|Bird’s-Eye View: Beth Jenkins overlooking Machu Picchu from the top of Machu Picchu Mountain.|
As luxury travel advisors, we are always looking for ways to deliver that “wow!” experience to our clients. Peru is a destination with endless opportunities to do just that. My two-week Peruvian journey began in Lima, and took me into southern Peru—to Arequipa and the Colca Valley, Paracas on the Pacific coast—and finally to Cusco and Machu Picchu. Some may say I saved the best for last, but I quickly learned, through the diversity of experiences Peru has to offer, that the country is so much more than just Machu Picchu.
For the first-time traveler to Peru, Lima tends to be an overnight with a half-day tour, a stepping-stone to the rest of the country’s wonders. But the capital city is in the midst of a rebirth rendering it worthy of more of a traveler’s time. For the history buff, the old city center is quintessentially colonial. Stroll through the Plaza Mayor and visit the city blocks currently being renovated to their original colonial charm through a government restoration project. Much of the history to uncover in Lima dates far before the Spanish arrived. Tip: Visit some of the pre-Incan archeological sites excavated throughout the downtown. Then head to the hip Miraflores district where you can shop and dine on the waterfront.
Stay in an oceanview room at the Miraflores Park Hotel, one of seven Orient-Express properties in Peru. Hint: Dine at their brand-new restaurant, Mesa 18, and take breakfast poolside on the rooftop overlooking the Pacific.
The (aptly named) Country Club Hotel is another fine option in the upscale San Isidro neighborhood. Its comfortable bar and restaurant is a Limeño’s place to see and be seen. Soak in this cosmopolitan city before continuing your exploration of Peru.
Historically, the backpacker crowd from much of the European and North American markets pioneered tourism in Peru and the development of infrastructure suited for the luxury traveler followed. This holds true for southern Peru, which has seen an increase in offerings for the luxury traveler over the past decade.
|Breakfast is served Orient-Express-style over the Colca Valley.|
Start your exploration of southern Peru in the colonial city of Arequipa, a short flight from Lima. From here begins the trek to the Colca Valley, a nearly five-hour journey that is an adventure in its own right. The Colca Canyon, promoted as the deepest in the world, is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. The landscape is awe-inspiring as you climb the Andes Mountains. Herds of rare vicuñas (the prized cousin of the alpaca) roam the original Inca farming terraces, which are still tended by hardworking and colorfully-clad Peruvian farmers.
Orient-Express’ Las Casitas del Colca is the top choice to stay here. Embark on an extraordinary birding excursion to see the condors float over the Colca Valley, go horseback-riding or relax and enjoy the landscape from a private plunge pool fed by the natural hot springs (each villa has one).
We then turned our attention to southern Peru, on the Pacific coast, a few hours south of Lima. The Nazca Lines are one of our world’s “unsolved mysteries” and if this is not already on your bucket list, I urge you to add it. But why cram it in to a long day trip from Lima when you could spend a few days in the nearby resort town of Paracas? In this weekend playground for Limeños, stay at the Luxury Collection’s Hotel Paracas, where their on-site tour operator will organize your excursions: flight-seeing over the Nazca Lines in their private Cessna, off-roading under the stars in the California Desert or an afternoon on a yacht in the Pacific. Tip: Take a half-day boat trip to the Ballesta Islands, where you’ll spot rare cormorants, Ballesta boobies, and baby sea lions getting swimming lessons. (It’s no wonder the islands have been described as “Galapagos Lite.”)
|Up close and personal with sea lions on the Ballesta Islands.|
Of course, one can hardly travel through Peru without experiencing the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu. And what better time to visit? 2011 marks the 100th anniversary of the re-discovery of Machu Picchu by Hiram Bingham and the beginning of its climb to the top of travelers’ to-do lists. Cusco is the home base for most Machu Picchu visits and worthy of at least two nights in itself. The city is as bustling now as it was as the Inca capital and later as a colonial center.
Orient-Express rounds out its Peruvian presence here with the Hotel Monasterio in Cusco, the Hotel Rio Sagrado in the Sacred Valley—perfect for pre- or post-Machu Picchu—and The Sanctuary Lodge, the only property at the entrance to Machu Picchu.
One of Peru’s most recent draws (and one of my personal favorites) has to be the gastronomic experience. Peru’s culinary scene, and Lima’s in particular, is receiving increasing international recognition. The youth of many of Lima’s up-and-coming chefs is one of the reasons for the vast potential of Peruvian cuisine—one of my many excuses to make a return visit soon.
As chock-full as my Peruvian itinerary was, the country has much more still to offer the distinguished traveler. Chief among them include the Peruvian Amazon, the floating islands of Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake, or the northern Pacific coast, a haven for beach bums and pre-Columbian historians alike. With so many experiences from which to choose, designing a unique and memorable Peruvian itinerary is possible for a diverse clientele—and is best deliberated over a pisco sour.