As a little kid, I had major wanderlust which I attribute to a book my mother bought me of the seven wonders of the world. I pored over this book constantly and quickly put each of them on my “little kid bucket list”.
Of the seven wonders that I was obsessed with, Machu Picchu was a favourite. I’d look at the pictures and ask myself “How did the Incans build this? Is Machu Picchu really at the top of a mountain? I wonder what it looks like first hand?”. As I stared at the dog-eared pages of my beloved book, I thought of how much allowance I would need to save to get there.
Fast forward many years later and I have a bunch of travel miles under my belt. I have been very blessed to marry someone with my same wanderlust and love of new experiences. We have seen a lot of the world together and have loved every second of it.
In 2008, my husband was presented with the opportunity to go to Peru for work. I almost died when he told me. My mind started racing with thoughts of finally seeing Machu Picchu, finally fulfilling that childhood dream of walking that complex of plazas, terraces and temples. In addition to seeing Machu Picchu, we could explore the Nazca Lines, the Inca Trail and countless ruins. I was packing my suitcase in a heartbeat.
Here is just a sampling of highlights from our unforgettable trip. I highly recommend a visit to this beautiful, interesting country steeped in history.
Where to stay
The Country Club Lima Hotel
Upon our arrival in Lima, our driver met us at the airport and whisked us away to the five star, Country Club Lima Hotel located in San Isidro. My jaw dropped when we pulled up. Surrounded by elegant embassies, this hotel is one of the only hotels in Peru recognized as a national monument.
The hotel is decorated beautifully with antiques and over 300 pieces of original artwork on loan from the Pedro de Osma Museum. Our room was exquisite, sparkling with shiny marble and antique furniture. If luxury is your thing, this hotel is for you.
Attached to the hotel is Ilaria Peru – the Peruvian version of Tiffany & Co. Peru is known for its fine silverware and this store delivered. Candelabras, flatware, servingware and the most beautiful, unique jewelry I’ve ever seen.
After settling in at the hotel and some sightseeing, Ryan and I were driven to Larcomar, an entertainment and shopping district located along the seawalk in Miraflores.
Larcomar is very interesting – it is comprised of several levels built underneath Miraflores in the cliffside. Admire the gorgeous views of the Pacific as you poke in and out of high end jewellers, clothing stores and boutiques owned by Peruvian fashion designers. There is also an abundance of restaurants, bars and entertainment venues. Be sure to try out the “orpollo a la braza” (chicken roasted over coals) at Pardo’s Chicken, brave some cuy (guinea pig!), and stop in at a bar for a Pisco sour – a cocktail originating in Lima consisting of Peruvian pisco, Key lime juice, simple syrup, egg whites and Angosturra bitters. Let’s just say we had several of these therefore making our visit to Larcomar a little fuzzy…
Once Ryan was finished his meetings, we really started our sightseeing. Ryan booked us on a private tour of Lima, which was a great way to see as much as possible in a safe way. Here is a shot of Plaza Mayor and its manicured gardens in downtown Lima:
We started off our day with a visit to the Pucllana Temple. Located in the Miraflores district, this huaca (historical ruin) is an adobe ceremonial centre built around 500 A.D. A large percentage of the site has been restored and artifacts and the occasionally mummy are still found to this day. Try to visit at night as it is beautifully illuminated.
There is no shortage of great museums and art galleries in Lima. As we had limited time, we only visited the Banca Central de Reserva Del Peru (Museum of the Central Reserve Bank). This museum highlights pre-Colombian archaeological treasures, a fantastic art gallery, the Hugo Cohen gold collection and an exhibit devoted to Peruvian folk art. Definitely worth a visit.
The Government Palace
The Government Palace is a sight to behold. Built by Francisco Pizarro in 1535 (Spanish conquistador that conquered the Incan Empire), it is the official residence and office of Peru’s president. A wonderful example of neo-colonial architecture. Be sure to visit to witness the Change of the Guard – just spectacular!
Church of San Francisco
The Church of San Francisco is one of the best preserved Catholic colonial churches in Peru. Built in the baroque-style of the late 1600s, San Francisco has several gilded side altars and an impressive lattice dome. The adjoining monastery has a superb collection of ancient religious texts, some of which were brought over by the first wave of Spanish priests after the conquest of the Incas.
Most people go to San Francisco, however, for its catacombs. The catacombs were actually part of Lima’s original cemeteries, which were built under churches. There are an estimated 75,000 bodies buried under San Francisco alone, and many of the remains are exposed, stacked in strange patterns in circular stone pits. A catacomb tour is not for the squeamish or the claustrophobic.
After our stay in Lima, we headed to Cusco. We boarded our private bus to Ollantaytambo and experienced some of the most gorgeous scenery.
Once we reached Ollantaytambo, we hopped on a lively train ride through the Andes organized by our guide. Here are some shots of our “on-board entertainment”:
We arrived in Cusco and were whisked away to our eco-hotel, the Machu Picchu Pueblo. This hotel was gorgeous – the embodiment of a peaceful sanctuary. We would be staying in Cusco for about a day before heading up to Machu Picchu. This is highly recommended in order to acclimate properly and avoid soroche, better known as altitude sickness.
FINALLY! The big day arrives! We got there early in the morning…the sun was shining and not a cloud in the crystal clear, blue sky. I remember staring out at the Andean mountain range and crying. It was so grand and magnificent. I cannot really describe how I felt, other than most of my worries that center around frivolous, material things just vanished. I was fortunate to be able to travel here. I was fortunate to share this experience with Ryan, my best friend. I was fortunate to just be in that moment. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.
As I looked over at Machu Picchu and its expanse of mind-blowing physics and engineering, I couldn’t help but wonder how the Incans built this! The structures consisted of massive pieces of granite that were hauled up to the TOP of a mountain, and were cut so expertly that you cannot fit a knife blade in between them. The Incans also incorporated sewer systems, lighting according to the movement of the sun and created multi-level terraces that spoke to my inner landscaper. Just so beautiful.
The Inca Trail
The Inca Trail is by far the most famous trail in South America and is listed as one of the top five treks in the world. At 42 kms long, you should probably train a little for this hike! This trek is particularly amazing because it winds through the area where the snow-capped Andes meet the lush Amazon jungle, thus creating some of the most beautiful terrain known to man.
Now, keep in mind that while it is considered a “moderate” hike with fair complexity, some have suffered from altitude sickness if not acclimated properly. Ryan and I opted not to do it as we just didn’t have enough time. If you are presented with the opportunity, DO IT.
I had some of the best steaks and red wines in Peru! I wasn’t sure what to expect of the national cuisine, but to say I was “delighted” is an understatement. Flavourful, exotic ingredients, exquisite cocktails and Peruvian and Argentinian wines….Peru was a literal gastronomic delight. Thank you Peru for introducing me to real ceviche!!
Perroquet, The Country Club Lima Hotel, San Isidro
Perroquet is located within the Country Club Lima Hotel. It is known for its sea bass ceviche, causa (yellow potato mash) with either avocado and crab, chilli and shrimp, or sea bass in a spicy pickling mixture. Their lomo saltado (stir-fried beef, Chifa-style) or fillet of chita (a white fish) on a bed of creamy sliced potatoes, sautéed with onion and white wine are highly recommended. This was my second time having ceviche in Lima and the Perroquet version was incredible. The first time was at La Rosa Nautica in Miraflores. Their dish incorporated squid ink which was initially horrifying to look at, but turned out to be absolutely light and delicious.
Astrid & Gastón, Miraflores
Opened in 1994, this restaurant is known for its top-quality Pacific seafood. A signature dish is their “Ceviche of love”: raw sea urchin, clam, squid, mussel and shrimp marinated in lime and three types of chili pepper, served in an oyster shell. Produce from all over Peru is showcased, from Andean lamb and a confit of paiche to a Peruvian curry of tubers, vegetables, grains, herbs and spices served with quinoa.
Well, this concludes this lengthy post on our trip to Peru. I think of this lovely country often and hope to go back soon to tackle the Inca Trail.
Have you traveled to Peru? What are some of your own trip highlights? I would love to hear from you in the comments section with your own experiences, tips and recommendations!
*Detailed Perroquet and Astrid & Gastón menu information courtesy of www.telegraph.co.uk