We ventured off to Peru—a little treasure chest of a country containing the most precious of gems—Machu Picchu, vast desserts, gorgeous coastlines, and quaint mountaintop towns. Machu Picchu may be the biggest draw to Peru but be sure to explore its versatile landscape. Two things to note upfront: first, a wonderful thing about traveling to South America is that jet lag is a minor issue—Peru is only one hour earlier than Chicago; and second, brush up on your Spanish as very few people speak English. We found this second point refreshing and fun as we navigated communication with hand signals and a bit of high school Spanish.
First stop—Lima. This bustling city of 11 million is the capital of Peru. Our driver met us at the airport for a quick trip through the city to the Westin Lima—a huge glass structure that springs from the city’s center (westinlima.com). The hotel has every amenity including restaurants, an excellent fitness center, glorious spa, and it also doubles as a convention center. We arrived late, slept like angels and awoke to a lovely breakfast—our first taste of Peru’s “detox” breakfast items (think avocado toast, green juices, quinoa…all eaten without an ounce of guilt). On our first morning, a driver met us for a scenic three-hour drive along the coast with desert on our left and ocean on our right to our next destination—Paracas. He delivered us to a little slice of paradise—Hotel Paracas, a Luxury Collection Resort that measures up to the word “luxury” in every sense (hotelparacasresort.com). We were escorted to our suite which was the entire second floor of what looked like a massive beach house. Our lavish accommodations consisted of two bathrooms, a living room, kitchenette, master bedroom, and three patios—one with a dinner table, one with lounge chairs, and one with the perfect set up for morning coffee—all with beautiful ocean views.
After check-in, head directly to the Chalana restaurant—located at the end of a pier and perched over the ocean—for the most delicious ceviche. Be sure to book a tour of the Ballestas Islands (venturia.com.pe). Our guide Julian had been with the resort for 52 years and was an absolute expert on wildlife—he pointed out a blue-footed booby native to the Galapagos Islands, penguins, and an array of other wildlife. Gliding across the ocean, notice the water’s aquamarine color. It appears as if it is lit from beneath and was enhanced by darling sea lions darting around our vessel. After the islands, our guide took us to see the Candelabra of the Andes—a prehistoric geoglyph found on the northern face of Paracas Peninsula. This site is large enough that it can be seen from up to 12 miles at sea. After the history lesson, it was off to a cove to see hundreds of pink and black flamingos who in flight looked as if Coco Chanel herself had outfitted them. The views from the boat are stunning—the driest desert in the world meets the Pacific Ocean—a landscape like none I have ever seen.
Speaking of desert, it is an absolute must that you book a desert adventure with Venturia for the thrill of a lifetime (venturia.com.pe)! Ask for Geancarlos Franco who, along with a professional race car driver, will meet you at the resort in a 4×4. Arriving at your destination, it appears as if you are in the middle of nowhere—no cars or people in sight for what looks like an eternity. After Carlos took a little air out of the tires we were off flying up and down the dunes for an absolute hair-raising adventure. We stopped for sand surfing (a blast) and to watch the gorgeous sunset. This adventure is high on my list of best things EVER!
After two days of adventures, great food, swimming and lounging in the glorious poolside cabanas, we headed back to Lima for a flight to Cusco (please note that LATAM is now offering direct flights from Paracas to Cucso). The Lima airport is easy to navigate and the flight to Cusco lasts just over an hour. We arrived at the Palacio del Inka, a Luxury Collection hotel gleaming after a $15 million renovation (palaciodelinkahotel.com). Positioned perfectly in the center of the darling mountaintop town, the hotel stands directly across from the Temple of the Sun (considered one of the most important temples in the Incan empire). The hotel boasts a Spanish Colonial façade with an interior bathed in contrasting shades of gold and burgundy all lit from a vaulted translucent ceiling. We felt embraced by the legendary Peruvian construction—very solid and much like a fortress.
Much to my daughter’s chagrin, we asked for oxygen upon arrival as Cusco sits at an elevation of over 11,000 feet. The oxygen and Coca tea did away with any altitude sickness. The hotel’s Inti Raymi restaurant was our favorite in Cusco with service almost as delicious as the food. Venture out into the city center with its ancient town square and beautiful churches. One of our favorite happenings was meeting up with meticulously brushed doe-eyed llamas dressed up in knit hats and necklaces. For a few Peruvian Soles, the owners and llamas posed for endless photos and you can even hold these friendly, soft little animals who are surprisingly light.
On our second day, we took a car up to Sacsayhuaman (pronounced “sexy woman”)—an Incan fortress standing at 12,000 feet and an example of the Incan’s extraordinary stonework. Pay for a guide who will take you through the caves (be careful as they are DARK) and explain the history of this remarkable ruin. After your tour, walk back into Cusco via its cobblestone streets that lead to the city center—a truly beautiful way to experience Cusco.
We left Cusco by car and after an hour and a half drive, we arrived at the Tambo del Inka (meaning “place to rest”), a Luxury Collection Resort and Spa, at the Sacred Valley of the Incas (tambodelinkaresort.com). Sacred Valley describes the area perfectly as beauty abounds in all directions. We had a breathtaking mountain view from our ground floor room and everything about the hotel from spa to the service exuded warmth and welcome. As it was raining on our first day, we decided to make it a spa day. We loved the elaborate restorative water journey so much that we went back a second time! In addition to the water journey, we had the hotel’s signature massage involving warm herbal wrapped compresses—another must!
Our second day was our trek to Machu Picchu. After a hearty buffet breakfast at the beautiful indoor/outdoor Hawa, we walked to the PeruRail Sacred Valley train on the hotel’s campus (perurail.com). Debuted only six months prior to our visit was the most luxurious train I have ever encountered. The train ride is a three-hour trip to Aguas Calientes and we spent those three hours in lavish luxury and wonderment. After our gourmet three-course meal at a linen-topped table with fresh flowers, crystal, silver, and delicate china, we visited the observation car. Through its glass ceiling and large windows, we enjoyed the Peruvian countryside and wondered at the Sky Hotel—a hotel that you must scale a mountain to get to (Tambo del Inka is my definite preference).
Our guide met us at the train station for a spine-chilling bus ride on switchback roads up the Andes. We spent hours astounded by Machu Picchu with its bewitching views, jaw-dropping history, and an indescribable spirituality. The majestic sanctuary symbolizes the advanced technical skill of the Incans—who built this architectural masterpiece on top of a mountain in the fifteenth century! In addition to all of Machu Picchu’s historic and architectural significance, I must say standing in the Andes mountains surrounded by tropical forest at one of the New seven Wonders of the World with my family beside me was pretty cool and highly recommended.
Our time in Peru grew to a close, but we left that beautiful country with heads full of knowledge and history and hearts full from the beauty and kindness of this extraordinary country and its people.