A Seven-Night Trek Through Peru - United Hub

A seven-night trek through Peru

By Nick Harper

From the Andes to the Amazon and so many points in between, Peru is a land of magical mystery, ancient Incan ruins, lost civilizations and remarkable landscapes. To most first-time visitors, however, it's first and foremost the place where you'll find Machu Picchu. Of course, Peru is much more than that, but the ancient citadel is something you have to see at least once in a lifetime. Unlike many other tourist attractions, it exceeds almost every expectation. You have numerous options to reach the summit, but our recommendation is an easy and almost essential seven-night journey, taking you from touch down in Lima to the summit and back.

Dancers dressed in traditional Peruvian clothing Dancers dressed in traditional Peruvian clothing

Lima for two nights

Your first taste of Peru should be its capital, the "City of Kings." Once little more than a stop-off en route to Machu Picchu, Lima has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years. The capital city has been revitalized by new hotels and bars, and it's fueled by museums and galleries that tell the story of a city dating back to 1535. Best of all, Lima has become the gastronomic capital of South America, with two entries inside the top 10 of the coveted World's 50 Best Restaurants list. The cuisine of Lima is inspired by indigenous ingredients, flavors and traditions from every corner of the globe. Stay at the grand, elegant and centrally-located Hilton Miraflores and get your bearings early by taking a half-day Lima Walks tour around the historic center. Then, attempt to get a table at one of those two celebrated restaurants — Central (the world's 6th best) and Maido (the 10th).

After two nights of exploration and glorious gluttony, it's time to depart and fly east.

Plaza de Armas in Cusco Plaza de Armas in Cusco

Cusco for two nights

An hour's flight from Lima lies Cusco, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and key stop-off on the way to Machu Picchu. Climbing from Lima to Machu Picchu's near 8,000-foot altitude in one trip will likely bring on altitude sickness, so head to Cusco first. It's 11,000 feet above sea level, giving you the chance to acclimate at leisure as you explore what was once the capital of the Inca Empire. Check in at the historic Marriott hotel, Palacio Del Inka, built in 1438 and once part of the Inca Temple of the Sun. It's located close to the Plaza de Armas, the square at the heart of a very walkable city. Purchase a Boleto Turistico del Cusco pass, which gives you access to most of the historic sites in Cusco and along the Sacred Valley, excluding Machu Picchu. Take the 45-minute walk out to the remarkable Inca ruins of Sacsayhuaman that overlook the city, then walk back to Cusco via San Blas, a charming neighborhood full of galleries and boutiques. You'll want to reward yourself for the effort by stopping in at the Museo del Pisco for at least one pisco sour.

Soon enough, your thoughts will turn again to Machu Picchu. It's possible to do a day trip from Cusco to Machu Picchu and back. It's also possible (and very popular) to trek along the Sacred Valley, taking the classic Inca Trail over five days. But for this vacation, we're suggesting the more leisurely route, first taking a train from Cusco to Ollantaytambo.

The cobbled streets of Ollantaytambo The cobbled streets of Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo for one night

Check out early and take a train 90 minutes northwest to "Ollanta," a beautiful small town full of cobbled streets and charming cafes deep in the Sacred Valley — the lush green valley just north of Cusco. Staying in the town will allow you to explore the incredible Inca ruins that dot the surrounding area when many of the other day-tripping tourists have gone. Apu Lodge and Casa de Wow are two excellent options for a brief overnight stay.

Peru train Peru train

Aguas Calientes for one night

From Ollantaytambo, jump back on the train that will take you to Aguas Calientes, the last stop before Machu Picchu. Book at the town's standout hotel, the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo, and from there begin your climb up into the clouds — a strenuous 90-minute walk or 25-minute bus ride.

Machu Picchu gets crowded quickly, so make sure you book your tickets via the Ministerio de Cultura's website as far in advance as possible. Basic entry will get you into Machu Picchu's main ruins, terraces and temples. For more elevated views, you'll need to upgrade your ticket to include Montaña Machu Picchu, a mountain with no ruins but fewer crowds, or the smaller Huayna Picchu, where you'll find the ceremonial Temple of the Moon. Staying a night in Aguas Calientes allows you to return to Machu Picchu when it reopens at 6:00 a.m. to see it in a different light, and with less tourists.

After lunch, and perhaps an afternoon at Aguas Calientes' open-air thermal springs, catch the train back to Cusco for the final leg of your journey.

Pisco sour cocktail

Seafood Ceviche

Lima for one night

If time and budget allow, you can keep exploring Peru's other experiences: an Amazon boat cruise, hiking Cañón del Colca or rafting the Urubamba River. Our suggestion is to return to Cusco and fly back to Lima for one final night, purely to remind yourself of the city's standing as South America's gastronomic capital. Eat well once more and sleep in luxury at Hotel B, then fly home with a happy heart.

View of Lima from Miraflores View of Lima from Miraflores

When to visit

Being a large country with many microclimates, there is no right time to visit Peru. However, if your whole journey revolves around Machu Picchu and making sure your photos have clear blue skies and sun-lit ruins, aim to visit between May and October when the weather is at its best. Avoid November through March during the rainy season.


Things to know while visiting

  • Machu Picchu translates as "Old Peak" or "Ancient Mountain," and its ruins were rediscovered in 1911 by the American archeologist Hiram Bingham.
  • The Cerro Blanco in the Sechura Desert is the highest sand dune in the world, measuring 3,860 feet at its summit. It's perfect for sand boarding, and the descent takes four minutes at top speed.
  • Peru is said to be home to more than 3,000 different varieties of potato.
  • Memorize the popular phrase: "Soy mas Peruano que la papa." Translation: "I am more Peruvian than the potato".

United flies to Lima's Jorge Chavez International Airport (LIM), located just west of the city. To find out more or begin your adventure, visit www.united.com or use the United app.

Marvelous sites to local hideaways: the expert’s guide to Toronto

By Nick Harper

Canada's largest city spreads out along the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario, and it's a dynamic, multicultural and inclusive experience like almost no other place on earth. Not only is Toronto a thriving living city,it's also become one of the world's truly must-visit destinations. Regularly ranked as one of the greatest places to live, Toronto is the cultural center of the country and home to the biggest events, the most pro sports and the greatest concentration of theaters and restaurants.

Recent decades have seen regular multi-million-dollar upgrades to the city's public spaces, with a slew of great museums, iconic architecture and the redevelopment of the now glittering lakefront adding to the city's appeal.

Add in an ever-growing number of world-class hotels, upbeat nightlife that runs from dusk until dawn and a vibrant and diverse culinary scene influenced by the eclectic makeup of the city's people. Bright and bustling, cosmopolitan and cultured, unpredictable and energetic, Toronto has become one of the greatest cities on earth.

What you see and where you go will depend on the length of your stay. A week is good, longer is better. But even a long weekend will give you a taste of 'The Six' — one of the city's many nicknames, reworked recently as 'The 6ix' by one of its most famous sons, Drake.

However long you stay, you can't hope to see it all. So, consider what follows a starting point for your first visit…

City Hall, Toronto City Hall, Toronto

The checklist sites

No visit to The Six can be considered complete without ticking off several of Toronto's true heavyweight sights. All of the following are in or within easy reach of the city's compact, walk-able and very vibrant center.

The CN Tower is unmissable in every sense, a vast freestanding spire that looks down upon the city and takes its place as one of the 'Seven Wonders of the Modern World'. Head up for the city's best 360-degree views, or get your heart racing on the EdgeWalk — a journey around the circumference of the tower's main pod, 116 stories high and tethered by a harness.

Back on solid ground, Ripley's Aquarium is almost right next door to the CN Tower and is home to 16,000 aquatic animals and the Dangerous Lagoon. A moving sidewalk that whisks you through a long tunnel surrounded by sharks and stingrays is guaranteed to make your heart race all over again.

Ripleys Aquarium Ripleys Aquarium

Also close to the CN Tower is the Rogers Center, home to Canada's only baseball team, the Toronto Blue Jays. Visit on game day for the full experience, or take the stadium tour to go behind the scenes and through closed doors.

In a city of so many museums and galleries, the Royal Ontario Museum stands out. Not just because it's home to a world-class collection of 13 million artworks, cultural objects and natural history specimens, but as much because it hosts exciting Friday night events that include dance, drink and top DJs.

Two other must ticks include the Art Gallery of Ontario, which houses 95,000 works of art and is free for visitors under 25, and the Hockey Hall of Fame, which taps into Canada's national obsession in stunning depth.

Art Gallery of Ontario Art Gallery of Ontario

Casa Loma is a must-visit Gothic castle in the heart of the city. North America's only castle is filled with artworks and treasures from Canada and beyond, but its big pull is the network of hidden tunnels to explore as they stretch out beneath the city.

Casa Loma Casa Loma

Toronto's multi-cultural makeup is visible all across the city but reflected best in its remarkable culinary scene (see Where to eat and drink). The city's 'fresh and local' mantra is perfectly showcased at St. Lawrence Market, one of the world's greatest food experiences. Pay it a visit and grab a peameal bacon sandwich — a Canadian staple invented in Toronto and now considered the city's signature dish.

St. Lawrence Market St. Lawrence Market

Afterwards, walk off the calories by wandering the historic cobblestone and car-free Distillery District. Once a vast whiskey distillery and an important spot during prohibition, historians mention that even Al Capone would visit the Distillery to load alcohol destined for the States[9] . This iconic landmark now distils creativity within the 19th century buildings now home to hip restaurants, bars, independent boutique stores, galleries and theaters. Visit in December for the Toronto Christmas Market.

Finally, don't even think about returning home without having had a picture taken with your head poking through an 'O' of the multicolored, 3D Toronto sign at City Hall — the most Insta-worthy location in a city of so many. You'll need to head there early in the morning to avoid the crowds.

If you stay long enough, take a ferry and hop across to Toronto Islands, a chain of 15 small islands in Lake Ontario just south of the mainland. They're home to beaches, a theme park and a breathtaking view of the city's skyline and will very happily fill a full day of your stay.

The bucket list

You absolutely cannot leave Toronto without having witnessed the power of the Niagara Falls and its hypnotic mist up close. Trying to visit the Falls from the States is a trip on its own, but it's almost non-optional when you're less than two hours away in Toronto. Take the trip, buy the T-shirt and tick off one of the world's must-see sights.

Explore like a local

Away from the sleek, gleaming towers of downtown lie many of Toronto's less obvious but no less essential attractions. West Queen West is Toronto's hippest neighborhood and artistic heart, a one-mile strip of very chic galleries, stores, restaurants and boutique hotels. Kensington Market is a fantastically chaotic neighborhood and perhaps the best example of the city's famous multiculturalism. It's not a market as the name implies, but a collection of independent shops, vintage boutiques, art spaces, cafés, bars and restaurants from every corner of the globe.

The Bata Shoe Museum is one of the city's quirkiest collections, an unexpectedly fascinating exhibit that retraces the 4,500-year history of footwear. And as you wander the city, you can't fail to notice that Toronto's walls are alive with graffiti. Take a free 90-minute walking tour through the back alleys of Queen Street West and down Graffiti Alley to gain a better understanding of the city's street art scene. If you visit during the sunnier months, escape the hustle by heading just east of the center to High Park, the green heart of the city where forests, walking trails, picnic spots and even a zoo await you. Ideal to unwind after a long day of urban adventures.

The essentials

When to go With the sun shining, May through October is a great time to visit, but the city is alive through all four seasons. The Spring and Autumn months are ideal as the humidity and visitor numbers are lighter, while Toronto comes alive through the colder months through a wide array of winter celebrations. One of the most spectacular is the Aurora Winter Festival, a six-week celebration that sees the Ontario Place, West Island transformed into four mystical worlds. Whichever season you choose, plan to stay for at least five nights to get a true flavor of the city.

Toronto skyline view Toronto skyline view

Where to stay To be at the heart of most of the attractions you'll want to see, aim for downtown. One of the best options is the Marriott City Center, not only because it's located right next to the CN Tower but also because it's attached to the iconic Rogers Center where the Toronto Blue Jays play and countless concerts and popular events are held.

Toronto Blue Jay stadium Toronto Blue Jay stadium

Opt for a Stadium room and you'll look out onto the field. If you want to experience Toronto's non-stop nightlife, the Entertainment District is the place to be. If you're looking for a luxury experience, discover Canada's first St. Regis hotel in the heart of downtown.

Where to eat and drink Nowhere is Toronto's incredible diversity more evident than in its food scene — taste Toronto and you're tasting the world. The city is brimming with restaurants and cafés serving everything from high-end fine dining to comfort food from an informal neighborhood joint — plus every option imaginable in between.

For fine dining, consider Alo, Canis and Edulis. Book a table at Canoe, Lavelle, The One Eighty or 360 at the CN Tower and you're guaranteeing a view as spectacular as the food. Or experience the city's remarkable fusion food at DaiLo (French-Cantonese), El Catrin (Mexican-French) and the unexpected mashup of Rasta Pasta (Jamaican-Italian).

The above suggestions don't even scratch the surface of a food scene to rival any city on earth, with options to suit every taste and any budget.

How to get around Toronto is perfect to explore on foot or via a growing network of cycle routes. For a quicker journey, buy a Presto card to use the TTC, Toronto's subway, streetcar and bus system.

How to get there Fly into Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) with United and you're around 15 miles west of the city center. The most comfortable route in is via the Union Pearson Express, which runs every 15 minutes and gets you downtown in 25 minutes ($13).The TTC is a cheaper option at under $5, but it can take an hour and a half and involves a number of transfers, while a taxi will take around 30 minutes and cost $45.

United flies to Toronto from numerous U.S. cities including our Hub city locations. Book your trip via united.com or by downloading the United app.


Taking action to make a global impact

By The Hub team , January 17, 2020

Following the devastating wildfires in Australia and powerful earthquakes that shook Puerto Rico last week, we're taking action to make a global impact through our international partnerships as well as nonprofit organizations Afya Foundation and ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency).

Helping Puerto Rico recover from earthquakes

Last week, Puerto Rico was hit with a 5.2 magnitude earthquake, following a 6.4 magnitude earthquake it experienced just days before. The island has been experiencing hundreds of smaller quakes during the past few weeks.

These earthquakes destroyed crucial infrastructure and left 4,000 people sleeping outside or in shelters after losing their homes. We've donated $50,000 to our partner charity organization Airlink and through them, we've helped transport disaster relief experts and medical supplies for residents, as well as tents and blankets for those who have lost their homes. Funding will go towards organizations within Airlink's partner network, which includes Habitat for Humanity, Mercy Corps and Americares, to help with relief efforts and long-term recovery.

Australian wildfire relief efforts

Our efforts to help Australia have inspired others to make their own positive impact. In addition to teaming up with Ellen DeGeneres to donate $250,000 and launching a fundraising campaign with GlobalGiving to benefit those impacted by the devastating wildfires in the country known for its open spaces and wildlife, our cargo team is helping to send more than 600 pounds of medical supplies to treat injured animals in the region.

Helping us send these supplies is the Afya Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit that seeks to improve global health by collecting surplus medical supplies and delivering them to parts of the world where they are most needed. Through Airlink, the Afya Foundation will send more than $18,000 worth of materials that will be used to treat animals injured in the Australian fires.

These medical supplies will fly to Melbourne (MEL) and delivered to The Rescue Collective. This Australian organization is currently focused on treating the massive population of wildlife, such as koalas, kangaroos, and birds, that have had their habitats destroyed by the recent wildfires. The supplies being sent include wound dressings, gloves, catheters, syringes and other items that are unused but would otherwise be disposed of.

By working together, we can continue to make a global impact and help those affected by natural disasters to rebuild and restore their lives

Help us (and Ellen DeGeneres) support wildfire relief efforts in Australia

By The Hub team , January 08, 2020

Australia needs our help as wildfires continue to devastate the continent that's beloved by locals and travelers alike. In times like these, the world gets a little smaller and we all have a responsibility to do what we can.

On Monday, The Ellen DeGeneres Show announced a campaign to raise $5 million to aid in relief efforts. When we heard about Ellen's effort, we immediately reached out to see how we could help.

Today, we're committing $250,000 toward Ellen's campaign so we can offer support now and help with rebuilding. For more on The Ellen DeGeneres Show efforts and to donate yourself, you can visit www.gofundme.com/f/ellenaustraliafund

We're also matching donations made to the Australian Wildfire Relief Fund, created by GlobalGiving's Disaster Recovery Network. This fund will support immediate relief efforts for people impacted by the fires in the form of emergency supplies like food, water and medicine. Funds will also go toward long-term recovery assistance, helping residents recover and rebuild. United will match up to $50,000 USD in donations, and MileagePlus® members who donate $50 or more will receive up to 1,000 award miles from United. Donate to GlobalGiving.

Please note: Donations made toward GlobalGiving's fund are only eligible for the MileagePlus miles match.

In addition to helping with fundraising, we're staying in touch with our employees and customers in Australia. Together, we'll help keep Australia a beautiful place to live and visit in the years to come.

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