Why we love it: Though relatively small, Peru—on the west coast of South America—is home to a diverse array of settings, activities and climates; you’ll find the Andes Mountains, the tropical Amazon and lots of lively cities in between. It’s one of the few countries in the world currently enjoying a growing economy. The capital city of Lima is bustling with trendy restaurants and new hotels, while the mountain town Cusco has nightlife to suit every style. Along with all the modern developments, Peru has plenty of history to explore, with sites from the days of the Incas and the Spanish Colonial period. And, of course, there’s that most famous outdoor treasure: Machu Picchu.
Some of the country's colonial wonders (Photo Credit: Gihan Tubbeh/ PromPeru).
The basics: Bordered by Brazil, Chile and the Pacific Ocean, Peru is easy to get to—direct flights to Lima are about seven hours from Los Angeles and five hours from Miami. The primary languages are Spanish and the native Quechua, though English is widely spoken. No visa is required for U.S. citizens with a valid passport.
What to do: Lima, get the lay of the land with a visit to the city’s historic center, which is filled with colonialera attractions. Check out the main plaza, the central cathedral, and the Monastery of San Francisco; the latter two feature period furnishings and artworks, and house remnants of the city’s original catacombs. Thanks to its unique cuisine that draws upon native, Spanish Colonial, European, Japanese and African influences, Lima is also considered a gastronomic hub of South America.
Once the capital of the Incas, Cusco is a lively mid-sized city in the Andes Mountains. Visit the 12th-century Sacsay-huaman archeological complex and the 16th-century main cathedral, then head to the central square lined with cafés, bars and shops. Note: Cusco is almost 11,000 feet above sea level, so it’s best to take things slow for a day or two. Drink lots of water and coca tea to dull altitude sickness.
Many travelers use Cusco as a jumping-off point to Machu Picchu. Several trains wind their way up to the sacred site, but for the deluxe experience, hop on the Hiram Bingham, named for the Yale professor who re-discovered Machu Picchu. Once there, learn about the site’s history with a guided walk of the main Citadel complex. Wake up early for a hike up to the Sun Gate, where the Inca Trail meets the site. Or for a more intense climb, try the Wayna Picchu peak.
The iconic Machu Picchu (Photo Credit: Renzo Giraldo/ PromPeru).
Romance recommendation: Set in northwestern Peru, Mancora is a mellow town known for its pristine beaches and surfable waves. From August to November, humpback whales swim so close to the shore you can often spot them from the sand.
Where to stay: In Lima, check into the Westin Lima, where the Maras restaurant serves upscale fusion fare, and the spa features a hydrotherapy circuit and treatments that use local ingredients (room rates start at $650 a night and include breakfast; starwoodhotels.com). In Cusco, don’t miss the Hotel Monasterio, set in a former monastery; the rooms offer pumped-in oxygen to help guests adjust to the altitude (room rates start at $635 a night; monasteriohotel.com). At Machu Picchu, only one hotel—Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge—is at the site, and boasts views of the Citadel from the outdoor hot tub (room rates start at $825 a night; orient-express.com).
Photo Credit: Manchamanteles/ PromPeru