Cusco, the city that once served as the center of the Incan empire, is stopping ground for travelers seeking to visit Machu Picchu, the ancient citadel and one of the seventh wonders of the world. Luxury travelers who may have postponed this bucket list destination, thinking it is for rugged backpackers only, will be pleased to learn this experience can be enjoyed while pampered in luxury, from hotel accommodations to an unforgettable first-class train ride which takes travelers to the UNESCO Heritage site.
The JW Marriott El Convento Cusco, located just steps from the center of town’s Plaza del Armas, embraces guests with luxe accommodations and experiences pivotal to a visit to this culturally rich part of Peru. The origins of the hotel are impressive: built on the grounds of the 16th century San Augustin Convent, construction was a time-consuming and meticulous endeavor which resulted in the preservation, and in some cases, in-room inclusion, of authentic pre-Incan walls. Like the city of Cusco, the JW Marriott El Convento Cusco is a tribute to the blending of Incan and Spanish cultures and architecture: in the center is a colonial Spanish courtyard with traditional arches while some of the hotel’s 153 rooms offer views of original Incan walls. One coveted suite integrates an Incan wall into the room.
Guests are greeted in the lobby with muña tea, an Andean mint used to battle altitude sickness, common to travelers not accustomed to the 11,154 feet above sea level. Recommendations to newcomers is to take it easy the first day and stay hydrated. All the rooms at the hotel come outfitted with built-in oxygen-rich systems, a feature that speeds up the acclimation process.
Peruvian food has seen a surge in popularity over the past years, most notably with the country’s popular ceviche dishes. Executive Chef Heivel Bedoya is the master behind the hotel’s successful “culture-to-table” introduction of the region’s famed superfoods, foods widely used since Incan times and celebrated for their nutritious qualities (think quinoa, kiwicha, and purple corn.) Guests can join him in learning how to make ceviche or take a walking tour of the local market, Mercado de San Pedro, where Bedoya will explain and introduce a variety of local fruits like lucuma (which tastes like a caramelized sweet potato), caque (a persimmon-style fruit), and chuta, a local bread with herbs made in Oropeza. The hotel’s restaurant, Qespi, celebrates the ancient Incan foods with a modern, healthy twist, beginning with the Kañiwa waffles, a grain rich in iron and protein, topped with cardamom cream and poached peaches. Dinner can include Pachamanca, the Peruvian “earth oven” dish featuring local meats such as cuy, (guinea pig, considered a delicacy in Peru), local potatoes, of which Peru boasts over 3,000 varieties, vegetables, and Andean cheese.
Be sure not to miss the bar. Freddy, Nick, and Julio are the three mixologists in charge, creating traditional favorites like the Pisco Sour as well as more complex concoctions like the signature Old Fashioned Smoked Bomb, a drink that uses chocolate from the Quillambamba region and is a show in itself, as it takes over eight minutes to create.
The JW Marriott Cusco is steeped in local traditions beyond its culinary offerings. The spa offers Andean-inspired healing treatments, there are Coca Leaves Readings with a Shaman held in the central patio, and animal lovers will be thrilled to meet Panchita, the hotel’s own adorable baby llama: fuzzy, cuddly, and most cooperative when taking a selfie.
One could just relax and explore the hotel and its surroundings, but Machu Picchu beckons and is certainly worth exploring. The journey to get there requires taking a train to the mountain town of Aguas Calientes. From there one must take a bus to the citadel. Peru Rail offers Presidential and First Class service in a beautifully restored antique train which includes brunch or dinner service (depending on departure time) featuring a three-course meal using Andean organic ingredients like trout, quinoa, aguaymanto accompanied by a selection of wines. There is also a luxurious observatory and lounge carriage offering live music, bar (the perfect spot for a pisco sour) and a balcony to admire the tropical mountain forest and stunning views. The return journey, after a long and inspiring day visiting Machu Picchu, is equally rewarding.
It is humbling to explore this part of the world, so rich in ancient history and blended by powerful cultural forces. Every stone seems to have its own story, every food tied to its past. The JW Marriott Cusco serves as an ideal base to this journey of discovery: it is sensitive to the historical significance of the area by its own definition. After all, the hotel was built within and amongst ruins (daily tours of the property will lead guests through the museum-like features of the hotel). Beyond that, a stay here ensures guests will be surrounded with experiences unique to Cusco- from the exceptional cuisine rooted in Incan tradition, to a night at the bar sampling local herbs in exotic cocktails. At the same time, it remains dedicated to providing guests with modern and comfortable amenities, making the trip of a lifetime one filled with memories and luxury as well.