Perusing Peru

Dan Ilves at Machu Picchu, Peru
Body: 

We took the night flight on Latam, non-stop from LA to Lima, Peru, which arrives by 8am the following morning.  With a two-hour time change being minimal to adjust to, we were able to skip dinner service on our flight and get several hours of shut eye before breakfast service and our arrival. We flew business and had flat bed seats and cushy comforters. As we chose to sleep on the flight over, we didn't enjoy much of the in-flight entertainment, but the selection of first run and Oscar-nominated films was good. In-flight service was excellent.

We spent two nights at the Belmonod Miraflores Hotel.  That and the JW Marriott are the two best seaside luxury choices.  Interesting factoid: Lima is the only South American capital on the coast. The Belmond has more style than the JW, which could be anywhere.  The latter, however, is directly across from Larcomar shopping mall, which some may prefer, only a 5-minute walk from the Belmond.  For foodies, Belmond is only three blocks from Central, South America’s best restaurant, but more on that another later. However, while in a more upscale part of town, and while Belmond is the best hotel in Lima, Miraflores is not necessarily where I’d spend a visit next time.  I'd consider the B Hotel, a Relais & Chateaux property in the hip and more boheimian and happening Barranco district. Set amidst restaurants, coffee bars, cocktail bars and numerous art galleries. 

Service at the Belmond Miraflores was exceptional. The staff really do make you feel at home. Our room was spacious, with a view of the ocean and the setting sun at night. No complaints. There are bicycles available that would be a great way to get around some of the city from here. 

Lima is coming into its own.  It has in recent years become a foodie capital. The people are, as they say, taking control of the city, after decades of fear and terrorism at the end of the 20th century, during which time some 70,000 people were killed. On weekends now the parks were full of families, joggers and bikers. 

We walked a few miles our first day, to get some exercise after the flight and get a feel of the city.  Artists lined the sidewalk along Park Kennedy. We walked over to Barranco and saw the exhibits at MAC, the Contemporary Art Museum. Dinner our first night was a spectacular experience at Central, rated 4th best in the world (and featured on Netflix’s Chef’s Table, season 3). The fixed menu consisted of 11 courses (we chose that over the 17-course option), and ended with a visit to the kitchen to thank the staff.

We met up with our A&K group for a day of touring on Sunday in Barrranco, which included visiting the Biofera organic Sunday market, visiting the iconic Bridge of Sighs, watched the black vultures that sit along the rooftops and on the cross at the local church, and visited MATE, Mario Testino’s museum featuring his fabulous large scale photography. An amazing world-renowned photographer, my favorite was the room with his photos of Cusco Indians in their native garb. 

In the afternoon we toured the privately owned Larco Herrera Museum of Peruvian artifacts, following a lovely outdoor lunch at their restaurant in the garden.  A bit out of the way, this is a must visit, especially with a good guide, whether to see the ancient erotica, or view its ancient and amazing pottery, textiles and silver and gold exhibits. 

An excellent dinner was enjoyed at Tragaluz, at the Belmond, which features a pop-up gallery with works by a few local artists. 

We flew to Cusco, where after lunch in the main square overlooking the cathedral, we headed out to Rio Sagrado, the Sacred Valley, where we stayed at the Belmond property. With Cusco's elevation, it's best to acclimate in Rio Sagrado, which is just at 9,000 feet. The Belmond here is built on a steep slope, featuring individual casitas that are cozy and comfortable. The restaurant is at the lower part of the slope, with a view of the Urubamba River. Service throughout at Belmond is simply fabulous and can’t be beat.I only mention the slope because you do feel the elevation here, and you feel it climbing sets of stairs.

While here we dined one evening at the newer Inkaterra Lodge, which looked fabulous, [and is not built on a steep slope], and features an exceptionally good restaurant.  One aromatic pasta dish was with mushrooms that only bloom after a lightning storm! Rooms are are 5-star here as well.

A special excursion here was to Cor Cor, a village beyond Chinchero, where A&K has investing in supporting a community of weavers.  We met with the community members, who performed a traditional dance, showed us how they farmed, explained various herbs they use in cooking and for medicinal purposes, and of course, offered their wares for sale.

We took first class Inca Rail to Machu Picchu town, Aguas Calientes, which was a delightful surprise. The lunch service on the train was tasty, and an adjacent lounge/club car provided a live duo and bar, There appear to be two 5-star hotels in town, a base for visits to Machu Piccchu, Both are several minutes walk from the heart of town and the buses that transport you up the steep hill to Machu Picchu. Of the two properties, Inkaterra is by far the more desirable, built on a beautifully landscaped and spacious spread, featuring individual casitas, some adjoining, and lovely landscaping, The hotel has an eco center offering a variety of activities.

The alternative, of course, is staying at the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, right at the entrance to the park. The Belmond offers its exceptional service there, but the rooms are lodge-style and smaller, and in the entry level rooms bathrooms are quite small. There are lovely gardens (a small area) and outdoor lounges, but no pool (and nothing to do at night).

As regards being able to be first in to visit the ruins, while that used to be the case, it isn’t any longer. The ruins open early at 6am, and Belmond guests are not given any priority. The first buses from town arrive at 5:30am, so you're not so much on your own.  As to seeing the sunrise — this depends on the season you’re visiting,  Staying at the lodge also provides limited shopping, while in town, there is a huge craft market where you can find just about everything. For general comfort and for more options, the Inkaterra in town is a far more compelling choice of lodging, in my view.  

Either way, it's best to overnight here so you have two half days over two days to tour Machu Picchu. For those staying in Aguas Calientes, the bus trip to the ruins takes about 15-20 minutes. Tickets to the park allow entry and exit 3 times during the day. We visited the park over two days, both in the afternoon, when it was cooler and far less crowded. A few guides all said afternoon visits are the best time to come. The park closes at 5pm, so we spent the morning shopping and visiting the site in the afternoon. Definitely it's advantageous to have a knowledgeable guide to point out things of note, and there are many. 

We departed back to Cusco via the Hiram Bingham luxury train, with dinner service, and a club car with a live trio with electric guitars. The rail trip took about three hours, a non-stop party, followed by a 1 1/2 hour coach ride to our hotel, the Belmond Plaza Nazararenes, arriving there around 10:30PM. We spent two nights here, undoubtedly the best hotel of the trip, with that impeccable Belmond service. We inspected the Belmond Monasterio next door, and found it not nearly as inviting as Plaza Nazarenas.  The location of these hotels is one block off the main square, so hard to beat. 

During our stay here, we did a trip to a touristic farm, and then we went to Sasquatch… which is a tremendous site. Back in town we went to a Chifa restaurant, a popular mix of Chinese and Peruvian cuisine, and visited the Cathedral and the monastery where an Incan religious site remains and provides a glimpse as to how exceptional Incan architecture was. 

We enjoyed some free time and had dinner at MAP, considered the finest restaurant in Cusco, and loacated in a glass enclosed building set in the courtyard of the PreColumbian Museum, just across the street from the Belmond, and probably our best dinner in terms of gourmet cuisine.

An early morning call at 3am to catch a flight to Lima where we connected with our flight to Iquitos, for the last adventure on our Amaon River cruise on Delfin II. 

Flying to Iquitos with our first glimpse of the Amazon was incredible — watching the brown River snake about below as wide as it is, was amazing to contemplate - that this river continues through several countries to the Atlantic Ocean, and is the heart of the continent.

It’s a two-hour drive on the sole 90-mile paved road from Iuquitos to Nauta, where the three Delfin ships dock. There’s a lovely open-air lobby. We explored the newer Delfin III, with a capacity of 46 guests. The ship is newer and more contemporary than the Delfin II we would be on.

An early morning 6am optional skiff ride took us to see blue and yellow macaws and parrots, which lined the branches of tall trees.

After kayaking upstream for an hour we floated downstream, listening to howler monkeys and the cacophony of birds that serenaded us. Just floating in silence, without the engine of the skiff was a great experience.  We watched the rise of a full moon, a spectacular moment as wee took in our jungle surroundings. We then boarded our skiff and went hunting for bats and caimans, which we found a-plenty in the darkness. The bugs also found us — there were millions in the air and the crew provided goggles to wear to keep bugs out of our eyes, thank you very much. We saw a few caiman and captured one to bring onboard to view and touch close up.

Our boat continued to sail up the river and by morning we docked by a village we later visited. Our early morning skiff ride included siting gray dolphins and scores of egrets, a few Hawks, turkey vultures and amazing flora all about us. Our time out to fish for piranha was unsuccessful, as was our search for sloths.  However, we saw pink dolphin.

Cuisine onboard Delfin was really quite exceptional, though there are no choices of entrees or other courses. Vegetarians were accommodated.  The plaice and beef tenderloin were amazing. The wines were of rather good quality, with reds mostly from Argentina and whites from Peru.

Entertainment was provided by the guides, who played guitars, drums and sang, quite well in fact, from Beatles to local tunes.

Peru is an exceptional destination, and including a few nights on an Amazon cruise adds immeasurably to the experience.

Dan Ilves