Passport to Peru
From salt mines in the Sacred Valley dating to pre-Inca days to the colonial-inspired town of Urubamba and majestic Machu Picchu, there’s much more to Peru than ancient wonders and tourist attractions.
- Written byJennie Nunn
Peru’s longstanding reputation for being a life-changing destination isn’t exactly fabricated. There are plenty of good reasons why the country (which translates to “land of abundance”) is being placed on travel bucket lists now more than ever. Blame it on the jaw-dropping landscape, markets lined with vibrant textiles (alpaca is among the coveted finds here), luxury trains fit for royalty and archaeological ruins. The third largest country in South America is rich with history and cultural treasures. Here we reveal the top places to stay, see and discover in Lima, Cusco, Urubamba and beyond.
Founded in 1966 by husband-and-wife duo Franz Schilter and Petit Miribel, Hotel Sol y Luna Lodge & Spa (hotelsolyluna.com) in Urubamba includes two restaurants, a spa and fitness center, an outdoor swimming pool and an equestrian center.
Framed by the Urupampa Mountains, the boutique, 42-room property offers superior and deluxe villas appointed with folk art-style sculptures and paintings by local Peruvian artist Frederico Bauer, carved wooden consoles and writing desks, and wrought iron chandeliers. Each casita also features a flat-screen television, soaking tub, a fireplace and a private patio with chaise lounges and a Jacuzzi tub.
Guests can sign up for a guided horseback ride on a Peruvian Paso horse and wind along cobblestone streets with a view of the Urubamba River, take in a weaving demonstration from artisans in the village of Chinchero or explore the local town with a visit to the nearby school, owned by Sol y Luna. At night don’t miss an avant-garde circus production complete with gymnasts and former Cirque du Soleil performers. For a prime spot, be sure to get there early.
For an option closer to Machu Picchu, the modern, 60-room Sumaq Hotel (machupicchuhotels-sumaq.com) offers a panoramic view of the Vilcanota River with mountain and river suites equipped with patios. After a long day of trekking and combing markets in nearby Aguas Calientes (also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo), take a cooking lesson on how to make fresh ceviche or a Pisco sour (the national drink made with Pisco brandy, bitters and eggs), or check out Aqlla, the on-site spa for treatments using indigenous ingredients including a massage with Andean stones.
Perched along the base of Machu Picchu, the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge (belmond.com) offers guests a close-up look at the ruins and a stab at the first hike of the day before tour buses arrive packed with tourists. Other activities here include a Pachamama (or “Mother Earth”) ritual led by a local shaman, a coca tea leaf reading interpreted by an Andean priest and a guided stargazing session with a telescope.
Clockwise from top left: The Inca Rail, an enticing dish, a casita and some entertaining equestrians at Sol y Luna.
In Lima, the Country Club Hotel (hotelcountry.com) is a preferred spot for sophisticated travelers, with a prime location across the street from the Lima Golf & Country Club and a few minutes from the beach in Miraflores in the San Isidro financial district. Built in 1927, the elegant, 83-room property flanked by palm trees is outfitted with 300 pieces of artwork and artifacts from the Pedro de Osma museum.
The Belmond Miraflores Park (belmond.com), revamped four years ago by Peruvian architect Jordi Puig (of the modern Titilaka Hotel situated along the eponymous lake), features three restaurants, a heated rooftop pool and complimentary bicycles for cruising the path along the Pacific Ocean.
Make no mistake: A trip to Peru isn’t complete without a visit to Machu Picchu. Stretching 7,970 feet, the mystical UNESCO World Heritage Site—and one of the “New 7 Wonders”—plays hosts to approximately 2,000 tourists each day. Book a guided tour or choose from hikes ranging from steep Huayna Picchu (restricted to 400 visitors per day and advance reservations required) to the three-day Inca Trail that extends from Cusco to Machu Picchu.
For handmade wares by local artists, head to the quiet town of Chinchero. Located about 45 minutes north of Cusco at 12,500 feet,
the Incan village (which means “town of rainbows”) is rumored to
be the birthplace of the rainbow. Today the teeny enclave is dotted with narrow dirt roads and whitewashed adobe buildings housing oil paintings, alpaca ponchos, cloth coin purses and hand-carved wooden gourds.
On Sundays don’t miss the market in the main square adjacent to the infamous, 17th-century, colonial-style iglesia (church). Choose from handwoven blankets, mittens and scarves made by weavers dressed in traditional clothing: flannel skirts, colorful embroidered vests and sombrero-like felt hats. (Remember to bring water, sunscreen and cash. Most artisans don’t accept credit cards.)
At the salt mines (or “Las Salineras”) approximately 35 miles from Cusco in Maras, explore more than 3,000 saltwater ponds tracing to pre-Inca days. On the way out, pick up flavored salts, ranging from garlic pepper and lemon to lavender, made by local purveyors.
For an afternoon of outdoor adventure, head to Waypo Lake. At this postcard-worthy spot near Maras, rent a kayak, go fishing or pack a picnic and sit at a table along the water.
In Lima, learn about ancient Peruvian culture at the Rafael Larco Herrera Archeological Museum (museolarco.org). Housed in an 18th-century mansion, the museum features items from embroidered tapestries to clay vessels and gold and copper jewelry spanning more than 5,000 years of pre-Colombian history.
Until a few years ago, there were only a few ways to get to Machu Picchu, including trains such as the Hiram Bingham that departed from the nearby towns of Urubamba, Poroy and Ollantaytambo. Now thanks to Inca Rail (incarail.com) launched in 2009, guests can take the 1¾-hour ride in style aboard a fleet of nine luxury railcars. For a once-in-a-lifetime ride, opt for the eight-seat presidential car lined with sleek, cherry wood paneling, upholstered club chairs and a small, outdoor balcony. While taking in views of the Urubamba River, rainforest and terraced mountains en route, feast on a five-course meal paired with regional Peruvian wines and Champagne.