In its third year of operation at writing, the JW Marriott in Cusco is a striking property with one of the best first impressions in the city. It is well-designed, with plenty of centuries-old touches that give it far more historic gravitas than you might expect.
Marriott has long had a reputation as the ultimate business hotel chain, with no surprises and nothing that departs from the script. With that working less and less over the years, some of their new offerings from this decade have stepped up the wow factor and focused on creating a real experience instead of just a place to get deals done and sleep in comfort. This one is a hotel built using part of what was a crumbling 16th-century convent, which itself was built on top of an Inca building. Each evening there’s a free tour that explores some of the history and points out original elements, from an intact Inca wall to original parts of the convent’s chapel.
This is a subtle, inconspicuous chain hotel from the outside, following the Cusco tradition of letting the original feel of the Inca then Spanish center prevail. There’s a sign outside, but you might not even notice it if you’re strolling by in a hurry. You walk through some stone arches, through an outdoor courtyard, then you see at image at the top.
The cool reception desk design is a reference to the original sun god plate of gold that the conquistadors swiped and melted down, along with all the other gold they could get their hands on.
After a towel and welcome drink you’ll be escorted to one of 146 rooms and 7 suites across six floors. By Cusco standards this is a large hotel, especially for the historic center. Yet you can walk out the front door and in three minutes be in the main plaza. Rooms are well-equipped and very comfortable, but with a few welcome local touches to remind you you’re not in Cleveland anymore. You can still get your CNN, ESPN, and HBO on the 42-inch TV though and the rolling leather desk chair is a welcome sight if you need to dash off some e-mails.
This being a relatively new build, there are plenty of outlets (both 110 and 220) that are easy to reach. You also have quality new windows that keep the noise low for rooms that are facing the outside of the building. Others face the inside courtyard and most have a furnished balcony. Bathrobes, electronic safes, coffee/tea service, an iron, and good hair dryer are standard. Marble baths have make-up mirrors, separate tubs and showers, and good toiletries.
One of the best reasons to stay here is the superb food in the restaurants, which is excellent. This is a country where the standards are quite high and there are a lot of ingredients you don’t see every day at home. The breakfast buffet is a great combination of Peruvian grains, cheese, and produce with international touches such as eggs to order. The Pirqa (Quechua word for “wall”) Restaurant is a real showpiece place at dinnertime though, the chef creating wonderful taste sensations with an emphasis on quinoa, the endless varieties of local potatoes, and organic ingredients secured through nearby farms. Don’t skip the appetizer section here, especially the organic black quinoa dish that has poached egg, Serrano ham, crispy bread, and warm cheese sauce.
The lounge and bar area are quite welcoming, with a gas fireplace island among comfy couches and several sitting areas where you can be as private or social as you want. Away from the giant TVs with sports games, or bellied up to the bar to check them out.
There is a spa here if you’re coming back from a trek or are just worn out from walking around at close to 11,000 feet. (There’s really no need for cardio equipment around here.) It has a steam room, whirlpool, soaking pool, and rooms for singles or couples.
Rates start at a shade below $250 a night double outside of high season and climb past $600 for a top suite. That’s usually a few hundred less than you’ll spend at the Belmond properties Monasterio or Nazarenes, in a former monastery and convent also, respectively.
Review and photos by Tim Leffel, who was hosted one night at JW Marriott Cusco while touring Peru.