After Cusco we headed to the main destination on our Peruvian adventure – Machu Picchu. After some quick research we found there was a Starwood Luxury Collection Property in the small city of Urubamba, Peru. The price when we initially booked was around $350/night, which was higher than I wanted to pay, but I figured I’d keep an eye on the prices and see how they changed over the couple of months until our actual arrival. We ended up booking through American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts for $316/night. The nice part about the AmEx FHR deal was that the third night was free, we were given complimentary breakfast, internet and $100 spa credit. The breakfast and internet would have been complimentary for us anyway, because I’m a SPG Platinum member, but I was able to get the breakfast benefit from AmEx and get the bonus check-in points because of Platinum Status.
The hotel had a private train station that would take you up to Machu Picchu too – and the train station was just a 5 minute walk from the front lobby. It was a nice benefit, but even with the close proximity, we had to meet in the hotel lobby at 06h00 to make our way up to Machu Picchu. The hotel also had a travel desk where they would organize special trips and tours. We worked closely with the hotel’s travel desk long before our departure to ensure we’d have a proper guide, train tickets and the necessary permits/access to Machu Picchu. While I enjoy doing some trip planning on the fly, something like Machu Picchu really can’t be done that way. With a limited number of entrances each day, there was no way I was going to risk missing out visiting the main site of our trip.
We arrived at the hotel right around noon and were quickly greeted by staff. Our luggage was taken away and we were escorted to some very comfortable couches in the lobby. We were informed that our room was not ready yet, but if we wanted to explore the property a bit, or grab a bite to eat, our room should be ready by the time we finished. We finished the full check in process (payment confirmation, passport copies, itinerary confirmation, etc), but just weren’t given our room keys at this point.
We headed over and had lunch on the patio. It was beautiful, warm and shaded. We enjoyed a Pisco Sour and relaxed. We ordered sandwiches for lunch, which were quite underwhelming, but did the trick. We had decided to leave the hotel property for dinner that night to explore the sleepy little town of Urubamba, but planned on eating at the hotel the following night, after our Machu Picchu excursion. As soon we finished or lunch, the gentleman who had been helping us upon our arrival magically appeared with our room keys. He escorted us to the room, where we found our luggage had already been delivered.
The room was large and well appointed. The bed was big and very comfortable. I hate when you book a king sized bed and when you show up it’s a queen or a full. We had a lovely patio looking out to the fountains.
No hotel stay goes off without a hitch of course. The day of our Machu Picchu visit, we had an early breakfast in the restaurant. Nothing fancy, just the standard buffet breakfast. Those of you who are regular readers, know I’m not really a breakfast guy (unless it is at a nice hotel in Asia — those breakfast spreads are amazing). I usually just grab some juice, water, a little fruit and a slice or two of meats/cheeses. Which is exactly what I did on the morning of our big day. I was a little bleary eyed – it was early, I was excited about Machu Picchu. I thought the sliced meats had an interesting sheen to them, but they tasted fine at the time.
Fast forward to the train ride to Machu Picchu – about 2 hours into the ride (which was bout 3 hours total), I started to have a sour stomach. Something wasn’t right. On the train, I just had a glass of water and I remember thinking that those glasses they were serving the bottled water from looked less than hygienic. Once we arrive at station serving Machu Picchu, I immediately visit the WC. Again, those of you who have traveled with me know, I’m not usually a casual train station bathroom user. I needed to visit. As the day wore on, I got sicker and sicker. I’ll explain a bit more when I get to the Machu Picchu post – I’ll stick to the hotel aspect of the illness in this report.
The train ride back from Machu Picchu was slow, with many stops. I had a fever, the chills, the sweats and an upset stomach. We finally returned to the hotel station, it was rainy and cool. I was miserable. I asked MS to go into town and get me some saltines and Gatorade. I wasn’t in a good place. I made it back to the hotel room and just couldn’t stand it. I was frozen, so I called down to get additional blankets, which were quickly delivered. I nibbled on my crackers and sipped water. MS proceeded to the dinner at the main hotel restaurant – which he absolutely loved.
The host, server and the restaurant manager were all concerned about my well being. It isn’t common that a two person reservation is occupied by a single. The manager put together some local mint tea that he said always cures his stomach in these situations. Admittedly, the tea was quite good. I didn’t sleep well. I was blazing hot, then frozen to the core. MS wasn’t ill at all – he didn’t eat the turkey or ham with a rainbow sheen for breakfast, like I did.
The next day, I was feeling much better, but was far from 100%. Our plans for our final day in Urubamba was to spend time at the pool, have a couple cocktails, get a massage and basically take a day for complete relaxation. I skipped breakfast that morning – obviously. By mid morning we made our way to the pool, which was my biggest complaint about the hotel – other than the awful food poisoning that could have utterly destroyed my visit to Machu Picchu.
The pool faced the mountains and didn’t have much direct sun light. It was also quite small, so there wasn’t much room to lounge. The pool is accessed through the spa and while there is a bar in the pool area, it was so poorly manned we had to search out people for any type of service whatsoever.
Our relaxation day continued with massages. We built our own massage package with little help from the spa desk. They struggled with the idea of mixing and matching various treatments — they wanted it to be more of a “take it or leave it” sort of spa menu. We held our ground and put together a nice scrub, wrap and massage package. My masseuse was great – in general. She was about 4 feet tall, but had strong hands – I do believe, if she wanted to, she could have broken my femur just as easy as I could break a toothpick. I asked her to go a little lighter since I was still recovering from the rainbow turkey breakfast from the morning before. My only complaint about he was that she didn’t quite have the room prepared, so she was banging oils, scrubs and other accessories around like she was in a one-woman-marching-band. Not the most serene experience, but she worked out knots I didn’t even know I had.
MS had basically the same experience, except his masseuse provided almost no pressure whatsoever. Feather touch is an understatement. He was very disappointed.
I hadn’t eaten any real food that day – just Gatorade and some crackers. I decided to join MS for dinner at the hotel restaurant. The manager greeted us was very interested in my health and asked if the tea did the trick, which I believe it definitely helped. For dinner, I decided to try some tuna carpaccio, which I split with MS, and some more of that mint tea.
We were leaving the next morning at the crack of dawn as we had a flight to Arequipa from Cusco, which was more than an hour away. When we were checking out, we realized that the AmEx deal of the third night free wasn’t accurately reflected on our folio. I inquired and after a few minutes was told that I didn’t qualify because we didn’t stay enough nights — wrong. Then I was told that AmEx just credits us later on for this. Now, I know this isn’t how FHR has worked before, but by this time we were getting nervous about making our flight, so we decided to leave and take it up with the AmEx Platinum folks upon our return home. I am still fighting that battle now — and it is 3.5 months after our return.
Looking back on this post, it may seem like we had an awful experience – food poisoning, inconsistent massages and arguably getting screwed on the room rate, but I don’t see it that way. I liked the hotel and in general I liked the service – I think the front desk folks who are working at 05h15 probably aren’t the most experienced. The property was beautiful, the proximity to Machu Picchu couldn’t be beat. While I doubt we will ever return to Machu Picchu, if we do, I would stay here again in a heartbeat.
Have you stayed at the Tambo del Inka? Did you get violently ill from their breakfast spread? Did you get screwed on your FHR reservation? Did the restaurant manager take a keen interest in your health and recovery? Where did you eat in the area? Do you have other hotel recommendations for this area?