The author and his daughter try on the traditional dress of the highland Quechua people. // © 2018 Kenneth Shapiro
Feature image (above): Visiting Machu Picchu is a highlight of A&K’s Signature Machu Picchu and the Amazon itinerary. // © 2018 Getty Images
Travelers who are hesitant to take escorted tours often desire the expertise of a knowledgeable guide but are nervous about losing their freedom when traveling with a group. The team at Abercrombie & Kent (A&K) has solved this dilemma with its Luxury Tailor Made Travel program. And, as my 13-year-old daughter, Sally, and I found out on a recent trip to Peru, this style of travel is especially ideal for families.
One of the benefits of Luxury Tailor Made tours is having a personal destination expert who handles the travel logistics and is able to answer any questions that arise. In our case, our A&K representative, Jacob, met us at the Lima airport. He gave us his contact information and made us feel comfortable about calling him with even the most mundane question. Knowing I had someone to rely on was especially comforting to me as a parent, but every logistical detail was so well-executed throughout the trip that I didn’t really need his assistance. Every time we took a flight, our boarding passes were printed and ready for us; our bags seemed to magically find their way from hotel to hotel; and no matter how much time we spent sightseeing, our private SUV seemed to be just steps away when we were ready to go.
Luxury and Adventure
Our 11-day Signature Machu Picchu and the Amazon itinerary began with two nights in Lima at the stylish Belmond Miraflores Park hotel. We especially enjoyed our comfortable junior suite and small patio; the city and ocean views from the 11th floor restaurant; and the 24-hour room service (ideal for our jet lag). We also liked the hotel’s location, which was only a five-minute walk from one of the city’s largest malls.
After a full day touring Lima, we flew to Cusco, where we met Marcial, our next guide. After lunch in town, we made our way to Belmond Hotel Rio Sagrado in the Sacred Valley. This comfortable, upscale property sits on the banks of the Urubamba River and feels like a luxury ranch. The hotel features a large indoor-outdoor Jacuzzi in a state-of-the-art spa; a heated outdoor pool; delicious locally sourced meals in the on-site restaurant; and two friendly alpacas that roam the grounds.
While in the Sacred Valley, we did several excursions. Our favorite was a visit to a local village, where we met with indigenous Quechua highlanders and learned about their way of life. My daughter was fascinated by this completely different world, and because we were the only two visitors in their village, instead of part of a large group, the experience feel truly intimate.
After two nights at Belmond Rio Sagrado, we boarded a new luxury train to Aguas Caliente and Machu Picchu. Once again, all the travel arrangements were taken care of by A&K, and Marcial accompanied us at all times on the journey.
Of course, Machu Picchu was a highlight of the trip, and my daughter was in awe as we toured the site. Marcial, who went to graduate school for archaeology, explained the ruins in a way that was educational and fun. Since we’ve been home, I’ve heard my daughter share facts she learned directly from Marcial about the Inca people.
An added bonus of visiting Machu Picchu with A&K is that the company books clients into Belmond Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, the only hotel actually at the site. This gives visitors the opportunity to be first in and last out and to explore the ruins without the crowds.
On our second day at Machu Picchu, Sally felt a little under the weather. Luckily, since we were on a Tailor Made tour, I was able to tell Marcial we would need to alter our plans. As a parent, having the freedom to give my daughter a bit more time to rest removed a lot of stress.
After Machu Picchu, we had another bucket-list experience: taking the world-famous Belmond Hiram Bingham train back to Cusco. Sharing the old-world comfort of this elegant luxury train from another era — as well as a five-course gourmet dinner — is a memory Sally and I won’t soon forget.
Back in Cusco, we had two nights at the amazing Belmond Monasterio Cusco. The historical hotel dates to the 1500s, and there is so much classic artwork on-site that it feels like a museum.
One afternoon, as we were walking back to the property after a morning of sightseeing, we came across a group of street performers singing opera. We stopped to watch, and suddenly, one singer held up a sign that read, “Just for you, Shapiro family.”
It took us a second to realize she was singing to us. We were both surprised and moved by this beautiful gesture. We found out later that the scene was filmed by an A&K representative in the crowd, and we were given a copy of the video to bring home.
From Cusco, we flew to Iquitos and spent our last three nights on an Amazon River cruise onboard Aqua Expeditions’ Aria Amazon. Every aspect of the ship lived up to the standard of luxury set by A&K on the rest of the trip. Each of the ship’s 16 suites are spacious and modern; the service is exceptional; and the kitchen staff utilizes unique ingredients from the Amazon region to create exotic and delicious dishes. The extremely knowledgeable naturalist guides led daily excursions into the jungle to help us spot wildlife, including sloths, monkeys, pink dolphins, piranha and more.
Finally, we ended our trip back in Lima. We had a few hours in the city before our flight home, but rather than spend the time at the airport, we were delighted to be reunited with our first A&K rep, Jacob. He showed us around the city — particularly the hip Barranco neighborhood, where he used to live.
As we sat on a park bench eating ice cream from one of Jacob’s favorite shops, it was easy to forget we were on an escorted tour. Instead, it felt like we were spending an afternoon with a friend who was showing us his city.
That’s the beauty of A&K’s Tailor Made Luxury Travel — it eliminates the awkwardness of a group escorted tour and frees up clients to enjoy the authentic, human side of a destination. And, for parents, there’s an added benefit of knowing that the experts at A&K always have your back.