I’m awed by accomplishments that seem beyond human capacity—like building a city on the top of a mountain without power tools (or even a calculator)—and, indeed, my first view of Machu Picchu leaves me awestruck. It’s the combination of natural glory, mystical possibilities and human endeavor that make the Sacred Valley and the inviting country of Peru a vacation of wonder.
The majestic and mysterious Machu Picchu
Rumors abound of travelers who make a reservation at Central, then build the rest of their itinerary around that date. You’d be wise to do the same at this restaurant that fully embraces the biodiversity and heritage of Peru. Central is located in Miraflores, one of two of the most charming neighborhoods (Barranco being the other) in the city. You’ll experience a lot of ancient sites on the rest of your visit to Peru, so focus your city time on shopping, culture and food. One outstanding museum is the Larco Museum, housed in an 18th century mansion with an astonishing collection of pre-Columbian art. Don’t miss the erotica collection (you read that right), and plan your visit around lunch at the outdoor cafe, which has beautiful views of the estate’s gardens. Another, MATE, is dedicated to the photography of Mario Testino, who has photographed the people of Peru, but is most known for his celebrity portraits and fashion shoots.
For shopping and neighborhood walking, stay in Barranco. You’ll have lots of opportunities for selfies in front of the vibrant murals and street art that line the streets, and there are plenty of boutiques to duck into for nontouristy goods. Some must-try restaurants are Isolina and Rafael, and, for cocktails, Ayahuasca. Convenient to these chic restaurants and shops is the new AC Lima Miraflores (city deluxe rooms from $262 per night). My room looks out over the Pacific Ocean and the adjacent miles-long running trail that adds to Lima’s charm.
You will definitely get a souvenir photo of adorable alpacas.
From Lima, most visitors fly to the ancient city of Cusco. At 11,200 feet, you’ve arrived in the mountains, and although the air is thin, this vibrant city makes it worth the extra effort to climb the stairs. We stay at the Palacio del Inka (suites from $450 per night), which is a renovated castle built on ancient Incan ruins—welcome to your first living history lesson! The rooms are large and fully embrace the building’s Colonial-era roots with historic artwork and antique furnishings. The best pisco sour—and given how many pisco sours I consume while in Peru, that’s saying a lot—is made by the bartender at the hotel’s Rumi Bar. While in town, tour Qoricancha, which was the Temple of the Sun before being repurposed as a Catholic church; plus, San Pedro Market and the historic square, which bustle with activity every time we walk through. The food in Cusco continues the outstanding streak that started in Lima. Chicha, one of star chef Gastón Acurio’s restaurants, features regional food. For a change of pace, Limo serves fresh, light Peruvian Japanese food.
The beautifully situated Tambo del Inka, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa is nestled in the Sacred Valley.
There are many ways to visit Machu Picchu, but possibly the best is to stay at the luxurious Tambo del Inka (suites from $599 per night) and allow the staff to arrange your trip. The hotel books us on the private train operated by PeruRail that leaves from the property and serves a white-tablecloth three-course meal each way. You’ll arrive in time for afternoon admittance at Machu Picchu, which is far less crowded than the morning—and no less glorious. The hotel also arranges our guide, who meets us at the train and takes us through Machu Picchu with great humor and insight.
The luxurious private train from Tambo del Inka to Machu Picchu includes a three-course meal in the dining car.
Along with Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley has enough sights to justify staying an extra day or two. We explore the valley (and mountains) on an e-bike tour. It’s great fun, but, perhaps, a little more adventurous than this scaredy-cat biker had anticipated. I’m grateful postride for the hotel’s beautiful pool and Kallpa Spa, where the signature massage uses a cloth bag filled with salt and herbs to soothe overworked muscles. The combination of massage and dinner at the hotel’s excellent Hawa Restaurant, where I finally try local delicacy cuy (guinea pig is less odd than one might think), continues that feeling of being somewhere that is both intoxicatingly different and new, yet wrapped in comfort and kindness—a combination that makes me think it won’t be long before I return.
Hawa Restaurant at Tambo del Inka
Photography by: Alpaca photo by Carlo107/istock photo; all other photos courtesy of Marriott International