Looking for a Summer Escape to Peru Land of Plenty
06/29/2015 11:21AM ● Published by Megan Wiskus
Machu Picchu - photo courtesy of Butterfield & Robinson
Traversing through the Andes, on the last portion of the Inca Trail, Machu Picchu comes into view. As I gaze awestruck at the 15th century Inca civilization surrounded by cloud forests and blanketed in a misty fog—I’m speechless. Words can’t explain the feeling of seeing this wonder of the world for the first time.
It’s not the first, nor will it be the last time on my Peruvian adventure that I’m blown away. Booking the trip with luxury adventure travel company Butterfield & Robinson (B&R) has proven to be advantageous in more ways than one. While traveling abroad with loved ones usually brings trepidation and more tiffs than nuevo soles I have in my wallet, B&R has made everything happen so effortlessly that I’m beginning to wonder how I ever voyaged any other way.
Although most international flights land in Lima—Peru’s capital and the country’s largest city—many tourists forgo a visit and continue on to Cusco, the gateway to Machu Picchu. I advise you spend at least two days here: The seaside city is studded with a mishmash of colonial architecture, modern sky rises and world-class restaurants (don’t miss diving into a plate of ceviche, the star of Peru’s gastronomic repertoire).
STAY: The first arts-boutique hotel in Lima, Hotel B features 17 suites, a signature restaurant and impressive art sprinkled throughout. Nestled in the bohemian, culturally rich enclave of Barranco, the property—sited in a restored 1914, two-story mansion—boasts a relaxed, homey vibe and modern amenities.
EXPERIENCE: Bike Tours of Lima takes riders on an easy pedal along the coastal cliffs and around the city’s historic mansions, churches, parks and notable neighborhoods—all while the guide regales you with stories of yesteryear. An Eco Culinary Experience with local celebrity chef, Brisa, means touring an organic, self-sustainable farm, followed by a hands-on cooking class and lunch of seasonal Peruvian fare.
At 11,000 feet, Cusco—with its blend of colonial and ancient Incan architecture—is a breath of thin but fresh air. Between its hodgepodge of history (Cusco was once the capital of the Inca Empire), handicraft stands and buzzing Plaza de Armas (the city center that’s surrounded by restaurants, shops and the Baroque-style Cusco Cathedral), it’s easy to fall for this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
STAY: A former 16th century convent, Belmond Palacio Nazarenas has emerged as one of Cusco’s most luxurious retreats. Blending old (traditional Inca walls, regal frescoes and a centuries-old fountain) with new (oxygen-enriched rooms, heated floors and personal butler service), this tranquil space will quickly become your home away home.
EXPERIENCE: Learn how the locals live with a trip to San Pedro Market. Selling everything from fresh Andean cheese and bread to produce, meat and handcrafted souvenirs, ambling through the aisles is the ideal way to while away an afternoon. For a truly sweet experience, enjoy a hands-on Chocolate Workshop at the ChocoMuseum where you’ll make and mold your own confections from scratch while learning about Peruvian cacao.
Nine miles north of Cusco, the aptly named Sacred Valley does indeed have a heavenly aura to it. Located amongst the wet and wild Urubamba River, and dotted with small towns, ruins that hardly seemed ruined and an agreeable climate, this region is certainly worth pausing in.
STAY: If waking up to the chirps of native birds in a 25-acre garden oasis surrounded by majestic mountains sounds idyllic, than Hotel Sol y Luna is the property for you. Each casita features rustic Andean ambiance and lush amenities; what’s more, proceeds from the resort benefit the Sol y Luna Association, which supports local educational, cultural and athletic programs to stimulate a higher quality of life.
EXPERIENCE: Saddle up on a Peruvian paso horse, one of the smoothest riding stallions in the world, for a journey through remote parts of the region that aren’t accessible by car. For your daily dose of sodium, head to the Maras Salt Terraces. The huge salt mine—carved out of the hillside thousands of years ago and still operated by local Peruvian families—is peppered with photo ops. Those hungry for culture should dig into a pachamanca, which translates to “earth oven” and is Peru’s version of a luau (think marinated meats, potatoes and other produce cooked with hot stones underground). Work off the feast by stand up paddleboarding on Piuray Lake with the snow-peaked Andes as your backdrop. Of course, a trip to Peru wouldn’t be complete without visiting Machu Picchu (“old mountain”). Whether you arrive via train or trekking the Inca Trail, what awaits you is far more grandiose than the photos in your high school history book. Once inside, you have the option to hike Huayna Picchu (“young mountain”). Although a pretty strenuous climb, the vantage point from the top looks down on the archaeological wonderland that is Machu Picchu and was one of the (many) highlights from my holiday.
With landscapes that range from the Pacific Ocean and Andes to the Amazon, and a culture as colorful as its past, Peru has something to fuel all wanderlust stricken souls. Although I only scratched the country’s surface, I’m certainly heading back for seconds.
NOTE: All hotels and experiences mentioned above (along with transfers, private guides and most meals) were organized by Butterfield & Robinson; to have them design a customized, experiential trip for you—down to every nitty-gritty detail—and for more info, visit butterfield.com.
Belmond Palacio Nazarenas photo by Adrian Houston. All other photos by Megan Wiskus.