With the weather a sweltering 90 degrees in most of the US, I’m longing for another trip to Peru to visit its cooler climes. But it’s not just for the weather. A visit to Machu Picchu, Cusco and Lima offers a wonderful foodie and adventure getaway even for a long weekend, thanks to new service provided on JetBlue from Fort Lauderdale to Lima.
|JW Marriott Lima|
|Fruit ceviche at Central|
Cusco, known as “the belly of the world,” has much to see in the way of history and mysticism. Officially named a World Heritage site in 1983, Cusco was the historic capital of the Inca Empire from the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries. The richness of this culture pervades the city, its religious icons and its ruins to this day.
|El Museo del Pisco, Cusco|
Two restaurants gave me the dining experiences I was looking for, a mix of tradition torqued forward through multicultural influences: the Mediterranean-oriented Cicciolina and Peruvian-fusion Limo .
|Alpaca skewers, Limo|
|Alpaca carpaccio, Cicciolina|
|Pisco coca, Limo|
|Plaza de Armas|
|El Mercado Tunqui|
My base in Cusco, El Mercado Tunqui Hotel, is a member of Mountain Lodges of Peru, a group of hotels known for their location and fostering of trekking itineraries. El Mercado is a short walk up a hill from the marketplace and Plaza de Armas, and is set in a building formerly used as the city’s old farmer’s market. With a beautiful open-air courtyard, quirky art installations throughout, and expansive windows that bring the views of the hills and greenery inside, the 32-room boutique hotel provided every comfort you could want: a cushy bed, a thoughtfully appointed bathroom, a tablet for your use, and a quiet respite from the outdoor activity. The bar, for a traditional Pisco Sour or a Mate de Coca (to help acclimatize to the altitude), and the Taberna restaurant were also welcome spots when my feet gave out from climbing up and down the hills or touring the sites.
Arriving in Aguas Calientes, the destination city for visiting Machu Picchu, is an adventure itself. The sheer number of daily visitors makes for a chaotic scene, as you transfer by way of the Indian Market to a shuttle bus that takes you to the entrance to Machu Picchu. By the way, if you’re afraid of winding hilly roads, this may be the time to invest in a good eye mask for your ride in what is essentially an old school bus.
Although it’s possible to stay in a hotel in Aguas Calientes, I would recommend returning to Cusco to unwind in a quieter environment and enjoy an evening of great food and drink.(I didn’t have time on this visit, but I would have added two other restaurants to my foodie pilgrimages: MAP Cafe and Gaston Acurio’s Chicha.)
|Meryl at Machu PIcchu|
The first thing you try to comprehend is why the engineers of Machu Picchu chose this location, so removed from anywhere else, and seemingly so protected on its perch in the mountains. (At its highest point, Machu Picchu’s La Ciudadela sits more than 8000 feet above sea level.) Was there a mystical reason why the Incans chose the meeting point between the Peruvian Andes and the Amazon Basin? Were the risks so great that they needed to keep themselves well hidden, without accessibility to roads, water and other creature comforts? Or was Machu Picchu simply one of the many estates built at that time to escape the colder climes of higher-altitude Cusco?
As I walked among the temples and homes, and imagined the llamas and other animals that had lived with the residents, I marveled at the range of people climbing the broken and steep steps, from young children clinging to parents to seniors walking with canes, all from a multitude of countries. There was electricity in the air that seemed borne out by the compass that spun in only one direction. Another mystical omen? People swear by the special energy you can feel here. Touch the Sacred Rock and they say the energy will stay with you.
I could have spent three more days in Machu Picchu, easily, sitting and speculating about the type of life that had existed there. The Incans had all been killed off. The civilization had vanished with no one to inherit the treasures of this community, and only a moderate understanding of why. In some ways, the mysteries of Machu Picchu were like the secrets of Rapa Nui, except that we know far more about the civilization of the Incas and their ways of life. Would I go back? Absolutely. But next time I want to bring my hiking boots.