Saturday, May 8, 2010

Acqualina, North Miami Beach - an Absolute Jewel

What a wonderful long weekend Acqualina presents for us folks n the Northeast, or from anywhere for that matter - the hotel/resort is that good!

Acqualina is officially in Sunny Isles - the northern tip of Miami's barrier island.  Here are some of the best beaches of the island.  Yes Acqualina is  a high rise, usually not my preferred sort of resort, but they do things very differently.

First there are only 4 to 6 rooms per floor which creates an amazing 775 sq. feet of privacy. Even  the standard rooms are as large which face the intracoastal, with views of  the Miami skyline. The oceanfront rooms offer magnificent sea views. All rooms have expansive balconies which solved my concern of high rise hotels without windows that  open.

The rooms are beautifully appointed with all the amenities one would expect of a 5 star hotel, and a few little unexpected extras as well.  Everything is done in a thoughtful way .  We had a classic suite which has only 4 in the complex - a huge balcony overlooking the sea, a full parlor with dining area and a very comfortable bedroom & bath.

The colors at Acqualina are warm and vibrant and set the mood nicely.  The ambiance is one of international flair and guests come from Europe, South America and the U.S.  There is an air of casual sophistication, and  the guests ages range from the young successful side to older folk like myself who enjoy the pleasures of a fine hotel. Families with children are comfortable also and they have a fine children's program.

The service at Acqualina is impeccable,  From the time one checks in it is hard to miss that everyone cares about the guest experience.  There are two restaurants at the beach where one can dine al fresco then move to the lawn in comfortable lounge chairs or to the beach adjacent.  A sign of good service was when i moved to one of the lounge chairs after lunch and  a pool boy, without my requesting it, quietly placed a pitcher of water with lemon, (he remembered), and the latest Vogue at the table alongside - just in case i wanted some reading material.

The main dining room is operated by Il Mulino of New York fame.  We met several local friends here for dinner one evening, and they are local gourmands.  The pasta was good, but not up to the expectations, and I suspect that the executive chef was not in residence.  They have some house infused grappas which are displayed in big glass jugs on the bar.

We also went down to South Beach to a wonderful Argentine restaurant we know there, and also enjoyed a wonderful Brazilian churrasco rotisserie which was nearby Acqualina.

In a word, the hotel is sexy and vibrant.  One feels quite pampered in this sybaritic oasis of tranquility.

for more information contact Barbara

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Mayan Rivera - Rosewood Mayakoba Resort

Rosewood always has a wonderful touch in everything they do and the Rosewood Mayakoba is no exception.

Mayakoba is a planned, private resort community on a pristine stretch of Caribbean beach just a bit over 30 minutes south of Cancun.   At the center is an 18 hole Greg Norman designed golf course surrounded by three hotels: Rosewood Mayakoba, Banyan Tree and Fairmont.

Each hotel is inter-connected by fresh water limestone canals and one can take a covered lagoon boat to the golf course, to the neighboring hotels for dining & spas  and they all have inter-changeable charge account privileges with each other.

Jungle .Coast. Reef. - Mayakoba is teeming with the flora and fauna of these three distinct, yet interdependent ecosystems.

Rosewood Mayakoba Resort has wonderful architecture from the Spanish architect house Casa Y Jardin, of Madrid - Architects: Gonzalo Martínez-Pita & Enrique Erpen.  Casa y Jardin also did the exceptional interiors and appointments.

The architecture inspired us to consider building a 21st century, small dwelling, in the style of our wonderful over-the water suite.  Everything is so well appointed. From the moment you glide onto your private lagoon deck and are met by your butler, to the lovely outdoor shower one has the feeling of being in a very special place.

From the deck one can watch the bird life in the mangroves and the private plunge pool.  There is every gadget one would want from a Nespresso machine to an Ipod docking station.  The furnishings are very unique, with a real flair for design.   Everywhere one looks, there is a feast for the senses..It is a very large suite that flows beautifully, and the windows are placed to provide wonderful vignettes of the architecture and and offers full privacy.

The resort spans from the beach into the mangrove bayous and to get around one can walk the lovely paths or take one of the frequent golf carts making the loop.  For those that prefer to be near the beach the beachfront suites or the even larger oceanview suites with rooftop pool and sea views are the best choice.

.  From the warm,friendly waiters at breakfast, to the beach restaurant, where one can enjoy a wonderfully prepared tapas menu for under $25 ; dining is a true pleasure at Rosewood.  Try the choya juice at breakfast.

A stay at Rosewood Mayakoba is a treat for all the senses.  A perfect getaway from which you will return home feeling renewed and see life differently.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Mayan Riviera - Royal Hideaway


One week on the Mayan Riviera ....

Our first stay was at the wonderful, all inclusive resort of Royal Hideaway - a member of Occidental Hotel Group.

Typically, I am not one for "all-inclusive" hotels since I like to explore the region where I am, and sample the local cuisines.  Royal Hideaway changed my mind greatly, but first let me start with the ambiance and accommodations at Royal Hideaway.

Hurricanes can bestow blessings, as well as devastation, and Wilma bestowed a spectacular beach on the Mexican Rivera, particularly in front of Royal Hideaway.

One of the places to dine is out on the deck overlooking this magnificent beach.  In the evenings they also set up a bar on the beach and lovely wicker furniture  with linens flowing in the breeze for sunset cocktails.

The accommodations are spacious.  We were fortunate to get one of the duplex suites, which has a lovely sitting area, with a terrace and a hammock, overlooking the beach.  Upstairs, a large bedroom with a very comfy bed, and a lovely bath with luxurious bath products.  The piece de resistance was the large rooftop sundeck overlooking the ocean off  the bedroom.  The bedroom also boasted another terrace facing into the courtyard gardens.  

Royal Hideaway is an adult only resort ,and the activities offered are refined and in keeping with the luxury the resort offers.  One night they offer dancing to the Bossa Nova under the palms, another night martini tasting on the beach with a good combo.

The resort is especially good value offering free wi-fi along with all the dining and drinking experiences,  hobie cats, sea kayaks and lots of other toys.

Low season rates until Dec. 17 are as low as $2,850 for two persons, seven night stay - all inclusive!  This is a spectacular deal.  As your Virtuoso agency we can offer a room upgrade subject to availability, a $100 spa credit, complimentary parking and priority dining reservations.

The charming town of Playa del Carmen is just there, where one can stroll the colorful pedestrian Fifth Avenue with its trattorias and shopping for Mexican handicrafts.

contact Travel Exchange 800-242-0248
Barbara Herrott

Monday, March 8, 2010

Anguilla and its wonderful beaches - Viceroy Hotel

     Just recently back from a week on Anguilla and a wonderful stay at the new Viceroy Hotel.

     Anguilla is now easy to reach by flying non stop to St Maarten/St Martinn, with its new wonderfully modern airport,  and taking the Funtime power boat for the 30 minute hop across the water to the Customs House on Anguilla.  Cost is approximately $80 each direction. 

      Funtime is right at the airport. They operate a very efficient meet & greet service and makes for an enjoyable ride over to Anguilla.  They even serve cold drinks and have a very friendly staff.  Entering Anguilla requires a bit of paperwork but there is a nice West Indies feel to arriving at the Customs House and then a short taxi ride to your hotel.

     The Viceroy Anguilla just opened in November 2009 and is part of the growing Viceroy Hotel Group, (formerly Kor Hotel Group).  The group is focused on distinctively styled properties with remarkable design elements and stylish flair.  The first ones were in Santa Monica, Palm Springs and West Hollywood.  The collection has now established  The Tides as one of their signature brands and as a leading force of the contemporary hotel scene will be growing the collection.

     The Anguilla property has very sophisticated and glamorous interiors done by Kelly Wearstler, a highly respected designer who brings a sensual style to her design.Everywhere you look there are interesting sculptures of organic materials from around the world and a feast for the senses.
Viceroy Anguilla sits on 35 acres between Barnes Bay and Meads Bay. and there are magnificent.sea views from the dramatic lobby area and most rooms.  The beach club which offers lunch as well is a 5 minute shuttle ride away,  Once the the final phase of the construction is complete it will be a short stroll down to Meads Bay.  The hotel has managed to keep most of the construction from interfering with guests.

With any new property in the beginning there are some glitches along the way, and let's remember this is the Caribbean after all.  All of these things will be worked through under the watchful eye of Jan Tibaldi, the hotel's Swiss General Manager.  Jan was very visible throughout our week in all parts of the hotel, especially when some large seas required closing the main dining room for several days, and the second restaurant needed to be used for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Dining at Viceroy - , the restaurants have a good menu selection and use high quality ingredients with nice presentations.  Coba, the premier dining room gives water views on all sides as it sits out on the promontory.  The dining room staff are very friendly and all eager to please.  I particularly like the trend for cafe presse in individual pots - nice full bodied coffee.

The rooms are very spacious and elegantly appointed in creams, and serene neutral tones with fine design furnishings and objets d'art throughout.  The spacious terrace of a one bedroom has a plunge pool and both the bedroom and the living room give way onto the terrace.

The beaches of Anguilla are legendary. The Viceroy sits on a promontory flanked by Barnes Bay and Meads Bay.  One has wonderful views of the azure Caribbean waters from most rooms.

The best way to do Anguilla is to have a car rental so one can experience different dining spots around the island.  For a list of the best restaurants, please contact me and I will be happy to give you the scoop.

Barbara Herrott -

Friday, February 5, 2010

Restaurant Scene in Aruba - January 2010

Luisa McGrath has spend the last 20 years in Aruba during the month of January.  Here's her report on the latest restaurant scene:

A new, terrific "open-air mall" has been built, across and very short walk from the Hyatt, where they have shops, restaurants, and even a fountain that has a light show at 8pm.  Dancing waters (very mini Bellagio) but fun and does attract a lot of people.  One can see it from any of the restaurants in the mall. 

There are several restaurants with outdoor dining, a Mexican, a seafood, etc., also  one of called Taste of Belgium,  they have indoor and outdoor dining, looked really nice but did not have time to get back there for dinner.  My group  had dinner (10 of us) at the new Mr. Jazz (indoors) with big windows overlooking the square, and they do have a jazz band starting at 8pm (great band) and a dance floor as well. Great looking place and the food was excellent.  We all had different food choices and each one of us loved our meal.  Highly recommend it.Not terribly expensive.

The Hyatt itself has several restaurants, my favorite Ruinas del Mar.  Try to get a table outside.  Only about 6 tables and fun to watch the swans floating on the little river while you have dinner.  Cannot make reservations for an outside table, so recommend going early for better chance.  Food and service there  excellent.  On the high-priced category.

In that area there is a fun place, "Smoky Joe's" their specialty being ribs - Dick had them and they were fabulous. They have everything, from Cuban style chicken, to terrific burgers with gouda cheese, to fish and chips (they use the catch of the day - Lisa had it and it was Mahi-Mahi. )   Casual and fun.  (outdoor seating) Not expensive.

Chez Matilde is back and wonderful!  Pricey but fabulous. For the past couple of years it has undergone ownership/management changes and they finally put their act together again. It's downtown, but worth while the drive down. I always have the escargot and Lisa loves their onion soup. Lisa and Dick had fillet and some other kind of steak. I had a wonderful veal picatta.  Lisa had a banana souffle for dessert - to die for.

Also downtown and specializing in fish is The Driftwood. We go there every year. It is a favorite of all our friends from our time-share. All of us go back and back again. Highly recommended. On the expensive side, but not terribly.

Another downtown restaurant we never miss is El Gaucho.  Argentinian beef.  Try the Churrasco. They don't make reservations, but when you arrive you can have a drink at the bar and they give you a little beeper that tells you when your table is ready. It used to be a long time to get your table, but the economy has take its toll and we just had to wait around 15 minutes this time. Also highly recommended. Average on the high side prices.

Downtown has a Cuban restaurant "Cuba's Cookin" real Cuban food and fun. It can be very noisy because they do have live band, so if you go, do ask for a table in the quieter room. Not sound-proof.... quieter.... If you, or a client goes there, let me know and I will suggest what to eat. Moderately priced.

Marandi has excellent food.  I did not go this year but friends of mine did and they told me food as great as always. But, it used to be on the beach, which was fun, and now they have moved to the land-side. Expensive. 

Madame Janette is very popular, people love it. Somehow it is not one of my favorites, but it is always crowded and very difficult to get a reservation. Also on the high-side pricing.

Chalet Suisse on the low-rise side of hotels, is excellent. They do have excellent Chilean seabass and I have had very good filet.  Not romantic, but simple, elegant decor. Food is great. On the expensive side.

There is a new, casual place - Bingo - I did not go but friends of mine had a burger that they raved about. They do have full menu and it is not terribly expensive.

Marina Pirata, past the airport, a bit of a drive, has always been fun.  Specializing in seafood.  Worth the drive. Moderately priced.

Hostaria Da'Vittorio is a delightful Italian restaurant.  On the expensive  side, but excellent.

Bucaneer is an old favorite. Very fresh fish and seafood. If you go ask to be seated in one of the rooms with the walls line the fish tanks.  One side especially, with the larger tanks, has lobsters and all kinds of strange fish - lots of fun to watch. Casual, on the moderately priced side.

On the low-rise side of hotels, short walk from my place, is Pizza Bob's. Casual, fun, and we had a pizza that I thought I would never like, but Lisa wanted it, so we had it - and I loved it! Barbequed chicken pizza. They have all kinds of pizzas of course and burgers and lots of other simple stuff. They also have wonderful Aruban beer on tap - great combination.

And the one I feel is the most romantic setting is Papiamento with fabulous food and wonderful service. One of the more expensive ones. Tables placed around the original (quite old) house and surrounding the pool with tables also inside, but you really want to sit outside.  I do love this one. 

And a new one (We went for brunch and it was to die for).  Called Windows and it's located at the new Divi Golf Course. Set up high with wonderful views of the sea and the golf course.  If you are drinking champagne they do keep pouring.... I lost track.... I did have a very good nap on the beach that afternoon.... Recommend very highly for brunch on Sunday.  Pricey of course...

Many other  restaurants - it is hard to have a bad meal in Aruba.  Just highlighting the ones I know best.

I'm hungry.... I am going home....  Luisa

Luisa McGrath
Travel Exchange - A Virtuoso Agency
Westport, Ct. 06880

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Best Hotels of Hawaii and Aloha Spirit

Aloha is the coordination of mind and heart... it's within the individual. It brings you down to yourself. You must think and emote good feelings to others.
A stands for AKAHAI, meaning kindness, to be expressed with tenderness.
L stands for LOKAHI, meaning unity, to be expressed with harmony.
O stands for `OLU`OLU, meaning agreeable, to be expressed with pleasantness.
H stands for HA`AHA`A, meaning humility, to be expressed with modesty.
A stands for AHONUI, meaning patience, to be expressed with perseverance.

Just back from 12 days in Hawaii and i was touched by the Aloha spirit. Some of you may have heard me say before going - i am not keen on Hawaii - it's such a long way to go for beaches that are not as good as those we have nearby.
     It has been 27 yrs since I was there - hard to believe. i used to go every year before that with one group or another and one of my early fams was to Hawaii. But then flying became such a chore. Well not on Continental - they have superb service I must say, and flying their nonstop (767) was delightful. the 767 does not have flat beds, but a very well padded and comfortable seat and the leg rest was perfectly positioned for getting a solid 6 hrs. of sleep.
     Continental's airport facility at Newark is very, very good, with lots of good shopping, restaurant outlets, and very courteous and friendly ground crews, and equally friendly flight attendants in each direction - it was a pleasure to fly Continental. I know Cliff and Luisa indicated they shared this nice experience recently on CO as well.

     So yes, it's a long way to go, but CO makes it very pleasurable and you can get a good solid sleep. From the moment you land, one is touched by the Aloha spirit. I learned this time around, that it is not just a tourism gimmick, but deeply felt as part of the culture, which is why i give you the essence of the Aloha spirit.. This spirit is embodied in everyone at Four Seasons and the Hawaiian people practices Aloha, and finds pleasant things to say and do as part of every day.
     One usually says one needs at least 10 days for Hawaii - I would add another two for twelve days if one can do it and the perfect blend was the hotels I had the wonderful opportunity to visit. The perfect in every way to do it is with the three Four Seasons properties. but first another great hotel....


Halekulani - we all know it, and it has won many an award as being one of the best hotels in the world, and it did not disappoint. The redo has exceptionally beautiful furnishings and style, and immediately puts one in a calm and serene frame of mind, despite being in the midst of Waikiki (although it is tucked away just enough off the main street ). Lewers Street from Kalakaua leading to the Halekulani is oh so lovely, with torches lining the streets at night, sweet little boutiques with very reasonable prices, and for those wanting Hermes, etc. it is right there - extraordinary shopping along Kalakakaua.  Afterall, here is where the Japanese come to shop the LV & Hermes of the world, with great selections. One can even save on the sales tax which is a paltry 4%, and the selections are terrific.

     The terrace and outdoor dining spot "House Without A Key" is an enchanting people watching spot around sunset. Really sophisticated and low key crowd, and a nice combo playing that wonderful 40's music puts you in another world. with Waikiki beach as a backdrop, surfers riding the last waves, the music wafting through the palms, one feels as if on a set of From Here to Eternity. the crowd ranges from families, to California hip, film crews and everything in between, Food is excellent at the hotel.

     We had a corner deluxe room facing Diamond Head and a large terrace. While the terrace was quite a good size, the room was a bit smaller in the Japanese sensibility, but with lovely furnishings, fine linens and appointments.
     Halekulani means " House Befitting Heaven" and, for us old timers ,who remember when it was a collection of one story (most two) cottages on prime Waikiki real estate in sore need of a redo. Well the new construction honored the old ,and it is an inspired modern design that strikes just the right scale.
so i keep the little note from my pillow on my bedside table now.... "May your journey bring you home to our "House Befitting Heaven".

     Kahala Resort- we did go out to Kahala to see how it is and it is still a quiet, wonderful little spot and the best place to eat beachside. The central lobby is still elegant and has held up very well although I miss the dolphins as you check-in. they have moved them along the lagoon thing along the back - a sign of the times I guess. Now it has sort of an admission booth - not quite, but some kind of sign up station which changed the feeling quite a bit.
    Lunch was okay but not wonderful, although the magical setting along the beach is still as I remember, and the people are that wonderful friendly style of Hawaii.
    Waikiki is most definitely worth a stopover - a place where East meets West in a gentle land, and one cannot beat the shopping, dining and city scene which goes all night. 

Hawaii in Four Seasons style .... the absolutely best way to see Hawaii and capture the Aloha Spirit

First stop Four Seasons Maui - 4 nights here which was the perfect length. allowing time to wander up to Kaanapali and a dinner stop in Lahaina (Wailea is 45 minute drive from Lahaina). A visit to Maui's Upcountry is also an interesting and easy day trip, where one can go back to the agricultural roots of Maui . We were told they are trying now to move from the dominance of sugar cane to grow other things ,and they are starting some artisanal farms for goat cheeses, mushrooms, etc. The Up Country villages on the way to Haleakala offer some interesting vignettes, some hippie boutiques and, I am told, some good little bistros.
much has changed, and now Wailea is, from my view, the more desirable side of Maui, but then, Kaanapali is so close to charming Lahaina.

Lahaina Grill - a very special restaurant in Lahaina owned by the former executive chef of The Mandarin in Hong Kong and one knows when dining at this colorful, historic  spot that one is in the hands of a master chef.

     The Four Seasons Maui offers something for everyone and is a lovely hotel in design on a very nice cove beach good for swimming. The outdoor restaurant serves a good selection and is chaming and candlelit for dinner under the stars.

     The hotel is a large edifice however the lovely gardens (and they are grand) and the open feel of the lobby, bar and dining areas add that Four Seasons touch.

A new addition - an adults only serenity pool is marvelous - the GM told us it was done at a cost of $10 million and one can believe it. a delicately done, tasteful swim up bar, cabanas where one can get a discreet outdoor massage, and ringed with jacuzzi jets around the perimeter that stretches the length on both sides of the 50 ft. long infinity pool. all of this is on the hill overlooking the Pacific, and the curve of the beach - breathtaking!

     Duo, the main reastaurant is open air, skirted by the main pools and the food is excellent and inventive. Another good dining experience is in Wolfgang Puck's signature restaurant for the wonderful fusion they serve up.
     In keeping with FS policy, they invite local artists to exhibit their work in the lower lobby and, as one goes to/from breakfast ,there are these wonderful artists, and a chance to find a special piece, which adds to the connectedness of place that FS always strives for. Did you know that Isadore Sharp (founder and wonderful leader of FS, started with his first hotel in Toronto, and introduced it by starting an art show for emerging artists, which is now 40 years old and going strong.
     It is the exposure to art and fine taste that makes all FS unique, and one feels lifted up in spirit being surrounded by such quality and fine, fine service and kindness. Not to mention I had one of the best massages of my life here, and became pain free (bad back) for the first time in over a year as a result.

Four Seasons Hualalai - Big Island Kohola Coast - now here is Hawaii just the way one would dream of spending days in Hawaii. This resort is very, very special and the golf I understand is C'est Extra!

     Most rooms face the sea in 4 distinct areas each offering certain charms. we were in Sea Shell which was perfect for us. There was a salt water lagoon just in front for worry free swimming in the Pacific, and a pool and one of the restaurants was just nearby. The other areas are Beach Tree (nearest to main pool), Kings Pond, and Palm Grove . Each area is different to some extent and I would be happy to help if you are sending clients to this wonderful resort. Some of the outdoor rooms have outdoor lava showers while the upstairs rooms from the terrace give lovely views - the terraces are large with a table & chairs and two chaise longues.

Hualalai has been all redone and, while I heard a few women colleagues say they found the rooms a bit on the masculine side, I personally find them very much in keeping with the ambiance of the Big Island.
The several dining options all proved to be very good and at night the property is lit mostly by torch- lit paths that meander the extensive property. Everyone you pass smiles and says aloha.Once again it is this gentle mood that becomes pervasive and puts one in a sense of calm and peacefulness.

     The rolling waves and tradewinds just lull one's spirit. The spa treatments are very good here as well and massage can be outdoors.

There are a number of dining options all offering sea views and wonderful food.

   VOG -one negative is this volcanic Smog they call Vog. it comes from the Big Island, a new fizzure that opened two years ago and adds sulphur dioxide to the air when the trades stop blowing., Oahu was particularly effected when we were there, when the Kona winds blow, (prevailing winds are from the NE) but when the wind comes from the south it reaches Oahu,. At certain times the air quality on Hawaii is not good for anyone who suffers from asthma or respiratory conditions and the local people I am told put multiple air filters on their homes.
     Last stop the quiet island of Lanai - Lanai had been a private island for the Dole Pineapple Company and their 3,000 workers and in its heyday no one could go to Lanai unless they were connected to Dole Food Company now owned by Castle & Cooke who became real estate developers..

Four Seasons  Manele Bay is a wonderful place to unwind, where one can have a room opening directly onto the Pacific Ocean. The beach is quiet with good swimming and snorkeing, where Spinner Dolphins come to romp each morning, and wild turkeys parade past one's terrace if you are ground level.

     Genny tells me the golf is superb here and I don't doubt it.

      The rooms are all very large, nicely appointed with big verandahs or terraces.

While all FS offer children's programs and do special things for kids, we were very impressed by the children's center on Lanai especially, . The program offers a good sampling of activities and Lanai is perfect for families. But it is also perfect for honeymooners or, as we had, a final stop on a Hawaii sojourn. It is so very relaxing.

     Lanai City is a 15 min drive in the complimentary shuttle or, for those that are more sportive, a bicycle ride away and offers some little art galleries, I am told some nice island boutiques and a glimpse into old Hawaii.
     There are only 3,500 inhabitants on Lanai. The airport is modern and for the outdoor types ,Lanai offers some good outdoor adventures such as riding along the ridge in jeeps along the crest of the island.

    Four Seasons Lodge at Koele is very special . Maginificent grand Norfolk Pines line the road all the way up and it is truly a unique experience to visit the lodge. All visitors to Lanai should plan on using the Lodge facilities as well as Manele Bay.

When one walks into the great hall of the lodge there are fireplaces burning on either side. The air is decidedly cooler and a bit misty as the sun sets which makes it just right. The sunsets from here are spectacular, and the rooms at the lodge are everything one would expect from a Great Lodge - charming with views over the extensive gardens, horse pastures and croquet fields.

Rooms at Koele Lodge are in keeping with the Great Lodge feeling from the original plantation house and offer those cozy comforts one would expect in a great lodge

A perfect Hawaii vacation - combine all three because each one offers unique charms, and each is quite different. Island hopping is easy, remind your clients to pack light, (not like me - ugh!) and they will succumb to this land of Aloha spirit and magic


posted by: Barbara Herrott   |  President
Travel Exchange | 32  Thread Needle Lane | Stamford, Ct. 06902 | 203.961.1900 | 800.248.0248

Original Post: 02/03/10

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Machu Picchu: A Traveler's Experience January 2010

The Ramada Inn was literally a couple of steps across a cross walk from the Lima airport arrivals exit.  Nothing fancy at all, but absolutely perfect for a late arrival.  Again, there is no point in arriving late and getting shuttled to a nice place, only to return early the next day for a flight out of Lima. 

You know, when we were first planning this trip, I was thinking/concerned that we were mainly going all that way just to see one site:  Machu Picchu.  And that all of the rest of the stuff was really just “filler” activity.  I was simply wrong about that.  The other things we did and saw were interesting, fun and fascinating:  the condor/llama/alpaca sanctuary, the crop laboratory, the salt mines, certainly the ruins at Ollantaytambo, the Pisac market, the weaving demo at Chinchero…all really wonderful stuff. Also the picnic they set up for us out in the middle of picturesque nowhere (see the photo). And there are really no adequate words to describe Machu Picchu itself.  I would recommend this exact trip to anybody who will listen.  And to do the trip in the same order we did it.  Machu Picchu must be seen last, or the other sites would seem anticlimactic, for sure.

And having the private guide completely made it.  I don’t know how else you could do this trip, though.  And of course, the driver was excellent and his private van comfy.  Our guide, M.C., was excellent.  Extremely personable, excellent English skills and impressive knowledge of all that we did/saw. 

Our accommodations could not have been better:
The Ramada Inn was perfect for the situation.

The Villa at Urubamba was exquisite.  The concept here is that you are IN your villa.  There is nowhere else to go, nothing to do in the villa resort.  But it was beautiful inside and out. Inca Indian décor, etc.  Completely comfortable, luxuriously appointed, etc.  And there was Roxana…our private cook.  She quietly came into the kitchen (via a side door), in the morning, and at the exact appointed time, a sumptuous breakfast spread was on the table.  Then we’d leave for the day to do our thing.  We’d get back to the villa late afternoon.  Roxana would come in, light the fire in the fireplace and start preparing dinner.  The fact that she cleaned up was almost as good as the food she made.  And while we were having dessert, she was sneaking hot water bottles between our bedsheets. Aaaaahhh.  Next morning, same routine.  She didn’t speak a word of English. No problem for us.

The train to Aguas Calientes was really fun, with spectacular scenery.  We were told that we could each only bring one small duffel on the train with us because of restricted baggage space.  We were not at all please with this news.  But we managed to consolidate our stuff and pack what we needed for Aguas Calientes/Inkaterra/Machu Picchu, while the rest was forwarded to our Hotel Monasterio in Cuzco.  I felt we should have been advised of this limitation by Andean Experience before coming to Peru so we could plan the packing accordingly and the specific luggage pieces.  After all of that, though, it turned out to be no problem either way.  We managed our packing, and it wouldn’t have mattered even if we had boarded with all of our large luggage.  I mean there were Japanese and Dutch tourists on that train with suitcases the size of Toyota Vans!  No problem.

The Hotel Inkaterra was outstanding in every way.  A beautiful eco-oriented property with a mid-rainforest feeling.  Great spa, good restaurant.  We took the Orchid tour (very cool) and treated ourselves to spa treatments. Aaaahh. 

We were pleasantly surprised that our private guide for Machu Picchu turned out to be the same wonderful young lady, M.C., from the first part of the trip. She was already like an old friend! And, again, impressively knowledgeable about MP. 

After all of the ‘warnings’ we had read online, in books and in AE’s info, it turned out that we never had a problem with the altitude (yeah, our chests pounded a bit extra while climbing Inca stairways), nor with mosquitos.  We sprayed with Deet before the visit to MP, but honestly we never saw any bugs.  Here’s an interesting one:  we knew we were going in “rainy season” and that we risked lots of rain, but we decided to throw the dice and go anyway.  And we NEVER had a problem with rain!  Yes we had a little here and there, and thanks to M.C. (or so she claimed), it only rained while we were riding in the bus or at night, and never while we were seeing our sites.  (It actually POURED at MP AFTER we were done and were enjoying our buffet lunch up there in the Sanctuary Lodge restaurant.  (In spite of my fears of it being very touristy, it was superb.)  The tremendous upside of going during the ‘rainy’ season was that everything was amazingly, beautifully UNCROWDED…especially Machu Picchu and Ollantaytambo and in Cuzco.  Of course, having said that, only two weeks later, they did have the tragic mudslides and incredible chaos of the people being trapped in Aguas Calientes.  What a nightmare that would have been, for sure.  So we were very, very lucky the way the weather played out for us.

Note:  We checked out the Sanctuary Lodge right there at the entrance to MP.  No way would I want to stay there rather than Inkaterra.  It looked OK, but you couldn’t actually see MP from the Lodge, and there is nothing to do there.  After we did our very extensive tour of the ruins, we had no need to re-enter to see more at dusk or anything like that.  Plus, the Inkaterra was a very short walk to the restaurants and market in Aguas Calientes.

There is no real need to have lunches reserved at the Inkaterra Hotel if you don’t want to be obligated there, especially if you are going to eat dinners there.  There were all kinds of interesting places to eat in Aguas Calientes.  In fact, we’d had our lunch included for our departing day, yet the train departure was too early to allow us to have that lunch.  However, Inkaterra packed us a great box lunch which we enjoyed on the train back to Ollantaytambo (instead of their ‘airplane’-style snack provided.)

We were met at the train in Ollantaytambo by David, our driver,  Luis’,  brother (both of whom were delightful people and very good drivers) and taken to the Hotel Monasterio in Cuzco.  What a fantastic hotel.  Clearly it is THE place to stay in Cuzco. Definitely one of the nicer hotels we have stayed in over the years.  And perfectly located.  We very much enjoyed our ‘unguided’ exploration of Cuzco.  While we loved and appreciated being so well taken care of for the previous several days by the AE contractors (as Emma so eloquently put it, “ It’s nice to be coddled like a little egg”), being on our own was really nice.  In Cuzco we went to one great museum (Inca Museum) and then spent most of our time shopping.  We enjoyed the dinners on our own, too.  Before we said goodbye to MC in Machu Picchu, she asked us if we wanted to meet up for lunch in her home town of Cuzco, and we said, “Of course!”.  She led us to a very local place back in the old town and we feasted on goat, pork and corn beer. Lunch was our treat!

The next day we flew from Cuzco to Lima where we were faced with that eight-hour layover (this would be good to avoid next time, if possible.).  But we were met by an AE rep and a driver/van, and driven out to a beautiful restaurant on the beach.  It was a nice way to kill a couple of hours before returning to the airport to catch our flight out.

Just FYI, Continental Airlines continues to be one of our least favorite airlines (in terms of service, convenience, etc.), but it had the schedule we needed, so…

That’s it!  All in all, an amazing trip.  I hope you enjoy the photo album.  Let me know if you want any other information or have any questions or comments, or if you can’t open the album.

Thanks for everything, and we are hard at work trying to decide where to go next and when.  As soon as we do, I’ll call you!

Pam VR Long
Travel Exchange
Virtuoso Associate
PO Box 559
Palm City, FL 34991
Phone 772 781 8099