One of the most alluring destinations in the world, the hidden site of Machu Picchu in Peru dates to the 15th century. It is believed that Machu Picchu was built as an estate for an Incan emperor. Today, travelers can pretend to be emperors themselves with a lavish trip to the extraordinary site and its historic region. More than just a place offering unforgettable scenery and plenty of photo opportunities, visitors can relax in the nearby city of Cusco, which offers colonial and Incan architecture. Peru is also known for some of the finest and most unique cuisine in the world, which can be enjoyed during a journey to the country. Travelers should also not miss the opportunity to shop for art and be pampered at one of many spas offered by upscale hotels.
En route to Machu Picchu, travelers will probably fly into Lima, Peru and then take a connecting flight to the colonial city of Cusco. Staying at a hotel in the fascinating city of Cusco is recommended so visitors can have the chance to admire the city’s historic scenery and shop in exclusive art galleries, which offer some of the finest and most unique weavings, rugs and textiles in the world. The local residents in Cusco employ ancient weaving techniques and produce luxurious and artisanal textiles. Peru’s most exclusive artisan rugs and wall tapestries can easily cost thousands of dollars. Shoppers should also look for alpaca sweaters, scarves and shawls, rugs, as well as antiques, during a stay in the city.
Hotel Monasterio: Junior suite $710 per night
Hotel Monasterio, a former monastery that dates to 1592, offers sumptuous colonial-style accommodation set around a picturesque courtyard. Visitors can wander the arcaded courtyard and admire the 16th century antiques and paintings that decorate the halls. The hotel is only steps from the beautiful city square in Cusco. The hotel also offers luxurious private tours to Machu Picchu, horseback riding and spa treatments. For sensitive visitors who are not used to the high Andean altitude, suites with oxygen enrichment are available. Gourmet restaurants serving Andean cuisine and fine wine offerings also help visitors settle in. A junior suite with oxygen enrichment runs about $710 a night.
Aranwa Sacred Valley Hotel and Wellness: Private terraces $900-1,000 per night
Another luxury hotel option in Cusco is the Aranwa Sacred Valley Hotel and Wellness, built on a seventeenth century colonial hacienda on the Vilcanota River. Mind and body can be renewed in the spa and specialized health center, which includes Vichy shower treatment rooms, meditation, and aromatherapy oxygen. Basic rooms can be reserved for as low as $200 a night and suites with private terraces will cost about $900-1,000 a night.
For cozier accommodation, there are casitas featuring crackling fireplaces and thick alpaca blankets. The Inkaterra Macchu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, also in Cusco, offers opulent “Villas Inkaterra” with private terraces and plunge pools, plus round-the-clock butler service. Junior suites are available at $900 per night, with suites and private pools at around $1100 a night.
Orient Express Hiram Bingham: $750 round trip per person
Once travelers have been completely relaxed, acclimated to the altitude, pampered in spas and tasted Cusco’s rich cuisine, it might finally be time to take the journey to see the sacred Incan site. The luxury train Orient Express Hiram Bingham from Cuzco is undoubtedly the plushest ride to Machu Picchu itself. It costs about $750 round trip in the high season. The 6-hour journey can be done as a day trip or include an overnight stay. The train tickets include on-board meals, guides and the entrance to the sanctuary.
Visitors can watch the sun rise over Huayna Picchu, the small green peak that appears in the background of many photos of the ruins, but they must be one of the first 400 people to sign in in order to climb up to this coveted and picturesque spot. At the opposite end of the site, Machu Picchu Mountain, which is twice as tall as Huyana Picchu, offers a spectacular view. From Huyana Picchu, the adventurous can take a trail to the Temple of the Moon, a ceremonial shrine with exquisite stonework.
The Machu Picchu Sanctuary-Lodge – $1,000-1,250 per night
When visiting Machu Picchu, most tourists stay at a pied à terre back in Cusco or the nearest town, Aguas Calientes. But an exclusive few can opt to stay near the site itself and be rewarded with otherworldly views of the sacred site. The Machu Picchu Sanctuary-Lodge offers visitors rooms that actually overlook the magnificent site for around $1000-1250 per night.
National Geographic discovery tour: $5,000 per person
It is difficult for any traveler to have a Machu Picchu experience without the expertise and guidance of a local tour guide. Many arrangements must be made for transportation and lodging within Peru and especially around Machu Picchu, so selecting a good guide to direct you through your journey is a must. Lots of options are available for those looking for a more exclusive tour of the sacred site. Upscale tours can cost thousands of dollars. National Geographic offers an educational discovery tour, which includes talks by experts in Incan culture and visits to most of the picturesque sites in the region, for around $5,000 per person (not including airfare).
On their way home, it is recommended that visitors plan a long enough layover in Lima to visit Astrid & Gaston, Peru’s finest restaurant, created by world-renowned Peruvian chef Gastón Acurio. Gaston opened this restaurant in 1994 and with it established Peruvian cuisine, sometimes known as Cocina Novoandina, by applying his international training with traditional Peruvian ingredients and styles. His gourmet restaurants can now be found all over the world, but this restaurant in the upmarket neighborhood of Miraflores is his signature. The seafood is the highlight of the menu (Peru does, after all, have a magnificent Pacific coastline); the ceviche is a popular choice when visiting Peru. A meal at Astrid y Gaston will be about $75-100 per person.