Upscale Peru is mesmerising
Peru evokes culture and nature, but lately glamorous getaways as well. Some open up the destination in exhilarating ways, while others are a destination in themselves endowed with stunning locations, culinary excellence, super spas and romance. Although luxury is on the rise, the destination also has a storied and at times violent past.
In the former Inca capital Cusco, tourists stand awed at the imposing colonial structures, the Cusco Cathedral in particular, which are perhaps less impressive upon learning that these examples of European grandeur standing today were once gold Inca temples and palaces destroyed by Spanish conquistadors. Unlike other destinations with an unsavoury history, locals want visitors to know the facts, giving depth and dimension to a Peruvian odyssey.
EXPLORA VALLE SAGRADO
Once you check in, you understand. Explora is about the ‘art of travel’ and like all fine arts its appeal is niche. It’s meticulous – they train their own guides and breed their own horses – and aesthetically sensitive. The sleek wooden structure emerges from a hazy speckle of purple and golden corn, evoking an Impressionist painting. Green-mantled mountains soar, their summits like sculpted ancient temples in rock, and Explora was created to scale these pinnacles. The Chilean owners spent three-and-a-half years with local guide Peter crafting 36 hikes that unveil the Sacred Valley’s secret splendours with imagination.
The adventurous are swung across mountain passes past streaming glens, shark-jaw canyons, shimmering lagoons and suddenly slinks into an Inca trail leading to some fabulous esoteric archeological site. Picnics, which include the celebrated Explora brownie, happen in enthralling spots. After a nine-hour, 19km hike you need Peru’s most gorgeous destination spa occupying a colonial building with Inca foundations, Spanish murals, a heated pool and hot tubs set in aromatic gardens. With Great Plains Conservation and CGH Earth, Explora is perhaps amongst the world’s top three hotel brands. We were once Aman junkies. Now we are addicted to Explora.
TAMBOPATA RESEARCH CENTER
The only lodge in the Amazonian Tambopata Reserve Forest is an eight-hour boat ride from Puerto Maldonado into pristine expanses. Rainforest Expeditions began 30 years ago when founder Eduardo Nycander visited the Amazon, decided to rescue macaws, and being an architect, engineered artificial nests. Next he created an immersive jungle space for nature lovers that evolved into an eco-lodge. In-house biologist Gabriela Orihuela recalls sleeping on spare mattresses, enduring no water or electricity, and once-a-week communion with the world.
People think rusticity persists, but to celebrate its 30th birthday, the lodge has gone glam. Immense new deluxe suites thrillingly have only three walls, the fourth ceding to a tumble of ferociously green jungle enclosing terraces with outdoor bath, shower and lounge. You are at one with the various winged creatures beading the immaculate white mosquito nets cascading down your bed. But there’s little time for in-suite languishing – the jungle calls.
The Tambopata Macaw Project provides profound research on Amazonian macaws and mornings are spent observing resplendent macaws, parrots and parakeets, their colours as loud as their voices. There are monkey trails, swamp or bamboo-forest hikes, the must-do Master Trail and jaguar-spotting boat outings. The jungle never sleeps so expect night walks where you’ll experience an unmitigated uproar of hooting, screeching and shrieking. Yet this discordance resolves miraculously into a lulling silence that envelopes you in deepest slumber.
Rainforest Expeditions’ latest luxury is a romantic pause on the eight-hour boat ride to Tambopata. The retreat is accessed after a four-hour boat ride past many and wondrous riverside creatures from raptors and capybara to spectacled caimans. The wood villa, designed by architecture-owner Eduardo Nycander, is a masterpiece of jungle style with natural adornments including floor mats and vibrant decorative paraphernalia local communities make. The villa expectedly has but three walls, the fourth being the roaring jungle. The bed’s a beauty but the forest canopy watchtower is something to rise early for. At the oxbow lake you’ll spot three-clawed sloths that inspired ET, if not an anaconda. Back at the villa your private chef prepares outstanding local cuisine served by a private butler at a long wooden table or lovely outdoor pavilion. There are fresh juices and wines in-villa but best is lush hot chocolate – the sort you’d spend €15 for in Paris. Priceless are bathrooms with amenities including three kinds of frogs studding the shower cubicle, bathtub and commode.
The abode of unbridled luxury that propelled Peru to glamorous heights. Your airport transfer includes cushions, blankets, oxygen (you’re at 12,500ft), Wi-Fi, juices and an amazing snack bag filled with sandwiches, fruit and nuts, quinoa bars and chocolate. At the lodge suave leather sofas, slick lights and contemporary art contrast with an extravaganza of vibrant decorative shawls and ornate pink cows. Housekeeping ladies in striking, voluminous skirts enhance the drama. But what floors are the views, unbridled as the splendour, from the glass-wrapped facade of Lake Titicaca, the world’s loftiest navigable body of water stretching out like an ocean.
The deck is clad with white daybeds from which to watch the water come alive with myriad of birds. Rooms come with opulent beds and generous tubs. The well-stocked mini bar is complimentary, as are meals and excursions. Embark on a handsome boat to see the famous floating islands followed by a delightful picnic on picturesque Taquile Island before returning for afternoon tea, sundowners under starlit skies, cocktails and supper in a beautiful dining room. It’s one of the few places in Peru where you dress up for supper, so pack that cocktail dress. Come morning the dining room serves the country’s finest breakfast.
HOTEL PARACAS, A LUXURY COLLECTION RESORT
Peru’s sexiest address. You’d be forgiven for thinking you’re on the French Riviera with blue draped beds in your villa and lawns leading to boats bobbing on the water. Lounge on your terrace and drink in the view. In paradisal Paracas piercing-blue seas and palm-fringed deserts come together, and the hotel offers dune-bashing rollicks culminating in dune-top sunsets with wine to go. Morning excursions include speedboat rides to the splendid Ballestas Islands nature reserve to see islets bustling with birds, sea lions and wondrous marine life.
Visit the spa for top-notch massages and then devote yourself to the sapphire pool where girls flaunt their best beachwear and enviable tans. The food is stupendous, debunking notions that buffets are vile. The breakfast buffet sprawls and everything on it excels. There’s fab finger food at the seafront lounge bar but Trattoria is amongst Peru’s finest eateries with homemade pastas and the best pizzas this side of Rome.
TAMBO DEL INKA, A LUXURY COLLECTION RESORT & SPA, VALLE SAGRADO
The Sacred Valley’s best-located and most popular hotel. Set amidst acres of sumptuous gardens, it boasts a towering dining room with outdoor terraces where exotic mocktails can be savoured. Creative culinary journeys include the Farm to Kitchen Lunch where F&B manager Manuel winds you down a path to enchanting organic gardens, from which you pick ingredients for a chef to prepare on the spot. An exhilarating banquet is accompanied by Peruvian chilies, then soothe the palate with homemade chocolate ice cream.
The hotel also features Venturia, a travel desk which crafts inspired private tours. Ask for swift, savvy chauffeur Cezar! Despite the wealth of archeological sites flanking the resort, guests loll by the pool. And understandably – expect one of the world’s most sensational pools, partly indoors, partly levitating against a swell of hills. You could spend an eternity here if the Sacred Valley spa treatment didn’t beckon.
BELMOND LAS CASITAS
If you’ve traipsed across Peru and exhausted yourself at archaeological sites, escape to the reclusive serenity of this river-set colonial retreat. You need to drive there. And the drive is an unmissable experience snaking around craggy escarpments to exalted viewpoints where the purity and nobility of the Andean landscape smite. You traverse a nature reserve passing camelids, rock formations appearing artfully sculpted and an arresting cluster of volcanoes. The hotel takes you to Colca Canyon, amongst the world’s deepest, where giant condors soar. If you’re game, the hotel can organise a picturesque drive, via white volcanic colonial city Arequipa, to Nazca. Otherwise read on a garden bench, book a massage or soak in your casita’s outdoor tub in an invigorating ablution watching the light change over the hills.
INKATERRA HACIENDA URUBAMBA
By night the hotel glitters like a bejewelled hillside treasure trove. In the embrace of the imperial Andes on the horizon this tranquil temple is among Peru’s smartest hotels. The main building, behind which ample individual casitas rise on the hill, recreates a Spanish hacienda enclosing a central courtyard.
Embossed saddles, ornate church bells, colonial antiques and artwork and old indigenous textiles convene tastefully in a contemporary space with plush sofas. At the Bar, Victor makes a mean pisco sour. Breakfasts are served in the lovely Dining Room but for gourmet suppers drive out to Sol y Luna. www.inkaterra.com