Dance down to Machu Picchu, be blessed by a Sacred Valley shaman, mix up a mean pisco sour in Cusco: Belmond lets you experience Peru in ways you could never have imagined. Article | 22 September 2017
ON BOARD the Belmond Hiram Bingham train to this breathtaking historic sight, you might expect an atmosphere of hushed anticipation. What you don’t envisage is a local band pounding out Latin rhythms as the barman dispenses pisco sours. As the train leaves the high Andes for the Amazon cloud forest, the open-air observation car fills with guests gathering to dance to guitars and the cajón drum beat.
Visit Peru with Belmond and you quickly learn to expect the unexpected. Surprises come tumbling down like the rapids of the Urubamba River surging alongside the train.
Arrive at Machu Picchu to stay at Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, located beside the “Lost City” gate, and you are ready to explore terraces of jigsaw-tight giant stones. But few visitors are prepared for the site’s tropical beauty, lush with flowers. Tucked behind the Lodge is a glorious garden containing 137 of the 370 varieties of orchid found on this mountain alone. Orchid specialist Leonidas Chahuayo lovingly tends them and gives private tours, pointing out tiny flowers that hide under leaves or disguise themselves as insects. He works alongside guide Cecilia Cabrera, who also leads intriguing tours of the citadel and can take you to espy indigenous birds or medicinal plants. Perhaps the ultimate experience, though, is to relax in the hotel’s hot tub, which is overhung with gorgeous exotic blooms that frame a view over the citadel.
Back in the Sacred Valley, as dawn breaks over Belmond Hotel Rio Sagrado, you may hear the echoing blast of a conch shell being blown. It’s the village shaman announcing the start of the ceremony to honour earth goddess Pachamama, beside the blazing fire that he builds at the water’s edge. Hypnotic chants and rituals conjure up an ancient world in this exquisite setting among trees and hummingbirds. An equally memorable way to enjoy the riverside setting is to savour a pachamanca—a traditional Peruvian meat dish cooked using heated stones in a pit—or to relax in the garden over a lunch of produce grown in the hotel’s own kitchen garden.
Saddle up to explore further afield on horseback, either on local forest trails or adventure treks to the glistening Maras salt pans or the archaeological riches of Pumawanka. For even more exciting thrills, hit the water and go river rafting along the roaring Ollantaytambo rapids, glimpsing amazing Inca terraces as you speed by.
High above the valley, in the city of Cusco, guests of both Belmond Hotel Monasterio and Belmond Palacio Nazarenas also have the opportunity to gain special insights into local life. With its gold-encrusted baroque-style chapel and collection of museum-quality 17th-century Cusqueña school paintings, Belmond Hotel Monasterio is a work of art in itself.
Guests can marvel over magnificent and vibrant images of winged saints and scenes from Peruvian history on the hotel’s Art, Cooking and Opera Tour. The circuit also includes a visit to the kitchen to discover recipes from the same era as these works of art. The grand finale is a dinner with an opera or classical music concert by leading Peruvian performers, served in El Tupay restaurant.
At adjacent Belmond Palacio Nazarenas, a former palace and convent, innovative food is high on the agenda. Its gourmet restaurant, Senzo, features an exciting menu based on ingredients from the surrounding Andes that guests are highly unlikely to have encountered elsewhere. Many are the result of the kitchen team’s research and visits to local farms, and are specially grown for the hotel. True foodies will want to join the chef on a tour of Cusco’s San Pedro central market, to be dazzled by the towering arrangements of exotic fruit and vegetables. They then head back to the hotel to master the art of cooking quinoa, tubers, alpaca meat and other Peruvian specialities. Every guest will want to discover the hotel’s secret garden and its many herbs before selecting their favourites to be brewed in a special tisane. This can be enjoyed as part of an exclusive afternoon tea—opt for Andean specialities like muña or coca leaves to indulge like the locals. Or sign up to a pisco tasting session, with the chance to discover the hotel’s special recipe for a knockout pisco sour cocktail.
Peru's capital, Lima, brings art and cuisine together—and how! The city’s creative and culinary scene is bubbling, with new galleries and restaurants opening by the week. Must-visit museums like the Museo Larco, with its breathtaking displays of ancient treasures, have been joined by contemporary and revamped spaces with cool monikers such as MAC (works from 1950 onwards) and MALI (from pre-Columbian works to new photography), not to mention stylish private spaces where you can buy pieces by local artists who are developing international reputations.
Lima’s artistic hub is the district of Barranco, conveniently close to Belmond Miraflores Park. The hotel offers a Bohemian Barranco Tour, which takes in the home of Peruvian artist Victor Delfín and photographer Mario Testino’s contemporary gallery, MATE, among other fascinating highlights.
Peru’s capital city is increasingly becoming known as a cutting-edge gourmet destination, with so many restaurants to sample that visitors have impossible choices to make. Find out more on a Gastronomic Discovery tour, including a guided visit to the colourful and extensive Surquillo food market, a private cooking class and lunch at the hotel’s innovative Tragaluz restaurant.
All of these astonishing experiences create indelible impressions of Peru. It is the world-famous Inca glories that first tempt visitors to the country, but these rich details will embed it in visitors’ memories forever.