When the money is there, art is developed again, life is developed again,” says artist, art dealer and Lima native Marco Testino, cousin of fashion photographer Mario.
Thanks to a booming economy and a reawakened national pride, Peru is undergoing a resurgence of late, saturating the cultural consciousness in ways it hasn’t for a century.
Last year marked the 100th anniversary of Yale University professor Hiram Bingham’s rediscovery of the Incan ruins at Machu Picchu, and just before that, in 2010, Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa won the Nobel Prize in Literature. In the capital city of Lima, chefs are reinventing tradition so creatively and exporting their ideas so successfully that Peruvian star Gastón Acurio has opened his first New York City restaurant, an outpost of his popular La Mar.
“The country has experienced this extraordinary, rapid development,” says Christopher Heaney, author of Cradle of Gold: The Story of Hiram Bingham, a Real-Life Indiana Jones, and the Search for Machu Picchu (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), his much-praised book on Machu Picchu. “But it’s been more than a century in the making; even before Bingham, there were people predicting Peru would become this mecca for travelers.” And now, finally, it has.
Urban Renewal: Lima
Once seen as an inconvenient stopover on the way to Machu Picchu and Cusco, Lima is now a must-visit destination, fueled by a headline-grabbing culinary scene.
With 31 restaurants around the world—ten in Lima alone—chef Gastón Acurio has led the charge. His Astrid y Gastón (175 Calle Cantuarias; 51-1/242-5387; astridygaston.com), a bastion of haute local gastronomy in Lima’s fashionable Miraflores, debuted a new 12-course tasting menu in September. Later this spring he’ll introduce Los Bachiche (1015 La Paz), an Italian-Peruvian joint.
Chef Rafael Osterling’s mod indoor-outdoor El Mercado (203 Hipólita Unanue; 51-1/221-1322; elmercado.pe) is the exciting recent arrival. Pair his colorful, exuberant food—the yellow-potato-avocado-seafood combination called causa and, of course, ceviche of all kinds—with gingery Chilcanos (see “The Chilcano”).
But if you’re in town for just one night, head to Central (376 Calle Santa Isabel; 51-1/242-8515; centralrestaurante.com.pe). There chef Virgilio Martínez, 34, who worked at New York’s Lutèce and London’s Ritz, oversees a glass-walled kitchen, turning out modernist marvels like cold-poached tuna confit and octopus roasted over purple-corn charcoal.
Shopping, too, has come into its own. There’s Miraflores’s cliffside Larcomar mall (610 Malecon de la Reserva; larcomar.com) and the wonderful boutiques of the Barranco district (see “Barranco”) plus eveningwear-focused women’s designers—like Sitka Semsch, Claudia Jiménez and Boutique Malika—opening ateliers along avenidas Conquistadores and Libertadores in neighborhoody San Isidro.
As for hotels, the long-established Miraflores Park Hotel (rooms, from $320; 1035 Avda. Malecón de la Reserva; 51-1/610-4000; miraflorespark.com) combines a prime waterfront perch with smart Orient-Express service. The blue-and-gold interiors could stand to be refreshed, but the views from the ocean-facing rooms, especially the tenth-floor suites, make up for it. In San Isidro, meanwhile, the buzz is all about the new Westin (rooms, from $650; 450 Calle Las Begonias; 51-1/201-5000; starwoodhotels.com), of all things. Yes, it has 300-plus rooms and an attached convention center, but Park Hyatt favorite Tony Chi did the interiors and the spa is South America’s largest.
Living History: Cusco, the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu
Long the top—and sometimes only—reason travelers made their way to Peru, this trio of destinations in the culturally rich Incan heartland got particular attention last year during the centennial of Hiram Bingham’s rediscovery of Machu Picchu. Marking the occasion, Yale returned some 300 artifacts from Bingham’s expeditions, putting many of them on display at Cusco’s UNSAAC-Yale International Center for the Study of Machu Picchu and Inca Culture (320 Calle Santa Catalina Ancha), which opened in November.
Elsewhere in Cusco, the news centers on hotels. The charming 11-suite Inkaterra La Casona (rooms, from $380 per person; 113 Plaza Nazarenas; 51-8/423-4010; lacasona.info), where Mick Jagger stayed last October, arrived in 2008. The garden-facing and balconied rooms all feel cleanly modern, with just the right colonial and Incan touches.
In June the focus moved to Palacio Nazarenas (rooms, from $520; 136 Calle Palacio; 51-8/460-4000; palacionazarenas.com), a 55-suite Orient-Express hotel opening in a restored 16th-century convent. Sitting next to Hotel Monasterio—the company’s Cusco grande dame—Nazarenas will provide a contemporary and vibrant counterpoint to El Monasterio’s tapestries and religious iconography (honeymooners, be warned). It will also have the only heated outdoor pool in Cusco.
Throughout Cusco, the food tends toward contemporary spins on Andean ingredients, with quinoa, alpaca and oca sweet potatoes nearly everywhere, whether in classic spots—like Cicciolina (393 Calle Triunfo; 51-8/423-9510; cicciolinacuzco.com) and the MAP Café (231 Plazoleta Nazarenas; 51-8/424-2476; cuscorestaurants.com), in a glass prism within the Museum of Pre-Colombian Art’s courtyard—or newer arrivals, such as the Japanese-accented LIMO (236 Portal de Carnes; 51-8/424-0668; cuscorestaurants.com).
Between Cusco and Machu Picchu, the geographically dramatic Sacred Valley abounds with views of the snowcapped Andes and largely unvisited Incan sites, including Moray, where agricultural terraces in concentric circles descend almost 150 feet. Stop for lunch at Hacienda Huayoccari (Carretera Cusco-Pisac km. 24; 51-8/425-4197), where the estate’s owner, José Ignacio Lambarri Orihuela—son of a former mayor of Cusco—opens his home to a select few, showing off one of the most impressive private collections of pre-Colombian artifacts.
In Urubamba, one of the valley’s largest towns, Tambo del Inka (rooms, from $455; Avda. Ferrocaril; 51-8/458-1777; starwoodhotels.com), a member of Starwood’s Luxury Collection, opened its 128 rooms, nearly 6,000-square-foot spa and soaring double-height restaurant built into the banks of the Urubamba River in 2010 as the area’s first larger-scale-high-end hotel. The lovely Sol y Luna (rooms, from $200; Fundo Huincho, Urubamba; 51-8/420-1620; hotelsolyluna.com), meanwhile, recently added 15 deluxe casitas to its 25 gardened acres, each four times the size of the originals, with private patios, fireplaces and hand-frescoed walls.
In Machu Picchu itself, there’s not much new to speak of, but one doesn’t come here for cutting-edge cuisine and fashion-forward boutiques. Instead, the draw is the ruins, rising out of the cloud forest and surrounded by spiky peaks seemingly dripping with jungle. Stay at Inkaterra Machu Picchu (rooms, from $250 per person; 51-1/610-0400; inkaterra.com) or Orient-Express’s Sanctuary Lodge (rooms, from $925, all inclusive for two; 51-1/610-8300; sanctuarylodgehotel.com). The latter is a bit down on its ear, with the Deluxe Twin Mountain View & Terrace rooms as good as it gets, but it’s perched at the park entrance. Inkaterra, in contrast, offers 12 acres of gardens, with rooms in lovely bungalows. (Go for one of the most recently renovated suites: 39, 48, 49 and 83; or larger Inkaterra suites: 40 and 84.) Staying here, though, means waiting on long lines at the beginning and end of each day for the 30-minute, winding shuttle bus ride up and down the mountain.
Luxe Adventure: The Amazon, Lake Titicaca, Paracas
A land of extreme ecosystems—dusty coastal desert, jungled interior and, in between, the Andes—Peru has never lacked fodder for the most intrepid travelers. It hasn’t, however, had as much for those of us who like our adventure on the softer side. But that’s all changing.
Amid the flooded Amazon forest of the country’s northeast, Aqua Expeditions (aquaexpeditions.com) added the M/V Aria to its luxe river-cruising operation last spring, exploring a wildlife refuge the size of Belgium, with expert guides helping spot pink and gray dolphins, sloths, monkeys, caimans and more than 250 bird species. Aboard the 32-passenger ship, it’s all floor-to-ceiling windows, 380-thread-count pima cotton linens and food by Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, who’s attracted so much attention for his innovative interpretations of jungle cuisine—local-armored-catfish caviar atop palm-heart tofu; charapita-chili marshmallows—that both Ferran Adrià and Nobu Matsuhisa came aboard last fall.
One of Peru’s great wonders, the 3,210-square-mile Lake Titicaca had little for sophisticated travelers until the intimate Hotel Titilaka (rooms, from $455, meals and excursions included; 51-1/700-5100; titilaka.com) arrived on its quiet western coast. The 18 clean-lined, Andean-mod rooms and homey living spaces combine natural materials with the bright colors of locally woven textiles, and the hotel makes it easy to explore its surroundings on customizable excursions by bike, foot and boat, including a two-year-old, 31-foot Hunter sailing yacht. The incredibly amenable brothers Armando and Julio César Suaña lead most adventures, including those to their native Uros, the lake’s manmade floating islands.
Back on the coast, three hours south of Lima, Hotel Paracas (rooms, from $365; 173 Avda. Paracas; 51-5/658-1333; starwoodhotels.com) reopened a couple years back, after a 2007 earthquake destroyed the 1950s original. The kind of resort where Limeños of a certain status spend long weekends with the kids—and their nannies—the hotel, now part of Starwood’s Luxury Collection, can feel a bit Club Med-y. It remains, however, the best base for an exploration of the area’s archaeological and natural wonders, like swooping flights (bring the Dramamine) over the ancient, logic-defying Nazca Lines. Beyond Nazca, the hotel does private sunset sailings around Paracas National Reserve plus tours of the Ballestas Islands, which are literally covered with sea lions and flocks of cormorants, terns, boobies and penguins.
The Details: Aqua Expeditions offers seven-, four- or threenight Amazon River luxury cruises almost every week of the year.
Peru Neighborhood to Watch: Barranco
Lima is too spread out to be entirely walkable, but picturesque Barranco proves an exception. Built in the 19th century as a seaside retreat for those living in the historic center, today this bohemian enclave, with its stylish and local boutiques, galleries and cafés, is an ideal place to spend a day.
La 73: This cute café specializes in local favorites like choclo con queso, large kernels of buttery Peruvian corn with cubes of melting fresh cheese. At 175 Avda. El Sol Oste; 51-1/247-0780; restaurantela73.com.
GalerÍa LucÍa de la Puente: After making its Art Basel Miami debut in December, the gallery is showing works by several prominent Peruvian contemporary artists this spring. At 206 Paseo Sáenz Peña; 51-1/477-9740; gluciadelapuente.com.
Hotel Barranco: This 17-suite spot should open by year-end as the city’s first luxury boutique hotel. At 204 Saenz Peña; 51-1/700-5100; hotelbarranco.pe.
8chenta M2 Arte & Debates: This gallery features young Limeños as well as established Peruvian artists. At 10 Avda. Prolongación San Martin; 51-1/252-9146.
Las Pallas: For 25 years Mari Solari has amazed Lima with the most unique in artisanal craftsmanship, sourced from all over the country. At 212 Calle Cajamarca; 51-1/477-4629; laspallasperu.com.
Centro Colich: This recently arrived shop sells a curated collection of fine art, artisanal furniture and jewelry. At 110 Jirón Colina; 51-1/247-1538; centrocolich.com.
Jaime Liébana: Intricate reproductions of carved and inlaid wooden colonial furniture can be found here. $ At 109 Domeyer; 51-1/477-3125.
Chala This elegant spot blends Asian, Mediterranean and Peruvian flavors—stir-fried shrimp flambéed with Pisco, say, or Peking duck with Peruvian squash. At 343 Bajada de Baños; 51-1/252-8515; chala.com.pe.
Drink Like a Local: The Chilcano
The Pisco Sour gets all the attention, but its cousin, the Chilcano, is actually the más auténtico. Hans Hilburg V, owner of Cusco’s El Pisquerito, shares his recipe.
6 drops Angostura bitters
4 thin slices fresh ginger
2 tsp. sugar
1/4 oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice
2 oz. finest Pisco Acholado
Muddle the first four ingredients in a cocktail shaker until well mixed. Add the Pisco, then strain into an ice cube–filled Collins glass. Top off with ginger ale, stir and garnish with a slice of lime.
Putting It Together: Peru Travel
Like an African safari or itinerary around India, a trip to see the best of Peru right now requires expert oversight. Any outfitter should be able to book the perfect flights and trains—Lan (lan.com) does air best, especially internationally; for trains, it’s Orient-Express’s Hiram Bingham to Machu Picchu and Andean Explorer to Lake Titicaca (orient-express.com)—but the best fixers connect you with insider experiences everywhere you go. Rio-based South American specialist Dehouche (dehouche.com) launched in 2004, with a focus on bringing high-flying guests the best local knowledge on Brazil and Argentina. Since then, it has increased operations in Peru, with an in-country network ranging from boutique hotels to charismatic experts of all sorts: In Cusco, National Geographic explorer Peter Frost reveals the city’s secrets; and at Machu Picchu, scholar, mountain climber and guide extraordinaire Roger Valencia—who has led both David Rockefeller and Jimmy Carter—shares his encyclopedic knowledge and extensive experience.
$ Establishment accepts no charge/credit cards or accepts cards other than the American Express Card.