Peru is the cradle of South America’s ancient civilizations, today promoted by PromPeru as “Peru: Empire of Hidden Treasures.” One jewel no longer out of sight is Lima, once upon a recent time a one-night layover en-route to Machu Picchu, but today a capital for discovery. Its Miraflores and San Isidro districts are alive with restaurants serving up world-acclaimed Peruvian cuisine—different and delicious fusions of Spanish and Asian traditions—and world-class hotels, with a new entry, the 17-suite, artsy-boutique Hotel B, opening early this year in the seaside artsy neighborhood of Barranco. The urban explorer in Lima will find treasures on display in the Lima Art Museum: 3,000 years-worth of ceramics, painting and sculpture; in glorious religious buildings like the San Francisco Monastery with its underground passages and catacombs; in the Larco Herrera Museum, brimming with pre-Columbian art and gleaming gold and silver pieces and occupying a colonial mansion, built atop a seventh century pyramid. By day, discover Vice-Royalty Lima with a stroll around the Plaza de Armas, bordered by the Presidential Palace (the changing of the guard takes place daily at noon) and the baroque Cathedral housing the chapel where conqueror Francisco Pizarro is enshrined. Come back to this heart of the original city after sunset to catch the Magic Circuit of Water, dancing high-tech fountains set to lights and music.
While in Lima, do make a day trip to the archaeological complex of Pachacamac, an important pre-Columbian citadel of palaces and temple pyramids. And then of course fly on to Cusco, the last capital of the Incas, and perhaps hike the Inca Trail to the wondrous fortress of Machu Picchu. Many of the most exciting pre-Columbian discoveries lie north of Lima between Trujillo and Chicalayo along La Ruta Moche, named for the Mochica culture that thrived from about A.D. 100 to 700; one of many super-star attractions is the fantastic Museo Tumbas Reales de Sipan, housing finds of the royal tombs of the Lord of Sipan. And there is no time like the present to heed the call of the wild in Amazonia: cruising out on the river from Iquitos, or staying put in the rainforest in an eco-lodge outside of Puerto Maldonado. New here is the 15-bungalow Hacienda Concepcion set on 2,000 private acres in the wildlife-rich Tambopata Nature Reserve; just after its opening, avid birdwatcher Mick Jagger came to call.
BEST TIME TO GO: May to November, the dry season; however, in coastal Lima, those months can be gray and misty
FUN-FACT: The earliest known Peruvian civilization is the Chavin culture (about 1200-400 B.C.); its finest remains are the northern fortress-temple of Chavin de Huantar, about 70 miles from Huaraz
GETTING THERE: Delta flies from Atlanta to Lima
ENTRY DOCUMENTS: Valid passport; tourist card issued free on arrival
CURRENCY: Nuevo sol
MUST-TRY LOCAL FOOD: The world has discovered Peruvian cuisine, and fine Peruvian chefs now preside over great restaurants at home and abroad. Arequipa ranks just behind Lima among Peru’s gastronomic centers, and specialties include adobo (pork stew with aji), escabeche de pescado (spicy fish stew) ostrich, and choclo con queso (corn on the cob with cheese)
BEST BUYS: Cusco, leading center of handicraft production, is a premier shopping center for hand-woven textiles, alpaca wool clothing (sweaters, ponchos, blankets, scarves), silver jewelry, fine hand-painted reproductions of Esquela Cusquena paintings, and fine hand-carved frames
INFORMATION PLEASE: PromPeru—peru.info