March 25 – April 5, 2022
Lima, you are everything my tastebuds have ever wished for. Cusco, you are nostalgia and history, a reminder to step outside and enjoy this wondrous world as slowly as we can.
Peru is the second country I have visited in South America, Brazil being the first and only to Rio de Janeiro.
The country is situated in the Northwest of the continent and shares a timezone with Quito, Mexico City, and several midwestern U.S. states. My main objective while in the country? Hike Machu Picchu (pronounced peek-choo). My second objective? Eat all of the food I had heard and read so much about.
According to the book I read 1/4 of, Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams, there are 34 types of climatic zones on earth and 20 of these are in Peru. Ostensibly this makes for heavenly ingredients and mystical hiking – the things I came to Peru to do.
I traveled with my friend Jasmine from New York City, taking the red-eye from LaGuardia Airport and landing in Lima at 6:00am on Friday, March 25. We immediately taxied to the neighborhood we’d be staying in for the next four days, Barranco, and then set out for coffee.
Lima is a coastal city, one can easily identify this by looking at a map but for some reason I had always imagined it as inland. Our taxi ride was about 45-minutes, half of which was along the Malecón – the highway that weaves up and down and around the coastline. As we traveled up the cliffs, and the surroundings shifted, I instantly fell in love with Barranco. I can truly say that it is one of the most charming neighborhoods I’ve visited in my travels, full of vibrant-colored (colonial-architecture) buildings and inviting street art it is almost romantic in the way it lets you in.
Here’s a glimpse into what we saw and did, but mostly ate and drank, over four days in Lima:
- Barranco Beer Company
- Lunch at Isolina (a line starts forming a bit before opening)
- La Puente de Los Suspiros (The Bridge of Whispers was a short 5-minute walk from our Airbnb)
- Private 3.5-hour dessert tasting at Astrid y Gastón with Astrid
- 14-course Experience Mundo Mater at Central, #1 in Michelin-star restaurants of 2021
- Pro-tip: watch Netflix’s Chef’s Table s. 3 ep. 6, about chefs Virgilio Martinez and Pía León
- Drinks at Hotel B and Ayahuasca
- A stroll through Parque Kennedy (a cat lover’s dream) and chocolate tasting at nearby ChocoMuseo
- Walks along the Malecón at dawn and dusk
- Delicious drinks, breakfast, and pastries (had to go twice!) at Alanya Reposteria
- Fantastic coffee (brought beans home) and a large selection of several award-winning chocolate bars at Ciclos Cafe (bought several)
- Shopping and art browsing at Dédalo
- Fresh juices and downtime at Caleta Dolsa Coffee
- Stumbled upon the delicious chicken joint Birdz
- Pre-dinner drinks at Carnaval
- Stuffed ourselves full (a theme) at Cosme
- The best local ceviche and maracuya (passion fruit) pisco sours at El Muelle Cevichería
- Watched the sunset from a secret cliffside mansion full of art from around the world (no really, they told us we couldn’t write about it… we stumbled upon it in our neighborhood and talked our way inside)
The dessert tasting at Astrid y Gastón was pure serendipity and is one of those oft-heard, maybe unbelievable, stories a returned traveler might tell at a dinner party. Jasmine and I were having breakfast at Alanya on Saturday morning and at the table next to us was a couple with their small child. Eventually, they switched to English, clearly hearing us only speak English, and asked us where we were from, New York City we said with a smile. Oh! He was from Brooklyn and she was from Germany, Carlos and Svea. They had lived in Barranco for some years and were eager to give us an entire list of recommendations for both Lima and Cusco.
Soon after, they left and three young men sat down at their table. After a few minutes of hearing them speak English, and questioning what to order, we spoke up and gave our recommendations based on the several plates of food we already had in front of us. The three of them had spent a month in Lima already and so, as all travelers do, we began swapping restaurant recommendations and comparing notes to make sure we had all the best places covered. During their time in Lima, they had become acquainted with Astrid, of Astrid y Gastón, and were having a private 7-course dessert tasting with her later that afternoon. I jokingly asked if we could join. They texted Astrid and within 30-minutes two more seats were added to the tasting. These are the fortuitous, unpresumptuous moments every traveler lives for, they are sometimes rare but when they happen I believe it’s because you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be, doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing, at exactly that moment. Astrid y Gastón was on our list of places to eat but this visit would be far better than the one we could have planned for.
Saturday was gluttonous. After our 7-course dessert tasting with Astrid, we had just enough time to return home, freshen up, and make our way to Central for our 14-course dinner, “EXPERIENCE MUNDO MATER” (Explore 14 Mater World ecosystems) and “WINES OF THE WORLD” to accompany.
The experience was fantastic, creative, and downright delicious. I love experiencing tasting menus because you are quite literally experiencing art through food. A chef’s vision is not only carried out with immaculate ingredients but also with extremely precise pairing, ordering, timing, and delivery of each course by a well-trained team. It is an enormous group effort in which every detail is thought through and executed routinely for every table in the room, every night. It is an art, it is a dance, it is a celebration of the magic of food.
We spent 90% of our time in Barranco because it had everything we wanted to experience; excellent food, art, and shopping. We did not make it to downtown Lima where some of the larger national museums are located but were told there wasn’t much to see there beyond the museums themselves. Further, protests had been ongoing since early March after an effort to impeach President Castillo failed. In fact, the day we flew to Cusco, nighttime curfews went into effect for the city and on the day we returned, April 4, they would again cause the city to go into lockdown and halt transportation. Luckily, we would not be exiting the airport upon our return and instead boarded a flight to Santiago, Chile.
Lima is a beautiful place with rich culture and history, and with far more for me to explore if I’m ever lucky enough to return.
We took an early morning flight to Cusco on Tuesday, March 29. We wanted to have as much leisure time as possible to acclimate to the dreaded high altitude; Cusco sits at 11,152′ above sea level. We dropped our things at our hotel and then set out for food. Several travelers and reviews pointed us towards Green Point. This is a must-visit while in Cusco, delicious lite food and they distill their own spirits. The food is vegan though you would have no idea if had you not read the menu closely and the drinks were delightful. Yes, we drank alcohol even though most advice will tell you not to, but we made sure to hydrate plenty throughout the day, which I think is the real key, and planned to be getting to bed early that evening.
After lunch, we perused the streets and shops. We were recommended by Svea and Carlos to visit the San Blas neighborhood which was a few minutes walk from Green Point. We popped into the Coca Museum just off the square to learn about the history of the famed plant; beginning in 5,000 B.C. with the Nomadic Indians, in 1200 the Incas used it for brain tumor surgery, and in 1884 it was put into Coca-Cola, and in 1919 the first case of it being sniffed…
On almost every street you’ll see the following: intricate cedarwood frame shops, alpaca blankets, scarves, and clothing, alpaca burgers, colorfully dressed Indigenous Quechua-speaking, women sitting with their baby llamas – primed for you to take a picture with – and shaman shops selling everything from crystals to palo santo.
Here’s what we saw, did, ate, and drank in Cusco:
- Lunch at Green Point
- A brief history lesson at the Coca Museum
- One of the best avocado toasts I’ve ever had at Avocado, Toast & More (the one with strawberries, chef’s kiss)
- Dinner at Cicciolina Restaurant
- Beers and the Peruvian fútbol game at La Fabrica
- A local delicacy, alpaca carpaccio (I had to try something alpaca), and NYC-priced cocktails at The Belmond Monasterio
- The last cedar tree within the city is more than 330 years old and is protected within the courtyard of this hotel. Also, you must step inside the stunning baroque chapel dating from 1595.
- Shopping at San Pedro market for teas, quinoa, chocolate, maca powder, morning pastries, and more
- Three Monkeys coffee in the courtyard
- Delicious dinner at Pachapapa, highly recommend!
- Blanket shopping at Kuna in Plaza de Armas
- Pisco tastings at the Pisco Museum
We were in Cusco for two full days before departing in the early morning hours on Thursday, March 31 for our Machu Picchu hike. You know, the hiking part of the trip I had come to do.
We had reserved our spots on the 4-day, 3-night trek with G Adventures, a company I cannot recommend enough and will exclusively use for all future adventure travel. G Adventures was a 5-star experience from start to finish.
All of the staff, guides, porters (those who carry the equipment), and cooks were professional, friendly, and very good at their jobs. This became even more evident as we were out on the Inca Trail and saw other companies. Our guide, Paolo, was fantastic, he had insightful knowledge along the trail and the right amount of encouragement through the toughest parts – “PMA” he would remind us, positive mental attitude. It worked. The food… the food, the cooks created the most fantastic 3-course meals for us every day from basically thin air! Everything has to be carried in on the trail, you’re in the jungle without any modern-day conveniences. They boil the water we drink and somehow create fabulous meals to keep us nourished and excited throughout the four days. Apparently, the word on the street is that G Adventures has the best food. I would have to agree.
Here is the itinerary for the hardest hike I have ever done in my life, will only do once (the next time I go I will take the train up), and am so glad I did and highly recommend that if you are able you must definitely do. There is nothing like walking into Machu Picchu park on the fourth morning of no service or showers, having walked the same trail as the Incas did regularly hundreds of years ago, and seeing the UNESCO World Heritage site. You earned it.
- DAY 1:
- Inca Trail Hike Inca Trail KM 82 – Wayllabamba Camp 5h-6h 11km (7 miles)
- Get your blood pumping on this first day of hiking the Inca trail. The trekking is fairly easy and serves as good training for the next few days. Pass rambling rivers and a small village, and enjoy scenic mountain views; it’s just a taste of what’s to come.
- DAY 2
- Inca Trail Hike Wayllabamba Camp – Paqaymayo Camp 6h-7h 12km (7.5 miles)
- Trek over progressively spectacular and steeper terrain on your way to Warmiwañusca (aka Dead Woman’s Pass), the highest point of the trek at 4,198m (13,769ft). Be prepared to face strong Andean weather (blazing sun or cold winds) around the pass. Take the hike slow, and drink lots of water along the way – amazing views are waiting as a reward. Enjoy some ample time to rest and relax after reaching the camp; most campers arrive around early afternoon.
- DAY 3
- Inca Trail Hike Paqaymayo Camp – Wiñaywayna 9h 16km (10 miles)
- Cross two passes and more ruins along the Inca Trail on the last full day of hiking. Traverse Runquraway at 3,950m (13,113 ft), and then reach the second pass at 3,700m (12,136 ft). Spot the gorgeous Cordillera Vilcabamba and the Urubamba Valley in the distance on a clear day. Camp at either the Phuyupatamarca ruins or the Wiñay Wayna ruins.
- DAY 4
- Inca Trail Hike Wiñaywayna – Machu Picchu 2h-3h 6km (3.7 miles)
- Wake around 03:30 to reach the Sun Gate as early as possible. Head to the checkpoint and join the lineup to wait for the gate to open. Catch the first views of the breathtaking ruins of Machu Picchu (fingers crossed for a clear day). Hike down to Machu Picchu (about 45 mins) for a 1.5 hr guided tour of the site, and free time to explore. Opt to visit the Inca Bridge (a 15-min walk one way) for no additional charge, if time allows.
- Catch the bus outside the Machu Picchu gate after your visit for a 25-min downhill ride to Aguas Calientes. Eat and relax before the train ride back to Cusco this evening.
For me, the magic of Machu Picchu and Cusco is that it brings every type of traveler, from the backpacker surviving on a few dollars a day to the luxury excursionist, all together in one location. The diversity of travelers in Cusco was a pleasant reminder that travel really is for everyone; everyone is a nomad at heart, even if you haven’t unleashed yours yet, and we must make every effort to be curious and explore what this beautifully complex world, and its people, have to offer. Earlier, I mentioned that Cusco was nostalgic for me and I say that because it reminds me of a place on the opposite side of the world in Northern Thailand, a small valley village called Pai. The people and travelers in both of these places were familiar, home-like, though I had never been to either previously. That is the allure of travel, you never know what place will feel like home next.
Upon my return to New York City, I was so inspired by the people, the sights, and the smells of Cusco that I decided to create a candle to remember it by. The candle is called “Cusco” and smells of palo santo and cedarwood.
As our guide Paolo taught us, “tupananchiskama” which is Quechua for see you later, see you soon.