We could write a book about travel to Peru. And you'd probably never find time to read it. So instead of overwhelming our readers with info, we put together this mini guide to give you a sense of where to stay and how to plan an itinerary from Lima to Machu Picchu and beyond. Got questions, planning a trip? Drop us a line! Monique, Passported's director of travel, recently did a scouting trip to Peru and is ready to gab.
You won’t spend much time in Peru’s capital city, but with twenty-four hours, there’s still a lot to check off your list. Our perfect day would include exploring the hip Barranco neighborhood and upscale Miraflores, eating some great meals (Cebichería La Mar is great for lunch, Maido for sushi and Cala for a seaside setting) and getting a good night’s sleep in a great hotel before heading to the mountains. If you hit one museum, make it the Museo Larco, a privately owned gallery stocked with Peruvian artifacts and pre-Colombian art.
Where Monique Stayed: Located in San Isidro, one of Lima’s wealthiest neighborhoods, the Country Club Hotel lives up to its name, with traditional décor, golf course views (the exclusive Lima Golf Club is just across the road) and a loyal following amongst the area’s well-heeled families. The rooms are spacious, and the lobby’s hand-painted Spanish tiles, grand chandelier and stately columns have Old World charm to spare. The resort’s restaurant is a top pick for extended families celebrating a milestone occasion, so the scene is far from tourist-only.
From Lima, you'll head to the mountains, or the Valley, that is. Forty-five minutes from Cusco's airport and at a lower altitude, the Sacred Valley starts your acclimatization process and gives you a lot of fun activities to do while you get used to the Peruvian highlands. Whitewater raft down the Urubamba River, hike terraced saltpans, explore Incan ruins and shop the markets for local textiles. You’ll want two to three nights here before or after Machu Picchu.
Where Monique Stayed: The largest of the hotels in the area, Tambo del Inka offers all the amenities of a five-star hotel. From the expansive spa and indoor pool to swift service, up-to-date technology in the rooms, a 24-hour front desk (this isn’t common) and even gluten-free menu options, the contemporary resort delivers the services a high-end traveler would expect at a Caribbean resort up in the middle of the mountains. It’s also got bragging rights to a convenience factor that makes the next leg of your journey much easier—a train station on property, so you avoid the thirty-minute drive to the valley’s main train station in Ollantaytambo.
Others to Know: The Relais & Chateaux Sol y Luna property is family-owned and a wonderful choice for those who don’t require all the amenities of a full-service hotel and appreciate a boutique property with a unique sense of place. Belmond Rio Sagrado has gorgeous gardens overlooking the river, a large outdoor heated pool, and family villas for those happy to splurge on extra space, a peaceful setting and luxurious interiors.
The village of Aguas Calientes sits at the base of the mountain below Machu Picchu, which is accessible only by train. And like the area’s hotels, you’ll have options here that range from white tablecloth to backpacker cheap but no matter how you journey there, the view is spectacular. Once you’re in Aguas Calientes, reaching Machu Picchu requires a Dramamine because you’ll have to take a bus through thirty minutes of switchbacks to the entrance of the park. The queue for the morning bus starts as early as 4 am as hikers vie to be the first into the park. TIP: If you want to hike the peak of Machu Picchu (Huayna Picchu) you’ll need to secure tickets months in advance as they limit the number of hikers who get to access the steep and crumbling steps.
Where Monique Stayed: Located in the town of Aguas Calientes only five minutes walking from the train station, the family-owned Sumaq Machu Picchu is spectacularly located adjacent to the Vilcanota River with rooms offering dramatic views of the rugged terrain and lush mountainside. The hotel recently saw a top to bottom renovation where the designer worked with local artisans to create custom art and hand-carved Andean furniture. For families, triple rooms with three full beds can technically accommodate a family with two little ones, but adjoining rooms are a better choice. Request a room at the far end of the building for the best views.
Others to Know: The only way to avoid the early-morning bus queue is to stay at the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, which sits at the entrance to the park. The accommodations are simple and the price tag is high, so remember if you stay here, you’re paying for access not extreme luxury.
With its cobblestone streets and ornate lanterns, Cusco has the charm of an old Spanish village. Once the capital of the Incas, this mountain town sits at an elevation of over 11,000 feet, which is why it’s best done towards the end of an itinerary, allowing plenty of time to acclimatize to altitude. Sacsayhuamán, an impressive Incan fortress, is one of four archeological sites near Cusco, and one that must be visited with a guide. I saw families with tweens who were glued to their guide, listening to stories of the epic battles that occurred there, the complexity of the construction and the engineering genius of the Incas. Our local partner has guides that speak English well and will be easy to understand for the kids. In the afternoon, visit local Andean communities to learn about textiles and take part in a weaving demonstration using techniques that are 2,000 years old, and be sure to wander the Pisac souvenir market in one of the town’s main squares. It’s known as one of the best in Peru.
Where Monique Stayed: I stayed at the JW Marriott, which recently emerged from a six-year renovation that brought this 16th-century convent back to life. The central location makes it a convenient base for exploring, and prices are reasonable, so you can balance splurges elsewhere with a more budget-friendly option here. Anyone suffering from altitude issues should request one of the oxygenated rooms, which can make a huge difference when trying to get a good night’s sleep at 11,000 feet. Worth noting: the hotel’s restaurant, Pirqa, served one of the best meals I had during my entire trip. Plan for lunch here even if you’re not staying.
Others to Know: There are two Belmond properties in Cusco, located next door to each other on one of the city’s main squares. Palacio Nazarenas, the newer of the two, was a former convent and has a big outdoor pool that’s popular with families as well as with couples ready for a little relax time. For style hounds of the boutique variety, check out La Casona, which feels more like a private mansion.