Peru presents a whole new world of potential sales in special interest travel: for museum members, academic institutions, conservation clubs, and yes, groups of friends who like sharing exceptional experiences. Culture buffs will thrill to the majesty of ancient sites, the arts of ancient weaving and colonial painting, and the vibrant traditions of regional festivals. The great outdoors welcomes the ardent birdwatcher and the orchid fancier, while adventure calls to those who want to raft on the Urubamba River, hike along the Inca Trail, bike in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and trek along Andean trails around Huaraz or Chachapoyas. Archaeology Peru is, simply put, a country of superlatives, but the superstar attractions are undoubtedly the former Incan capital of Cusco and the awesome "lost city" of Machu Picchu, tucked away in the folds of the Andes Mountains. The Incas might have been relative latecomers to Peru, but their early civilizations thrived along the arid Pacific coast, where they etched mysterious lines and gigantic figures across the Nasca plains.
Anyone who has been to Peru can vouch for its superlative cuisine. Sophisticated restaurants reflect the diversity of a nation that has blended its native traditions with the cuisines of Europe, the Middle East, China and Japan. The result: unique flavors that make Peruvian cuisine one of the tastiest and varied in the world, blending traditional ingredients and recipes with haute cuisine techniques. While we might expect a special interest tour focusing on the archaeological or rainforest superlatives of Peru, it is rare to find a program whose centerpiece is cuisine. Magical Cusco Tours offers just that in its 6-night The Taste of Peru program.
The tour starts in Lima, where group members learn the basics of Peruvian cooking with chefs at Le Cordon Bleu Peru school and restaurant. They also spend a day with Luis Armando La Rosa, the first chef to introduce Nova Andina (nouvelle Andean cuisine) cooking. A dining highlight will include a 10-course "Menu de Degustacion," prepared especially by Gaston at the renowned Astrid and Gaston restaurant. The Lima program also features a tour of the historic city center and the Museum of Anthropology.
Three nights are spent in Cusco, where Chef Jorge Luis Ossio will host a dinner with highland specialties at his MAP Cafe, preceded by a private tour of the Pre-Columbian Art Museum. Tour members will also have a guided tour of the city; travel by rail to Machu Picchu; and spend a day in the Sacred Valley with visits to Inca fortresses and country markets. There's another culinary highlight: a vegetarian lunch highlighting potatoes (of which Peru has hundreds of varieties) at the Hacienda Huayocari, plus a tour of the owner's art collection.
On returning to Lima, highlights will be a Peruvian lonche, a teatime tradition legacy from 19th century English influence, and a comida criolla at the classic Lima restaurant, El Rincon Que No Conoces, whose Chef Teresa is considered one of the best criolla cooks in the country.
The land-only cost is $2,769 pp dbl and includes accommodations at three-star hotels, most meals (only two dinners are not included), cooking classes and demonstrations, escorted sightseeing, and roundtrip flights Lima/Cusco. The hotels may be upgraded according to client wishes, and customized arrangementsfor groups are a company specialty. For more information, call (866) 411-4622, or call the company president, Wendy Alperstein, directly at (703) 216-6909. Visit magicalcuzcotours.com.