Forget the image of grubby backpackers, Peru’s cosmopolitan capital Lima has a thriving arts scene, including the Mate Museo Mario Testino gallery, plus there are some beautiful hotels and luxury trains that make discovering Machu Picchu a much more delightful, grown-up experience…
Words: Lorraine Crighton-Smith
Before I had the pleasure of visiting Peru, I must admit that the thought of travelling to South America conjured up thoughts of grubby gap-year backpackers trekking to Machu Picchu. With university a very distant memory, what I want from a holiday now is a very different story – but there is more to Peru than its famous historical Inca trail.
We departed London Heathrow on a night TAM flight, which is part of Latin American airlines group, LATAM. We passed through Brazil’s Sao Paulo airport in transit before touching down in Lima, Peru’s cosmopolitan capital – and largest – city at 11am the following morning.
After checking into our first hotel, Belmond Miraflores Park, we freshened up before grabbing a bite to eat – and a welcome drink, Peru’s national tipple Pisco Sour – at Tragaluz, the hotel’s contemporary restaurant by restaurateur Augusto Baertl.
Peru has a thriving arts scene, both contemporary and traditional, and this can be seen in Lima’s array of art galleries. One of the most notable is Mate Museo Mario Testino – a non-profit gallery in the Barranco district that he ‘established to contribute to Peru through the cultivation and promotion of culture and heritage’. It also showcases some of the famous Peruvian fashion photographer’s most iconic photographs including portraits of Kate Moss and Princess Diana.
Check out Lima’s array of art galleries, including the Mate Museo Mario Testino, which promotes Peruvian culture and heritage. It also showcases some of Testino’s most iconic photographs
We took a tour of Lima’s vibrant districts by bicycle – the roads are initially intimidating, but this is great way to see the architecture and artistic merit of the city. The sky in Lima is almost permanently grey, but rain is rare. To see blue skies, and a more historical side of Peru, head to Cusco. Just over an hour’s TAM flight and you touch down at an altitude of 3,310m, with quite a view of the Andes mountains.
We checked in at Belmond Palacio Nazarenas, a grand hotel set in a peaceful plaza behind Cusco’s main square. A former palace and convent, Palacio Nazarenas is historical and luxurious with all mod cons – including oxygen that is pumped into the rooms through the air con to counteract any adverse effects of the altitude. There’s a gorgeous spa and Cusco’s only outdoor infinity-edge pool too. The drop in temperature from Lima to Cusco is noticeable, so pack sensibly.
We spent a morning browsing Cusco’s colourful San Pedro Market before continuing the art theme, meeting Teo Chambi – the grandson of Martin Chambi, the Peruvian photographer who inspired Mario Testino. At Chambi’s studio (he is also a photographer) he shared his memories of his grandfather and proudly showed us photographs and negatives from the archives. Do explore Cusco on foot, the architecture and landscape here is fascinating.
The Belmond Hiram Bingham is a vintage, luxury train complete with bar, but don’t get too carried away, you’ll want to preserve your energy for exploring Machu Picchu
From Cusco, we boarded the Belmond Hiram Bingham (a vintage, luxury train complete with bar). A live band – and the pisco sours – combine to create a lively, party carriage, that is if you can tear your eyes away from the unbelievable scenery you are passing. The Hiram Bingham’s destination is Machu Picchu (so don’t get too carried away at the bar, you’ll want to preserve your energy for your arrival).
After Cusco and Machu Picchu, we travelled by train (the Vistadome, with panoramic windows) to Ollantaytambo, where we transferred to Belmond Hotel Rio Sagrado. With a backdrop of The Sacred Valley and the Urubamba River, Hotel Rio Sagrado feels like a ranch – a resplendent one at that. My garden suite was light-filled, spacious and with a most luxurious marble bathroom.
The spa here is also impressive and the view while you’re swimming in the outdoor pool is nothing short of spectacular. The food was consistently good during our tour of Belmond’s Peruvian properties, but a special mention must go to our final destination, where we experienced a traditional Inca-style barbecue called pachamanca.
Hours before we sat down to sample the pachamanca, preparation began by digging a hole in the ground and filling it with hot stones. Once hot enough, the marinated meat and vegetables are placed on the stones, and the hole is filled with earth. Pachamanca means ‘earth pot’, and as we tuck into the food so lovingly prepared from the earth I question if a barbecue back home will ever taste as good again.
After the pursuits of Machu Picchu – and the Hiram Bingham – Hotel Rio Segrado is the perfect Peruvian spot for some R&R.
Belmond Miraflores Park, Lima
City View Junior Suites start from £227 per night + taxes and charges, on a bed and breakfast basis.
Belmond Palacio Nazarenas, Cusco
Junior Suites start from £421 per night + taxes and charges, on a bed and breakfast basis.
Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, Machu Picchu
Standard Rooms start from £600 per night including + taxes and charges, on a half board (breakfast and lunch or dinner) basis.
Belmond Hotel Rio Sagrado, Sacred Valley
Deluxe Terrace Rooms start from £272 per night + taxes and charges, on a bed and breakfast basis.
Belmond Hiram Bingham
Cusco (Poroy) to Machu Picchu (Aguas Calientes) is £255 per person, including welcome aperitifs upon arrival at Poroy Station, brunch and Peruvian wines, on board entertainment, bus transfer from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu, entry to Machu Picchu and afternoon tea at Belmond Sanctuary Lodge.
Machu Picchu (Aguas Calientes) to Ollantaytambo: £44 per person. See perurail.com
London Heathrow to Lima (return)
Lima to Cusco (return)
For further information on tourism in Peru, see peru.travel