Where I went: I had the pleasure of traveling to Peru early this year for a friend’s wedding in Lima, and I started the trip in Cusco, an incredibly charming city on the Altiplano. Once I got used to the intense 11,152-foot altitude (thanks to the help of coca tea‚ a Cusco staple that’s made from pure coca leaves), I spent time exploring.
What I did: Took in the sights at Saksaywaman, an ancient Incan fortress located on a steep hill that overlooks the city (seriously—it’s 12,000 feet high), to see the enormous boulders tightly fit together without mortar by workers in the year 1100. As far as attractions go, it’s long been in Machu Piccu’s shadow, but I kind of preferred it, thanks to the calming, almost meditative, open green spaces, silence, epic city views, and adorable alpacas just hanging out.
I also suggest heading to the Plaza de Armas, a massive square that, according to legend, once marked the exact center of the Inca Empire. There, you’ll see gorgeous cathedrals and churches, and you can walk to a variety of markets to buy handmade blankets, authentic knits, and cool jewelry. And if you make it to Lima—which you probably will—you have to eat at La Mar in Miraflores, one of the best restaurants I’ve ever been to.
Where I stayed: I chose the stately Palacio del Inka, which was not only gorgeous but authentic: A former colonial mansion, it’s built over Inca foundations, with parts of the building dating back to the 16th century.
What I packed: I went in January, so it wasn’t hot but also wasn’t cold. Most days, it was around 70 degrees with on and off rain, so I loaded up on layering essentials like jeans, tees, light knits, and one very handy, very thin hooded waterproof parka. Cusco is extremely casual, so don’t even think about lugging high heels or fussy dresses—dark skinny jeans, an old pair of suede ankle boots, and an Equipment blouse was my evening outfit of choice, while New Balance sneakers got me through the walking-heavy days.
–Perrie Samotin, site director