There’s a lot to take in as the shuttle van twists its way through the bustling streets of Cusco, slowly making its way to Peru’s Sacred Valley. But as you leave the city behind, farms replace city sprawl.
The drive to explora Valle Sagrado takes about 90 minutes. Surrounded by mountains, cornfields and Inca ruins, the property pays tribute to its surroundings, by blending in, instead of trying to stand out.
Room with a mountain view — Photo courtesy of explora Valle Sagrado
In fact, it’s those surroundings that draw people here. All of explora Valle Sagrado’s 50 rooms and suites boast mountain views, thanks to windows that take up much of the property’s back exterior wall. Accommodations have comfy beds with fluffy comforters (and chocolate at turndown), hot showers, and jetted soaking tubs. They don’t, however, have televisions or Wi-Fi. But that’s okay; days here aren’t meant to be spent in your room.
Here are 10 things that you’ll want to experience during your stay.
Looking down at Machu Picchu — Photo courtesy of Brian Welsh
The best-known attraction in Peru’s Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu is the spot that inspires most travelers to make the trek. The trip can be done in one (albeit long) day. It’s an hour or so ride from explora to the train station in Ollantaytambo, where you’ll board the train for a journey just shy of two hours. (If you’re looking to splurge, IncaRail first class service includes meals, drinks and live music.)
After arriving at the station in Aguas Calientes, it’s a 30-minute bus ride up a steep road with numerous hairpin turns to reach the entrance to Machu Picchu. Explora can take care of all the logistics of getting to Machu Picchu, but there is an additional cost. It’s the one exploration that’s not included in the property’s all-inclusive rates.
Other Inca sights
Hiking exploration to Moray — Photo courtesy of explora Valle Sagrado
Machu Picchu may draw the majority of visitors, but it’s just one of dozens of archaeological spots in the Sacred Valley worth exploring. The circles of Moray are a bit of a mystery, but many believe they demonstrate how the Incas used microclimates to grow a variety of crops in one location.
Chinchero offers Inca ruins and a colonial church, along with an open, outdoor courtyard where locals sell assorted handicrafts.
Maras salt ponds — Photo courtesy of Brian Welsh
Moray and Chinchero are two options on a long list of hiking explorations offered by explora’s staff of guides. Ranging from easy and moderate to advanced and expert, hikes (some of which take place in remote and exclusive locations) offer unique views and in-depth understandings.
Maras is home to salt mines once harvested by the Incas. Most travelers arrive there by car, but explora guests hike in, passing through one of the driest areas of the Sacred Valley. Year after year of erosion has exposed tiny seashells scattered throughout sedimentary soil that now rests near 11,000 feet above sea level. Observant hikers are reminded that the vast stretch of land was once covered by the sea. Both half-day and full-day hiking choices are offered.
Biking exploration in Peru’s Sacred Valley — Photo courtesy of explora Valle Sagrado
For those who would rather roll through the Sacred Valley, there are a number of bike explorations for all levels of riders. Just like hiking, half-day and full-day choices are offered. Guests can also combine hiking and biking explorations to make for a busy, and potentially muddy day of exploring.
All guides are Wilderness First Responder-certified and are trained to provide first aid in remote areas if necessary. Guides meet one-on-one with guests every evening to provide options based on fitness and skills and plan out the next day’s schedule.
Get to know Peru’s people
Weaving cooperative in Cúper Bajo — Photo courtesy of Brian Welsh
Some of the explorations are so remote that, other than your exploration group, you may only see one or two people throughout the day – but there are opportunities to have more in-depth interactions with locals.
In the community of Cúper Bajo, a group of women run a textile co-op of sorts. They demonstrate how natural products like dried flower petals are used to create dyes and color alpaca wool, before weaving it into a rainbow of goods including hats, scarves, gloves and bags.
See Peru’s wildlife
Hiking company in Racchi — Photo courtesy of Brian Welsh
Different hiking explorations offer the opportunity to see (and even sometimes interact with) a variety of animals. On the half-day Racchi hike, one of the easier explorations offered, guests pass grazing sheep, foraging pigs and pairs of sturdy bulls plowing fields. Donkeys, especially youngsters, are sometimes just as curious about visitors as visitors are about them.
Try Peruvian food
Alpaca loin skewers at explora Valle Sagrado — Photo courtesy of Brian Welsh
Menus in the dining room at explora change daily, offering guests the opportunity to try local dishes. In addition to traditional favorites like cuy (guinea pig) and Chupe de Camarone (shrimp chowder), selections can include the likes of alpaca loin skewers and guargueros (fritters) with cinnamon and pisco caramel.
More familiar dishes like pasta, pulled pork, hamburgers and French fries are also available for less adventurous eaters.
Sip Peruvian Pisco
Pisco tasting at explora Valle Sagrado — Photo courtesy of Brian Welsh
The explora bar pours a wide range of wine, beer and spirits, but for a true Peruvian experience, a pisco tasting is a must. Pisco is a brandy, made from grapes that are fermented and distilled.
The classic and best known cocktail is the pisco sour, but explora’s bartender, Franklin, infuses pisco with everything from citrus and mint to gooseberry. He typically has a dozen or so different varieties on hand and is happy to introduce guests to new favorites.
Casa de Baños Pumacahua
The spa at explora Valle Sagrado — Photo courtesy of Brian Welsh
Behind the explora property, a short walk along a trail between cornfields leads to Casa de Baños Pumacahua. The 17th-century colonial mansion was discovered during the hotel’s construction. Now restored, it has found new life as a spa. Along with booking massages, after a long day of hiking or biking, guests are welcome to swim in the pool, soak in the hot tubs, or enjoy the saunas and steam rooms.
Take in mountain views
The mountain view is always changing at explora Valle Sagrado — Photo courtesy of Brian Welsh
Every room has a view, but steps outside the explora Living Room (the property’s take on a hotel lobby), the expansive views of the surrounding mountains are constantly changing. What you see before breakfast could look dramatically different afterwards. Take time to stop and snap a few shots – but know no picture will do it justice.
Rates at explora Valle Sagrado start at $1,170 per person, based on double occupancy, for three days and two nights. It includes all meals and alcohol, daily guided explorations, entrance fees to national parks except Machu Picchu, transfers to and from Cusco, gratuities and Wi-Fi in common areas.