The Hotel Rio Sagrado, opened about five years ago by Orient-Express, offered an incredibly peaceful and tranquil respite after a long day of bus and train travel. Set amidst manicured lawns, gardens and waterfalls along the banks of the Urubamba River, the hotel’s rooms and casitas are spacious and private. The grounds are a pleasure to walk around, the spa is quiet and relaxing, and the restaurant and bar are stylish and well-designed. Offering many different takes on Peru’s national drink, pisco, the bar menu is surprisingly extensive, and the bartenders never let a glass get to empty. My personal favorite version combined pisco with ginger ale and fresh ginger, lemon, and simple sugar.
In addition to the pleasures of relaxing at the property, one of the benefits of the Rio Sagrado is its proximity to some fantastic scenery and cultural attractions. Early the next morning, I set off by foot. After a short walk along the river, I crossed a bridge and began heading up into the highlands. After a short while, I reached the famous salt mines, where local workers still harvest the Peruvian “pink salt” from over a thousand evaporating ponds terraced into the arid hillsides. It’s a stunning scene. From there, I continued walking up a dirt path to the town of Maras, set on a high plateau with stunning views across the highlands and east to the Cordillera. Asking directions from a few wizened locals, I turned right on a certain street and headed off to Moray. A helpful policeman ensured that I took the footpath, instead of the gravel road for cars, for the 90-minute walk.
According to some, Moray was the centerpiece of the religious landscape of the Incas. Regardless, it’s fascinating to see the terraced circular depressions in the mountainside, each supposedly used as an Incan agricultural laboratory, with the climate changing as the terraces descend down toward the center low point. Its location, high on the windswept plateau, only adds to the ambiance, much as it does in Machu Picchu (in fact, for some, the location IS the thing). Afterwards, the Rio Sagrado had helpfully arranged to have a driver meet me at Moray with my bag, in order to take me on to Cusco directly (with a short stop to see the impressive ruins at the highland town of Chinchero). I resolved to come back and take up Hans (the day manager) and Fleury (the GM) on their offer to sample some of the area’s best mountain biking trails.