Peru is spectacular- a contrast of ancient and modern that blends together from the Amazon Basin to the Andes and the Pacific. Enjoy Peru in the cities and in the adventurous countryside while experiencing its natural beauty and international cuisine. Explore the mighty Incan and pre-Columbian cultures that date back more than 10,000 years.
I recently returned from a remarkable week discovering Peru with a small group. With LAN Peru’s new direct service from San Francisco to Lima, getting to South America has never been easier. Arriving in Lima in winter is just like being in San Francisco in the summer – cold and grey with a damp sea mist hanging over the city. We checked into the plush Miraflores Park Hotel in the wee hours of the morning.
The view from the Miraflores Park Hotel was endless. Later that day, I saw the coast stretching for miles from my luxe room (laden with Molton Brown amenities) as the Pacific surf pounded the beach below. A hearty breakfast and an even better view awaited at the hotel’s top floor Observatory Restaurant. For two days, I passed up the infinity pool and spa to see the city sights.
Lima is a bit gritty, but vibrant and architecturally rich with South America’s largest historical center. Don’t miss the many colorful plazas, remarkable churches and archaeological museums. Ruins from the 5th century sit in the middle of the city where the Lima Culture once flourished.
Restaurants abound serving Peruvian classics like Pisco sours, causas, lomo saltado and the ubiquitous potato (over 3,000 varieties in the country). One day, we tried Restaurant Huaca Pucllana for a traditional lunch, (overlooking adobe Incan ruins) and La Mar the next.
Lima’s La Mar serves the most delectable ceviches, tiraditos, sushi and more with a great local vibe just like its counterpart in San Francisco.
Dinner the first night was at Central, a hip place with fish, lamb and beef dishes – all created with a Peruvian “nuevo Andino” fusion flare. The next evening, we ate at the hotel’s hot new Mesa 18. Seafood, quinoa and potatoes shined. For dessert, white chocolate soup with a cup of mate de coca tea helped prepare for the next day’s altitude change. Then it was a quick visit to the Barranco neighborhood for a nightcap – alive with music, dancing, people – and a good time.
The plane ride from Lima to Cusco is less than an hour and passes between snow capped mountains and arid peaks. By the time you land, you’re at 10,659 feet. Acclimating to the sudden elevation change is easier if you visit Machu Picchu town first (about 7,000 ft.), so we hired a van for the trip to the Ollantaytambo train station. (If you take the train from other Cusco stations, plan on a longer journey due to the switchbacks down the mountain.) Driving into the verdant Sacred Valley, we passed one picturesque town after another. Numerous archaeological sites captured our imagination. Once on the Backpacker train, it’s a scenic two hours along the Urubamba River to Machu Picchu town.
The luxury Sumaq hotel is a five minute walk from the train station. The hotel’s style and design reflect the vibrant Andean culture as do native ingredients in the cuisine. A sustainable focus helps preserve the fragility of the area. The Qunuq Restaurant, with knockout views of the mountains and rushing river, serves creative dishes from around Peru. For dinner, savor the fresh trout ceviche, corn pies, alpaca tenderloin and decadent desserts. And before the trip up to Machu Picchu itself, fortify yourself with a full breakfast.
Machu Picchu at sunrise is the best way to get the full experience. A bus makes the trip up the mountain (to 8,000 feet) in about 30 minutes. The sight of Machu Picchu in emergent sunlight is breathtaking. The architectural achievements of the Incans are truly extraordinary. This Incan citadel in the jungle is rightfully a world wonder. Spend time wandering and dreaming about the life that existed here. After soaking up the “Lost City,” it was time to soak up the offerings in the hotel’s spa and contemplate our next stop: a stay in Cusco, the ancient capital of the Incan Empire.
Colorful Cusco features Inca-built walls lining steep cobblestoned streets, historic plazas teeming with natives in beautiful garb and treasures proudly displayed in churches and mansions. Shopping is all about bartering, with stalls and boutiques at every turn.
We checked into the gorgeous Casa Cartagena near the main square. This upscale boutique hotel and spa is situated on a former Incan ceremonial site and is a restored mansion, a mix of Spanish architecture and modern design. Most rooms are oversized with contemporary furniture and surround a lush courtyard. Trout ceviche and local fruits and breads are some of the delicious cuisine you’ll savor at La Chola, the hotel’s restaurant.
Dinner that night was at Cicciolina, a fun tapas bar on the second floor of an old colonial house. We shared Andean-inspired small plates and enjoyed the lively atmosphere. And finally, for lunch our last day, we chose Chicha por Gaston Acurio. The talented chef behind La Mar delivers – quinoa, octopus, empanadas and pork loin – all served with luscious Peruvian flavors.
From Cusco, it was back to Lima and on to San Francisco. Peru is magical – the culture, the people, the food – it’s a country you’ll remember and want to return to.