“Journeys end in lovers meeting,” wrote William Shakespeare. If it’s a journey you’re seeking, then consider one of the ultimate bucket-list destinations for your wedding: Machu Picchu, the ancient Incan citadel perched in the Andes Mountains of Peru. Melissa Klurman has all the details for a celebration at the top of the world.
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Maybe it’s the location, right at the base of Machu Picchu. Or the way it’s tucked into a private perch between the granite slabs of the Andes and the flowing Vilcanota River. Or the mystical Sacred Valley that surrounds it and infuses everything with its glow. Whichever the cause, the result is apparent: There are few places more unique to celebrate your nuptials than Sumaq Machu Picchu Hotel, a boutique property in Aguas Caliente, the gateway to Machu Picchu.
When you stay at the family-owned lodge, you and your wedding party (up to 25 attendees) will be treated like visiting Incan royalty, from the personal greeting you receive when you step off the train to your intimate ceremony (prices start at $500) that will be performed by the same shaman, Wilkko, who blessed the hotel when it was being built. Book the honeymoon suite ($619/night), with a fireplace and balcony that provides views over the river and straight toward the mighty peaks.
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Forget the formal gown and tux. Sumaq is the place to forge your new life from the ancient ceremony called the Arac Masin. In this Andean wedding tradition, the bride and groom wear brightly woven robes and the ground is decorated with colorful elements with connections to the earth, including maize (for prosperity) and shells (for fertility). The local shaman resides over the ritual in which the spirits believed to dwell in the mountain connect your two hearts and two spirits into one. Worried about making the union legal? Plan on stopping by City Hall when you return home to pick up a marriage license and make it official.
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You’ve traveled by planes, trains, and automobiles through Peru to get this far, but the last 30 minutes of the journey up to Machu Picchu are the most thrilling, careening by bus (ask Sumaq to arrange your transportation) up the switchback turns until you finally find yourself 8,000 feet high in the Andes with your first glimpse of the city in the lush jungle.
Constructed in the mid-1400s by the Incan emperor Pachacuti, the estate is perfectly aligned with the stars and planets. Many believe it was built as a temple or sanctuary and has mystical properties (although others think it was simply a palatial retreat).
You can decide for yourself as you traverse the 3,000 stone steps around the mountain and take in both the views and the nearly perfectly preserved walls. Hire a guide to help you explore (we’re fans of the ones who work for Viajes Pacifico) or wander hand-in-hand on your own. Although the Sun Gate offers the most famous perspective of the citadel, keep hiking past the photo-op aerie to the Inca Bridge. This shaded trail along the side of the mountain is less crowded than better-known spots, allowing you a nearly private lookout over the ancient ruins with your new spouse.
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If you are flying into Peru (LAN has super-comfortable seats and direct flights) from the United States, you will land in Lima and most likely will want to spend the night. The Country Club Hotel (from $309/night) is Lima’s answer to New York City’s Plaza: an iconic destination with arched white entryways, expansive balconies and patios, and majestic palm trees filled with chirping parrots. Although it’s hard to leave this tropical oasis in the bustling city, don’t miss Lima’s Lover’s Park, where undulating walls are adorned with colorful mosaics that spell out Latin love poems.
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To get to Machu Picchu from Lima, travelers connect through the Andean mountain town of Cusco (which roughly translates to “belly button” in Quechua), the former capital of the Incan Empire. The JW Marriott—set in a 17th-century monastery with original brick walls, soaring ceilings, and a romantic courtyard—is a dream layover hideaway. Bonus: Oxygen is pumped into the plush rooms (from $345/night) to help you adjust to the higher altitudes.
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The journey is half the fun of a destination wedding, and since all visitors to Machu Picchu must arrive by train, take this opportunity to travel in style. Inca Rail’s glass-ceilinged dining car ($135/person) serves a three-course lunch (think organic greens, local river trout, mango, and local wines). The approach through the verdant valley through the Andes is a highlight that you won’t soon forget.
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The Rehearsal Dinner
Pachamanca (“earth pot” in Quechua) has been used to celebrate important events since the time of the Incan Empire. This Andean specialty starts with a hand-dug pit that is filled with hot stones and then seasoned meats, potatoes, and corn, which are cooked low and slow until everything is mouthwateringly tender. Kick off your feast with a traditional tipple, chicha (fermented corn drink), raising your glass to Pachamama (“mother earth”) to thank her for the bounty.
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Toast your new life like a local with the national drink of Peru, the pisco sour. The foamy, potent, and truly delicious cocktail combines grappa-like pisco, fresh lime juice, egg whites, and bitters.
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The Quechua people believe that “we are all one string in a giant tapestry.” Traditional Peruvian woven cloth is the perfect way to remember this message, and a thoughtful and colorful gift for your guests to bring home with them.