The Peru of the Incas: hard to get to and impossibly expensive, right? Not if you follow our advice and this route from Lima through the cobblestoned streets of Cuzco, the villages in the Sacred Valley, and finally up to Machu Picchu — a high from which you might never come down.
Start by soaking up Lima’s Spanish architecture, colonial mansions, and Cathedral on the Plaza de Armas. Hit seaside burb Miraflores for a fusion feast at Astrid y Gastón (Calle Cantuarias 175, +01-444-1496) or La Mar (Avenida La Mar 770, +511-421-3365), a thatched-roof cevicheria, for causas (marinated seafood over potato). Sleep tight in the art-filled rooms of the Country Club Lima Hotel (Los Eucaliptos 590, +511-611-9000).
Adopt a Positive Altitude
In Cuzco, drop your bags at the Novotel (San Augustin 239, Esquina Pasaje Santa Monica, +51-84-58-1030) then take in the massive Inca-built walls. Must-sees: the Temple of the Sun, the Cathedral, Museo de Arte Precolombino, and the adobe church in San Blas. Revive with chili-pepper sorbet at Inka Grill (Portal de Panes 115, +51-84-26-2992).
Look Out Below
Catch a bus from Aguas Calientes (after soaking in the hot springs) and brace yourself for Machu Picchu: The spectacular ruins are a mix of plazas, baths, and the wondrous Temple of the Sun. Sanctuary Lodge (Carretera Hiram Bingham, 800-237-1236), the only hotel with a view of the citadel, lets you have the ruins to yourself at dawn and dusk.
It Takes a Village
The Sacred Valley is home to K’uychi Rumi (+51-84-20-1169) in the village of Urubamba, where $100 gets you a two-bedroom cottage with lush gardens and killer views. The nearby markets peddle tapestries, puppets, and pottery. In Pisac, start at the top of the ruins and trek down steep paths to the markets below. On Sundays, Chinchero fills up with local weavers’ boiling pots of natural dyes. Last but not least, hit Ollantaytambo, where steep terraces guard the Inca complex.
Save Your Centimos
Avoid high season (prices soar May-September) and fly Lan Peru for affordable, direct flights from the U.S., or get a Visit South America visitor pass for flat-rate travel. In Cuzco, invest $20 in a visitor ticket that gets you into all the major sites — then pay about $5 for “insider” guided tours (book on the Plaza de Armas); they’re worth every dime.
And virtually guarantee you one serious peak experience.