Travel Diaries

Exploring Peru’s Most Popular Wonders

by Sarah Royall of Salty Luxe

Full of diverse landscapes and experiences, Peru is an adventure seeker’s dream. The country is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in the world, including Machu Picchu, Rainbow Mountain and Cusco, the former capital of the Incan Empire. At the end of May, my boyfriend Chesh and I ventured there to take in a few of these bucket-list destinations.

CUSCO CULTURE

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More than 11,000 feet above sea level, Cusco is a magical epicentre and fusion of cultures. It mixes colonial architecture with archeological remains of Incan stonework and draws an international community of travelers, hikers and explorers. An old city with endless charm, you can spend a full day exploring, lounging on carved wooden balconies and wandering the main square, Plaza de Armas.

We stayed at the JW Marriot El Convento, which is perfectly situated in Cusco’s trendiest San Blas neighbourhood. Surrounded by cobblestone lanes leading to cute little cafes, colorful market places and even more colourful streets. Housed in a restored convent, the property offers luxurious rooms, as well as divine sun terraces on which to enjoy a hearty breakfast or afternoon pisco.

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We also ventured out for food and found some great spots. L’atelier was a hidden gem with its gorgeous blue balcony looking over San Blas. They have nut milks, masala chai and gluten-free dessert options—we went twice! At Organica, we opted for breakfast but their entire menu looked great. Their little balcony is perfect for sipping coffee and people watching across from Plaza de Aramas.

MAGICAL MACHU PICCHU

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Almost everyone dreams of one day visiting the 15th century Incan citadel, Machu Picchu. Unlimited in its magic and wonder, it simply needs to be experienced to be believed. Machu Picchu’s original purpose still remains somewhat of a mystery, but with its astronomical alignments, panoramic views and quite possibly the world’s greatest sunrise, it’s certainly a sacred spot.

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Whether hiking in via the Inca trail or the tiny neighboring town of Agues Calientes, luxury seekers will enjoy retiring to the one and only Belmond Sanctuary Lodge. It’s the only property atop Machu Picchu, with sweeping views across the valley, including that of Huayna Picchu (Machu Picchu’s neighboring peak) and some of the site’s ruins. You can see hikers finishing their Inca pilgrimage from the property’s grounds, you’re that close to the action.

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If you are looking for Old World charm, hop aboard Belmond’s Hiram Bingham train back to Cusco and enjoy an elegant experience, including a romantic candlelit dinner and some of the most spectacular views of the Andes.

THE RIGHT WAY TO RAINBOW MOUNTAIN

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A three-hour drive from Cusco is the Rainbow Mountain. Led by a local and his trusty llama, we chose to do Palccoyo, the alternative route to Rainbow Mountain as it is not yet flooded by tourists and well-managed by the community.

The mountain reaches approximate 17,000 feet, so it is a tough hike, but achievable. Chesh was affected by altitude sickness while in Cusco but he could still complete the trek. It takes around three to four hours roundtrip, depending on your pace, but there is no pressure to speed through.

SALT OF THE SACRED VALLEY

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The Maras Salt Mines are well-documented on Instagram and Pinterest. They became very popular recently and for good reason—they are super beautiful and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. As of June, tourists are no longer allowed to wander the terraces, in order to protect their integrity, but you can still view them from a platform and get a great photo.

On the same tour, you can visit Moray’s circular ruins, Pisac’s archeological site and craft markets, and Urumba, a neighboring village for a delicious lunch. We really loved the Pisac markets. We sat and watched women weave rugs for quite some time while children were huddled around, laughing and eating corn.

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We loved our experience in Peru and highly recommend a visit. If you go, give yourself a week to 10 days to allow your body to adjust to the altitude and have the full experience.