Skip to content

open mind, empty stomach

travel, food, and fun

Category Archives: Peru

 

The Inca Trail is considered to be one of the best treks in the world. The Peruvian government placed a limit on how many people can access the trail each day and if you want to have a go at it during peak season, you must book 6-9 months in advance. The market always adjusts and some alternative routes to Machu Picchu have been gaining in popularity.

Salkantay and the Inca Jungle Trek have emerged as the most popular alternatives for the Inca Trail. Ironically, Salkantay is a true trek, with the Inca Jungle being a mix of biking, rafting, and hiking. I opted for the former and absolutely loved it.

You can complete Salkantay in 4 or 5 days, and I decided to go with the accelerated version. There are dozens of travel agencies in Cusco and it’s best to shop around once you arrive. I ended up paying $250 and people in my group that booked online paid upwards of $600.

As for the trek itself, the terrain varied from alpine to jungle, providing an interesting and diverse mix of natural beauty. The first day and a half are spent going up, eventually reaching a height of 4,600 meters above sea level, and the rest of the trek is mostly downhill.

There are two brilliant turquoise lakes and a large glacial canyon you can visit as minor excursions. The pace of my group left me with more than enough time to take in all of the bonus features of Salkantay, and they were worth the extra legwork.

With the exception of the last night, which is spent at a hostel, we slept in tents. The first night was at high altitude and quite chilly, but the others were fine. The food was poor, even for trekking standards, but the cocoa tea that accompanied our morning wakeup was nice.

Before heading to Aquas Calientes, the staging point for Machu Picchu, you stop by a hot springs to soak your achy muscles. From there you can either take a 40-minute, $26 train ride to Aquas, or do the 2-hour walk. People rise between 4 and 5 the next morning to get in a very long line for buses to the main attraction.

Despite sleeping in until 5, we made it to Machu Picchu in time to catch the sunrise. It was epic. Our guide explained the history of the place and took us for a tour of the grounds. I also checked out the Inca Bridge and Sun Gate, which are short walks from the main viewing area.

Machu Picchu was everything I dreamed it to be and the journey there was wondrous. 3,000 people visit each day for a reason and I could certainly see myself being one of them again.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Machu Picchu is South America’s top tourist destination and Cusco is the gateway to the once-lost city. Coming from Lima it was great to see blue skies once again and the Spanish colonial architecture was stunning.

Located in the heart of the historical district, the Plaza de Armas is the epicenter of tourism in Cusco. There you will find the usual mix of hotels, hostels, restaurants, and travel agencies.

A short walk from the Plaza is San Pedro Market, which has a wide variety of produce, meat, and food stalls. I had most of my meals there. They were inexpensive, but nothing I’d go out of my way to eat again. I did manage to buy a bunch of Peruvian foodstuffs to bring home, including several types of corn, quinoa, and aji amarillo.

Overall, the food in Cusco was a disappointment. The tourist traps surrounding the Plaza de Armas serve an overpriced, horribly executed mix of international and Peruvian food. Since I was there, I had to try cuy (guinea pig). I went to Chez Maggy, which has two locations in the center and a Trip Advisor excellence sticker on the window. The service was horrible, the food worse, and the guinea pig nearly inedible.

Cuy was not what lured me to Cusco. I had hopes of taking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, but, during high season, that requires booking 6-9 months in advance. Not having that luxury, I settled for the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu, which was truly wonderful.

There is no shortage of massage parlors in Cusco and masseuses actively solicit business in the street. Prices range from $7 for a basic massage to $15 for the Inca Special. I splurged on the Inca following my trek and, while it wasn’t Thailand, had a very nice (strictly platonic) rubdown.

The day after my trek, I took the 45 minute bus ride to Pisaq, which, in addition to Inca ruins, holds a popular market on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. The Sunday market featured an array of handicrafts and fresh produce. I purchased handicrafts and more foodstuffs to bring home, and had a gigantic and extremely tasty fried trout while in Pisaq.

Cusco is a beautiful city and I was extremely satisfied with my trek. I had originally intended to stick around longer and use Cusco as the starting point for another trek and to visit Lake Titicaca. The sheer volume of tourists and the impersonal, predatory atmosphere generated by it led me to seek greener pastures. I booked a flight for Colombia and decided to try my hand in a place less on the radar.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

Lima is the point of entry for visitors flying into Peru, and many continue on to their ultimate destination without spending much time in the capital city. The City of Kings has seen a recent bump in popularity, largely due to its culinary prowess, and that was enough for me to stay a couple days.

Gaston Acurio is a big reason why people now view Lima as a destination, even if an intermediate one. Ceviche is Peru’s most famous fare and Acurio’s flagship La Mar Cebicheria is regarded as a temple to citrus-cooked fish. Not counting the tasty 1 a.m. chicharone sandwich at La Lucha immediately following my arrival, my first meal in Lima was at La Mar.

From the potato chips with 3 different sauces and corn nuts still warm from the oven to the cebiche mixto, every bite I had at La Mar was transcendent. People claim that it’s overrated or overpriced, but, for me, La Mar more than lived up to the hype.

Just across the street from La Mar is the place for anticuchos: Grimanesa Vargas Anticuchos. I was surprised by the relative low cost and speed of service considering the acclaim. The skewers of beef heart were tender and flavorful, and came with potatoes and hot sauce.

My other meals were hit-and-miss, but I did have a great arroz con mariscos with ceviche and chicha for about $4 after visiting the Larco Museum. I fondly refer to the Larco as the “Erotic Pottery Museum.” It’s famous ancient erotica, but the extensive collection of Peruvian artifacts was worth a visit in its own right.

Like most visitors, I stayed in Miraflores. There are a number of hostels with dorm rooms available for around $15/night. It’s safe, clean, and nearly all of the places I visited were within walking distance. The Miraflores coastline is adorned with beautiful parks that, even in winter, were filled with people and their pets. Coming from Oahu, it was a treat to look down and see Waikiki Beach and Makaha Beach.

Championed by Acurio, the Surquillo Market is also in close proximity to Miraflores. Lima’s premier farmers’ market did not disappoint either. Despite being off-season, the variety was great and the prices were just as good. I went back again to grab more of the exotic fruit.

Transportation is convenient, but slightly complex if you don’t speak Spanish. Lima has an excellent bicycling infrastructure, public buses and mini-buses can cheaply take you anywhere you want to go, and taxis are inexpensive, with the usual exceptions of the airport and heavily touristic areas.

It being winter, the weather was perpetually overcast and on the chilly side, but still manageable. Lima was a good place to spend a couple days eating and wandering, and I would do the same if I visit Peru again.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.