Getting there: We flew from New York JFK to Puerto Maldonado, via Lima, aboard LAN Airlines (www.lan.com), which also operates flights to Cuzco and Arequipa via Lima and nonstop flights to the capital city. Peru's major tourist destinations are spread out, so it's often advisable to fly from one to another aboard domestic LAN flights. Buses and trains are efficiently run, and renting a car usually isn't necessary, as tour operators can arrange airport pickups and ground transportation. Arequipa, one point in LAN's network, is home to the Nazca Lines, among Peru's most popular attractions. They're a series of complex designs—insects and animals most famously—up to 984 feet long that can be seen in their true dimension only at an altitude of at least 1,500 feet.
Tour operators: Peruvian tour and hotel operator Inkaterra (www.inkaterra.com, [email protected], 800-442-5042) promotes sustainable tourism and operates hotels in the Peruvian Amazon, the Urubamba Valley and the Machu Picchu sanctuary, and expects to open additional properties near Lake Titicaca in Puno and in Cuzco and Lima next year. Other tour operators with Peru intineraries: Travcoa (www.travcoa.com, [email protected], 866-591-0070), Abercrombie & Kent (www.abercrombiekent.com, 800-323-7308, [email protected]), Intrav (www.intrav.com, [email protected], 800-456-8100), PanAmerican Travel Services (www.panam-tours.com, 800-364-4359, [email protected]) and SITA World Tours (www.sitatours.com, [email protected], 800-421-5643).
Lodging: At Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica (www.inkaterra.com) in Peruvian Amazonia, guests stay in individual stilted cabanas that lie between the forest's edge and the Madre de Dios River. The hotel is remote, but its expert, conscientious guides and able staff see to it that guests are well taken care of. The company's Urubamba Villas (www.inkaterra.com/en/urubamba-villas) in the Sacred Valley are the stuff of fairy tales. Nestled at the base of a mountain and surrounded by colorful flora and meticulous emerald lawns, the four villas are each overseen by a mistress who tends to everything from preparing meals to maintaining the supply of firewood. Inkattera Machu Picchu (www.inkaterra.com/en/machu-picchu) and Orient-Express' Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge (www.machupicchu.orient-express.com) often trade off the top ranking for the ruins' closest hotel, but suggest Inti Inn Machu Picchu Hotel (www.grupointi.com) to clients on a budget. It's centrally located between the bus station, PeruRail train station, handicrafts markets and Aguas Calientes' hot springs. Cuzco's best known—and perhaps most expensive—hotel is Orient-Express' Hotel Monasterio (www.monasterio.orient-express.com). The hotel's two Royal Suites have private terraces and outdoor courtyards; some of the more basic Deluxe Rooms overlook the hotel's central courtyard. Choose a room that's enriched with oxygen to help clients combat altitude sickness. Alternatively, Hotel Libertador (www.libertador.com.pe) is steps away from Cuzco's many markets. Budget-conscious clients would do well to consider the 20-room Los Apus Hotel & Mirador (www.losapushotel.com) in the hilly and historic area of Cuzco known as San Blas, just three blocks from the central Plaza de Armas.
Dining: In the Urubamba Valley at Los Tres Keros (011-51-84-20-17-01), proprietor and sometime-chef Ricardo delights guests with dishes made with local produce and locally raised fish and livestock. In Cuzco, suggest clients cozy up to a decadent dinner of "Novo Andino" cuisine at the Tuscan-style Cicciolina (www.cicciolinacusco.com, 011-51-84-239-510), where terra cotta colored walls give way to vaulted ceilings crisscrossed by rustic wooden beams. Our appetizer of on-the-shell scallops was out of this world. Cafe Inkaterra (www.inkaterra.com), at Inkaterra Machu Picchu hotel in Aguas Calientes, is perched between the hotel and the Vilcanota River, feet from the PeruRail train tracks. The restaurant's popular Peruvian soundtrack and large picture windows with views of the cloud forest combine with the rich dishes—such as creamy wheat risotto and grilled veggie sandwiches—to create the perfect post–Machu Picchu lunch or dinner experience. In Lima, Restaurant Huaca Pucllana (www.resthuacapucllana.com, 011-51-12-42-79-78) offers both ancient history and outstanding cuisine in a way that's sure to dazzle even the most jaded of travelers and gourmands; the restaurant is located within the compound of a 1,500-year-old adobe pyramid built by the original inhabitants of Lima, and the food is equally impressive. Dinnertime is dramatic—the ruins are illuminated from the ground up, mere feet from a terrace where guests dine alfresco, next to open fire pits on chilly evenings. The restaurant serves creative Peruvian dishes, with fusion touches adding unexpected twists to classic criollo cooking. The ceviche and tiradito here are outstanding, as is the crunchy yucca fritter appetizer (enhanced by the accompanying creamy cheese and chili sauce). Whatever entree they choose, make sure clients start their evening with a round of Pisco Sours at the bar.
Entry requirements: Most citizens of the Americas and Western Europe won't need a visa to enter Peru, but it's best to check with the Peruvian embassy prior to departure. At all airports, passengers must pay a departure tax of $30.25 for international flights and roughly $5 for domestic flights, in cash before boarding. An arrival fee of $15 is required. Travelers who collect passport stamps can present their passport upon entering Machu Picchu; however, we found one traveler's passport on the ground and decided it's best for clients to leave such documents locked away in the hotel room safe.
Other tips: Peru has two distinct seasons—wet and dry. High season for travel coincides with the driest months, May through September, with the greatest number of visitors in July and August. Conversely, the wetter months of November through April, "orchid season," are prime for viewing the country's plethora of exotic plants. Advise clients who plan to visit the jungle that yellow fever vaccinations are mandatory. Insect repellent is a must; those containing DEET are most effective. Additionally, travelers heading into the jungle should pack plenty of water-resistant clothing, as extreme humidity can permeate an entire suitcase full of cotton apparel. Cuzco's high altitude means dry air and consistently chilly temps, particularly at night. Dressing in layers is best, and sunglasses and a windbreaker are needed. Mornings on Machu Picchu are often foggy and misty, but precipitation burns off as the sun rises and clients will work up a sweat. The ground can get muddy, so sturdy hiking boots or all-terrain shoes would be a valuable asset. Go to www.visitperu.com or www.machupicchu.org. —LL