new adventure in Cusco: a trek along the 2-day Inca trail. With their guide, José, this family from Spain is all geared up to experience the amazing natural beauty  and explore the ancient Inca ruins along this route.

1ready to start the trek

Ready to Start the Trek!

As we descend from Cusco to Km 104, passing through the towns of Urubamba and Ollantaytambo, the scenery changes dramatically. Jesus and Maria mention that it feels as if they are in the jungle. Actually, as we get off the train at Km 104 and cross the suspension bridge above the Urubamba River, we find ourselves hiking in the middle of the dense cloud forest with its many different hues of green.

My skin senses the warm air and the humidity. With every breath I take, comes the fresh smell of dew. That fragrance and the roar of the river accompany us for most of the day as we hike the opposite hill. Our guide emphasizes that the scenery here is green all year round.

In addition to the green color of the forest, we admire yellow, red, and pink orchids as well as white, brown, yellow, and black butterflies.

5colorful flowers

The Wiñay Wayna Orchid, (Epidendrum Secundum) is  often found along the Inca Trail.

We hike past Chachabamba, an administrative post located near the starting point very close to the river. We can also see, at a distance, the sites of Choquesuysuy, also by the river, and Intipata, perched upon a hill, as we approach Wiñay Wayna.

2a view of Chachabamba

The Chachabamba Ruins

After passing through a few streams and a couple of waterfalls, we reach one of the most impressive Inca archaeological sites known as Wiñay Wayna, (Forever Young), named for the orchid of the same name that can be found in this area. Wiñay Wayna features a ceremonial section with a double door and a room with 7 windows, as well as several finely carved water fountains.

9a view of Wiñaywayna

The ruins of Wiñay Wayna

José says that he was lucky enough to see a spectacled bear as well as a puma and a wolf during his previous treks towards Machu Picchu.

Suddenly, the family and the guide spot a bright greenish blue object on the branch of a tree. It’s a type of jungle bird known as a quetzal. As a matter of fact, there are a couple of quetzals playing cheerfully in the tree.

8Jesus and his family spot a quetzal

The family spots a Quetzal in a nearby tree.

A few minutes later, a hummingbird flies above us. We are excited about these encounters, but we are still anxious to find the most famous endemic bird of this area, the Gallito de las Rocas, or Cock of the Rock, Peru’s national bird. It is sometimes spotted in this excellent bird watching region.

We pass Wiñay Wayna, and after a couple of hours we reach a steep section of stairs: the last stretch before reaching the Sun Gate or Inti Punku, from which we attain our first spectacular view of Machu Picchu, the most important and magnificent archaeological site of the Americas.

We walk down the ancient Inca trail listening to José’s explanations about the two huacas or temples we pass on the way down to the archaeological site itself. We are tired but very happy because we have completed this challenge and we are excited to explore Machu Picchu more thoroughly first thing tomorrow morning.

Maria and her daughters admit they were a little bit concerned about the hike at first, but now realize that it was not as difficult as they had feared. They add that the experience surpassed all of their expectations.

Maria exults, “I will definitely recommend this trek.”

10the family at Intipuncu and Machu Picchu at the back

Both tired and happy, the family enjoys their accomplishment!

For more information about this trek, see: Apus Peru Two-Day Inca Trail Trek

First Aid Training for Apus Peru Staff

Best Outdoor - Bandage practise 2

Popular guides Arturo and Urbano Enjoy  A Lighter Moment During First Aid Training

Recently, Apus Peru’s guides and a few others from the office who have been long-term employees took the opportunity to refresh our skills in wilderness first aid during a two-day course.

This was our chance to enhance our knowledge of dealing with problem case scenarios in remote areas, as well as to become empowered to administer ‘duty of care’ to our trekkers and clients across the board, if it ever becomes necessary.

Apus Peru continues to enforce our policy of appropriate training for all of the team, especially our guides.

The photos included below are intended to illustrate some important aspects of mountain safety that must be considered when on the trail; as well as depicting the serious fun we at Apus Peru have out in the wilderness.

You are in great hands when you trek with Apus Peru, in large part due to our well-trained staff.  We ensure that our guides and other faculty are well-equipped to handle routine first aid as well as emergencies. Visit our trek page to view our 2016 offerings.

-Matt Waugh April, 2016

Class room studies 3

Guide Mery and Erika from the Apus Peru office learn how to administer an injection.

CPR practise

Learning how to perform CPR

Indoor class work 1 -cpr

The mannequin is used as an aid for teaching CPR

Day time practical

We continued the training outdoors, practicing on a live person who pretended to  faint.

Day time practical 2

Practicing CPR in the field.

 

Everyone passing their examination

Happily, everyone passed the exam and received their diplomas.

 

 

 

A Trip to the Rainbow Mountain of Peru

 

Vinicunca_edit

Communing with the Rainbow Mountain

Introduction

The ‘Rainbow’ mountain, ‘Stripy’ mountain, ‘Colored’ mountain…call it what you will, this natural geologic formation is fast attracting large numbers of visitors and is becoming as popular as more well-known attractions of Peru; and with good reason!

The mountain is known locally as Vinicunca. Cunca in Quechua means ‘neck.’ The meaning of Vini is unknown but could possibly refer to the different colors of mineral layers that comprise the rock formation. Therefore ‘Neck of Colors’ could be one likely interpretation.

The Route:

Ten members of the Apus Team drove the three hours from Cusco to Pitumarka, and then it was another hour on some fabulous winding roads through local farming terraces, rock formations and picturesque canyons to reach the village of ‘Hanchi-Pacha,’ a small farming village located at 4180 meters above sea level. From here we began our hike, which gradually ascended out of the valley to reach K’airahuiri, after another 1.5 hours and 400-meter altitude gain.

PHOTO 1.A

Apus Team at the starting point for the trek to Vinicunca

 

PHOTO 1.B

Getting ready to trek out of the valley 

 

PHOTO 2 - kairahuiri

Matt Waugh, from the office near the tiny hamlets of K’airahuiri

K’airahuiri actually consists of two villages: ‘K’airahuiri Bajo’ or ‘lower’ and ‘K’airahuiri Alto’ or ‘higher.’ After a half-hour hike, we passed through K’airahuiri Alto, where the local community greeted our team. We discussed some options with the villagers for future groups that we plan to bring to the region. We then trekked for another 1.5 hours to the pass. Our climb quickly became steeper and our breathing more labored, as we reached an elevation of 5000 meters in this last section.

PHOTO 3 - locals

Locals from K’airahuiri 

PHOTO 4 - route to top

 Route to the top

All our hard work was rewarded as we crossed over the Vinicunca Pass and attained magnificent views of the mighty glacier, Apu Ausangate!

We had reached our final destination and attained a height of 5000 meters with a total hiking time of 3.5 hours and a distance of 9.5 kms. trekked. However, just a few more meters of climbing up the “neck” gave us a better glimpse of why we had come to this particular spot. At last we could see the amazing view of Vinicunca and its fantastically colorful layers of rock sediment…turquoises, oranges, browns, and reds! We never would have believed this brilliant natural beauty existed had we not seen it with our own eyes!

 

Team_Vinicunca_edit

Team Vinicunca: A Feast for the Eyes

Summary:

I first saw a photo of Vinicunca in a gallery and art shop in Cusco called ‘Tawa Concept’ back in 2015; I honestly thought an artist had drawn a very imaginative painting and I subsequently wondered where he had drawn his inspiration. I was then informed that this was actually a photo of a real place in Peru.

Now I know that the place is indeed ‘real’ and not just a figment of someone’s imagination!

Vinicunca, The Rainbow Mountain of Peru: truly a glorious feast for the eyes!

For further information and bookings, go to;

http://www.apus-peru.com/treks/vinicunca_rainbow_mountain2d.html

By Matt Waugh   April 2016

Complete Travel Insurance is Essential For Your Peru Trip

2015-08-22 10.45.40

Come to Peru to see spectacular Machu Picchu – but remember to first buy travel insurance!

We get it. There is already so much planning involved in your trip of a lifetime to Peru. You have to make sure you have packed everything you need, make sure someone is there to take care of your pets/kids/plants, make sure your job is covered, your car stored, your home protected—everything safe and secure waiting for you to return. You don’t have time to get travel insurance, and besides, what could go wrong? You have medical insurance, is that not enough?**

Turns out….No. Your home medical insurance will provide little to no assistance should you encounter an emergency in a foreign country. Say you are vacationing abroad and you left home without a travel insurance policy. An emergency happens, something beyond your control. Travel insurance was your best bet and now it’s too late- what could have cost you very little in terms of money and time has now cascaded into enormous expenses involving emergency evacuation, medical care in a foreign land, and guess what- you still have to pay for your tour.

WHAT?! WHY?

Weeks before your trip, the hotels, porters and services for your trip have already been commissioned. They cannot be “unhired” without a huge loss to the company and to many folks who were involved in purchasing supplies, preparing services, and blocking out time/ space to accommodate you during your stay. This is why we clearly state multiple times on our website and during the booking process that we very strongly recommend that you protect your trip with complete travel insurance.

Travel Insurance- full coverage, not just the medical portion, can compensate you for the loss of many of the expenses involved should your well-laid plans be interrupted by unforeseeable circumstances.

Your best bet is to do your research among the various websites that sell this important coverage, and then take a few minutes to sign up. If the emergency that you thought unlikely to occur does occur, you will have one less issue knowing that you have managed to take the best precautions possible in an unpredictable world.

As an adventure travel company, Apus has accumulated several of our own tales that illustrate the woes encountered by folks who failed to take the time to get coverage.

In one case, a family consisting of a dad and his grown kids booked a trip with us. Unfortunately, the day before the trip was to begin, he suffered a heart attack in his hotel room. The family had failed to obtain travel insurance and were terribly upset when they realized that the trip expenses were not covered and they would have to pay for the entire trip, including hotels, services, and porters, because of their failure to take a few minutes to obtain travel insurance before leaving home.

This family, whose enormous stress was of course understandable, had to suffer the additional and unnecessary pain of losing most of the cost of the trip simply due to their neglect of this essential item.

In another incident a traveler with full travel insurance left valuable items in a taxi. We helped her to fill out the forms to make a claim on her travel insurance, which she had had the foresight to acquire before leaving home. No worries!

With all the expenses involved in your trip, it seems silly not to pay the small amount necessary to protect it. Full travel insurance costs a tiny fraction of the amount you have laid out for this trip. You won’t even notice this small but essential expenditure next year, but if everything doesn’t go as planned you will certainly notice your failure to have acquired it.

When traveling with Apus, remember, too,  to check the fine details on your policy and make sure it covers the activities you will be participating in, especially high altitude trekking and emergency evacuations. During our treks you will be traveling more than a day’s walk from any road – and should you need to be evacuated, the only way out is by an extremely expensive helicopter evacuation.

Even the most conscientious travel companies, a group we are proud to belong to (see our Trip Advisor reviews here), can’t account for random events that are not under anyone’s control. So please do us all a favor and plan full travel insurance into your trip.You’ll barely remember the expense, but in the rare case that something does occur, you will be very thankful for one less hassle if and when you have to deal with difficult circumstances far from home.

**For more detailed information about the differences between travel and medical insurance see this link: http://www.ustia.org/uploads/2/4/8/8/24887869/health-insurance-vs-travel-insurance.pdf

The US Travel Insurance website, www.ustia.org/ contains comprehensive information about travel insurance options for United States travelers to foreign lands.