“More than Machu Picchu!” This would be a fitting subtitle for any traveler’s exploration of Peru. Across the sweeping southern plains of the country and within its tangled rainforests, there are enough adventures to satiate even the most storied travelers without setting foot upon the Incan citadel. And yet, it’s also true that no trip to the Land of the Sun would be complete without it, so it seems a fitting way to kick off this list.
If you have one week:
High up amidst the clean air of the Andes mountains, where the sky is a deep topaz and the hills are an almost lurid green, your senses can stretch without constraint.
Built in the 15th century, the stone city’s secluded location spared it from the conquest of the Spanish (though it’s just fifty miles from Cusco, which was seized). Something of an architectural anomaly, it was once an almost mythical mountaintop city: solstices were celebrated and thriving commerce was conducted. The driving force behind its success in such a remote location, however, eludes historians to this day.
If you still find energy after walking in the ancient ruins, there’s an abundance of hummingbirds to identify in the surrounding lushness, and tea leaves to pick and dry in time for dinner.
The Belmond Monasterio in Cusco manages to provide world-class 5-star service within a 17th century Spanish monastery built on ancient Incan foundations. It’s also been renovated with the highest degree of historical accuracy. Settle into the inner courtyard, the perfect place to enjoy a pre-dinner Pisco sour – a South American signature drink. It sets the culinary bar high, and the food does not disappoint. Warm crawfish ceviche and lamb shank infused with garden-picked oregano and dolloped with goat cheese are the perfect way to punctuate a long day of exploring; a glass of red wine seals the deal.
Peru’s brightly patterned textiles are amongst its most recognizable cultural symbols. Relying on techniques unchanged through centuries, there’s no better place to discover the mystery behind their making than in the tiny mountain village of Chinchero. Deep in Peru’s Sacred Valley, this community is known today for making fabrics according to ancient tradition. Here, meet with local artisans who demonstrate how they treat wool with natural dyes to achieve astoundingly vibrant colors, and then weave them into intensely complicated patterns. A true delight for those with an artistic eye or fascinated by Andean cultural traditions.
If you have more than a week, here’s how to extend your explorations:
Peru’s Amazonian jungle occupies over half the country. Within the lush tangle of the Tambopata National Reserve, the density of the Amazon is immediate and breathtaking. A network of swinging bridges exist for you to navigate the tree tops; take in an aerial view of the biological complexity beneath the canopy. Howler monkeys swing through trees as otters swim in lakes below. If heights make you nervous, never fear; canoes also await. Paddling the Reserve’s hushed lake surface is an experience not to be missed.
It’s true that much of Peru’s mystique stems from its timeless ancient cities, colorful cultures and cinematic scenery. But there’s also never been a better time to visit its increasingly cosmopolitan cities. The country has won World Travel Awards for South America’s Leading Culinary Destination for three years in a row, and Cusco has quickly established itself as a world class culinary destination. If you’re drawn by it all – food, luxury, history, and nature – then rest assured that Peru is the perfect destination for you.