A clear, bright moon was waxing over a purple mountainside in the early evening sky. I was in the middle of a garden in full bloom, my arms spread wide along the rim of a hot tub with two subdued llamas grazing to my left and right. Of all the splendors that I expected to encounter in Peru’s Sacred Valley, this portrait of relaxation and luxury wasn’t one of them. In my planning and packing phase, I had pictured something much more Discovery Channel; I figured they would title the episode about my trek to Machu Picchu something like “Disaster: The Will to Survive.” I was sure the polite REI sales associate who outfitted me in my first-ever pair of hiking pants, seven pairs of hiking socks, a headlamp, and a dorky-looking daypack in New York a week or so earlier was expecting a similar fate for me.
But there I was, high up in the Andes mountains with no broken bones, no disappeared hikers, and no medivac emergency missions to speak of—just some sore muscles from the day’s (mostly downhill) hikes, a cold Cusqueña beer, and a couple of new friends. All of this magic was thanks to Mountain Lodges of Peru (MLP), a locally owned adventure tour company that curates treks in the region for any kind of traveler. This particular property was called the Lamay Lodge, one of several lodges and hotels owned by MLP in Cusco and the surrounding Sacred Valley. Of the three MLP sites I was lucky enough to stay in, Lamay was a clear favorite.
In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever felt luckier than when I was soaking in the bubbles of that hot tub. It was cheesy, but I couldn’t stop saying how the place felt like Eden. I had achieved paradise; I was ready to be carted off by pudgy baby angels into the great beyond. The name of the valley made every bit of sense to me: This was nothing if not a sacred experience.
Why it’s worth the trip:
MLP runs several small-group curated treks around the Sacred Valley that are tailored to travelers’ needs and interests. The thing I loved most about MLP (even more than the hot tub)? Their commitment to cultural and interpersonal exchange between travelers and local people living in the Sacred Valley. Their approach to business in this heavily touristed slice of Peru is thoughtful and unique.
You’ll like it here if:
You appreciate the indoors as much as you appreciate the outdoors. All the lodges have been meticulously decorated and designed in accordance to a different theme—Lamay’s is ancient and spiritual, filled with repurposed materials and assorted flea market finds.
The 2019/2020 trekking program from March 1st to March 31st and November 1st to December 14th runs at $2,990, and $3,990 from April 1st to October 31st and December 15th to December 31st.
Hikers, design junkies, history buffs, thrill-seekers, and anthropophilic types—all are welcome.
How to prepare:
The key ingredients to a successful exploration of the Sacred Valley: hiking boots, sunscreen, a poncho, and lots of water (like, drink a lot of water and then drink some more and then refill and do it all over again).
I had the best time in the Sacred Valley, but the altitude up there kicked my ass. Don’t freak out if you feel dizzy or even nauseous and sick; those are normal responses to the change in altitude. Some people drink coca leaf tea to help with altitude sickness, but since stimulants often worsen my anxiety symptoms, I chose to forgo it. Instead, I drank tons of water and kept alcohol consumption to a minimum. But the MLP team will be able to assist you if start feeling really bad or if you have any questions about what’s happening to your body.
While you’re in the area:
Check out Totemiq, a women’s arts collective that applies old craft techniques to modern practices and pieces. It’s run by Berenice Diaz, a local artist and curator who worked with MLP on X.O Art House, the company’s third Cusco-located lodge opened in late 2018. Totemiq works with craftswomen and artists from Cusco and surrounding areas.