PERU

Friday - - Travel -

The seat of two great em­pires: drink and dine like an Inca, sleep and hike like a con­quis­ta­dor

It’s no longer con­tro­ver­sial to say Machu Pic­chu is not Peru’s most ex­cit­ing des­ti­na­tion. The Inca citadel re­mains one of the won­ders of the world – but get­ting there is, to be hon­est, rather more ex­cit­ing.

The open­ing of the Ex­plora Sa­cred Val­ley in Urquil­los has given visitors to Peru the best of all ex­cuses to loi­ter in the re­gion. The ho­tel

of­fers guests a menu of 20 “ex­plo­rations”, in­clud­ing hikes, bike rides and drives – many in­volv­ing Inca sites and, be­cause the val­ley is still the heart­land of the indige­nous Quechua peo­ple, cul­tural en­coun­ters. The con­tin­ued ex­pan­sion of the lux­ury ho­tel scene in Urubamba (the val­ley’s com­mer­cial hub) and the plan by Lima’s top chef, Vir­gilio Martinez, to open a restau­rant be­side the Mo­ray ru­ins looks set to make the val­ley ever more pop­u­lar.

It’s worth re­assert­ing that Peru’s cap­i­tal is the undis­puted culi­nary pow­er­house of South Amer­ica: for dar­ing, for vi­tal­ity and for hon­our­ing their indige­nous fore­bears’ pro­duce and dishes, Lima’s chefs stand alone. Stops at pi­o­neer Astrid y Gas­ton, plus El Mer­cado, Maido, Mal­abar and Rafael – as well as Martinez’s toprated Cen­tral – are highly rec­om­mended. Book well be­fore you fly. (Get a preview in Dubai: Martinez’s restauar­ant Lima is in City Walk.)

Al­ter­na­tive an­cient sites are lur­ing hik­ers and his­tory-lovers away from Machu Pic­chu. In April 2017, a ca­ble car opened be­tween Nuevo Tingo and the pre-Inca ru­ins of Kue­lap in the south­ern Ama­zonas re­gion. The site was pre­vi­ously only ac­ces­si­ble via a steep 9km drive or four-hour hike up un­paved roads. The 20-minute ride opens up an im­pres­sive walled set­tle­ment built by the Chachapoyas in the sixth cen­tury.

Home to about 1,800 bird species – in­clud­ing 107 en­demic species – Peru is re­al­is­ing its po­ten­tial as a bird­ing hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion. Lodges such as the fam­ily-owned Tambo Blan­quillo in Manu Na­tional Park, north of Cusco, and Tam­bopata Re­search Cen­tre and the new Inkaterra Guides Field Sta­tion – ac­cessed via Puerto Mal­don­ado – em­ploy ex­perts and of­fer guests a com­bi­na­tion of up-close na­ture and com­fort.

For train buffs, the new Bel­mond An­dean Ex­plorer is a lux­ury sleeper sup­ple­ment­ing the same firm’s Hi­ram Bingham Cusco-to-Machu Pic­chu Pull­man-style ser­vice. Well-heeled trav­ellers can now go to Puno and Lake Tit­i­caca as well as Cusco, feast­ing on fine food and stay­ing in dou­ble-bed cab­ins; the train even has a spa car.

Pope Fran­cis vis­its Peru from Jan 18-21, and is sched­uled to say Mass in Lima, Tru­jillo and Puerto Mal­don­ado.

Don’t miss: Sa­cred Val­ley, Kue­lap, Lima, Manu Na­tional Park, Cusco.

How to do it: Mar­tin Ran­dall’s (mar­t­in­ran­dall. com) 16-day An­dean Heart­land guided group tour of Moche, Chimu and Chachapoya sites also in­cludes on-site stays at Machu Pic­chu.

Llama Travel’s (lla­ma­travel.co.uk) 13-day In­cas & Con­quis­ta­dors of Peru tour vis­its Lima, Cusco and Tit­i­caca and in­cludes an overnight trip on the Bel­mond An­dean Ex­plorer.

When you have had your fill of Cusco, move north to Manu Na­tional Park where you can spot the Or­ange-eared Tan­ager, one of 1,800 bird species that make Peru their home

Af­ter spend­ing time at Punta Bal­lena, a re­sort city on the coast of Río de la Plata (ABOVE) ex­plore the city of Mon­te­v­ideo (RIGHT). The La Paloma light­house in Uruguay, which dates back to 1874 (BE­LOW). The area was de­clared a na­tional mon­u­ment in 1976

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