Where you sleep while you're on the road can make the difference between a mediocre experience and one that's absolutely unforgettable. Your Backroads trip to Peru and Machu Picchu starts and ends in Cusco, which was the beating heart of the Inca Empire and is still a hub for adventures in the Andes. This lofty Incan capital, colonial wonder and World Heritage site sits at 11,200 feet above sea level and offers bountiful cultural attractions, opportunities for adventure and delights for the palate. In keeping with this array, Cusco also boasts an almost endless list of fabulous places to stay. To save you the trouble of scanning the guide books, here are three of my favorite places to lay my head.
Casa Cartagena tops the list as my personal favorite (though that could be because I have a thing for poets). Among its notable past clientele are both the revolutionary Che Guevara and famed poet Pablo Neruda. If you're ready to share bohemian nights and inspired poetry, this could be the place for you. Today, Casa Cartagena is at once intimate and expansive, featuring 16 luxurious suites. Its exquisite colonial architecture sits atop an ancient Incan complex, and it was formerly occupied by the mayor of Cusco, Don Fernando Cartagena y Santa Cruz, from whom the boutique hotel takes its name. To boot, UNESCO has declared the historic house a protected site--and I bet you'll declare it your new favorite hotel.
Directly next door is Palacio Nazarenas . One of Cusco's newest luxury hotels, it absolutely lives up to its palatial name. Nestle in here to really spoil yourself; not one detail is overlooked in this elegantly restored former palace and convent. Be sure to dine in the hotel's restaurant, as it boasts some of the best food in the Andes. And bring a bathing suit--the place is loved by locals for bringing the first heated outdoor pool to Cusco.
3. Hotel Monasterio
Finally, I LOVE the Hotel Monasterio. The starting point for all of our Backroads trips in Peru, this Belmond hotel is our favorite place for good reason. Gregorian chants provide a gentle soundtrack as you walk through the ornate front doors and onto a page of history. Built on old Incan walls, this former 16th-century monastery is the perfect sanctuary from which to explore Peru's ancient cultures. A favorite Backroads tradition is enjoying morning coffee under the branches of the 300-year-old cedar tree in the central courtyard.
The three hotels listed above are located side by side. And it's no accident--they line one side of a tiny and peaceful plaza behind the city's main square. It's a perfect nook tucked away from the bustle of the main plaza with incredible access to the city's sights. Other sides of the plaza host Fallen Angel Restaurant & Guest House, home to a fabulous collection of modern art and arguably the best martinis in Peru, MAP Café's phenomenal museum collection and visually stunning food, and some of the nicest artisan and gift stores in Cusco.
If you'd rather venture out on your own, your options are endless. A quick recommendation is to choose your site based on location so that you can enjoy Cusco on foot.