Monday, March 26, 2007

The Hacienda Cantayo

While in Peru recently I was offered the opportunity of spending a weekend away from Lima down south in the Hacienda Cantayo. I’d heard great stories about this enchanting hotel located on the outskirts of Nazca, and so naturally I jumped on the invitation. Owing to the famous and mysterious Geogylphic Lines located on the plains outside the town, Nazca has grown to be rather popular with tourists and hotels have been sprouting up around the area ever since I started working in Peru. Of all the hotels in the area however, the Hacienda Cantayo is easily the finest. Besides being exceptionally comfortable, it has a number of subtle charms that give it a distinctive and noteworthy character. So remarkable in fact is this little hacienda that I’ve decided to dedicate this week’s blog entry to its review.

Now, a few of you may remember an article I wrote a few months back regarding flying from Lima to Ica and on to a flight over the lines before returning back to Lima the same day. While this is still a very credible travel option and highly recommendable for those pressed for time, the Hacienda Cantayo makes the long and tedious bus ride very worth your while.

Surrounded by the ubiquity of the Nazca plains, the Hacienda’s lackluster surrounding only adds to its charm. Now, I wouldn’t go so far as to claim the hotel is perfect because it’s not. Like most places it does have its flaws. Where the Cantayo however excels is in its seemingly inane ability to put all its guests at complete ease. I don’t know whether this is due in some part to its old world charisma, lavish comforts, or because of its oasis-like setting; but upon walking through the Hacienda’s heavy hardwood gates a sense of tranquility melts you over. Something about the white washed walls and the fresh scent of bougainvillea put one at complete ease; it’s an oddly comforting experience and feels strangely like déjà vu or maybe a dream.

Whatever the reasons it became immediately apparent to me that the hotel was a little more special than I’d been told. Arriving at dusk I ambled through the outer corridors as I was shown to my room. I don’t know if this is just me – but a hotel room without a television is something I’ve come to greatly admire. Traveling half way around the world to sit and watch your favorite television shows just seems crass and unimaginative to me. There is no room for that kind of behavior at the Cantayo; the rooms, while very comfortable, are sparsely decorated and functional. The idea I imagine is that – unless bathing, relaxing, or romanticizing – the Hacienda’s rooms essentially cater for sleeping purposes. All other activities can be done elsewhere.

Following a look around my room I ventured out briefly onto the grounds. I couldn’t see very much of the gardens as the sun had already set by this time. It seemed peaceful enough though and as I walked out further passing over a few fences I could quite literally feel my stress levels decreasing – that was until I tripped over an ostrich. It was quite possibly the last thing I’d been expecting to find in Peru, let alone trip over. The Hacienda Cantayo actually has a whole flock of Ostriches (kept behind a fence ofcourse), and after the poor bird and I had finished screaming at each other in dumb founded shock, I noticed that Giant African birds were not the only animals the Hacienda includes within its sanctuary. Llamas, alpacas, horses, monkeys and an array or other animals live in a sectored off corner of the grounds. By day they’re a fantastic diversion for the kids, and at night a bit of a hazard for those silly enough to walk into their living area.

I returned to the Hacienda and bee-lined for the bar needing a little something to dull both the shock of just having met the world’s largest bird, and the pain from having tripped over it. The barmen cooked up a magnificent pisco sour and by the time my food had arrived I’d settled down substantially and was falling back into the tranquil hacienda groove. The food was much better than I’d expected – a prime cut of Argentinean beef cooked to perfection in the Peruvian desert. The restaurant itself has a great hacienda-like vibe to it, and with saddles on the wall and a welcoming fireplace with some comfortable looking sofas I felt very much at home.

Being close to the Nazca Lines, tours run straight from the hotel directly to the airport – where passengers board a light aircraft for their flight over the lines. I’ve flown over the lines enough times in the past to know them fairly well. They still however hold a lot of attraction and I never get bored seeing them again. Following the flight I returned to lodge and spent the rest of the day lounging by the hotel’s phenomenal swimming pool. I believe this swimming pool has actually featured on the cover of guidebooks. However, it’s not the sprawling pool waters as much as the giant ficus tree that towers above it that serves as the main attraction. I spent the better part of an afternoon lounging about beneath this amazing tree while enjoying both the clear blue water and the hotel’s excellent pool side service.

The Hacienda Cantayo really is the perfect getaway for anyone traveling to Nazca. A world within a world, the Cantayo serves as a sanctuary and provides the type of comfort and service you’d expect from a hotel in a 19th century novel. I was sad to leave on a Sunday after breakfast and as I made my way back to Lima it began to dawn on me how the Cantayo could just be one of the best hotel finds in the country. I think I may be heading back there soon and strongly encourage anyone traveling to Nazca to consider staying in this fine establishment.

All the best to you travelers


Monday, March 05, 2007

Matilde Talks about the Inca Trail

Good day everyone. In order to diversify some of the travel views and opinions brought forward in this blog I decided to begin posting a few travel insights and chronicles written by some professional travelers who work with me in Class Adventure Travel. For this first entry I would like to introduce Matilde Miranda. Matilde was recently promoted to Regional Manager for Peru and Bolivia in our company. After 4 short years of outstanding performance (she began as a trainee back in 2003) she will now be in charge of ensuring that all clients traveling through our company to Peru and Bolivia will be kept in the very best of hands. Matilde is incredibly dedicated, has a great work ethic and a charming personality, and will no doubt be exceptional in her new role. Matilde recently wrote about the following piece about the Inca Trail which I found it to be both informative and creative. I hope you all enjoy it and find her advice about the trail useful. – Bart!!

Matilde talks about the Inca Trail

As ancient as the mysterious ruins that lay at its end, the Inca Trail was originally created as a passage for the high priests and Inca royalty between Cusco and Machu Picchu. I suppose I was a little apprehensive and yes – slightly intrepid – upon arriving at the start of the Inca Trail for the first time. The flashy backpacks, outfits, experienced guides, and the seemingly endless mountain path that stretched out before me, all made me wonder whether I’d been foolish to think I’d be able to finish the trail. It was however exciting; and with low cloud cover and something electric in the air, we set off for what would be a four day trek to the lost citadel of Machu Picchu.

The trail begins harmlessly enough, and with high spirits you pass along the shores of the mighty Urubamba River before the rough Andean landscape slowly gives way to a progressively more jungle-like environment. Inca Ruins mark the way, and as the trail continues these ruins increase in frequency, size, and what I like to refer to as ‘jaw slackening wonder’. While a lot of bonding is done with the group both on the trail and in the campsites, I also found it to be a deeply spiritual experience where I was able to set my own pace and get in touch with myself.

It isn’t that easy either, but on the morning of the fourth day on the trail we rose early in order to arrive at Machu Picchu a little before sunrise. As an early morning bright-orange-sun rose above a misty Machu Picchu, tears quite literally filled my eyes. Neither words nor photographs will ever be able to capture the beauty of that site and the wonder of that moment. It is simply extraordinarily. And I had done it; the hard work, dirt and sweat were all worth it. I was on top of the world looking down on one of her more awesome sights. I knew then that not only was I able to complete the Inca trail, but that I would quite likely be there to complete it again soon.

Information on the Inca Trail

If you’re interested in doing the Inca trail then one should make reservations at least two months in advance as the Peruvian government only permits 500 people to head out on the trail daily. The best time to visit the area – and undertake the trail is between April and November as there is far less rain during this period. If however, you don’t mind a bit of rain and enjoy a little more solitude during your hike then you may prefer to undertake the trail outside of this period. For more information on the trail and other hikes in the area you can visit –