Archives for July 2016

The Crown Jewel Of Peru: Machu Picchu

MP filterLast year, Lonely Planet published its Ultimate Travelist wherein it ranked the 500 best places to see in the world. Machu Picchu ranks third on their list, narrowly missing second place by just a handful of votes.  For the record, I had already started planning our Peru trip before I received my copy of the book, but I was pleased to see that Machu Picchu made the list (and was so highly ranked!).  It further supported my argument to Chad that I have my finger on the pulse of travel when he questions (some of) the destinations that I have on our (read, my) list.

Machu Picchu was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and was added to the list of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007.  It is the most recognizable icon of the Inca civilization and is the most visited site in Peru.  Interestingly, nobody truly knows what happened here, but most archaeologist believe that it was built as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti. While its existence was known locally, it remained unknown to the world until Hiram Bingham, an American historian from Yale University, “discovered” it in 1911, mistakenly believing that he had found Vilcabamba, or the Lost City of the Incas.  By now, I hope you’ve read my post on the Sacred Valley, and you know how to get here (via train) from Ollantaytambo or Cusco (to Aguas Calientes).

A note about the different trains that bring you into Aguas Calientes: The Expedition train is the lowest class train.  The cost is about $56.00 for one way departing from Ollantaytambo (depending on the schedule) and it includes a small snack and drink. The train we took is one step up from the Expedition.  It is called the Vistadome train.  It is the middle class train, and the most popular one.  The cost is about $80.00 one way from Ollantaytambo (depending on the schedule).  It has huge windows and includes a small meal and drink service. The most expensive train is the Hiram Bingham Orient Express, the luxury train.  A round trip ticket costs over $400.00 per person and includes on-board brunch and dinner with entertainment, bus transfers, entrance fee and a guided tour of the citadel, and afternoon tea at Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge. The trip from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes is about two hours and the return into Cusco is about four hours because the trains travel at a slower rate of speed.mphotel5When we arrived to Aguas Calientes, a representative from our hotel, the Inkaterra MachuPicchu Pueblo Hotel, met us at the train station to collect our bags and take them to the hotel so that we could immediately board the bus that would take us to the Machu Picchu citadel.  It appears that the two nice hotels, this one and the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge Machu Picchu, offer this service.

The Belmond Sanctuary Lodge is the only hotel that is actually at the citadel, as in right outside the gates.  It is very expensive to stay here, approximately $1,000.00 per night. The pros of staying here are obvious. The cons of staying here are that you are 25 minutes away from the town and all the restaurants, the market, and other local sites (the unofficial Machu Picchu museum, the butterfly park, etc.), and you have to hire a private car to go up and down the mountain.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that we pre-bought both our bus tickets and our entrance tickets to Machu Picchu. However, if you are wondering how to buy tickets upon arrival, I’ve got you covered, but I STRONGLY recommend that you at least pre-buy your Machu Picchu tickets as they only allow 2,500 visitors into the site per day, and if you want to climb Huayna Picchu, it is imperative that you pre-buy tickets because only 400 people per day (divided into two groups) are allowed to make the climb, and the tickets sell out quickly. To purchase tickets on your own, you can call the Ministry of Culture’s call center at +51- 08 458 2030.  You can also buy tickets online here.  Otherwise, your hotel and/or travel agent can purchase the tickets for you. The Machu Picchu citadel is open daily from 6:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Tickets are personal, non-transferable, and valid for one calendar day only. Once purchased, the dates cannot be changed.

Upon exiting the train station, you will find yourself in the middle of a local market. Keep on the road directly in front of you.  You will have to weave through the local market to get to the bridge that takes you to the part of town where the Ministry of Culture’s ticket office can be found.  The market may look like a maze, but follow the crowds and the people that look like guides because they are all going to the same place since this is also the path you need to take to catch the bus that takes you up to Machu Picchu.
mptrain2After three to five minutes, you will reach this bridge which you will need to cross to buy citadel tickets, to buy bus tickets, and to catch the bus:MPbridgeThis is the view from the other side of the bridge:mpbridge2Once you cross over, keep on this narrow elevated street.  If you already have citadel and bus tickets and need to catch the bus, or have citadel tickets but need to buy bus tickets and catch the bus, then at the end of this gate you will make sharp left turn and continue to the street.mpbridgetoticketsIf you need to first buy citadel tickets, then you will stay straight on the path above until you see this corner with the sign directing you to the right to buy tickets to Machu Picchu.mpticketStay straight on the road until you see this building on your right hand side.  You can purchase your Machu Picchu tickets inside. At the time of this post, tickets cost about $40.00 per ticket for tourists for the citadel only.  If you want to climb Huayna Picchu, the cost of the ticket is approximately $48.00. For Huayna Picchu, there are two entry times, either from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. or from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.  It takes about four hours to climb up to Huayna Picchu. Also, you must present your passport not only to purchase tickets (which must be paid in U.S. Dollars) but also to get into Machu Picchu.mptickets3If you’ve reached this city square, then you went too far (about a block too far) and you need to turn around and look for the building above on your left hand side. On the day this picture was taken, not only was it raining, but a local cultural celebration was taking place which is why you see a uniformed band.mptcketsOnce your tickets are purchased, back track to the elevated road from the picture above, but instead of going up that road, stay to the right to go down to street level.  If you took the sharp left turn above then you should already be at street level and you should see this ticket stand in front of you.  This is where you buy bus tickets. If you notice, it is right underneath the bridge that you just crossed.mpbusThe buses are located to the right of the ticket office as you face it from this vantage point or just behind the people who are purchasing tickets.  Note, buses returning from the citadel will line up facing this ticket office on the side of the street that these people are on.  Buses leaving to the citadel will line up on the side of the street that I took this picture from (or across the street from the ticket office) and will face away from the office. There is usually a line of people waiting to get on the bus. At the time of this post, the cost of a round trip bus ticket from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu is $24.00 per person, and must be paid in Peruvian Soles. The first bus leaves at 5:30 a.m. for the people who want to get in at 6:00 a.m. and see the sunrise. A lot of people have this on their bucket list, but don’t have your heart set on seeing the sunrise.  A lot of times, the sun hides behind the cloud forest, but the nice thing about being there early is that it is not as crowded as it is between 10:00 a.m. and noon! The last bus leaves the citadel at 5:30 p.m.
mpbus3The bus takes about 25 minutes to reach the citadel.  The road starts out flat for about 5 to 10 minutes and then begins to climb an unpaved, winding mountain road. If you are scared of heights, like Chad is, don’t sit by the window; but honestly, it’s not that bad because the mountain is densely vegetated and there are only a few places from where you realize how high up you are. Below is a photo I borrowed from the internet that shows you the road up. You can always walk up if you want to, and here is guide on how to do that.road to MPWhen you arrive, you climb up a short flight of stairs until you reach the platform where the information office, entrance, and cafes are located.mpinfocenter

mpmapThis shot was taken in the afternoon after we ate lunch, which is why you see no line (more on that below). When we arrived at around 10:00 a.m., there was a line to get in, but it wasn’t terrible. We waited about three minutes to get in. It is worth noting that Sundays are the busiest days because on Sundays, Peruvians get in free!mpentrance2

mpentranceThere are no restrooms or places to buy water or snacks once you pass through these gates (although there is a “charging station”, a couple of plugs and some benches really, where you can charge your phone and other electronics located under a covered walkway just past the entrance), so make sure to use the restroom and bring water and snacks in with you.  You can leave and return to the citadel three times per day with your ticket. The restrooms are located on the lower platform where the buses drop you off and cost 1 Sole to use.  There are no paper towels to dry your hands, just hand dryers, and bringing your own toilet paper is a good idea.  mprestroomDon’t worry, that’s not the line to get into the bathroom.  That is the line to get onto a bus and leave the citadel at noon, which is why you should stay and re-enter in the afternoon when the citadel is mostly empty!

As soon as you pass the entrance, the first thing you will want to do is get your passport stamped with the Machu Picchu stamp! There is a table located to the left of the entrance, and you can just stamp it yourself.  I also stamped our tickets!mpstamp

mpstamp2Then, get ready to feast your eyes on the first glimpse of Machu Picchu as you walk through the covered walkway!mp1stview

MP2This is certainly not the best view of the citadel.  It’s just the first view (but, it’s still pretty awesome if you are seeing it for the first time!).  If you want the best view, you need to do about 10 to 15 minutes worth of climbing. If you are unable to do that, no worries; you can use the walkway shown below to walk into the ruins.  There isn’t too much climbing (other than some stairs here and there) once you are in and walking through the ruins.  MP3

mp1srview2If you want the BEST view, here is what you need to do. As you walk  in and on your left hand side, you will see this small sign.  If you aren’t looking for it, you will miss it.

mpviewFollow the upward path that leads to the guardhouse, bridge, and sungate.  For those of you who want to hike up to the sungate or down to the bridge, you will need to go this way anyway.
mpview2The path is upward and has some stairs.  In the morning, you will be following a line of people.  In the afternoon, you will be pretty much alone. Stop and take some rest breaks if you need it. It is a moderate hike and it takes about 10 minutes to get to the vantage point. mpviewspotEventually, you will get to the guardhouse, which offers this view: MP5This picture was taken at the end of the guardhouse.MP teaser 2Guess what?  This still isn’t the best view. Most people will stop here and start clicking away.  If you walk past the guardhouse (which will be on your right), you will come to a landing, and this, my friends, is where you will find the money shot!mpemptyThis is the landing of which I speak and from where these pictures were taken: mpempty2

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mp16Take a moment and enjoy the view because it is truly amazing and you worked hard to get here!mp17Oh, and while you are here, don’t forget to whip out your freshly stamped passport and get some these shots! mppassport4

MPpassport3Now, there is one more level that you can climb up to which is just behind you and is really just a big step up.  I don’t think it offers a better view, but I took some pictures from here too. By the way, if you are thinking that the landing below is the perfect place to take one those jump in the air pictures, think again. Jumping in Machu Picchu is strictly prohibited, and that is probably a good policy, you know, for your own safety and to protect the ruins. There are people watching, and they will blow the whistle.mpmeChad and I planned to do the sungate after our two hour privately guided tour of the citadel was done (by the way, I recommend taking a guided tour otherwise, you don’t really understand what it is that you are seeing, and you may miss some of the best parts).  Specifically, we scheduled a guided tour of the citadel for as soon as we got there (our guide traveled with us from Ollantaytambo, but there are guides offering their services just outside the entrance too if you didn’t plan ahead), and then our plan was to exit for lunch, and then re-enter to do the sungate.

Since we are on the topic of lunch, let me tell you a little bit about your options. There aren’t many.  Two, in fact. You aren’t supposed to bring food into the citadel, and there are no trash cans inside. I mean, nobody is going to chase you down if you eat a protein bar, but if you lay out a blanket and have yourself a picnic, you may be asked to leave.  So, either you can eat at the buffet that the Sanctuary Lodge offers or there is a small snack bar.  If you go back to the picture of the bathrooms, the platform above is the snack bar. There is also a vending machine near the bathrooms.  The snack bar is the cheapest option.  It has pizza, sandwiches, pastries, beers, water, soft drinks, coffee, and limited seating. We did the buffet.  It was $80.00 for two people. The food was just okay.  There was a selection of salads, sides, fish, meat, chicken, and desserts. There was also Wi-Fi and clean, free (well I mean you paid $80.00, so maybe not that free) restrooms. Since I paid $80.00 for a mediocre lunch, I decided that I would also feed it to the dogs that hang out outside of the citadel.mpdogs2

mpdogsSo, remember that line for the buses that I showed you before? It appears that most people come in the morning and are out of there by noon to 1:00 p.m. I say, stay at the citadel, eat your lunch there and then re-enter the citadel in the afternoon because when you do, it will be almost empty. It is like you have all of Machu Picchu to yourself. You could take the bus down, eat lunch, and then come back up, but that seems like a hassle and you have to pay for two bus transfers.  If you only want to spend a half day at the citadel, and you don’t want to spend it with other people, come in the afternoon.

Okay, back to the sungate. You know that saying about how God laughs at your plans? Well, it applies here. While we were eating lunch, it began to rain, and when we re-entered the citadel, it was still raining, and the rocks on the way up the vantage point above were wet and a little slippery.  Not to mention that Chad was already having a hard time with the height of the vantage point. We decided not to make the hour hike up (and hour back down) to the sungate because of the weather.  But, if you want to hike to the sungate, here is how you do it. Please note that all of the following pictures regarding the sungate are borrowed from the internet.

Okay, so, right behind you as you stand on the landing above getting amazing pictures is another mountain.  The sungate is located on that mountain.MPsun-gate-2This is what the path to get up looks like: MPSun-Gate-TrailAnd this is the sungate: MPSun-Gate-Machu-Picchu1Apparently, the view from the sungate is this: MPmachu-pichu-peru view from sungateIn my opinion, the best view is the one I described for you above from the landing. It seems to be the only view that offers a complete view of the citadel. If you are doing the 4-day Inca Trail hike, you will actually be entering the citadel from the sungate and making your way down into the ruins!

Whether you hiked up to the sungate or you are standing on the landing, you need to come down to make your way into the ruins.  You have two options. The first is to backtrack the way you came to get up to the vantage point. I don’t recommend this option.  The second is to walk on the landing to the farthest end away from the guardhouse until you get to the corner and you see a small narrow step-down that puts you onto the terrace below the landing. This is also the way you would go to reach the Inca Bridge, which we also planned to do, but did not because of the weather and because there are some sheer drops on the trail, which Chad was not cool with. Also, you can’t actually cross the Inca Bridge. If you want to trek it, here is a guide. It takes about 40 minutes to an hour total.

So to get into the actual ruins, you follow the terraces to the main gate. As you make your way down, there is another smaller landing where you can stop and take a picture, but it’s not as good as the one above.mp19You will continue to meander down the terraces until you reach the main gate, which looks like this: mpmaingateHere are some of the highlights of the ruins: MP21

mp22The Sacred Rock (which you are NOT allowed to touch):
mpsacredrockThe reflecting pools: mppoolsThe Temple of the Condor: mpvulture2

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mpllama3The only other sites of significance which are missing from the above are the Temple of the Three Windows  and the Intihuatana Stone, which requires a small climb to reach, and the way down is worse than the way up.

If you are brave enough to climb Huayna Picchu, you may (or may not) want to take a look at the trail. I did, and that is when I decided that I didn’t need that in my life. I am not scared of heights, but the fact that some parts require you to crawl on (or butt-slide down) the rocks of a VERY narrow path with a super sheer drop and pass over a rickety wooden ladder contraption, coupled with the fact that I would likely be doing this alone (for FOUR hours) because there was no way on God’s green Earth that Chad was getting anywhere near that mountain, was enough for me to make up my mind. If you want to give it a go, here is a guide. And, just so we are clear, you are going to be hiking to the top of the mountain you see in the back of this picture down here:MPHPWe spent the entire day at the citadel. We exited the citadel at around 4:00 p.m. (it closes at 4:30 p.m.), and Chad stopped to have a beer while we waited for the next bus down to Aguas Calientes. In case you were wondering, the beer he’s drinking is Cusquena. There are a few locally brewed beers in Peru; but, in Chad’s opinion, this Cusquena Golden Lager is the best Peruvian beer.

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MPAGAfter a long day, it was finally time to check into our hotel, and upon arrival, we were pleased to learn that we had been upgraded to a suite! mphotle

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mphotelbathroomThe hotel property is really nice. It has a village feel and is lushly landscaped.  The property has 214 bird species on property and the world’s largest native orchid collection (372 species)! They also have a spa and a working tea plantation. You can enjoy guided bird watching or orchid walks, as well as a visit to the tea plantation, all of which are included in your stay. Breakfast and dinner are also included, and the common areas are very cozy. mphotel3

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mphotelbarAfter dinner, we enjoyed our in-room fire place and some much needed rest! mphotel4The next morning, it was pouring, so any hopes we had of re-visiting the citadel were washed away.  Instead, we opted to visit the hotel’s Spectacled Bear Conservation Center, which, in concert with NGO Inkaterra Asociación and the Protected Natural Areas National Service, rescues these bears found in bad captivity conditions. The Spectacled Bear, also known as the Andean Bear, is the only bear species native to the Southern Hemisphere and was the inspiration for Paddington Bear! There are currently two bears in the habitat, and you make a small donation of approximately $10.00 per person to participate in this activity. It is well worth it and I highly recommend it!mphotel6

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mphotel8After visiting the bears, we had a massage and then lunch before boarding the train back to Cusco. The train ride back is long, and apparently, after the meal, they feel the need to entertain you.  All of a sudden music started playing and a costumed, Mardi Gras-like devil came dancing through the aisles. It was called Saqra, or maybe his dance was called Saqra. Quite frankly, I don’t know.  All I know is that it was strangely entertaining. In case you were wondering, his costume is not modeled after the gay flag.  Instead, it is modeled after the flag of Cusco, which happens to look like the gay flag.mptrainfun2And if that wasn’t enough, the costumed devil was the MC for a fashion show that the train attendants put on, modeling the items that you could purchase on-board from them, like wraps, ponchos, coats, sweaters, and scarves made from alpaca fur. They were literally using the aisle as a cat walk. It is one of the oddest things I have ever seen happen on transportation, and that is saying something, since I have seen some pretty wild things in my travels. mptrainfunAt least Chad was amused!mptrain3And, to top it all off, when we arrived at the train station, more costumed Mardi Gras devils (male and female) were waiting on the platform for us, dancing around! I swear it was the oddest thing I have ever seen; but it had been such a long day that I didn’t even care because we had 45 minutes of driving ahead of us to get to the hotel!

Anyway, I hope you found this guide to Machu Picchu useful. I can’t wait to hear all about your Machu Picchu trip! Until then, happy trails to you!

 

 

Peru’s Sacred Valley: Land of the Incas (and all their stairs)

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If you are planning a trip to Peru, Machu Picchu is likely the reason you are visiting.  In order to do that, you must visit the Sacred Valley, and, as Chad and I learned in the five days we spent there, there is much more to the Sacred Valley then just Machu Picchu.

We arrived in the Sacred Valley on a domestic flight from Lima to Cusco.  We flew Avianca Airlines coming in, and if we could do it over, we would’ve gone with LATAM (formerly LAN Airlines), as we experienced an inexplicable FOUR HOUR delay (as in Avianca NEVER provided an explanation for the delay or why their later scheduled flights to Cusco and other flights to Cusco on LATAM Airlines continued to depart as we sat there waiting), which cut into our touring schedule for our first day in the Sacred Valley. When we finally got to Cusco, we were greeted by this as we stepped off the plane:

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Cusco sits at an altitude of 11,200 feet above sea-level, so one of the main concerns when visiting Cusco is altitude sickness.  Chewing on coca leaves and drinking coca tea are supposed to ease the symptoms of altitude sickness. The significance of taking three coca leaves is that the Peruvians believe that three coca leaves bring good luck. However (and I am NOT a doctor, I am not giving you medical advice, and you should consult your doctor about this), you should be aware that consuming coca may cause you to test positive for cocaine, as the drug is the derivative of the plant. That being said, Chad and I had no issue whatsoever with the altitude (and did not consume any coca products), other than being a little winded when we were climbing the millions of stairs necessary to reach almost every historical site of significance. This is due to the lack of oxygen at that altitude.  If you are worried about the altitude, there is a medication called Diamox (Acetazolamidethat you can be prescribed and can take with you for the trip, but if you are allergic to sulfa-based drugs (like I am), you cannot take this, either (again, please consult with your doctor). Otherwise, the best advice, especially if you are staying in Cusco upon arrival (which I do not recommend), is to take a nap as soon as you get to your hotel, take it easy for the first day (as in, don’t start your Inca Trail hike (if that is what you are doing) on day one), drink plenty of water, and avoid alcohol and drug use. The recommended itinerary is to immediately head to the lower altitude of the Sacred Valley, like Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Urubamba, or Aguas Calientes/Machu Picchu, and then make your way back up to Cusco, which is precisely what Chad and I did.

Day 1

Our first stop en-route to lower elevation was to Awana Kancha (ah-wan-ah-kahn-cha), a small camelid farm dedicated to the animals and intricate textiles produced from their wool. You can see and (sometimes) pet the resident llamas and alpacas and see locals weaving using traditional techniques and dying methods. There is also a shop on the property that sells the woven textiles made on the property.

Awana Kancha

camelids

We learned the difference in quality between the wool of a llama and an alpaca and saw the traditional method of making colored dyes for the wool using natural plants.

dye colors

dye process

dyed wool

dyed yarn

Next we watched the local women weave while looking after their children and chewing on coca leaves.

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We also learned about all the different varieties of corn, potatoes, and quinoa (including a new variety of quinoa that was recently discovered) that are grown in Peru.

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After our visit was over, we headed to our next stop, Pisac.  Because of our flight delay, we had to skip our visit to the Incan site by the same name (well, actually, our guide misinformed us that they were closed, which turned out to be untrue), but we were able to make it to the Pisac market.  In hindsight, I would have opted to go to the ruins and skip the market, so if you are faced with a similar choice, opt for the ruins. The market is very touristy and filled with locals chasing you to buy their crafts or otherwise begging for money.  If you are going to shop the markets, bring cash (the Peruvian equivalent, called Soles- La Nueva Sole, to be exact- which you can get from a foreign currency place or your bank before you leave (the cheapest option) or at the airport, your hotel, or designated exchange houses) and be prepared to bargain.  Never pay the asking price. You should pay about 75 to 80 percent of the asking price, and don’t be scared to say, “no thanks” and walk away. They will come running after you to make the deal.

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Pisac

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A note about this next picture. I regret taking it.  First, I am a HUGE advocate of not exploiting women, children, and especially animals and of not supporting customs, activities, or sites during travel that do the same.  That is exactly what is happening here, and I am ashamed to say that I violated my own rule without even realizing it until after the picture was taken.  You will see these women all over Peru coming up to you asking you if you want to take a picture with their cute little lambs.  I mean, who doesn’t love a cute baby lamb wearing a colorful yarn crown?!?  The woman on the left literally yanked the lamb out of her bag by its neck! I was horrified! Then they hold the animal by its neck so you can take a picture of it.  After you get your picture you have to pay the women, as in each woman.  Usually 1 Sole does it, but they will try to get more from you, chasing after you to also pay the lamb! Honestly, I was (and am) mad at myself for taking this picture, and I urge you to please avoid taking pictures like this. The only reason I am posting it is to help you learn from and avoid my mistake.

pisac market

Another thing you should be prepared for while visiting Peru is the astonishing number of stray dogs you will find all over Peru, sleeping on the ground, running around in traffic, and eating garbage. They do not really seem malnourished, but this was still heartbreaking to see.  I had been warned of this by a colleague who went to Peru before me and who knows how much I love dogs. As a result, I came prepared with dog treats to feed all the dogs in Peru.  We also bought street food and fed it to them. All of the dogs we encountered we so very friendly, and I wanted to keep them all. Helping these dogs made me feel a little better about my lamb faux pas.

feed dogs

Our final stop of the day was to the Lamay community, where we visited a local orphanage that was home to over 50 girls ages two to fourteen. When Chad and I travel, we like to participate in at least one charitable activity that supports the local community.  For Peru, we worked with our agent to find and support the Santa Rosa de Lamay Orphanage.  On that end, our agent arranged for us to make a donation to the orphanage which would provide a school kit to every girl.  We also asked the orphanage to provide us with a list of items they needed that we could bring from the States. Sadly, they asked us for toiletries for the girls; so, before we left for our trip, we made toiletries kits that we brought with us. We had several donations of toiletries from our family, friends, and from local business, and I would like to thank all my friends, family, and members of Leadership Broward‘s Class XXXIV who kindly donated their travel-sized toiletries to us.  I would especially like to thank the Riverside Hotel on Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and Parker Dentistry in Hollywood, Florida, who generously donated tons of hotel samples and toothpaste and mouth wash for our kits. kits

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The orphanage sits on a beautiful piece of property with Andes Mountains as its backdrop.  There is an outdoor play area, living quarters, a school house/recreation room, a bakery, a pottery room, a weaving room, and a shop.

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This was probably the most rewarding experience of our trip.  The girls were so excited to meet us, running out to hug and kiss us and to hold our hands as they lead us into their home.

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They were literally so grateful to receive pencils, notebooks, and toiletries.

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They sang us songs and gave us a tour of their school house.

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We learned that all of the girls learn to either bake, weave, or make pottery, and their goods are sold in the community to support the efforts of the orphanage, which, oddly enough, was started by a group of German dentists and is run by nuns.

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The saddest part was when we were leaving and all the girls were hugging us, thanking us, and waiving good bye.  One of the nuns was so grateful that she cried as she thanked us, and a little girl asked me if she could come home with us. I literally felt so terrible about leaving, but we were both so glad we got the chance to make a small difference in the lives of these girls.

At long last, it was time to make our way to the hotel, the Aranwa Sacred Valley, which is a beautiful hotel, located on a huge, historic property. I liked this hotel because it was in a secluded little village and was very peaceful.  It has two on-property restaurants, as well as a bar and sushi bar, an on-property museum, church, library, movie theater, gym, spa, and shops.  It also has a beautiful pool and orchid greenhouse. The property is also home to roaming peacocks and llamas, which spit, by the way.

This is the view from our room:

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This is the pool:

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Here are some more views of the property amenities:

Behind me is the movie theater. And, yes, that’s a cart which had fresh popcorn every evening.

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This is the library, filled with travel books and novels:

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This was part of the museum:

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hotel library

This is the church:

hotel church

I am obsessed with peacocks, by the way.

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peacock

llama hotel

This is a live action shot that Chad took of a llama spitting at me because I tried to pet him as he was eating. I’m actually surprised that the photo came out so clearly, as Chad was laughing hysterically as he took the shot! But then again, he is used to me getting chased by wild animals, like the time I got chased by monkey in Zimbabwe, or pecked on the head by an ostrich in Cape Town, and got wrapped in a hug by an elephant in Chiang Mai…but, I digress.

spit

By the way, this hotel has a great breakfast spread with an omelette station (my fave!) and very friendly staff.  Breakfast was included with the room. If you know me, you know that I LOVE breakfast, and I do not function without it. I am literally hangry (hungry + angry) until I eat breakfast.

breakfast

And, in case you wondering, this is what the room looked like:

room

The bed was super comfy, and the shower was huge– literally a separate room with a standing shower and an over-sized Jacuzzi tub.  Oh, and you should know (because I know I wish I did before I came and packed all my converters and adapters) that Peru uses the same electrical current and outlets as the United States, so you can plug your chargers and other electronics right into the wall!

The only other place I think we would’ve stayed at in the area is the Tambo del Inka, which is a Starwood property and is closer to town.  It also has a private train station at which Peru Rail stops en route to Machu Picchu.

If you are a crazy person, you could stay in the Skylodge Adventure Suites. I bet you are thinking, “Oh how exciting, what is that?” I am glad you asked. They are three completely transparent, hanging bedroom capsules measuring 24 feet in length and 8 feet in height and width that are made from aerospace aluminum and weather resistant polycarbonate and that are somehow mounted to  the side of  huge mountain, over a 1,000 feet above the valley floor. Eight people fit inside the three capsules, and you get a 300 degree view of the Sacred Valley from the capsules.  Apparently, there is even a private bathroom up there, which first, thank God because I’d be pooping my pants the entire time, and second, I am not sure how you get privacy in a tiny transparent pod of death that you are sharing with seven other crazy people (not to mention, I doubt there is plumbing up there, so…), but maybe you can try it out and let me know! There is also a small platform that is completely open and also suspended where they serve you dinner and breakfast.

How do you get there? Easy, all you have to do is climb 1,312 feet to the top of Via Ferrata, which takes 1.5 to 2.5 hours or you can hike an intrepid trail through zip lines! You have to wear a helmet and harnesses and be guided up.  By the way, I hope you pack light because you have to climb with all your crap on your back! Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, apparently, at some point, there is a sky bridge where you walk across a tightrope while holding another cable. To get down the next morning, you have to climb even higher and then you just zip line all the way down (7 zip lines to get down).

Who would do this? Lots and lots of people.  In fact, it usually sells out months in advance, and every single day that we were in the Sacred Valley, we saw groups of people scaling the mountain to go up.  People rave about it on tripadvisor.  Here are some visuals that I borrowed from the internet because Chad and I chose life.

This is a zoomed shot because from the ground, you have to really be looking for these pods to even notice them.

skylodg6

Someone got a side shot!

skylodge 5

I imagine that a drone was used to obtain this picture.

skylodge

This is how you get there, scaling up this little iron ladder that has been installed up the side of the mountain! Oh look, kids with no hands!  Notice that mom is nowhere to be found. This is like a meme for why you never leave your kids unattended with their dad!

sky stairs

Doesn’t that sky bridge look nice a safe?

sky brifge

Apparently, this is what the pods look like inside:

skylodge inside

See that hole at the top there? That’s how you get in.

skylodge 3

And then this is how you get down:

zip line

Day 2

I am glad I ate all that breakfast because Day 2 in the Sacred Valley would test our fitness endurance levels. One thing is for sure – the Inca people loved heights (which was bad for Chad who doesn’t share the same love) and they loved stairs! Ladies, you can leave your cute booties or sandals (depending on the season you visit) behind, and just wear sneakers and gym clothes. Trust me on this.

Our adventure began in Chinchero, which the Incas believed was the birthplace of the rainbow. That is probably because it is over 12,000 feet above sea-level, and it was the highest place we visited in Peru (even higher than Cusco). It is also the center of weaving in Peru, and it has some of the most fertile soil in the Sacred Valley, so many potatoes are grown there.  It also has one of the more popular markets.

On the way to Chinchero, you pass through some beautiful vistas, like this one:

chicnhero vistas

Once you reach the town, you must do some walking to get to the archaeological complex.  I suggest you take your time, drink water, and take breaks when needed. You are already pretty high up, and you have to wind your way through some pretty steep roads to get there.

chinchero roads

chichenro walking

chinchero village

chinchero local

You’ll know you arrived when you reach the market.

chinchero market filtered

chinchero market2

chinchero market

If you keep to the right of the market, you will see a Spanish colonial church that was built around 1607 on top of the remains of what was believed to be an Incan palace.  You can see the entrance on the right in the picture above. The church is small, and you are not allowed to take pictures inside, but it has a beautiful, ornate painted ceiling.

chinchero square

As you exit the church, on the right is the pathway to the Incan aqueducts and terraces, many of which are still in use today for farming and agricultural purposes.

chincheroruns

chinchero ruins2

You can climb down, cross the bridge that you see in the top picture, and walk on the terraces.

chinchero teraces

On the opposite side of these terraces, are large fields that the local people use to dry potatoes.

chicnhero potaortes

chinchero potaotes 2

On the day we were there, an excavation was in progress.

chinchero excavation

FYI- if you need to use a public restroom at any of the archaeological sites, there is a 50/50 chance that you will need to pay to get in. The cost is usually 1 Sole (or approximately .30 cents). You pay the attendant and then they cut you this lovely bathroom ticket that nobody collects (I suppose you are supposed to keep it as a memento from the time you peed in Peru). Here is some advice – bring your own toilet paper and some hand sanitizer.  You only get caught without T.P. once (for me, this was in Greece about 10 years ago) before you learn a valuable life lesson, and you travel prepared.  Just take a roll from the hotel, and keep it in your bag. You will be the most popular person in the bathroom, and not for a TMZ-worthy reason! You are welcome! Now let’s get on with the tour, shall we?

chincheor toilet ticket

Our next stop was to the impressive terraces of Moray. Moray is a collection of three colossal terraces that look like a large amphitheater.  The circular terraces recreate 20 different types of microclimates.  In fact, there can be a temperature difference of as much as 27 degrees Fahrenheit between the top and bottom of the terraces. While you can walk around the terraces, you cannot climb down them and to the center, but that doesn’t stop some morons from trying.

The drive into Moray is beautiful and a little off-road. Some crazy people bike in.  It is a LONG bike ride on very uneven terrain, and they looked miserable.

moray drive

When you finally reach Moray. The terraces will be on your left and a market is set up in front and to the right.  This is the view from the vista point:

moray 3

If you keep to the left of the first (and largest) terrace (as you face the terrace from the vista point with your back to the market and parking area), you can access the downward path to go into the terrace.

moray 6

You can walk a semi circle around the largest terrace, and then you reach these ancient stairs to climb out and to the area where you find the medium terrace.

moray 8

mora y 7

Make a right as you reach the top of the staircase, and an upward path will take you out on the other side of where you began (which should be the left hand side of the large terrace if you are standing with your back to it).  Walk straight through a small field to reach the smallest terrace.

moray 9

Apparently, you can hire a shaman to perform a spiritualistic ritual/blessing with you in the center of this small circle, but be careful that you don’t hire a fake shaman who offer these services to rip tourists off.  A reputable tour company can help you find a legitimate shaman if you are interested in doing this. They usually sacrifice animals, so we were out for that. Most Peruvians (even the modern Peruvians) believe in Pachamama, or mother earth, and participate in spirit rituals to ask for safety, wealth, and health from or give thanks to Pachamama.

moray 10

After Moray, we visited the famous ancient salt ponds of Maras. Maras is accessible through a narrow, (mostly) paved mountain road.

maras

There is a vista point where you can stop and see the salt flats from above.

maras9

Once you reach the entrance, you have to walk down a dirt road and through a market to reach the flats.

maras road

At the end of the market is another vista point before you actually enter the flats.

maras 2

To get in, you have to walk on a narrow, wet, and slippery elevated path.

maras 5

Wikipedia gives the best description of Maras: “Since pre-Inca times, salt has been obtained in Maras by evaporating salty water from a local subterranean stream. The highly salty water emerges at a spring, a natural outlet of the underground stream. The flow is directed into an intricate system of tiny channels constructed so that the water runs gradually down onto the several hundred ancient terraced ponds.”

Walking in and around the salt mines is permitted, but discouraged by locals.  There is a place where you can walk in to get good pictures that is tolerated by the locals, but they prefer that you do not walk deep into the flats for several reasons.  First, it is narrow, wet, slippery, and dangerous. And, second, these are working salt ponds, so, if you contaminate one of the pools (by stepping in it, for example), you just ruined that entire harvest of salt.  Also, each pond is in a different stage of the process, so you could be potentially ruining a pond that has been months in the making.

This is near the top as soon as you get in and is fairly easy to get to.  Mind you, it is still a VERY narrow walkway that is wet and very slippery. Standing here is okay (and standing where the people behind us are is also okay).  Going any further down is discouraged, but again, that doesn’t stop hoards of idiots from doing it.

maras 3

maras 4

Like these idiots here:

maras 5

You see all those footsteps above? That was a nearly ready pond that is now ruined. You are supposed to stay on the elevated, narrow dirt path above the pond. If that scares you or you don’t have good balance, don’t go in.

The ponds look solid, but most of them aren’t.  Oh, and this is on the side of a pretty high and steep mountain so if you are off on the edge here and slip, good luck to ya!

maras 11

maras 7

Here, our guide is showing us large formations of crystallized salt and explaining the salt making process.  In the background of the picture you can see the entrance into the flats (marked by the red gates) once you come through the market.

maras 8

The finished product is collected in bags. The most popular salt found here is pink salt, which you can buy in the market above and which is a little saltier than the iodized white salt you are probably used to.  It is used more as garnishing salt than a cooking salt.

maras 6

For lunch, we went to a restaurant that was suggested by the guide that was on a beautiful piece property, but the food was not notable and it was very touristy. If you are a foodie, I think you will agree that the food in the Sacred Valley is just okay.  You can find some more traditional dishes like alpaca and guinea pig here, but the food does not hold a candle to what you can experience in Lima or even in Cusco.

lunch place 4

lunch place 2

lunch place

lunch place3

lunch place 5

After lunch, we visited our last stop for the day, the town and fortress of Ollantaytambo (oh-yan-tie-tambo). Ollantaytambo was the royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti who conquered the region, built the town and the ceremonial center.

This is a view of the town that is at the base of the Inca site. Across from the site are storage sheds that were once thought to be tombs.

Ollan town

Here is the site from the entrance so you can get a perspective of how much climbing you have to do to get to the sun gate:

ollan

ollan 12

ollan 13

This is the view from about half way up:

ollan 3

ollan 4

ollan2

At the top, you reach the sun gate.

ollan 6

If you don’t want to climb, there are other parts of the site that you can visit at the base level.

ollan 7

ollan 9

ollan 10

ollan 11

ollan 14

And there are cute baby alpacas too!

ollan 8

Well, that was it for Day 2!

Days 3-4

On Day 3, we finally made it to Aguas Calientes via the train at Ollantaytambo to visit Machu Picchu.  This warrants a post all on its own, which I have linked here as well. But, I will leave you with a little teaser:

MP teaser

MP teaser 2

Day 5

On Day 5, we left Aguas Calientes and returned to Cusco. By now we were fully acclimated as we had been going up and down in elevation since we first arrived to Cusco. Upon arrival, we checked into El Mercardo, which is a funky marketplace-inspired boutique hotel.

mercardo 4

mercardo 1

I don’t know why the property had random adult-sized rocking horses in the corridors, but I’m glad it did.

mercardo 2

mercardo 3

We only gave ourselves one day to explore Cusco, and this was a mistake.  You should allow two full days here to do the surrounding sites and the sites in the city center, so we had a very busy day before catching our flight to Lima to connect to our international flight home.

We started by visiting the fortress of Saqsawaman, the ruling palace of the Incas.

saq

Unfortunately, this site is probably best viewed aerially to see the amazing zig zag pattern of the rock walls.

map2

Just so you have an idea of how tall the walls are, Chad and I are both 5’10.

saq19

You can climb into the complex and get a view from there.

saq7

You can also get a great view of the city of Cusco.

saq8

saq10

The stone work is incredible (there’s no mortar in those joints people, just perfectly chiseled giant rocks!) especially considering that it is zig-zagging.

saq15

saq2

There are even some solid pieces of rock that are curved!

saq13

This was the main gate in:

saq16

Cusco also has a large white Jesus statute (a smaller version of the more famous one in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), and its claim to fame is that it is the highest elevation Jesus!

saq17

This is the giant circular structure that you saw on the map, but you can’t really tell from the ground, and you aren’t allowed in it either.

saq11

Up next, we visited Tambomachay.  It is uncertain what the purpose of this site is, but there are tombs there that were likely used during important holiday for the Inca, and the Inca Trail from Cusco starts there.

It is a pretty steep walk up, and the elevation is higher than Cusco but lower than Chinchero.

tam

tam2

From there, we headed to Puka Pukara, which is a site of military ruins from the Inca Empire.

puka
puka1

You can get a great view of the valley from here and even see parts of the Inca Trail.

valley

Our next stop was Q’enko, which is one of the largest holy places in the Cusco region.  It is called the temple of the moon, and it was believed to be a place where sacrifices and mummification took place.

qe

You use very narrow tunnels to get through the site.

qe1

This is where it is believed that mummification took place:

qe2

We then made our way back into the city center of Cusco to visit Qorikancha, the most important temple in the Inca Empire, dedicated primarily to the Sun God. When the Spanish came, they just built a church over it (well partially over it; more like adjacent to it), which still exists today, and it is massive! There is a black Jesus inside that church that has a pretty cool little story behind it.  Apparently, because of the materials used to make the Jesus statute, over years of having candles burning next to it, the Jesus slowly turned black. The indigenous people thought that Jesus morphed to look more like them. They have tried several times to restore the statute, but cannot. It is also believed that the Jesus performs miracles because during some pretty bad floods, the church brought the Jesus out to the city square and prayed for the flooding to stop, and it did!

qor7

qor8

qor4

qor

qor1

qor3

qor2

qor6

This is the temple of the sun:

qor5

We ended our day in the city center of Cusco, where we had lunch at Limo, a fantastic restaurant owned by a group that owns many fantastic restaurants in Cusco and which had a great view of the center.  We also visited the Machu Picchu museum, which is small, but tells the story of Hiram Bingham’s excavation of Machu Picchu.

cusco5

Limo is located to the left of this church above as you face the church. You have to walk through an almost hidden corridor before you reach an atrium that has a staircase that leads you to the restaurant. I wish I had food spotted our lunch because it was beautiful and amazing, but we were so hungry, we just dug right in!

limo1

One last pisco sour, and this one infused with Chad’s new favorite fruit, the golden berry.

limo

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cusco

cusco3

If you are planning to visit the Sacred Valley, and Cusco especially, start training by setting your treadmill’s elevation on high!

csco2

cusco6

The night flights out of Lima are no joke! Our flight left after midnight, as most flights do, and behind us was the economy line at 9:00 p.m.! Chad is all smiles because, if you read my post on Lima, you know that we got a GREAT deal on first class tickets which allowed us to avoid this mess!

cusco aiport

And, we got to relax inside this lounge, which apparently serves first and business class for all flights out of Lima.  It has an indoor and outdoor seating area, with food and beverages, as well as a lounge of massive recliners. It is also packed!

csuscoairport lounge

After the day we had, all I was looking forward to was this:

sleep 2

Most people do not end their trip in Cusco like we did.  Most go on to visit the Amazon for a couple of days.  In hindsight, I wish that we had added that to our itinerary, but I guess we left something for next time!

When it was all said and done, we paid approximately $6,000.00 for the land-based portion of the trip, which included all hotels, all private transfers, all domestic travel by plane, train, and bus, all breakfasts, two lunches, one dinner, all privately guided excursions with driver and bilingual guide, and all entrance tickets to all sites. The price did not include international flights, the remaining meals, gratuities, the donation to the orphanage, and items we purchased in-country.  This was an eight-day adventure, but we only missed four work days!

I hope you found this post helpful in planning your own Peruvian Adventure!  I would love to hear your feedback and suggestions so leave me a comment below or send me an e-mail.  Until then, adios y viajes seguros!

 

 

 

 

 

 

24 Hours in Lima, Peru: A Gastronomical Adventure

 

Lima Cover

Living in South Florida, Peru is a relatively inexpensive and easy destination to reach.  The flight to Lima, Peru (the capital city) is just under 6 hours. When I started researching flights, I was elated to find that the difference between first class tickets and economy tickets was only a couple of hundred dollars, rather than the several thousands of dollars that you usually see.  Also, since the flight leaves, arrives, and returns in the evening, I thought the splurge was worth it to get those lie-flat beds for the return flight and to catch a quick nap before arriving.  This ended up being one of the best decisions of this trip! Of course, I opted to book with my favorite airline, Delta, which routes through Atlanta instead of flying direct from Miami for two reasons: 1) you get to avoid the hell that is MIA, and 2) more miles (and miles towards status).

The nice people at Delta are ready with the champagne as you board:

me 1st

They also offer a three-course menu prepared by Chef Michelle Bernstein during the flight, in addition to the gourmet snacks that they provide before and after the meal. Also, there is free alcohol, which is why Chad looks like he’s about to burst in this picture!

Chad 1st

When you get to your seat, you find a full-size, real pillow and duvet provided by Westin Heavenly, a real pair of headphones, and a Tumi travel kit!

goodies

I bet you’re wondering what is inside that little sucker.  Wonder no more.  They provide you with an eye mask, socks, lip gloss, lotion, toothpaste and toothbrush, mouth wash, tissues, earplugs, and a pen.

tumi

So before dinner, I was like:
in flight

After dinner, they brought out an entire dessert cart where you could pick whatever and as many desserts as you wanted.  I thought Chad was going to hurt himself!

dessert cart

I went with the chocolate sundae:

Dessert

And then I was like, “Bye, Chad. See you in Lima!”

sleep 2

I am glad I took that nap because when we landed in Lima, it was past midnight, and this, apparently, is the time that all the flights get into Lima. Take a look at the lines at passport control and the amount of people in the arrival hall at the airport! See how unimpressed Chad is? I’m pretty sure he is exhibiting signs of “Active Bitch Face” right here.

immigration

Here’s a little tip: when you pass through passport control in Lima, they give you a little card. DO NOT lose this card.  Every single hotel asks for it because tourists don’t pay tax on hotels and food (but, you do pay tax on alcohol)! Also, you need to return that little card to passport control when you leave the country. If you lose it, you have to get it replaced, which apparently takes a couple of days.

airport arrival

Although the lines look long, they actually get you through pretty quickly, and, once we collected our luggage, we found our driver in the arrival hall and made our way to our hotel in the Miraflores area of Lima.  This, by the way, is pretty much the only area where you should book a hotel.

As is true for many capitol cities, Lima doesn’t have a whole lot to offer, unless you are a foodie.  If you are a foodie, stay a couple of days because Lima is having an extraordinary culinary moment. Just make sure you aren’t trying to get into the hottest restaurants on a Sunday because this is a catholic country and, as we learned, all of the greats are closed for dinner!  Also, pre-book your reservations if you want any chance of eating at any of Lima’s greats, like Central (which was voted number 4 on the list of the world’s 50 best restaurants and which was heart-breakingly closed on the only day we had in Lima, a Sunday), Malabar (which was voted number 7 on the list of the Latin America’s 50 best restaurants and is also closed on Sundays), Maido (which was voted number 13 on the list of the world’s 50 best restaurants, and is also closed on Sunday), and Astrid y Gaston, where we were able to get a lunch reservations since it too was closed for dinner. More on this later.

Even if you are not a foodie, it is worth spending a day in Lima or a few days if you want to take a couple of day trips from Lima.  Hindsight being 20/20, I would’ve spent some extra time in Lima, not only to eat at Central, but also to visit (at least) the Nazca Lines. Here are 7 other pretty awesome day-trips from Lima that I wish I knew about while I was trip planning.

But, since we only had a (Sun)day, we made the most of it.  We started our day with a trip to the local market before our cooking and Pisco sour class.  On the menu was ceviche (which the Latin Americans call/pronounce cebiche), a causa, and lomo saltado. Our first stop was to a fish stand to scope out the day’s catches.

fish stand

Next up was the veggie stand.

veggie stand

Did you know that more than 4,000 varieties of native potatoes grow in the Andean highlands of Peru?  Also,the birth place of the potato is in South America, and it likely came from Peru, as scientific evidence confirms that potatoes were domesticated as early as 10,000 years ago in the High Andes of southeastern Peru. Below are just a few varieties.

potatoes

Last, but not least, we stopped at this colorful fruit stand, but mostly just to eat!

fruit stand

Apparently, the owner of this fruit stand is famous among chefs as evidenced by the banner above which depicts him posing with some of the world’s great chefs. I was a fan because he was a sweet man who just kept feeding me exotic fruit!

fruit stand owner

This, by the way, is a cacao fruit, which eventually becomes chocolate.  Chocolate comes from a fruit, fruit is healthy, so chocolate is healthy, and there you go. (If you did not get the last sentence, then you’ve obviously never seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding, so as soon as you are done reading this blog post, you need to do that next!)

cacao

Our next stop was to El Senorio de Sulco, a restaurant that prepares traditional Peruvian cuisine, to learn how to make (and to eat) some traditional Peruvian dishes.  The restaurant is decorated with authentic, original examples of Incan pottery and cultural masks, but the real art is in the kitchen!

El Senorio

masks

pottery

Here is where we had our private cooking class:

cooking

The first dish was the ceviche:

ceviche prep

ceviche

finbal ceviche

Followed by the causa:

causa 2
causa

And finally, the lomo saltado, which by the way was the best lomo saltado that we ate in Peru:

lomo prep

lomo cook

lomo

After graduating from Peruvian Cooking 101, it was off to the bar!

class 2

Chad is listening intently to learn the proper ratios for Pisco sour:

pisco class

The first of many Pisco sours on the trip:

pisco taste

pisco 2

Then we (i.e., Chad) tried the local beer, Cusquena, which he liked:

beer

We also tried an alcohol that is made from coco leaves. It’s kind of like Peruvian moonshine:

coco leaves

coco alcohol

By then, we were all happy, and it was time to go to lunch.  Yes, lunch! Don’t judge!

pisco final3

My favorite part of this gastronomic romp through Lima was eating at Astrid y Gaston. The restaurant is located inside Casa Moreyra, an old style house of the San Isidro Hacienda, which is more than 300 years old.AYG 2

The property is huge and has its own chapel and garden from where their herbs come.

property

This is the reception area where you check in for your reservation:

check in

Because the property used to be a mansion, there are several internal dining rooms as well as outdoor dining spaces:

AYG inside

 

patio

Even the bathrooms are cool.  It is a cylindrical pod in a room with four stalls:
AYG bathorrom

AYG bathorrom 2

We sat in the greenhouse, which had upside down plants hanging from the ceiling and an open-air kitchen where the food was being prepared:

greenhouse

kitchen

They offer a tasting menu which is about $93 per person or you can order a la cart, which is what we chose since Chad and I didn’t want to eat rabbit or guinea pig (which is a delicacy in Peru, along with Alpaca, which we did try):

menu

Our meal started with a variety of breads, spreads, and a Pisco:

starter

pisco AYG

Then we shared an AMAZING scallop dish and a beautiful and tasty ceviche:

scallops

ceviche AYG

For our main dishes, Chad had the pork:

pork

And I had the fish:

fish

For dessert, we had the Miracle Bomb, which is basically a heavenly sweets party in a chocolate ball!

miracle bomb

open bomb

At the end, we were served a Pisco-filled chocolate with a sponge cake. Gaston Acurio’s wife has begun promoting Peru’s chocolate, traveling around Peru looking for the best native cacao.  In 2012, she started her chocolate line, Melate.

finish ayg

Gaston Acurio is also the owner of La Mar, a ceviche bar in Lima that does not take reservations, but is open on Sunday afternoon. Fortunately, his second La Mar restaurant, which has a more expansive menu than the one in Lima, is located in Miami!

After all that eating, it was time to walk around the city for a bit. But, before we did that, we had to stop at Lima’s most popular ice cream spot, Amorelado, which, by the way, is right across the street from La Mar!

amorelado

This place was featured on Andrew Zimmern’s Delicious Destinations. The owner shops the markets daily and handmakes her ice cream from the exotic fruits of Peru. They are known for their Lucuma ice cream, which is made from the lucuma fruit and is unique to Peru.  The fruit is not so great when eaten raw, but makes a nice, sweet ice cream.  They also have other unique flavors such as chirimoya, maracayá, and Mamacocho. Also, they are open on Sundays!

Amorelado cup

Okay, seriously, the eating on this day became ridiculous.  But that is okay, because we have a city to explore before our dinner reservations, of course! First we visited downtown Lima and its churches.Lima

lima church2

Lima 2

Lima church

food coma

convent2

convent

walls

church3

And because the Catholics celebrate so many saints, you are bound to run into a processional, which are like big deals and a cause for celebration.

mary

jesus

processional

Our last stop before dinner was to El Parque del Amor, which translates to Love Park and is also known as the mosaic bench park. This park is beautiful and is located along the seaside cliffs of Miraflores.

miraflores park

mosiac

benches

miraflores2

In the middle of the park is the famous “El Beso” (The Kiss) statue:

the kiss

heart

It was finally time for dinner and a little bit of culture.  The only decent restaurant open on Sunday night is Huaca Pucllana, which is conveniently located next to the Huaca Pucllana ruins. The restaurant is touristy, but good, and serves traditional Peruvian dishes. When you make your reservation, make sure to ask for a table outside next to the ruins, which are lit up at night.  You can also tour the ruins before or after dinner.

HP ruins

hp 2

hp4

hp3

Alas, with very full bellies, we returned to our hotel to prepare for the next leg of the journey, the Sacred Valley of Peru. Until then, salud and buen provecho!

 

 

 

 

GONE TRAVELING

Gone Traveling

Chad and I are off to Peru, exploring Machu Picchu and gathering awesome content and tips for your own trip! Follow along on Instagram and Snapchat!