Ever since Yale history professor Hiram Bingham III rediscovered the “Lost City” of Machu Picchu in 1911, the Incan citadel mysteriously built on a high mountain peak nearly 8,000 feet up in the Andes has been one of the world’s most iconic, must-see marvels, and a major reason why many travelers visit Peru. In the past few years, the surrounding area has grown greatly in popularity, transforming from a one-hit wonder into a weeklong destination. Worthy stops include both the gateway city of Cusco and larger Sacred Valley of the Incas between Cusco and Machu Picchu, plus several nearby major archaeological sites and ruins, natural attractions, and cultural experiences. Peruvian cuisine has exploded in trendy popularity, prompting a wave of new restaurants and luxury hotels in and around Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and the town of Machu Picchu Pueblo, at the base of the road to the main ruins (formerly known as Aguas Calientes). Here’s the latest from the area’s top tourism providers.
Find Explora Valle Sagrado in the heart of the ancient Inca Empire. The only fully all-inclusive adventure option here, guests can book full-day excursions to Cusco and/or Machu Picchu (the trip includes three hours at the ruins) and concentrate the rest of their stay on less-crowded local wonders, traveling by bike, van, and on foot. Excursions include visiting archaeological sites and isolated villages in and around the Urubamba River valley. Explora’s 50-room lodge occupies a working corn plantation, where a 17th-century mansion has been transformed into a top spa with heated pools and saunas. explora.com
The homegrown South American eco-tourism company has four properties in the area, all of which offer a mix of included activities and excursions and a more extensive slate of à la carte add-ons. Hacienda Urubamba is a ranch-style hotel and spa on 100 acres in the Sacred Valley, while its Machu Picchu Pueblo is an 83-casita resort in town, near the fabled ruins. Also in Machu Picchu Pueblo, El MaPi is a more contemporary 130-room hotel, and La Casona is a luxurious colonial-style boutique hotel in the city of Cusco. All four Inkaterra hotels offer an array of excursions, including guided visits to Machu Picchu itself, and many travelers combine properties. inkaterra.com
Belmond, which also has the iconic Hotel das Cataratas at Brazil’s Iguazu Falls, is the best-established luxury provider here, operating six hotels and two trains, including the popular Hiram Bingham, an offshoot of the company’s more famous Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. The Hiram Bingham uses lavishly restored brass-, leather-, and wood-adorned 1920s carriages, complete with bar car, to link Cusco and Machu Picchu Pueblo. Many travelers choose to step back in time with this glamorous ride regardless of where they are staying, and more recently Belmond added a second South American luxury train, the 16-car Andean Explorer. One of the highest altitude rail journeys in the world, it offers one- and two-night rides across Peru, linking Cusco, Arequipa, Puno, and Lake Titicaca. The Hotel Monasterio has long been the gold standard for lodging in Cusco proper, the smaller Sanctuary Lodge is the only hotel atop the mountain home of Machu Pichu, just outside the park gate and by far the closest accommodations to the ruins, while the 20-room Las Casitas, A Belmond Hotel, Colca Canyon is the brand’s newest in Peru. belmond.com
The Peruvian hotel operator has two notable properties in the area, and both are members of Marriott International’s Luxury Collection. Palacio del Inka is a large, full-service hotel in a grandly renovated former mansion in the heart of Cusco, while Tambo del Inka is a lavish resort in the Sacred Valley, the only property here with a private train station for visiting Machu Picchu, as well as indoor and outdoor pools, and extensive spa facilities. libertador.com.pe —Larry Olmsted