Destination of the Week: Machu Picchu, Lima and Cuzco

Aug 24, 2012

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 Machu Picchu is one of the world’s great tourist destinations, though there’s plenty more to see and do in Peru.

With bustling cities, stunning Pacific coastline, primordial rainforests, fascinating ancient cultures and the mysterious peaks of the Andes, Peru is truly one of the world’s top travel destinations, so for our Destination of the Week we have chosen its most famous site, Machu Picchu, and have included details on how to get there via Lima and Cuzco, as well as what to do while you’re in each place.

Like most travelers, if you’re coming from North America, you’ll start your trip to Peru in Lima, the sprawling capital on the Pacific coast. You probably won’t spend too much time there, but while you’re in the city, there’s still plenty to see.

Getting There
Lima is home to Jorge Chávez International Airport and serves as a hub for LAN Peru. LAN Peru, a member of Oneworld, has flights from Lima to New York-JFK, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Miami. When it comes to US carriers, Delta offers non-stop service to Atlanta starting at 45,000 miles roundtrip in coach and 90,000 miles in business, United to Houston and Newark starting at 20,000 miles each way in economy and 35,000 miles each way in business class, and American to Miami starting at 15,000 miles each way in coach and 30,000 miles each way in business class.

Using British Airways Avios is another option. One-way awards in economy from Miami-Lima is 12,500 Avios, and from New York 20,000 Avios, and from Los Angeles 25,000 Avios (double those amounts for business class).

Delta and Aerolineas Argentina have a new partnership so if you wanted to add on a few days in Buenos Aires or just to connect through, that is another option.

When it comes to airport lounges, the Lima airport has the following lounges available to Priority Pass members: Caral VIP Lounge, Sumaq VIP lounge, and the VIP club lounge and business center.

What To Do
The National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology and History of Peru as a huge collection of artifacts and even mummies from Peru’s ancient cultures. The Larco Museum is housed in a stately old 18th-century mansion with beautiful gardens. Its collection spans thousands of years of Peruvian history, and includes jewelry, ceramics, and even an erotic art exhibit.

The Larco Museum houses an unparalleled collection of Peruvian art and artifacts.

In the historic heart of town, is the Plaza de Armas, flanked by the Palacio de Gobierno and the Cathedral, while the spooky Catacombs beneath the Convent of San Francisco. While out in the San Ysidro neighborhood, the ruins at Huaca Pucllana complex in Miraflores predate Incan culture by 700 years and you can enjoy traditional Peruvian dishes at the upscale restaurant there.

The Palacio de Gobierno sits on one side of the central Plaza de Armas.

Peruvian cuisine is having a moment – not just in Peru but around the world – thanks to the country’s beautiful produce and seafood, and the Lima restaurant scene is at the epicenter of this culinary awakening. While there, be sure to try one of celebrity chef Gastón Acurio’s restaurants like La Mar in Miraflores where you can try Peru’s national dish, ceviche. One of the city’s other hottest restaurants is Central, a beautiful, posh restaurant serving nuevo peruano cuisine whose kitchen is overseen by up-and-coming chef Virgilio Martinez. Sick of seafood? Head to Al Asador in the San Borja neighborhood for some of the city’s best steaks.

Ceviche is Peru’s national dish – this one was made with fresh Andean mountain trout, onions, choclo corn and sweet potato.

For a great night out, head to the bohemian Barranco district to hit happening bars like Picas near the 19th-century Bridge of Sighs for a selection of tropical-flavored pisco sours.


Lobby area at the El Pardo DoubleTree in Lima.

El Pardo DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel: Located in Miraflores, which is one of Lima’s more cosmopolitan districts, this 110-room hotel features the brand’s signature Sweet Dreams by DoubleTree Sleep Experience bed, linens and duvet. There is a two-floor Millenium Sports Club and a 11th floor heated pool for guests to use. The hotel also offers free parking. The hotel has two restaurants, Junius Restaurant, which serves all-day dining, and Zuma Grille open for dinner nightly. Rates in September begin at $170 or 30,000 Hilton HHonors points since this is a Category 4 property.

Exterior view of the JW Marriott Lima.

JW Marriott Lima: Also located in the Miraflores district, near the cliffside LarcoMar Shopping & Entertainment Center, this 300-room hotel is the first non-smoking hotel in Lima. There is an outdoor swimming pool and fitness room with cardiovascular equipment and free weights. There is complimentary on-site parking as well. Hotel dining options include, La Vista Restaurant, serving local and international cuisine and JW Sushi Ceviche Lounge offering a blend of Peruvian and Asian cuisines. Rates in September begin at $158 per night. This is a Marriott Category 6 property, and requires 30,000 Marriott Rewards Points (25,000 with PointSavers) for a free-night redemption.

Double guest room at the Crown Plaza Lima.

Priority Club
Crowne Plaza Lima: Centrally located in the Miraflores district, this hotel welcomes guests with a complimentary pisco sour at the Taki Bar during check-in. The guest rooms have 29-inch LCD TV’s, dining table, and CD player and the beds feature white linens. Guests of the hotel are provided with a complimentary buffet breakfast each morning. The hotel has an on-site fitness center, business center,an indoor pool, whirlpool and sauna.  September rates start at $148, whereas free nights would cost 25,000 points/night or 20,000 points + $40.

Lobby area at the Westin Lima.

The Westin Lima Hotel & Convention Center: Located in one of Lima’s vibrant financial and shopping district, this property has 301 guest rooms and suites all with the signature Westin Heavenly Bed and Heavenly Shower. The rooms also have 37-inch LCD TV’s, walk-in closets, and marble bathrooms with separate bathtub and shower. There is an Executive Club Lounge for guests staying on the floor as well as SPG Platinum Members. The lounge offers complimentary continental breakfast every morning and a happy hour with light snacks and drinks each evening. The hotel has a WestinWorkout gym, indoor swimming pool and Westin Heavenly Spa. The main restaurant is Market 770 which features a variety of international cuisines. Rates in September start at $170 a night. This is a Category 5 hotel requiring 12,000 Starpoints for a free night.

Double guest room at the Sheraton Lima.

Sheraton Lima: Located near Lima’s historic center, this property has 431 guest rooms and suites with flatscreen TV’s and the Sheraton Sweet Sleeper bed. There is also the Sheraton Club for club level guests and SPG Platinum Members. The Club Lounge offers complimentary breakfast, afternoon hors d’oeuvres and a variety of beverage options. There is the  Neptune Pool & Fitness Center with steam room and sauna for guest use. Rates in September start at $129 a night. This is a Category 2 hotel requiring between 3,000-4,000 Starpoints for a free night.

The Miraflores Park Hotel offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean.

Miraflores Park Hotel: This Orient-Express property has 82 guest room and suites all with LCD TV’s, wireless internet access, marble bathrooms with separate bathtubs and showers. There is an outdoor rooftop swimming pool and fitness center for guest use. Located on the 11th floor, this hotel features the Zest Spa offering a variety of treatments. Dining options include Mesa 18 by Toshiro which specializes in authentic Japanese cuisine. There is the Observatory Restaurant serving a daily buffer breakfast and the Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde Bar located in the lobby area. Rates in September start at $350 per night.

This is a member of both Fine Hotels and Resorts where Amex Platinum cardholders are eligible for extra benefits such as room upgrades, free continental breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more. It is also a member of Visa Signature Hotels and when  cardholders use a Visa Signature credit card to book a room through the Visa Signature Hotels website, they are eligible to receive extra perks such as discounted room rates, room upgrades, free breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more.  Visa Signature cards include the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire, British Airways Visa, the Hyatt card, the Marriott Rewards Premier and Marriott Rewards cards, the Southwest Plus card, Bank of America’s Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines cards, Capital One Venture,  Citi Hilton HHonors, US Bank FlexPerks, Citi AAdvantage Visa Signature, and many more, so chances are you’re carrying at least one of them in your wallet.

Machu Picchu is one of the world’s most famous sights.

Most folks come to Machu Picchu via Cuzco, and while it’s near enough to be a (very long) daytrip from the city, spending a night or two in the town near the ancient Inca settlement is probably a better idea so you can witness the sunrise there and have time to explore all its riches.

Getting There
To get there, you can take either a bus or taxi from Cuzco to Ollyantaytambo where you can catch a Peru Rail train the rest of the way to the town of Aguas Calientes at the base of the hill where Machu Picchu perches. The total journey should take around three hours. If you want to get really fancy, take the Hiram Bingham luxury train operated by Orient-Express directly from Cuzco to Machu Picchu.

Arrive in style aboard the luxury Hiram Bingham train from Orient-Express.

What To Do
Known as the “lost city of the Inca,” and hidden from the world for centuries, Machu Picchu has now become one of the world’s most famous tourist destinations. Most hotels here are in the town of Aguas Calientes at the base of the mountain, but buses to the summit where the ruins sit run frequently and only take about 20 minutes (you can also hike up a path).

The entrance fee is 128 Peruvian Soles (about $50), and foreigners are required to pay in cash either at the park itself, through their hotels, or via Rail Peru. Tickets are issued for a specific day and grant access to the site for the entire day. Only 2,500 tourists are allowed in daily, so get your tickets in advance either through a tour operator, through Rail Peru when you buy your train tickets, or from your hotel at Machu Picchu, which should also be able to arrange for a local guide.

You’ll be up early and will probably need several hours to explore the citadel, so consider taking an afternoon nap then heading either to one of the hotels in town like the romantic Inkaterra or the upscale Sumaq Hotel for a dinner of local delicacies, or hit one of the inexpensive (and sometimes rowdy) restaurants, grills and bars in town.


Guest rooms at the Tambo del Inka Resort & Spa, Valle Sagrado feature local design elements.

Tambo del Inka Resort & Spa, Valle Sagrado: Located in the Sacred Valley settlement of Urubamba with a private train station to Machu Picchu, this resort has 128 oversized guest rooms and suites. The guest rooms feature 32 inch LCD TV’s, iPod docking stations, Simmons Hotel Beautyrest Bed with white linens and feather duvets and the bathrooms have separate showers and bathtubs and double sinks. There is the Spa at Valle Sagrado, fitness center and indoor/outdoor heated swimming pool at the property. The hotel’s fusion-style restaurant, Hawa, serves all day. Rates in September start at $240 a night. This is part of Starwood‘s Luxury Collection as a Category 4 hotel requiring 10,000 Starpoints for a free night. This is also part of the Visa Signature Hotels collection.

Double guest room at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge. 

Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge: This luxury Orient-Express property is right at the entrance to the ruins of Machu Picchu and has just 29 rooms and two suites. Dining options include the Tampu Restaurant serving Peruvian and international cuisine, and the Tinkuy Buffet Restaurant serving daily lunch. Rates in September start at $975 a night. This is a member of the Visa Signature Hotels.

Villas at the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel offer private terraces.

Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel: Located on 12 riverside acres in the town of Aguas Calientes, this property has 85 casitas and villas with fireplaces and alpaca textiles, and the butler-attended villas feature private gardens and marble bathrooms and open-air showers. The hotel is home to the UNU Spa with Andean sauna, and its main dining room offers views of the Urubamba River and is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There is also the Cafe Inkaterra which specializes in Andean cuisine. This hotel provides complimentary wireless internet access in all the rooms. This is a member of the Visa Signature Hotels program. Rates in September start at $434 per night.

Cuzco’s central Plaza de Armas with the cathedral and several other colonial-era buildings.

Most people and travel guides seem to think that going to Cuzco and acclimating to the altitude there before heading to Machu Picchu is the way to plan a trip to the Incan Andes. But think about doing it the other way around since Machu Picchu is at just under 8,000 feet above sea level while the former imperial city of the Inca sits about 3,500 feet higher up, making it even harder to acclimate. Don’t let the altitude talk scare you, though. No visit to Peru is complete without a stop in Cuzco, which was once the heart of the Inca empire and which still holds a myriad of cultural treasures.

Getting There
There are several non-stop, hour-long flights between Lima and Cusco daily on LAN, which only require 4,500 Avios each way for an award ticket.

What To Do
To get the lay of the land, stop by the central Plaza de Armas and see the Cathedral before heading to the nearby Museo Inka to see its Incan mummies, and the Museo de Arte Precolombino to check out the collection of native art.

Though it was later converted into a church, Koricancha was once the Golden Temple of the Inca.

If you only have a short time, though, the one must-visit sight is Koricancha, the massive Incan temple of the sun that was once covered in pure gold (the name means “Golden Temple” in Quechua) and was then over-built by the Spanish and is now the Church of Santo Domingo.

To pick up some souvenirs, hit the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cuzco has beautiful fair-trade alpaca apparel, and the extensive Centro Artesanal Cuzco sells crafts of all kinds. The San Blas district up the hill from the Plaza de Armas has fantastic views of the city, plus a tons of bars, cafes and restaurants where the city’s students hang out.

You can try Gastón Acurio nouvelle Andean food (like moo shoo guinea pig) at Chicha, while Cicciolina is a great little wine bar specializing in gourmet small plates, and Fallen Angel is a fun experience where the city’s party crowd comes to let loose.

King guest room at the Hotel Monasterio.

Hotel Monasterio:  A former monastery and national monument dating from 1592, this Orient-Express hotel now boasts 126 rooms and suites, including 65 which can be oxygen enriched to help combat altitude fatique. There is complimentary wireless internet throughout. Restaurants include the Illariy Restaurant which serves breakfast and lunch, and El Tupay Restaurant, specializing in French-style cuisine.  Guests have access to the Hypnoze Spa at the Palacio Nazarenas hotel (another Orient-Express property nearby). This is a member of both Fine Hotels and Resorts and Visa Signature HotelsRates in September start at $390 per night.

La Casona Inkaterra features 11 guest suites.

La Casona Inkaterra: This boutique property has only 11 suites furnished with antiques and feature a blend of Spanish and local designs. The suites have large marble bathrooms with dual sinks, separate shower and tubs. There are flatscreen TV’s, iPod speakers, heated floors and free wireless internet. This is a member of Visa Signature HotelsRates in September start at $975 a night.

The final Orient-Express property here is the Orient-Express Rio Sagrado not far outside of the city of Cuzco. It is also a Visa Signature Hotel.

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