Cusco’s main draw is its history, and you don’t get much more historic than this. Add in the modern amenities, and you have a truly unique experience.
Like most people, we visited Cusco because it is the starting point for the famous Inca Trail to Machu Pichu. Initially it was just going to be a stop over, but the need to acclimate, as well as the rich history of the city itself convinced us to stay a few days. The JW Marriott El Convento Cusco provided us with not just a comfortable place to live, but also a chance to experience that history first-hand – without even leaving the hotel.
This is an approach we would recommend. Visiting Machu Pichu is tiring – even if you don’t hike the trail. The train takes four hours (despite only going forty-four miles thanks to the mountainous terrain), and it often takes several days to get used to the altitude. Take a few days to relax – after all, it is not like Cusco is a bad place to be!
The city has a history that goes back almost a thousand years, and it was the capital of the Inca empire. It retained its importance under the Spanish who built a beautiful colonial settlement right on top of the Inca one. The result is a vibrant city which blends indigenous and European elements to create a major tourist attraction.
The center is dominated by grand old Spanish buildings, narrow alleys, large squares, and a few remains of the Inca city, like the important Temple of the Sun. While it might look Spanish, Cusco feels Indigenous. The descendants of the Inca live there today and its streets are filled with market stalls selling colorful native art and clothing. Thanks to its history, and proximity to Machu Pichu, the city is firmly on the tourist trail, with almost two million visiting every year. While this has of course affected Cusco (there will be someone trying to sell you something on every corner), it still feels authentic. Every so often you turn a corner, and the amazing history and culture of the place hits you.
The building occupied by the JW Marriott is part of that history. It was originally the convent of Saint Augustin and was built in the 16th century. Its a great example of colonial architecture, being built around a central courtyard complete with arches, pillars, and flagstone flooring. The monks left in 1836 and amongst other things, the building was used by shops, drinking halls, and even a chocolate factory. After an earthquake it was abandoned until 2006 when it was bought and restored to its former glory by the Marriott group.
They have done a great job during the restoration process as the building is spectacular. The courtyard is a tranquil place and it really feels like you have stepped back in time. While carrying out this work, they uncovered a number of historic artifacts – both Spanish and Inca – and these are dotted around the place making it almost as much of a museum as a hotel. It is not all old however, the JW Marriott El Convento Cusco has all the modern amenities you would expect and more, making it a comfortable place to stay. They even have an oxygen-enrichment system to help you deal with the altitude (it is the lack of oxygen in the air which is the cause of the problem)!
Another modern feature - although again, one with nods to history – is the reception area. Behind the counter hangs a dramatic and spectacular piece of artwork made up of thousands of Swarovski crystals. They are arranged into the shape of the sun which was worshipped by the Inca. The other public areas such as the lobby are all comfortable and well-decorated, as are the restaurants. You can expect to find cozy nooks, Incan mementos and other historical elements.
This is not your typical Marriott hotel. It brims with history, character, and charm. They provide coca tea for example, to help with the altitude (while coca can be used to make cocaine, in its natural form it is a mild and harmless stimulant, that has been used by native South Americans for thousands of years). You won’t find that at most of its sister hotels! We stayed in the ‘classic Inca room’, and it was spacious and comfortable. The beds were good and the turn down snacks were delicious. Next time however, I would book a room with a view. Some of the rooms have balconies and looked out onto the courtyard – this would be a lovely addition to the experience.
As you would expect from a hotel of this class, there is an indoor pool and a spa, as well as other services such as laundry and a foreign exchange. The hotel also offers daily tours of their property that include a visit to two exhibition halls that showcase Peruvian artifacts that were found during renovations. You can learn about the history of the past cultures and civilizations that once occupied Cusco as you stroll through their exhibitions…talk about a night at the museum!
The hotel has two restaurants (as well as room service), Pirqa, and Qespi. Pirqa is the fine dining option and the dinner we had there was excellent. The chef sent us a selection of small dishes that combined international cuisine with local flavors. We ate black quinoa with egg yolk and prosciutto to start, and ravioli as well as salmon dishes followed. They also offer a generous meat platter that is as beautiful as it is tasty…be warned, you might have to be rolled back to your room! The bar is worth checking out as well, and Freddy (the barman) will mix you up a variety of cocktails. If you want traditional -- yet very unique cocktail -- go for the coca leaf pisco sour, or for something more modern try the beetroot negroni….you’ll never find these at another bar!
JW Marriott Cusco is a great place to relax and get used to the altitude, as it does everything you need on site. It would be a shame however to miss out on what Cusco has to offer. The famous Plaza de Armas is only a couple of minutes walk away and the whole area surrounding the hotel is home to some of the finest colonial architecture in the Americas. It is packed with churches, cathedrals, and museums, and there are plenty of bars and restaurants nearby. Simply wandering the streets is a great experience in itself. The San Pedro market is also close, and here you can find an array of souvenirs and food stalls. It is a great place to buy native style alpaca wool clothing – great for both keeping warm and for giving as gifts.
Anyone visiting Cusco should consider the JW Marriott El Convento Cusco. Its facilities, location, and the impressive building that houses it make it a great place to stay. People who love history will enjoy it even more, but even those who don’t will be impressed. The hotel has a great central location. This, along with its other attractions mean that it is often busy and you will most likely need to book in advance. If you are a rewards member, you can use your points towards the cost of your room which is a nice feature. All in all, you couldn’t really ask for more!
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