HOW TO DO PERU
Martine Bury embarks on a voyage through South America’s most exquisite destination, Ker & Downey style. By Martine Bury
The Coolest Capital
From above, Lima is a dense, random jumble of modern high-rises, colorful Spanish colonial architecture, and crumbling pre-Columbian temples flanked by imposing cliffs that hold back the rolling waves of the Pacific Ocean.
We begin our journey in the bohemian Barranco district with a stay at Hotel B. Built in 1914 for a wealthy family, the historic manor house shines in crisp white from its corner position—a stone’s throw from the city’s best surfing beach. The check-in process is gracious, delivering us upstairs, past bright yellow and pastel blue walls lined floor-to-ceiling with a mix of surreal, modern, and colonial period artworks, to our guestroom. One of 17, it’s the sexiest suite I’ve ever seen. The layering of fabrics, antiques, and art books—between a soaring ceiling and original wide-planked floors—takes my breath away. Downstairs a series of intimate nooks comprise the dining room, library, and bar spaces where guests enjoy menus curated by famed Chef Oscar Velarde or indulge in “el lonche,” Peru’s decadent high tea ritual. At every turn, Barranco offers excellent art galleries, hip eateries, cool coffee shops, bars, and boutiques. We walk past stately 19th century homes in various stages of restoration; enter La Catedral, the neighborhood's main Catholic cathedral; walk along the Bajada de los Baños to view the beach and the sea; and traverse the romantic Puente de Los Suspiros (Bridge of Sighs). My favorite part is a private tour of MATE—Museo Mario Testino, the showpiece, nonprofit art space belonging to the famed Peruvian fashion photographer.
Before we experience world-class culinary bites at Pedro Miguel Schiaffino’s Malabar, Gastón Acurio’s Astrid y Gastón, or Virgilio Martínez's Central—we go to the roots. So the morning begins with a guided walk through Lima’s organic farmers market with a food historian. Early in the day is also the best time to grab a seafood breakfast—catch-of-the-day ceviche at Terminal Pesquero, the city’s largest fish market. We’re whisked to the outskirts of Lima to the by-appointment-only, sustainable farm of Alfonso Roda Marrou, visionary owner of Don Torcuato in Pachacamac. He produces organic fruits, leafy greens, edible flowers, and vegetables for the region’s top chefs. Terroir is a word usually associated with wine, meaning taste of the land. Here, Marrou urges us to dig, pick, and taste the earth’s bounty—inspiring our honest appreciation and respect for these fertile grounds. It feels like the appropriate homage to the ancient Andean culture that worships Pachamama—goddess of fertility, planting, and harvesting—above all. After pulling yucca from the dirt and clipping our salad, Marrou’s family dishes out a simple, memorable lunch of rotisserie chicken and herb-fried potatoes.
A stop at glamorous, 1920's era Country Club Lima Hotel in upscale San Isidro rounds out an afternoon of eating our way through the capital. One of the country’s most esteemed Pisco sommeliers guides us through the history of Peru’s national, grape-based spirit. We take a seat at the hotel’s Bar Ingles, helmed by bartender Roberto Meléndez, whose father served up the original Pisco sours at Hotel Maury in the 1940's. We sample a boozy array of traditional cocktails like pineapple-infused Pisco Punch and my favorite, fizzy ginger ale and bitters-based Chilcano.
The Inca Heritage
A short flight and winding drive lands us in the Sacred Valley to acclimate before ascending to Cusco. Peru’s secrets are kept in this maze of rural life and ancient Inca ruins, sheltered by the Rio Urubamba Foothills. We tuck into the contemporary Tambo Del Inka, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa, which boasts its own private train station for the journey to Machu Picchu. The hotel’s minimalist design captures the region’s peaceful vibe, spurring us to go out and experience everything we can. We pass hours on a guided bike ride through unchanged Andean villages, where for miles we see only mountain peaks, all stripes of grazing sheep and indigenous women in their heavy, bright woven shawls, long skirts, and smart montera hats. After an excellent picnic, we partake in a private blessing ceremony with a shaman.
Days of adventure require rest. We check into Sol y Luna, a complex of stone casitas surrounded by colorful flower gardens and trees that reach for the sky. Exploring the grounds we discover the adjacent stables with friendly equine residents, Peruvian caballos de Paso.
It’s a moonlit evening—so bright the night sky is still quite blue. Our dinner at the hotel restaurant is long and relaxed, beginning with ceviche followed by a parade of dishes that flaunt the local produce.
Weekly, Sol y Luna offers a festive, barbeque-style dinner near the stables. Everything about the Sacred Valley coexists in harmony at this enchanting oasis, and staying here is an opportunity to do-good, as the property’s Association Sol y Luna provides education for local children.
Guest rooms are cheery and luxe, painted fuschia, ochre yellow, bright peach, or electric blue, and decorated with collected things like folk art and textiles crafted by local artisans. We return to our big, comfy bed, turned-down for dreaming. I do just that.
The not-so-secret secret of traveling to Machu Picchu is to take the Belmond Hiram Bingham Train. There’s a world of natural wonder on the multiday Inca Trail pilgrimage, but this rail ride is a posh party, round-trip. Lounging in a coach decked in polished wood and brass, we meet the neighbors and enjoy formal meals on crisp white linens. We take in waterfall and forest views as we cut through the mountains, arriving, awestruck, at the famous UNESCO World Heritage Site—the mysterious Inca citadel perched on a peak almost 8,000 feet high. On the return, we venture to the Bar Car surprised to find ourselves in the midst of raging revelry in a tiny space with a band playing traditional Peruvian songs on flute, guitar, and cajon.
The next couple of nights are spent in Cusco, the capital of the Inca Empire, which is packed with cosmopolitan diversions—acclaimed eateries, wine bars, and 5-star hotels. Wandering the city, I fall in love with the old monasteries, the town squares, the ornate doors of giant cathedrals, and the occasional llama. Home base is Palacio Del Inka, A Luxury Collection Hotel, a richly restored 15th century palace close to Plaza del Armas. Known for it’s world-class spa and elegant piano bar, it’s the perfect retreat in this tourist-filled town.
The Amazon Expedition
Getting to Iquitos is a bit of an inconvenience. It’s more like a mission. Only accessible by plane or river travel, Peru’s bustling jungle hub is full of contradictions. Fancy hotels and elegant bars and humble shacks are huddled together—flanked by the mighty Amazon River and thick canopy. Mopeds speed by as locals go about their business and visitors look for the next adventure—ziplining or shopping strange, amazing open-air markets. It’s the hustle of life, but it moves slowly.
Spellbound by our journey from the moment we leave the airport and throughout the escorted drive to the wild riverside, the big reveal of Aria Amazon ups the ante. Outfitted with 16 river-facing suites, Aqua Expeditions’ cruise ship takes us to the heart of the Pacaya Samaria Reserve where we embark on smaller vessels after early breakfast and before cocktails each night to spy black caiman, rare pink dolphins, sloths, and elusive jaguars. We never see the big cat, but our intrepid guide does scoop a baby anaconda for us to meet firsthand.
On the river, there are moments that make my heart stop—when a hundreds-strong flock of white herons chase our speedboat; when we canoe with indigenous women to dive into the Blackwater (the one place in the river with a pH safe enough to swim); and when the students of a school near the riverbank sing to us. Couple that with starry nights on-deck and gourmet meals by Executive Chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, centered on local paiche fish and the weird, wonderful fruits of this river region.
It’s hard to imagine, at the end of these two weeks, that we’ve only begun to scratch the surface in Peru. We know we will be back for more.