Peru’s vast wealth of historical sites has never been much of a secret. There’s the bucket list-crowning Machu Picchu, but between the Andean Mountains and the Pacific Coast are three must-visit regions. Within, you’ll discover two culture-packed metropolises with outstanding culinary gems, museum collections with millennia-spanning artifacts, and hotels inspired by the significance of their surroundings. Here, we trace a triangle of sorts to craft a jumping-off point for any Peruvian itinerary (requiring one round-trip flight from Lima to Cusco) that goes beyond the trails of Machu Picchu.
AC Hotel Lima Miraflores
Perched on the cliffs of the upscale Miraflores district, the new AC Hotel Lima Miraflores gazes directly over the Pacific shoreline as a glass high-rise. Guests quite literally leave the frenetic bustle of the Peruvian capital behind upon check-in: all rooms and suites have floor-to-ceiling windows exclusively facing the ocean. Head up to the Insumo Rooftop bar to spot paragliders skimming the skyline while you enjoy Pisco Sours, ceviche, and other local delights. A fortuitous location adjacent to Larcomar, a waterfront open-air mall, means you won’t have to subject yourself to the frustrations of gridlock traffic to explore restaurants, shops and public art installations.
Museo Larco, Lima
Vast and varied were the ancient cultures occupying what today is modern Peru, from the dense Amazonian regions to the Andean high plains and the Pacific Coast. At Museo Larco in the ritzy Pueblo Libro district, over 45,000 pre-Colombian artifacts spanning five millennia are artfully displayed inside a restored 18th-century mansion. Founded in 1926, the private institution was founded by Peruvian archaeologist Rafael Larco Hoyle to preserve and share the country’s diverse anthropological history. Take a look at the collection of erotic art before meandering the dry, lush gardens of towering cacti and other native blooms around the estate.
El Cacaotal, Lima
Savoring high-quality chocolate instinctively feels like a privilege, an enhanced sensation after receiving a bean-to-bar education from El Cacaotal owner AJ Wildey. She goes deeper than the standard with an “edible library” that focuses on the relationships between the farmers and chocolate producers. She also explains the remarkable diversity—in terroir, taste, and quality—of Peru’s cacao-growing regions. Wildey’s careful selection of verifiably sustainable, small-batch chocolatiers lets visitors sample hard-to-find bars, some flaked with hyper-local ingredients like kiwicha and maca.
Isolina Taberna Peruana, Lima
With several spots on the World’s Best 50 Restaurants list, Lima has over time become perhaps the culinary capital of South America. Despite the fine dining trend reigning over the city for over two decades, places like José del Castillo’s Isolina are acclaimed for going the opposite direction, showcasing traditional taverna-style dishes instead. Queues get pretty long at the entrance to the two-story mansion Isolina calls home, on a buzzing street in Barranco. On the extensive menu, the highlight is homestyle cooking that embraces offal and organs as much as whole-fried fish and now-iconic papa rellena (stuffed potato) dish.
Tambo del Inka Hotel and Luxury Train to Machu Picchu
The life-giving Urubamba River rolls through a 40-mile stretch of farmland in the Andean Highlands to form Peru’s emblematic Sacred Valley. Right on the river banks sits the Tambo del Inka Hotel, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa, Valle Sagrado, characterized by earth-toned pavilions that nod to indigenous architecture inside and out, with Inca-inspired stone walls, massive wood beams, a towering fireplace, and brightly dyed woven accents. Despite its central location in the town of Urubamba and near the popular Maras salt flats, the hotel feels like a regenerative countryside retreat. The real perk is having an on-site rail station, which grants access to a luxury train experience (meals and drinks included) to the entry-point of Machu Picchu in Aguas Calientes, all starting from inside the hotel’s gates.
Cerveceria del Valle Sagrado, Sacred Valley
Four friends from Oregon who bonded over entrepreneurship and craft beer would eventually create Cerveceria del Valle Sagrado, a micro-brewery in one of Peru’s most scenic landscapes. Not only has this quartet produced stellar, award-winning beer (try the Dark Charlie for a smooth, chocolatey IPA), but the brewery also supports a local non-profit dedicated to advancing girls’ education.
Palacio del Inka, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Cusco
Set in 16th-century palace in Cusco, Palacio del Inka, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Cusco was a museum in its last iteration. Today, it still brims with pre-Colombian and colonial history. Many of the museum’s artifacts are still on display, from antique carved furnishings to Iberian religious portraits, mainly throughout the common areas. Anchoring the property is a Spanish colonial courtyard lined with stone arches and robin egg-blue balconies, where daily breakfasts and happy hours are served. Each night, free pisco tastings and native musical performances are held in the sultry lounge off the grand lobby. All of the historic district’s main attractions, from the Plaza de Armas to the Cusco Cathedral, are within walking distance of the hotel. Should guests have altitude sickness during their stay 11,000 feet above sea level, oxygen tanks are available free of charge.
San Pedro Market, Cusco
Cusco’s main market is famous for the four Cs: cheese, corn, chocolate, and carne. But being one of the best farmer’s markets in the world, there’s a little bit of everything here—from dried and fresh fruits (we suggest trying lucuma and cherimoya), handcrafts and tchotchkes, and every type of alpaca good you could want. The real treat is the sit-down section where dozens of vendors sell smoothies (make sure they’re made from bottled water), hot stews, and grilled meats. We recommend sampling fried sausages, anticuchos (beef hearts) or lomo saltado, Peru’s national dish, for less than the equivalent of five dollars.
Hero image by Paul Jebara