PERU, SOUTH AMERICA’S THIRD LARGEST NATION, HOLDS SOME OF THE WORLD’S MOST TANTALIZING DESTINATIONS, FROM THE FERAL THROWS OF THE AMAZON RAINFOREST TO THE HALLOWED ANCIENT INCAN CITADEL OF MACHU PICCHU
BY LAURA D.C. KOLNOSKI
High season has arrived in South America, beckoning visitors to discover the diverse geographical, cultural, historical, and culinary delights during the April to October dry season. Located on the West Coast along the Pacific Ocean, Peru is considered one of the six cradles of ancient civilizations and combines influences from Spain, Africa, and China. The democratic presidential republic is home to a staggering 12 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Sacred Valley, Inca Trail, and colonial city of Cusco, rich in archaeological wonders. While Spanish is the official language, 47 indigenous languages are also spoken here.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
It pays to plan your fun as a plethora of treks, hikes, beaches, and tasty regional dining opportunities promise myriad adventures. Visitors are advised to carry cash, Peruvian preferred. U.S. dollars are accepted, but some costs could be higher. Buses provide the primary form of flexible travel throughout the country, and free walking tours in major cities are plentiful. Peru Hop offers buses with luxury seats to take you to secret slave tunnels, rainbow-topped mountains, a desert oasis, lakes, and more. peruhop.com
At press time, the government had extended the COVID-19 restrictions through August 28, to be reevaluated every two weeks. Those 12 and older must present proof of full vaccination 14 days prior to boarding at their point of origin. For the latest updates, visit pe.usembassy.gov/covid-19-information.
The Pacific Ocean along the Peruvian coast can be chilly, except for the northern beaches where El Niño equatorial currents warm the waters. Punta Sal in the Tumbes region is the nation’s top beach retreat. e sun shines most days, the sand is fine, and waters teem with colorful marine life. The accommodations here are top tier, with some of the most luxurious, all-inclusive beachfront resorts in the country. Water sports, boating, and related activities abound.
Máncora in the Piura region also ranks high. The former fishing town has transformed into a major destination, famed for its surfing, party scene, and bohemian vibe. Seafood reigns here, along with soft sand, cool hostels, and romantic beach resorts.
“Machu Picchu” translates to Old Mountain. Mysterious and beautiful, the 15th century Incan citadel tucked 7,000 feet above sea level in the Andes Mountains stands watch over the Urubamba River valley. It is renowned for the sophisticated stone walls built by fusing huge blocks without mortar, buildings based on astronomical alignments, and panoramic views. A Wonder of the World and World Heritage-listed site, it was inexplicably abandoned, and its exact former use remains a mystery. Expect to be photo-bombed by a resident llama. peru.travel.com
Peru’s capital, Lima has it all. Known as the “City of Kings,” it boasts a preserved colonial center and significant collections of pre-Columbian art along with beaches and nightlife. Exciting, enlightening events fill the cultural calendar. Visit the museums and free galleries, embark on bike rides along the malecón (waterfront), and experience some of the world’s top restaurants. We recommend a Lima Walking Tour, leaving from the Tourist Information Center (Avenida Jose Larco 799, Miraores).
The annual celebration of Peru’s independence occurs on July 28 and 29 with public events and parades. Processions for Santa Rosa de Lima (Saint Rose of Lima) take place August 30 in honor of the first American canonized saint.
WHERE TO STAY
In the heart of the Sacred Valley tucked between the Inca capital of Cusco and Machu Picchu, StarDome Peru, a boutique hotel and retreat opened in February, features six high-end suites and a one of a kind geodesic dome, all with spectacular views. Co-founded and run by the local indigenous Quechuan community, StarDome Peru offers cultural immersions and “transformational” experiences. The property exudes rugged luxury with heated marble floors and handmade ceramic bathrooms, contrasted by its remote location. The heart of StarDome is the StarDeck, featuring floor-to-ceiling glass walls with 360-degree views and a telescope, perfect for lounging, stargazing, or hosting events. Included is a fresh traditional breakfast at the signature restaurant Apu, with options for private dining experiences that showcase the refined culinary heritage of Peru and highlight local chefs. Future plans call for ten more suites and a healing center for yoga and groups up to 20.
Nightly rates start from $399 during low season and $1,299 during high season. stardomeperu.com
THE SANCTUARY LODGE
Located at the entrance to Machu Picchu (only a short one-minute walk from the ancient citadel), this stylish five-star retreat in the shadows of the Lost City is an oasis of tranquility, wonder, and beauty. Unwind with a yoga session, take part in a traditional shaman ceremony, or sip muña tea in the Tampu Bar. The lodge, with 31 rooms and suites, features an orchid garden and spa.
Adventures and exclusive experiences create the ultimate package, while dining options present innovative fusion dishes awash with artisanal produce grown in the Lodge’s private garden. The Tampu Restaurant & Bar features floor-to-ceiling windows that flood the space with light and immerse diners in verdant views. Indulge in indigenous delicacies like creamy Oxapampa cheese, crisp palm heart, and earthy Sacred Valley mushrooms while exotic local butterflies and birds float by.
Standard rooms with a full meal plan begin at about $5,900 for four nights including fees and taxes. belmond.com
DAY TRIPS AND TOURS
THE BELMOND HIRAM BINGHAM TRAIN
Riding the rails under the Belmond banner through the heart of the Inca Empire is the Hiram Bingham, named for the 1911 explorer who “discovered” Machu Picchu. Luxuriate in paneled 1920s-style carriages, visit the observation and bar cars, and dine and dance your way between Cusco and Machu Picchu aboard this enchanting train with its distinctly Peruvian colors and nature-inspired motifs. Old world charm enhances the journey to Machu Picchu and back through the Sacred Valley. On board, passengers can dance to traditional live Peruvian music and savor regional dishes expertly prepared. Fresh corn tartlets, grilled paiche (a native Amazon fish), banana passion fruit mousse, and showstopping cocktails made with native fruits are on the menu. Reservations are a must. belmond.com
Founded by Spanish explorers as “Santa María de los Valles de Chiclayo” in the 16th century, this heritage-rich city is located near an important prehistoric archaeological site: the Northern Wari ruins, the remains of a city from the 7th to 12th century. Today, Chiclayo is the capital city of northwest Peru’s Lambayeque region and the gateway to awe-inspiring destinations like Huaca Rajada, where you’ll find the tomb of the Lord of Sipán, a ruler of the ancient Moche culture. The region is also home to the pre-Hispanic pyramids of Túcume and the Chotuna-Chornancap Archeological Complex, the ceremonial center of the pre-Incan Sican culture. In addition to modern museums with priceless collections, Chiclayo is known for its parks, gardens, and beach resorts like Pimentel.
DINE AND DRINK
Peru offers an exquisite and varied culinary landscape with each area boasting its own regional dishes and unique flavors. Food festivals and gastronomic tours of major cities take gourmands to excellent restaurants, bars, and taverns where thousands of years of flavors are fused using ingredients from the coast, highlands, and rainforest. Ceviche rules with infinite variations. Other local must-tries are tequeno pastries stuffed with crab meat, juicy kebabs (called anticuchos), Peruvian-Spanish dishes like causa limeña (a potato puree stuffed with poultry, seafood, or avocado and tomato), and ají de gallina, a creamy stew of hot peppers, bread, spices, and shredded chicken breast. Don’t skip creative desserts like purple mazamorra pudding, el suspiro a la limeña custard, and turrón de doña Pepa cake.
ASTRID Y GASTON
At the top of the food chain is Astrid Y Gaston, a refined, airy restaurant specializing in regional seafood and meat dishes, cocktails, and fine wines amidst the gorgeous décor of the palatial Casa Haacienda Moreyra, a former residence. It is considered one of e World’s 50 Best Restaurants. One reviewer wrote he was “blown away by their gastronomic delicacies” while another called it the “top of the top culinary experience between earth and heaven.” A tasting menu is available to maximize the array of flavors to experience. Av. Paz Soldan 290, San Isidro, Lima 27, astridygaston.com
LA MAR CEVICHERIA PERUANA
With locations in Buenos Aires, Bogota, Miami, and San Francisco, this authentic Peruvian seafood house is distinguished by its impeccable service. Menus change depending on the day’s oceanic offerings. The “La Mar Seafood Festival” impresses with scallops, oysters, snails, prawns, and lobster, while the “La Mar Great Barbeque” highlights the catch of the day surrounded by tuna, squid, clams, and prawns. Adventurous diners should try the Nikkei scorpion fish or ray in toasted butter. Av. Marical La Mar 770, Mira ores 15074, lamarcebicheria.com