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High Altitude Means High End at Cusco’s New Casa Cartagena

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  Site Where: Pumacurco 336, Cusco, Peru
July 12, 2010 at 12:16 PM | by | Comments (2)

When we told friends that we were going to Cusco last week, every single one of them, without exception, asked us if we were staying at the city’s most famous and historic property, Orient-Express Hotel Monasterio. We weren’t.

Instead, we got a sneak peek at the city’s newest boutique luxury property, the 16-suite Casa Cartagena, which, as it turns out, is right next door to the Monasterio, but feels a world away.

A Checkered Past: Like its more famous neighbor, and pretty much all good things in life, Casa Cartagena has a long and storied past. The property is on what was originally an Incan holy site in an area of the city that was home to the ruling nobility. You can still see many original Incan walls, though the patches of original frescoes and the wooden beams all date from the 17th century when the city was colonized by the Spanish and this became the home of the influential Cartagena family.

Unlike Monasterio, the hotel has been restored and decorated in a completely modern style—its traditional stone arches filled in with glass for views over the courtyard, and the rooms furnished with totally mod, modular furniture that contrasts beautifully with the historical structural elements.

Rooms at the Inn: The basic rooms at Casa Cartagena are the eight LP Suites, four of which have private balconies. They measure up at over 400 square feet, and have flat-screen TV’s, free WiFi, double or king beds, little breakfast nooks, and bathrooms with deep soaking tubs and open showers, along with toilets and bidets.

We scored one of the Master Suites (which you can see in the walk-through video we made), with a separate living room that had a sitting area and another flat-screen in it. The Presidential Suite has a terrace, bar, living room and dining room in addition to the regular amenities.

The Royal Suite is the biggest in the house with a dining room that overlooks the main courtyard, two bedrooms (though one is just lofted meaning there’s not too much private space), an in-room Jacuzzi tub and dry sauna, and a living room for entertaining. We hear Susan Sarandon had a blast here when she stayed last year.

Our one caveat is that since this is a boutique hotel in the truest sense, no two rooms are alike, and you could end up booking the same category of room but get a completely different experience. The Master Suites, for instance, range in size from 646 to 1077 square feet. So ask for the biggest room available when making your reservation.

: Reception is right at the entrance, though you won’t be spending any time there. Instead, the staff welcomes you to the parlor or the bar, hands you a fruit smoothie and a coca tea to help you acclimate, and checks you in, giving you a property tour before taking you to your room.

There is also a small business center with three computer work stations on the way to the spa area, which features a huge heated Jacuzzi and deck shower with views of the surrounding hills, as well as several treatment rooms and separate men’s and women’s areas with restrooms, showers, and steam rooms. There’s also a fantastic restaurant on the property called La Chola, which serves up nuevo andino cuisine, and some of the best ceviche this side of Lima.

No Air: Until we went ourselves, we always discounted the tales of lightheadedness and shallow breathing we’d heard from friends who’d visited Cusco. Turns out it’s all true. Sure, you might not feel bad at all—and we didn’t—but it can also be hard to catch your breath. That’s why a lot of hotels offer oxygen enrichment in their rooms, and Casa Cartagena actually has a dual distribution system that includes both a face mask that you can plug into an oxygen jack next to the bed, and a “dosifier” vent over the bed that pumps air into the entire room so you can reenergize when you sleep. It costs $50 a day.

Every Step You Take: When you’re up at almost 12,000 feet, you need to take advantage of every breath, and every step you take makes a big difference, no matter how good shape you’re in. That’s why we were particularly thrilled by Casa Cartagena’s location.

It’s literally located about 100 feet up the road from the Hotel Monasterio, meaning it’s between the center of town and the bohemian San Blas district. Within minutes, you can walk (most of it downhill!) to most of Cusco’s main sites including the Plaza De Armas and the Cathedral, as well as the famous Incan Temple of the Sun, Korikancha, which is also now the Church of San Domingo. Sure, you have to hike up a series of stairs to San Blas, but it’s a pretty easy climb, and an even easier stumble home from the hip bars there.

Bottom Line: Rates at Casa Cartagena start at $615 a night, and go up to $1810 for the Royal Suite, and include breakfast in your room or at the restaurant, a welcome drink, daily cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, unlimited use of the Qoya spa facilities and a relaxation session, complimentary WiFi, and notebook computers for in-room use. But we hear there’s an internet special valid until Christmas 2010 for rooms starting at $300 when you book online.

Full disclosure: Eric Rosen spent one night as a guest of Casa Cartagena, but all opinions expressed are his own.

Comments (2)

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Expensivo!

For some reason, I thought Peru hotels were supposed to be affordable. This places looks great and I love the oxygen services but I have to pass on the $615 room rate.

re: Expensivo!

It's just the rack rate! You can get a room for much lower--including that $300 discounted rate mentioned at the end of the piece. Try booking online...

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