Cuzco’s Top Luxury Hotel

March 24, 2010 at 7:53 am | Posted in history, lodging, Peru, South America, travel and health | 1 Comment
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by David Paul Appell

Peru, cuzco, monasterio hotel, luxury hotel cuzcoPicture it: the atmospheric onetime capital of the Inca Empire, high in the Andes of Peru. I’d stepped off the plane from Lima fully aware of soroche, aka altitude sickness, and its unpleasantries. After accepting the standard paper cupful of coca tea — meant to help acclimate me to suddenly transferring from sea level to 11,000 feet (3,350 m) — my friend and I spent what little was left of that afternoon strolling around Cuzco’s colonial core, admiring Baroque churches, grand gold and silver altars, and Cyclopean Incan walls. Then we went to dinner on the central square, the Plaza de Armas.

We were so tempted by the menu we proceeded to do precisely what we knew we should not do: overeat. Already feeling a mite unsteady as we paid and left, by the time we embarked upon the two-block walk uphill to our hotel, we were both gasping for breath, our heads were pounding, and believe it or not, it was a struggle to even walk upright.

cuzco, inca wallSo thank Inti, the Inca sun god, we had the best digs in town to coddle us as we lay stunned in bed that night and, as I recall, a good part of the next day. In Cuzco there’s probably no hotel quite as grandioso and histórico as the 126-room Hotel Monasterio. Built as Franciscan monastery San Antonio Abad in 1592, just 60 years after Francisco Pizarro’s marauders had barged in and sacked the Inca capital, it was converted into luxe lodgings in 1995, now owned by über-upscale Orient Express.

As you might expect, it ain’t cheap; nightly rates are mostly north of US$400.* And though for that you don’t even get the usual high-end perks like pool, spa, and workout room, there’s no question the rooms are hardly monastic anymore, and for that my friend and I were especially grateful. Fortunately we managed to get through our misery without having to resort to a snort from the oxygen tank kept on hand for guests in soroche distress.

Now, you may wonder: Is this place worth the price tag? Well, to bunk in such a palatial setting in such a special city, a splurge might well be in order, at least for one night. Just to be in one of these guest rooms, a lesson in mixing Spanish Colonial-style antiques (like our huge wooden armoire) with modern amenities is an eye-opener. But even if you don’t stay there, it’s well worth a visit to ogle the magnificent courtyard and painting-adorned Baroque chapel, or to spring for a meal, including local specialties like alpaca and cuy (a relative of the guinea pig) in the Monasterio’s fine-dining restaurant. Just be smarter than we were and do keep the stuffing of the face to a minimum on your first night — and you can’t say I didn’t warn you.

*at press time, about £267 / €296 / CA$408 / AU$437 / ZAR2,939

photos: Hotel Monasterio, iStockphoto

It’s All Too Easy For Disease Scares To Decimate Travel Unnecessarily

May 20, 2009 at 2:41 pm | Posted in travel and health | Leave a comment
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disease scares and travel

Run for your lives!

Am I the only one who thought this whole swine flu thing got just a wee bit hysterical?  At the risk of being accused of a spot of Monday-morning quarterbacking, I confess that’s what was running through my head just recently as I perused a piece on Foreign Policy magazine’s Web site called “Five Disease Outbreaks That Are Worse Than Swine Flu.”  True, for the most part things like cholera and ebola aren’t nearly as easily communicable as the flu or are more dependent on specific local conditions.  But what it underscored for me was that the public and especially the media need a sense of perspective on these kinds of things (flu always kills thousands of people every year regardless), and that has been sorely lacking. Instead, we get panic, knee-jerk reactions that create more problems than they solve. The UN World Tourism Organization is with me on this one. We’ve seen plenty of this kind of thing before, from BSE (aka mad cow disease) to SARS to avian flu. The travel industry might consider lending a hand to a campaign to this effect, since disease scares like this can decimate entire destinations unnecessarily (paging Mexico and its airlines!). I’m not saying pooh-pooh the matter, just provide some common-sense perspective. But unfortunately, that’s just not how we roll in modern society — instead, we lurch from scare to scare and never seem to learn.

–David Paul Appell

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