Peru, in a word, is unforgettable. Home to a significant length of the Andes Mountains and part of the mighty Amazon, Peru is far from short of jaw-dropping natural landscapes, from dusty deserts along the southern coast in the west to tree-laden, rocky mountains in the east. What’s more, Peru offers an incredibly vibrant and distinctive native culture characterized by the flute folk music and colorful food and costumes of las indígenas, remnants of bygone cultures masked over by Spanish claims. While most people in Peru speak Spanish, quite a few still speak their native tongue, Quechua.
Here flourished the ancient Incan civilization, whose architectural fingerprint is visible all over the country. Intricate Inca rock-laid roads believed to be connections of the Inca Trail run along modern roads, from which ancient terraced agricultural plots, still in use, pop out from mountain sides like beaded jewelry on an Inca princess.
Cuzco, a beautiful stone city alive with markets and people, was the site of the Inca Empire’s capital and is, now, a 50-minute flight from Lima. This is your home base for getting to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley in Ollantaytambo by train. Because you’re likely to be away during the day on ruin excursions, take advantage of Cuzco by night by visiting one of its many cocktail bars, such as Los Perros, which offers cozy sofa seating to chat away on the day’s expedition over drinks. El Pisquerito is another excellent choice that offers a wide range of Peruvian pisco, a type of liquor which originated in Peru. You absolutely cannot leave Peru without indulging in a Pisco Sour, a native concoction which gives a tangy, powerful jolt that you’ll never forget. The drink is in fact becoming more popular in bars around the world, but nothing is quite as good as a real Peruvian Pisco Sour. While in Peru, you should also sink your teeth into some guinea pig, a national delicacy. If adventurous food isn’t your style, then grab some sopa seca (a tomato and peanut based pasta dish served with chicken) or fried whole fish, other national favorites. Most dishes are served with yucca, a fibrous root vegetable.
The most well-known Inca ruins are at Machu Picchu, the remains of an important Inca establishment built in the 15th century and introduced to the international tourist community in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, American historian. It’s true that the sacred seclusion of these mountain-top ruins has been interrupted by tourist foot traffic, but its surreal atmosphere has not been lost. Hot points to hit are the Intihuatana (Hitching post of the Sun), the Temple of the Sun, and the Room of the Three Windows in Machu Picchu’s Sacred District. There are plenty of insightful guided tours that share interesting facts to introduce you to the ghost city, but there’s nothing like setting out on an independent exploration of the many dry-stone structures nestled in the ancient village streets. In fact, because most of the tours don’t cover these areas in depth, less people are milling about to get in the way of your skilled photography.
Breathtaking misty mountain and fertile valley views surround the ruins, and to top it off, there are almost as many llamas milling about as there are people! The Luxe Travel suggests taking along a picnic lunch to make the most out of your day-in-the-life of an Inca. For all you yogis out there, pull a few poses on the edge (but not too close!) for a fulfilling spiritual experience.
Be prepared for the high altitudes by taking hikes slowly and drinking a lot (and we mean A LOT) of water before, during and after your visit to Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu is reached by taking a 3.5-hour train ride from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, the nearest town which lies at the foot of the mountain, and then a 20-minute bus ride from Aguas Calientes to the top. The journey may be long, but we can assure you it’s worth it.
Many travelers make the unfortunate mistake of missing out on the Sacred Valley, reached via the town of Ollantaytambo, which in itself is worth exploration. Ollantaytambo contains original structures from its Inca origin and has been inhabited by Peruvians from the 13th century to this day. Ollantaytambo can be reached by a 1.5-hour train ride from Cuzco
Though Lima isn’t particularly known for its architectural aesthetics, there are a few places definitely worth visiting, such as the colorful markets full of Peruvian souvenirs sold mainly by women of native heritage. First and foremost, however, The Luxe Travel absolutely recommends a night at the Asociación Cultural Brisas del Titicaca, an upscale club that offers a dinner and performance on nightly Folklore Nights, which showcase native cuisine and a complete collection of Peruvian folk dance across native cultures and types of dance, as well as some Spanish flair with dances of Hispanic origin. In between performances, patrons are invited to dance to live music. Young, talented dancers light up the stage with world class entertainment and captivating, tear-worthy performances that you’ll rave about for weeks. On the night of our attendance, we had the pleasure of viewing the Jallmay Alto Folclor group, an extremely talented dance group that is often invited to some of the world’s most spectacular international folk dance exhibitions. The Luxe Travel considers Brisas del Titicaca a priority stop on your Peru itinerary. We encourage you to visit the Brisas del Titicaca website for more information, and to stop by on your way through Lima, the hub to all locations in Peru.