From the Andes to the Amazon, Peru will cast its spell on you.
One of the most biodiverse spots on the planet, Peru is a hot destination for those seeking natural beauty, spiritual healing, cultural sights and culinary delights. World-famous chef Gaston Acurio brought together influences from the Inca, Spanish, African, Chinese and Japanese cultures in Lima and exported Peruvian specialties like ceviche, tiradito, amaranth and pisco sours to his 30 restaurants worldwide—including a new one at the Mandarin Oriental Miami.
In the Andes, visit the ancient Inca Salt Pens near Maras, built in natural sinkholes overlooking the scenic Urubamba Valley, where people still harvest the famous salt. At a women’s weaving cooperative in nearby Chincherro, watch colorful fabrics hand-dyed with local vegetables and flowers. If you are adventurous, visit San Pedro Market, in Cusco, where locals shop for beautiful blankets, quinoa, traditional foods and fedoras.
Birthplace of the mighty Amazon, which discharges 57 million gallons of water per second, it’s no surprise that 99 percent of the electricity in the country is hydropowered.
An example of the magic that is Peru: In the rainy season, when the land is flooded, fish swim into the forest and pink dolphins swim after them. Here are some key areas to visit where you can experience Peru’s garden of (un)earthly delights.
Iquitos, a sleepy Peruvian backwater surrounded by three rivers, is where you board the Aria Amazon, Aqua Expeditions’ 147-foot luxury cruiser that will take you through the Amazon in comfort and great style. The spacious rooms feature floor to ceiling windows that enable you to feel really close to the fish that skim the river.
Daily excursions go out on skiffs with experienced and personable naturalist guides. Caymans, jaguars, bats, monkeys, poison dart frogs and 1,850 bird species are only a small slice of the wildlife to inhabit the region. Every excursion is different: One day we hiked into the jungle, another was spent at San Francisco, a coastal village, home to the warm and welcoming Cucama people. Return to the Aria each day and enjoy refreshing tiradito, guava champagne cocktails, bracing pisco sours, and an exquisite dinner. A massage therapist awaits to work out any kinks.
The staff donates fishing equipment, advises on resource management and sells beautiful handmade crafts in a tiny shop to support the local people. You may want to bring State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett, onboard. The novel, though set in Brazil, is said to have been inspired by the writer’s journey on the Aria. aquaexpeditions.com
This was the first eco-lodge in the Amazon, built in 1975 by Inkaterra owner and conservationist Jose Koechlin von Stein, close to the Bolivian border. After a flight to Porto Maldonado, a quick drive to the river, and a 45-minute boat ride, you arrive at the remote spot on the banks of the Amazon. A small herd of tapirs greets you outside the beautiful thatched-roof dining room.
Head out on a twilight river cruise, where you’ll see bright eyes in the darkness on shore: Cayman, capobeiras and many species of birds. (Wake up early under the mosquito netting in your hut to hear the jungle pulsing with nature sounds.)
An early morning excursion to Lake Sandoval, in the Tampota National Reserve, features a hike and a canoe trip onto the picturesque lake. Return to the lodge and hike to the award-winning canopy tour above the jungle, where you may see a family of tamarind monkeys swinging from the trees. The last course leads to “The Tree House,” a 10-story platform in the sky where you can arrange to stay overnight, or dine in the treetops. In the rustic two-room spa on-property, products are made by hand from plants found in the Amazon. inkaterra.com
Set on grounds that once belonged to the Incas, later housed a 16th-century private mansion and, for 300 years, a Jesuit convent, Orient-Express’ recently opened, 67-suite hotel is a peaceful retreat in the heart of Cusco. Along with modern perks like pre-loaded iPads and oxygen-enriched air-conditioning in the rooms (the latter to help with altitude sickness), the property is replete with historic and traditional touches, from the materials and fabrics found in the suites and the Peruvian herbs and edible flowers used in the restaurant, to the Hypnoze Spa, where a few of the treatment rooms have glass floors framing the underground Incan walls discovered during the restoration. The spa’s line of house-made organic products incorporates indigenous ingredients like coca leaves, Andean salt, coffee, quinoa, purple corn, healing herbs like muna, and kiwicha, a suddenly-hot protein-rich superfood grain. Among the long list of treatments are fun options like “Masaje Con Vela,” an energy-balancing massage created by a Quechua shaman. palacionazarenas.com
The Sacred Valley & Machu Picchu
Hotel Rio Sagrado
Just over an hour from Cusco, in the heart of the lush Sacred Valley of the Incas, this 21-suite, two-villa hotel celebrates the traditions of its location in every way, from its design and cuisine to its wellness and cultural experiences.
Though many travelers use the Sacred Valley as a pre- or post-Machu Picchu stopover (the hotel is less than two hours away from the UNESCO site by train), it’s worth settling in for a few days to enjoy a horseback ride through the forests, a guided walk in the local community, a visit to the colorful local market, or a session with a traditional shaman, who visits the property to perform coca leaf readings or guide guests through meditative, riverside spiritual ceremonies designed to banish negative energy and honor the Great Mountain Spirits. At the intimate Spa Mayu Wika, the menu includes coca leaf body wraps, reflexology to treat altitude issues, and scrubs done with pink Maras salt infused with the anti-inflammatory Sacha Inchi plant. riosagrado.com
Inkaterra Machu Picchu Hotel
The Inca Rail journey from the Sacred Valley town of Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu is one of the most spectacular in the world, driving up through mist and mountains, along the winding Urubamba River, to the Machu Picchu Historical Reserve. Disembark and the 85-room-and-villa Virtuoso boutique hotel lies a short walk away.
To beat the crowd, wait until early morning to catch the nearby bus to Machu Picchu. Meanwhile, enjoy a delicious lunch at the Hotel’s Cafe Inkaterra, resembling a turn-of-the-century train car and featuring Andean dishes with a modern twist, and the Inca Massage at the intimate Unu Spa, with oils made from local organic lemon, coca, orchid or mint. The Spa also offers an outdoor hot tub, a sweat lodge and a pretty stone patio where you can relax with a cup of tea—grown at the Organic Tea Plantation on-property—and enjoy the view.
You won’t want to miss a walk through the Orchid Garden, the world’s largest collection in a natural setting in a private facility, or a Twilight Walk through pre-Inca rock paintings, before enjoying a fantastic dinner and settling in for the night. inkaterra.com