Hacienda Concepcion: Affordable Luxury in the Amazon Jungle
July 17, 2014
Destinations like the Peruvian Amazon present such a dilemma for the discerning traveller. Do you abandon all luxuries, grit your teeth and throw yourself into the rufty-tufty jungle experience, sleeping under canvas and getting up close and personal with all kinds of wildlife even when you would prefer not to? Or do you surrender to your inner softie and splash out on a luxury lodge that keeps your delicately pandered persona a very safe distance from all things jungle?
Well, the good news is that if you are heading towards Puerto Maldonado in Peru’s Southern Amazon basin, Inkaterra’s Hacienda Concepcion offers the perfect combination of authentic rainforest retreat with charming four-star service, guaranteeing you don’t have to compromise all your creature comforts for the sake of a few unforgettable days with the creatures of the jungle. And what’s more, it comes with a surprisingly affordable price tag.
Off to a great start
Whilst Puerto Maldonado itself is a rather shabby frontier town, the decidedly unshabby Inkaterra experience begins as soon as you are met at the town’s tiny airport by smartly uniformed staff who transport you to their town-based ‘office’ for check-in, a glass of freshly squeezed tropical fruit juice and a rejuvenating cold towel.
The comfortably furnished reception is cooled by ceiling fans, has free wi-fi (as well as a couple of internet-enabled computers for those still enjoying a more tranquil life – unconnected by myriad wireless devices), and adjoins a large butterfly house where you can wander amongst dazzling examples of Amazonian lepidotera as you await your transfer to Puerto Maldonado’s rather ambitiously named ‘boat port’ for the short journey along the wide Madre de Dios river to Hacienda Concepcion. Staff will also take your onward flight booking details so that they can check you in online whilst you are cut off from ‘civilisation’ – i.e without internet – at your jungle lodge. Nice touch.
The lodge is located less than half an hour’s boat ride from Puerto Maldonado but is a world away from the down-at-heel town, something you feel as soon as you step off the boat, climb the riverbank and walk the manicured gravel pathways through the luscious grounds of Hacienda Concepcion to the main house at the centre of the property. Right now, five new guest cabanas are being constructed but our friendly Inkaterra staff member stopped us by the construction site to inform us that if we were at all bothered by the noise during our stay we only had to tell management and the building would stop. Another nice touch and one, I should add that no one felt the need to take them up on.
Spacious cabanas in luscious grounds
Meet and greet
First stop was the Casa Grande, the elegant heart of the resort where all meals and drinks are served (downstairs) and where afternoon tea, coffee and cake can be taken (upstairs) whilst enjoying listening to the sounds of the jungle or reading one of the many magazines left by previous guests. I indulged in an old copy of Horse & Hound, Hugh Grant’s favourite magazine in Notting Hill but I passed on Weight Watchers Magazine. I was on holiday after all and all meals are included in the price, with breakfast and lunch being buffet style…
The building itself is testament to Inkaterra’s commitment to responsible and sustainable tourism and proves once again how luxury and good taste never need be compromised for the sake of such policies. Constructed from sustainable and recycled timbers, the heavily beamed upstairs ceiling soars high into the sky creating a cavernous and airy space in which to enjoy ‘tea-time’ and your pre-dinner or happy hour cocktails (two for one).
Tea for two? Upstairs in the Casa Grande
The classy and very comfortable furniture is also made from recycled wood and upholstered with jungle motifs, the designs all overseen by award winning designer and part owner of Inkaterra, Denise Koechlin. Down-lighter shades are made from hollowed out palm trunks and even the electric cables are concealed inside bamboo. It’s the little things that distinguish a good hotel from an outstanding one.
Whilst just being cocooned in such a building was pleasurable enough not to stray away from it, ever, there was a purpose to our being there: to meet our respective guides for our stay and to be informed of our first rendezvous: 3pm in the Eco-centre for a botanical walk through the jungle. Admittedly our uniformed and very serious-faced guide bore more than a passing resemblance to a military policeman or some kind of freedom fighting guerrilla – the huge machete strapped to his leg didn’t help – but very quickly he proved himself to be knowledgeable, witty and caring – especially when I collided head-first at speed with a very solid tree trunk. His command of English was also excellent.
Depending on your particular “package” Hacienda Concepcion offers a wide range of activities, most of which are included in the cost of your stay. If you come here expecting to lord it like a 19th Century colonial missionary, sipping G&Ts in your panama hat all day, then think again. You could, but you would miss out on a huge array of fascinating, unique, exciting and even adrenalin-enducing activities.
ENTERTAINMENT TIP: If looking for fun at night, or to watch sports during the day, or even a taste of home, visit the Wild Rover Hostel Cusco for great food, sports and beer! Entrance to their bar is free even for non-guests
Highlights include a night time caiman cruise where, although there is no guarantee of sightings, we managed to see half a dozen of the crocodile-related reptiles, of various sizes, in under an hour. The hike to and “cruise” on Lake Sandoval, a nearby oxbow lake was a character-building challenge thanks to unseasonal rain, deep mud and very cold weather due to a meteorological phenomenon known as “el friaje” which sends temperatures plummeting from the 90’s to the 60’s by day and even lower by night.
All credit to our wonderful guide who, despite the cold, – which normally sends jungle mammals scurrying for their duvets – still managed to lead us straight to myriad birds, red howler monkeys and a group of four very playful and usually elusive giant river otters. My advice for your hike to Lake Sandoval: whatever they tell you, wear the complimentary wellington boots. This is definitely one of those occasions when it’s better to be overdressed, at least in the footwear department.
Red howler monkey, outside the Casa Grande
For thrill seekers, the jungle canopy walkway should prove popular. This rather undersold activity involves climbing a 100-foot tower and crossing six or seven bouncing and swaying cable, wood and rope bridges strung between the tops of the trees. Even if you don’t spot any wildlife feeding on young leaves, it’s a quite thrilling experience and great photo opportunity.
At the end of each day of our stay, cocktails and dinner were a real treat. The food is a combination of Peruvian and international – and vegetarian options – with three starters, three main courses and two desserts to choose from each night. Wine is also available by the bottle or the glass and is very reasonably priced – there’s definitely no taking advantage of a captive audience here. Just don’t be tempted to while away the hours on post-dinner drinks as many of the activities involve very early wake-up calls. 5am for the Lake Sandoval hike and 4:30 am for the parrot clay lick.
And so to bed
Most of the rooms at Hacienda Concepcion are spacious, detached wooden cabanas dotted amongst the trees around the grounds, with eight additional but smaller rooms in the Casa Grande. Ours was one of four cabanas that face the resort’s small lagoon and was teeming with birdlife – including clumsy and very vocal but pretty hoatzins, Amazonian kingfishers and early morning fly-catchers with dazzling yellow breasts.
Great for twitchers: Amazonian kingfisher
Tortoises sunned themselves on fallen tree trunks and butterflies floated around a vibrant scarlet flowered bush on the shore. The cabanas’ expansive windows are filled not with glass but with fine mosquito-proof mesh, giving wonderful views, refreshing breezes and at night, the inimitable serenade of the rainforest’s birds, animals and insects. Just remember that sound travels in the still of the night in Peru’s Amazon Jungle.
Room with a view: cabana overlooking the estate’s lagoon
Now it has to be said that the arrival of “el friaje” rendered our cabana rather chilly at night, but those nice people at Inkaterra think of everything: along with the lanterns left around the entrance to and inside our cabana at night we were delighted to find beds ‘turned down’ with faux fur blankets and sheepskin-covered hot water bottles. Yes, really.
Turn down – with faux-fur blankets and sheepskin hot water bottles…
There are a couple of aspects of Hacienda Concepcion that some visitors may find hard to deal with. There is no wi-fi and electricity is from a generator that is only on at certain times of the day, currently 4am-3pm and 6pm to 11pm. I actually enjoyed not feeling that terrible 21st century tug of being constantly “connected”. However, it is possible to pick up mobile internet in certain areas of the property and in emergencies the staff will let you use their internet. And there was something rather tranquil about sitting in candle light in the late afternoon as the sunlight faded and the jungle’s night chorus struck up each evening.
For most people the exemplary service from friendly staff and modern day comforts are enough to convince them to stay at Hacienda Concepcion. However for me there is one more thing that makes it an irresistible choice for a jungle sojourn: the estate’s history. Although not publicised by Inkaterra, one of the staff was happy to tell me of Hacienda Concepcion’s past under the Spanish medical missionary Arturo Gonzalez del Rio who lived here from 1930 until his death in 1965.
At that time the estate’s 388 hectares included a school, a hospital, a church and coffee, cacao and rice plantations and Gonzalez del Rio worked with over 100 indigenous families, educating their children, providing medical aid and conducting research into tropical diseases. And in 1950 the Peruvian navy donated a small steam ship to the colony which served as a floating clinic that sailed up and down the Madre de Dios River and its tributaries treating and educating local people. The wreck of the boat can be seen if you take a canoe out on the hotel’s lagoon, but now it is home to nothing more than a colony of bats.
Take a canoe to the wreck of the old floating clinic
The Inkaterra Hacienda Concepcion is the perfect combination of authentic jungle experience and reassuringly professional service – not to mention aesthetically pleasing design, great food, reasonable prices and a genuine commitment to sustainable tourism. It is close enough to Puerto Maldonado to be easily accessible from both Cusco and Lima yet deep enough in the rainforest for you to experience some of the best of Peru’s tropical flora and fauna at very close quarters.
If I had one criticism it would be that some of the descriptions of the activities included in each package are not 100% accurate, but the staff are quite flexible if there is something that you really want to do, just be prepared to show them what was confirmed when you booked, or liaise with staff before you come to make sure you know what you are going to get to avoid any possible disappointment.
Would I recommend Hacienda Concepcion? In a heartbeat. And with all-in rack rates starting at little more than $600 for two people for two nights, I’d be very tempted to go back for another visit myself!