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 just 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.
View from Lima’s Miraflores Park Hotel
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 morning hours. Later, from my luxe room (laden with Molton Brown amenities), I saw the coast stretching for miles 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 historic 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.
Ceviche at Lima’s La Mar
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 (overlooking adobe Incan ruins) for a traditional lunch, and La Mar the next. Just like its counterpart in San Francisco, Lima’s La Mar serves delectable ceviches, tiraditos, sushi, and more with a great local vibe.
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.
Andean luxury at the Sumaq Hotel
Machu Picchu sunrise
Amazing Machu Picchu
The plane ride from Lima to Cusco is less than an hour and passes between snow-capped mountains and arid peaks. By the time the plane lands, you’re at 10,659 feet. Acclimating to the sudden elevation change is easier if you visit Machu Picchu town first (about 7,000 feet), 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.
The full Machu Picchu experience is best at sunrise. 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, and 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.
The city features Inca-built walls lining steep cobblestoned streets, historic plazas teeming with natives in colorful 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 pór Gaston Acurio. The talented chef delivered — 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, and the food — it’s a country you’ll remember and want to return to.
Peru: Fly LAN direct San Francisco to Lima in about nine hours; www.lan.com. In business class, find horizontal seats for maximum comfort, Bulgari products, South American wines, and healthful fare. Recently renovated economy class boasts an entertainment system like that in business (with a smaller screen), complimentary food and wine. Tourist Information: www.peru.info, www.theperuguide.com, www.perurail.com. Currency: Nuevo Sol.
Where to Stay
Lima: Miraflores Park Hotel, Av. Malecón de la reserve 1035, 800-237-1236, www.miraflorespark.com
Machu Picchu: Sumaq Hotel, Av. Hermanos Ayar, 866-682-0645, www.sumaqhotelperu.com
Cusco: Casa Cartagena, Pumacurco 336, www.casacartagena.com.
(These hotels all offer Internet specials.)
Where to Eat & Drink
Lima: Restaurant Huaca Pucllana, General Borgoño, Block 8, www.resthuacapucllana.com; La Mar, Av. La Mar 770, www.lamarcebicheria.com; Central, Calle Carlos Augusto Salaverry 3810; Mesa 18, Calle los Carolinas 118, www.mesa18restaurant.com.
Machu Picchu: Qunuq Restaurant, Av. Hermanos Ayar, www.sumaqhotelperu.com.
Cusco: La Chola, Pumacurco 336, www.casacartagena.com; Cicciolina, Calle Triunfo 393, www.cicciolinacusco.com; Chicha por Gaston Acurio, Calle Plaza Regocijo 261.
Lima: Museo San Francisco, Plazuela San Francisco, www.museocatacumbas.com; Museo Nacional de Arqueologia/Antropoligia e Historia del Peru, Av. Javier Prado Este 2465, www.inc.gob.pe; Museo Arqueologia Rafael Larco Herrara, Av. Bolivar 1515, www.museolarco.org; Huaca Pucllana, General Borgoño, Block 8, www.pucllana.perucultural.org.pe.
Machu Picchu: www.machupicchu.org.
Cusco: La Catedral, Plaza de Armas; Museo Inka, Tucumán at Ataúd; Qorikancha, Plazoleta Santo Domingo.
PacSafe Purse: The CitySafe 200 model keeps valuables protected. Roomy and stylish, don’t travel without it. $65, 800-873-9415, www.pacsafe.com.
Adventure & Travel Convertible Capris: Pants so comfortable you’ll wear them everywhere. Easily convert to walking shorts; ample pockets and great fabric. $70, 800-962-4943, www.magellans.com.
Patty Burness is the travel writer for Northside San Francisco. E-mail: email@example.com
Know This: Visiting Peru can be controversial. While the history and culture of Peru are fascinating, the country continues the tradition of bullfighting: bulls are killed in a public spectacle. You decide how to channel your activism.