Most baby boomers with distant memories of traveling to Peru will bring to mind a backpacker’s paradise. While camping, trekking and youth hostels are still part of the travel picture, today that scene has expanded exponentially. Luxury along the Inca Trail is no longer an enigma, but an integral part of the experience for many.
Luxury travel today has a wide variety of meanings. For many boomers like myself who have travelled the world, luxury comes in different forms. We are shaking up the formula and giving it a new spin.
While a bit of traditional extravagance is nice at the end of the day, experiences and access are parts of the new equation.
Nowhere did I find this more evident than during a recent trip to Peru. The country is vast and offers an overwhelming number of options as you make your way from Cusco to the magical Machu Picchu.
Choose a tour operator wisely and you’ll be handsomely rewarded with experiences in a country rich in cultural heritage. I was traveling with AdventureSmith Explorations, a company well known for their small group tours and responsible travel mission. The Lares Adventure itinerary focused on the less crowded Salkantay Trail and a world of Andean cultural discovery, just the type of “new luxury” I was looking for.
Arriving in Cusco for the trip, with an elevation of over 11,000 feet, can be a shock to the system. I highly recommend taking an extra day or two in this Unesco World Heritage site to acclimatize. The city is charming and loaded with history, easy to navigate and filled with sites and markets that you can take in at your own pace.
Many of the experiences I had in the Sacred Valley were focused on the social and economic benefits to local people. The two areas where I most felt this effort to promote sustainable tourism were in the destination stays and indigenous cultural weaving activities I encountered while getting a taste of new luxury along the Inca Trail.
Luxury threads in Peru
Of the most highly valued and luxurious threads in the world, two come from Peru. Visiting local markets and artisan workshops afforded many chances to get an up close and personal viewing of finished products using these raw materials. Textile collectors as well as proponents of Slow Fashion will find an abundance of beautifully made goods to satisfy their shopping needs.
The first fiber comes from the vicuña, a smaller, cocoa colored cousin of the llama. The Incas worshiped this doe-eyed creature that produces an incredibly fine fleece, even finer and more expensive than cashmere. At one time, the fabrics only graced the bodies of royals. Today, luxury fashion goods designer Loro Piana is responsible for almost single-handedly working with the Peruvian government to make the yarn a sustainable product category.
Alpaca is the other, an animal that has provided Peruvians with both warmth and nourishment for thousands of years. Like the vicuña, alpaca fiber was once reserved for royalty as well. Along the hiking trails, herdsmen graze the animals in harsh conditions and continue to use traditional shearing techniques. The natural shades of yarn are made into some of the most luxurious home textiles and women’s clothing in the world, especially when the super soft baby alpaca yarn is incorporated.
Fabrics woven on the traditional backstrap loom are in textile collections around the world. Access to some of the master weavers working on the traditional instrument gives insight into the Inca weaving trail. Their labour-intensive process also involves the use of natural fibers and dyes. Often they incorporate alpaca into the fabrics.
The experience of watching the expert craftswomen pass the process on to the next generation placed a renewed value on their indigenous culture and the secrets they have mastered. The finished pieces we saw on display will no doubt be the collectors’ tapestries of tomorrow.
Luxurious boutique hotels: Another luxury along the Inca Trail
Imagine flying over the sacred valley and seeing wilderness space below scattered with tiny villages, waterfalls, dirt paths, no electricity and herdsman with their llamas and alpacas. Now imagine saying to yourself, this is where I want to build a hotel. Remarkable in concept, that is exactly what happened to the owner of several properties I had the pleasure to call home on the Lares Adventure.
Up rocky roads in secluded communities along this less crowded route to Machu Picchu, a pioneering tourism effort is taking place. Luxurious boutique hotels have been built in partnership with local communities. Having a stake in future development has allowed all owners to participate in community growth.
Authentic experiences and activities with a focus on cultural heritage are a prime example of the success of these partnerships. Working collaboratively, locals have an impetus to actually connect with tourists in authentic ways. This allows for access and a new type of luxury experience more and more boomers are looking for.
Visiting a local home and experiencing the living conditions of the community was a connection I will not soon forget. It certainly wasn’t staged, the wide eyes were slightly uncomfortable, but we were all engaged.
The universal language of smiles and laughter was something that cannot be manufactured.
I’ll be the first to admit I enjoyed returning to the chic hotel at the top of the hill at the end of the day, but my thoughts about the indigenous people and their simple way of life were now viewed from a totally different perspective.
Perched at 12,585 ft. in a somewhat precarious location, the architects of Huacahuasi Lodge masterfully blended the structure into the environment. Offering spectacular views of the Andes, local materials were used for the build. Crafts and artwork from the area provide the interior accents. Guest rooms feature radiant floor heating.
After a day of hiking, private Jacuzzis relieved sore muscles as clouds glided high across the mountains; it is a heady experience. Alone with my thoughts, I tried to process all I had seen in such an eventful day.
With over 3,000 types of potatoes available in Peru, learning one of the iconic recipes involving the precious spud was my cultural activity of choice. The recipe was broken down, recreated by all participating and then took center stage for lunch. Causa became my favourite dish of the trip, one I’ve recreated at home. Aside from the delicious taste, being familiar with the cooking process allows me to share it with others.
Culinary travel has exploded in recent years and I, for one, am thrilled. There is no better way to dig deep into a country’s culture than at the dining table. Our small group shared all meals with our guide, Silver, who thoughtfully answered questions and gave us additional insights into Peru’s history and current events.
Local chefs prepared a wide selection of dishes featuring the best of products from the area. On our particular journey, one chef traveled with the group to several of the different destinations. Accommodating menu selections for dietary restrictions and allergies was never an issue.
Each day of the Lares Adventure provided a full range of activities, rich in both physical and cultural experience. Traveling in such an immersive way lends an insider’s look few can accomplish on their own during a short stay.
As the world becomes smaller and over one billion people travel the globe this year, finding the new luxury of access and authentic experiences becomes a more difficult task.
After 8 days in the hands of a responsible travel company, Machu Picchu is only one part of the story in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. The gatekeepers of memorable Andean wisdom are ready to share their treasures, but only if you know where to find them.
What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?
- Options are available daily for a choice of hike and/or cultural component. The variety makes the trip a great option for multigenerational travel.
- New restrictions at Machu Picchu are in place limiting visitors. It’s important to make sure you select a travel company that covers this detail properly.
- A masseuse accompanied our group. Arrange to take advantage of nimble fingers to ease sore muscles after a day of hiking.
- AdventureSmith Explorations is an environmentally responsible company. Traveling with this in mind furthers cultural exchange and protects the biodiversity surrounding the adventure.
- Although the itinerary will work with all ability levels, prior conditioning will allow travelers to get the most out of their vacation.
- Some of the hiking will take you high into the Andes (over 14,000 ft.). Talk to your doctor about any medical conditions and the need for high altitude medication.
- Coca tea is offered everywhere as a remedy for altitude sickness. Take advantage of a natural preparation Peruvians have been using for thousands of years.
- Hiking trails can be rocky and uneven. Make sure to bring well broken-in hiking boots with ankle support. Many will find hiking poles helpful, too.
IF YOU GO
AdventureSmith Explorations offers a range of different itineraries, beginning with 5-day tours. In addition, participants can opt for an add-on cruise on the Amazon.
Disclosure: The author’s ground trip was hosted by AdventureSmith Explorations.
On Green with Renvy: Fourteen Awesome Sacred Valley Experiences in Peru
On Getting On Travel: Taking on Peru’s Sacred Valley: The Baby Boomer Way