Restoring Mind, Body, and Spirit in Peru’s Wondrous Sacred Valley
By Alona Abbady Martinez
Tucked away between the Incan capital of Cusco and the bucket list destination of Machu Picchu lies the Sacred Valley, a strip of Andean highlands rich with ancient ruins, fertile farmland, and majestic mountain views. The air is crisp and pure here, the views extraordinary, and the people as hardworking and authentic as the ancestors that thrived on this land. This 38-mile stretch, whose full name is El Valle Sagrado de los Incas (The Sacred Valley of the Incas) was originally carved out by the Urubamba River and hence, often referred to as the Urubamba Valley.
It functioned as the spiritual base for the Incan Empire and for the traveler seeking a place to restore, rejuvenate, and refresh both mind and body. The Sacred Valley, which seamlessly weaves its past with its present all under the calming vigil of nature and history, will serve travelers well. Make Tambo Del Inka hotel home base: the Marriott Luxury Collection Resort & Spa aims at truly immersing guests into the heart of the Urubamba culture with a strong focus on wellness and health. Embracing and honoring the surrounding nature is one of its top priorities, beginning with the open architecture and thoughtful planning that offers spectacular views of the Chicón mountain, which, at a little over 18,000 feet, is the tallest peak of the Urubamba mountain range. Nature enthusiasts will delight in the path that circumnavigates a portion of the 24 acres of land, with signs explaining colorful native flowers and the burbling of the Vilcanota River along the way. Mindful of assimilating the vibrant local culture with modern amenities, the lobby is outfitted with plush chairs, a mesmerizing open fireplace, and hand-made woven rugs and tapestries in brilliant hues of fuchsia and orange, typical to the region.
Those with relaxation on the itinerary should head straight to the spa where there are services incorporating Incan healing elements like coca leaves, salt from the Inca Maras mines, muña (Andean mint), and fango—volcanic-rich mud. Perhaps one of the most memorable experiences is the heated swimming pool: half covered, half outdoors, it allows guests to do laps under a brilliant, star-studded Andean sky. Cycling enthusiasts will want to sign up for the biking program organized by Venturia Tours, with an office conveniently onsite. Guests meet up with local bike expert Bruno García for a quick lesson on how to use the specialized, electric bikes before taking off on an off-road adventure, passing by quinoa, corn, and potato fields as well as the majestic Urubamba river. Full or half-day bike excursions include a guided journey to the legendary Maras salt flats (Incan salt pools carved alongside the mountainside) with a picturesque picnic lunch exploring superfoods like maca, sacha inchi, kiwicha, canihua, and camu camu in their natural state.
The Sacred Valley has miles of roads where cars rarely pass and which are the best way to find the jewels of this destination: peasant communities, “chicherias,” cultivation fields, and intact landscapes. The tour company can also arrange stunning kayaking adventures, horseback riding, hiking, rafting down the Ollantaytambo River, as well as half-day treks with llamas (domesticated thousands of years ago for their strength and low impact on the environment). Consider their irresistible cuteness an added bonus! The local shamanic spiritual practice honoring Pachamama, or Mother Earth, has occurred in Peru for centuries. Shamans speak the Incan language of Quechua, still used in the Sacred Valley today. At Tambo Del Inka, guests can partake in: Shaman-led coca leaf readings, earth blessings, or marriage vow renewals—incorporating meditation and/or yoga to complement the sacred experience. Of course, a trip to Peru would not be complete with-out a visit to the UNESCO site of Machu Picchu, which one must reach via train to the nearby town of Aguas Calientes followed by a quick bus ride to the famous citadel.
Tambo Del Inka is the only hotel in Urubamba with a private train station, offering two trains (run by PeruRail) to choose from for the wondrous two-hour ride. The Vistadome features panoramic side windows and glass sky-lights, offering a fully-immersive ride. For a more luxurious experience, the Sacred Valley train’s antique cars are fully restored to emulate 1920’s elegance, complete with a bar and live music (so you can start your journey with a classic pisco sour in hand). There’s fine dining served tableside as well, ensuring travelers arrive at one of the new Seven Wonders of the World ready to immerse themselves in the ultimate spiritual journey of awe and wonder.