The insider advice on this page is from one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for Peru and Bolivia: Marisol Mosquera of Aracari.
A native Peruvian, Marisol chucked a career in the financial world to become a pioneer in experiential travel to Peru and Bolivia; she also plans trips that combine the Galapagos with either country. She and trusted colleague Mark Green—a Brit who guided trips in South America for many years and is now living in Lima and married to a Peruvian—work with a network of prominent historians, photographers, chefs, museum directors, and fashion designers to deliver privileged access to people and places throughout the region. They are used to working with high-powered businesspeople for whom seamless execution is a prerequisite, but sustainability is also part of their bottom line; Marisol seeks out experiences that enhance the lives of locals, and she’s a strong supporter of woman-owned enterprises. Call on Marisol if you want an out-of-the-box version of the region’s iconic sites—a private tented camp in the rainforest, or tips for avoiding the lines at Machu Picchu—or if you want to explore the hidden pockets that most travelers miss, from the oldest city in the Americas to a little-known protected reserve next to Bolivia’s Uyuni salt flats.
Where to Stay and Eat
Best bang-for-your-buck hotel
Located in the heart of Barranco—Lima’s bohemian neighborhood—the charming Villa Barranco immerses guests in the city’s art and cultural scene. Inside this carefully restored 1920s republican home are nine spacious rooms, each with a private garden, patio, or balcony. The rooftop terrace is perfectly positioned for views over the coastal promenade, and hip art galleries such as Mario Testino’s MATE are a stroll away. (You can have your own private slice of this rooftop vista if you book the split-level master suite.)
Restaurants the locals love
La Preferida is a lively, casual place where people stand at the bar and even outside to nibble on small plates. I love the pulpo al olivo, which are octopus tapas on crackers with an olive sauce; the causa and ceviche are also delicious.
Set in a converted house in Lima’s Barranco neighborhood, Isolina is a modern tavern that recreates simple and seasonal Spanish and African-influenced Criollo dishes as they would traditionally be prepared at home. Their ceviche pairs lime-marinated fresh fish with the crunchy texture of fried octopus. Heaven!
Meal worth the splurge (and the wait)
The MIL Immersion is chef Virgilio Martinez’s widely acclaimed restaurant in the Sacred Valley. The half-day Immersion experience includes a visit to the fields where Quechua farmers grow some of MIL’s produce, a walk on a botanical path with an explanation of the plants’ medicinal and aromatic purposes, stops at the restaurant’s distillation and cacao labs, and an eight-course tasting menu.
Dish to try
Any dessert made of lucuma, a fruit that is native to Peru. Not only is lucuma the perfect match to chocolate, it is full of antioxidants—so you can indulge without the guilt.
What to See and Do
Caral isn’t well known outside Peru, but it was the first civilization in all of the Americas; its formidable pyramids are roughly 5,000 years old. Today, Caral also has the distinction of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It may not be as well preserved as Machu Picchu, but it gets a tiny fraction of the visitors.
Visiting Vinicunca, or Rainbow Mountain. The colors are much more subdued in person than in the filtered and manipulated images you see on Instagram. Plus, the place has become so popular that it’s very difficult to get a shot from any viewpoint without hundreds of people in the background.
Most underrated place
The Peruvian Amazon. When travelers think of the Amazon, they typically think of Brazil. In fact, Peru’s Amazonian national parks are some of the largest in South America, and you’ll find lodges and cruises here with a very high level of comfort and excellent guides. I can even arrange for a totally private tented camp in one of these parks.
Most overrated place
The Uros islands—the floating villages made of reed and mud on Lake Titicaca—are a contrived experience. The people who show you around will claim that they live on these islands, but they no longer do; it’s now entirely set up for tourists.
Located in the cloud forest in northern Peru, spectacular Kuélap is the main site of the Chachapoyas culture, a warrior-nation that built this amazing fortress using more stones than in the Great Pyramid of Giza. If you go to Kuélap, visit the nearby Leymebamba Museum to see the amazing collection of well-preserved mummies, and stay at Kentitambo, a wonderful six-room ecolodge with gorgeous gardens and an abundance of hummingbirds.
Paragliding off the coast of Lima’s Miraflores district. For less than $100, the views are unbelievable, the ride is smooth and exhilarating, and the safety standards high. This is best done from December through April, and on the odd sunny day the rest of the year.
Anything from Artesanías Las Pallas, in the artsy Barranco district of Lima. Welsh owner Mari Solari carefully curates her selection of the best Peruvian handicrafts from the Andes to the Amazon. Her shop is more like an art gallery that has the best folk-art collection in the country.
How to spend a Sunday
If you are in Cusco, go to the cathedral at 6:30am to hear the morning mass. Not only will you have time to admire the beautiful architecture, paintings, and impressive Baroque altars, but the sound of the sacred songs being chanted in Quechua and echoing through the stone structure is a stunning musical experience in itself.
Late April (avoiding Easter week) is ideal for many of the country’s regions: It’s the start of the dry season in the Andes, sunny and warm on the coast near Lima, and also a good time weather-wise in northern Peru. And since it’s not yet high season, you’ll find fewer crowds and lower prices.
The second half of June through August. This is peak season for both international and domestic travelers, and the infrastructure around Machu Picchu in particular becomes severely overstretched.
Not giving Lima enough time or, worse yet, skipping the capital city entirely. A stroll through the city reveals a colorful mix of cultures and ethnic groups, from descendants of pre-Hispanic civilizations to Asian and European immigrants; it’s also the epicenter of the recent explosion of Peruvian cuisine onto the world stage.
Sunblock! When you’re at high altitudes in the Andes, you’re just as likely to get sunburned as you are at the beach—if not more so.
Downtown Lima has many Arabic moucharaby balconies with elaborate lattice and tile work. Some of the most beautiful are at the Archbishop’s Palace on the Plaza Mayor. Walk under the balconies until you reach the corner facing the Government Palace. For a great perspective from below, have your companion go down the small set of stairs to get a shot with the balconies behind you.
If you book my VIP airport service, a representative will meet you at the aircraft and, avoiding the main terminals, escort you to a quiet lounge where you can await your luggage as your customs form is filled out for you. He or she will then guide you through customs—bypassing all other passengers—and to your car for a private transfer to your Lima hotel.
Don’t expect your room at the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge to have a view of Machu Picchu. While this is the only hotel that isn’t separated from the ruins by a 25-minute bus ride up a steep, switchbacking road, none of its rooms actually overlook the site.
Though not customary in local restaurants, tipping has become common in cities such as Lima, where a ten percent gratuity is the norm.
A private cooking demonstration and five-course tasting menu with chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino. Pedro is known for championing authentic and unusual ingredients from all over Peru, including the Amazon, and he runs ámaZ restaurant. A charismatic character, Pedro and his assistants will prepare five inventive courses right in front of you in the workshop above his fine-dining restaurant Malabar. Pedro can also accompany groups on market visits and run cooking classes.
A ceviche-making class at Lima’s acclaimed El Mercado restaurant, under the expert guidance of celebrated chef Rafael Osterling’s top-notch team (or even Rafael himself, if he’s available). A morning in his kitchen provides the chance to make and sample your own version of this classic national dish.