Majesty and Mystery at Machu Picchu

Of all the places I’ve visited, Machu Picchu is probably the one that fascinates me the most. It was an incredible thrill to see the lost city of the Inca (even if, according to some accounts, the place was never really “lost”). In any case, Spanish conquistadors never found it, so its massive stone walls and structures were left for centuries mostly to the llamas and other creatures who roam there.

One of the trickiest things about Machu Picchu is finding a place to stay. (Tourists who take the Orient Express train there and back in the same day don’t have to worry about this, but they usually end up with less than four hours to explore one of the most incredible sites on the planet). The Orient Express-owned Sanctuary Lodge, just outside the gates of Machu Picchu’s tourist entryway, is the most famous option (it’s one of the most expensive hotels in the world). At the base of the mountain is the town of Aguas Calientes, which hardly existed a decade ago; now it’s a collection of hostels and trinket shops that cater to travelers. And then there’s the Inkaterra Machu Picchu.

Inkaterra is an ecologically aware Peruvian company that operates three resorts. Its outpost at Machu Picchu is on the site of a former tea plantation at the foot of the mountain. The 85 cottages stand on 12 acres that overlook the Vilacanota river. The grounds include a top-notch spa (which my muscles were glad to find after hiking up and down Machu Picchu’s stone staircases), and an animal sanctuary that features almost 200 types of birds… and two Spectacled Bears (a species of bear that is native to South America).

The Inkaterra also features a gorgeous dining room. I’d let the staff know that I have celiac disease when I made the reservation, and they were incredibly accommodating — but the nicest surprise was that much of the restaurant’s menu is naturally gluten-free. For dinner that night I started with an appetizer of corn, olives, beans and cheese, followed by an alpaca steak with a gooseberry sauce and baked potato. In keeping with Inkaterra’s ecological commitment, most of the ingredients are from local farms; some are grown on the resort’s own property. The meal marked the end of one of the most fascinating days of any trip I’ve taken.

Inkaterra Machu Picchu [tel] 800-442-5042 in North America, +51 1 610 04000 in Peru [web]