A Peru for the Few: Luxury Machu Picchu

The archaeological treasure of Machu Picchu—for many the sole reason for traveling to Peru—is perched 8,200 feet above sea level and remained hidden from the modern world until it was discovered in 1911 by U.S. historian Hiram Bingham. Since then, visitation to this mysterious Incan city has witnessed a meteoric rise, and with good reason. The staggering maze of ruins that is Machu Picchu rests atop the rugged Andes Mountains, South America's backbone and home to a wealth of waterfalls and alpine forests. Despite the flood of visitors, Machu Picchu will perhaps forever retain its mystery, largely because no one knows exactly why the city was built. But everyone agrees, it has to be seen. The trick, then, is to make your Machu Picchu experience differ from that of the more than 1,000 visitors who see it each day.
The majority of visitors spend up to four days hiking along the Inca Trail to reach the sacred city. But travelers willing to go the extra economic mile can arrange for an upscale tour of Machu Picchu that layers on the luxury. Forego sore legs and crowded hiking paths by taking a three-hour train ride from the town of Cuzco, known as the "navel of the world," through the Sacred Valley of the Andes alongside the Urubamba River. Stay at the exclusive Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, set within its own private gardens next to the ruins themselves. Dine on gourmet food and, at night, take a guided moonlit tour of the mysterious city—a privilege reserved only for guests at the lodge (the park is closed to the public at sunset).
As can be expected, luxury does have its price. Package trips that include stays at the Sanctuary Lodge range from $2,500 to $4,000, depending on the number of people and length of stay (and that's not including airfare). But if you're willing to drop the cash, rest assured, it's worth it. Guided tours, moonlit walks, gourmet food, scenic train rides, fewer crowds—and that's in addition to Machu Picchu's other, much heralded attractions: the photogenic views from the Hut of the Caretaker of the Funerary Rock, the ceremonial baths and the Sacred Plaza's spectacular panorama of the Urubamba valley, the major shrine of Intihuatana, the many hiking trails surrounding the city itself (lest you suffer any distant guilt for bypassing the Inca Trail), and the everlasting mystery that will keep Machu Picchu forever sacred, forever intriguing.

Published: 1 Oct 2002 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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