Perched 3,326 metres above sea level in the Peruvian Andes, the city of Cuzco and nearby Machu Picchu will literally take your breath away.
Misty ruins, folksy pan pipe music, colourful textiles, Catholic churches, noisy processions, cuddly alpacas and llamas, steep terraces, butterflies, air plants, orchids and-oh my-the revivifying effects of coca tea.
Colonial arcades surround Cuzco's bustling Plaza de Armas with its upmarket cafés, restaurants and shops. Wander down narrow walkways and run your hands along original Incan walls. Stay at the five-star Hotel Libertador, built over Aclla Huasi, where the chosen Incan virgins lived-ancient history for some, maybe, but you're sure to get the purest night's sleep. Watch the Peruvians promenade or, if you're feeling insanely energetic, book yourself a guided trek to 16th-century Machu Picchu. Boy, will you deserve that pedicure!
Why you should go
If you're into active vacations, but don't want to skimp on pampering. If you hankered after your brother's pet as a child (the local delicacy is grilled guinea pig). If you're a demon haggler after the perfect gold trinket. Or if you yearn to star in your very own Lara Croft movie (there's that hardy trek again). But if you're more Carrie than Croft, take heart. Hop on the switchback train to Aguas Calientes, at the foot of Machu Picchu, and gaze in comfort and awe at the snow-capped peaks of the Andes. From Aguas, it's a short trip uphill to the elusive Lost City of the Incas, hidden from the Spanish conquistadors in their rampaging quest for gold.
What to pack
Think hiker chic: aviation and cargo pants for trekking in the Sacred Valley during the day, paired with a sexy pair of slingbacks for taking on Cuzco's nightlife. The perfect white V-neck T-shirt that can be plied with layers, as the Andes can go from warm and sunny to rainy and cool in minutes, a trench is a must.
If there's one thing you buy
An alpaca scarf from Alpaca 111 could be the softest textile you've ever felt. Gisele Bündchen and Kofi Annan thought so.
Photography of the ruins of Macho Picchu, the Lost City of the Incas, courtesy of Helen Buttery
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Originally a hacienda, the Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel blends into the lush land below the Machu Picchu ruins. Honour the ancient Incan sun god with a morning sun salutation on the outdoor patio, while hummingbirds feed on bird of paradise blooms. After a day at the ruins, return to the hotel's spa for a reflexology session, a native orchid oil massage or a eucalyptus leaf sauna.
Romantic hot spot
You'll have to get up early, but watching the sunrise from Intipunku, Machu Picchu's Sun Gate, is worth it. Hold your honey's hand while the mist lifts and the sun's rays reveal the Lost City of the Incas.
Watch the winding Urubamba River empty into the Amazon from Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel's Mikhuna Wasi restaurant window while enjoying corn appetizer with spicy cheese sauce, grilled Andean trout or Peru's traditional dish, lomo saltado (beef prepared in a Peruvian-Creole style). In Cuzco, the Inka Grill's Túpac Turín alpaca dish is legendary. Afterwards, chill out in the Cuzco Los Perros couch bar or get all revved up in El Muki or Mama Afrika.
The Spanish came to this area for the hidden gold, but tourists come for gold, silver and bronze. Joyeria Aldo in Cuzco has several lines of jewellery including modern, silver and an Incan line. The Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel also has an outstanding custom-designed silver jewellery collection. Shops surround Cuzco's Plaza de Armas, and bartering is expected, whether you're buying pottery or a poncho. Alpaca 111 offers the softest alpaca textiles, including tailored coats and sweaters, and La Casa de la Llama makes exquisite leather wallets and purses. An excursion to Pisac Market just outside Cuzco is a must for the experience alone. Peruvian women in traditional dress sell woven textiles brighter than rainbow-coloured Skittles,if you have room, a handmade rug is well worth lugging home.
In the limelight
Macho Picchu Pueblo Hotel
Commission for the Promotion of Peru
Machu Picchu Tourist and Travel Information
Air Canada flies direct from Toronto to Peru's capital, Lima, three times a week ( www.aircanada.com).
Photography of Peruvian women showing off their wares in Pisac Market courtesy of Helen Buttery