With the weather a sweltering 90 degrees in most of the US,
I’m longing for another trip to Peru to visit its cooler climes. But it’s not just for the weather. A visit to Machu Picchu, Cusco and Lima
offers a wonderful foodie and adventure getaway even for a long weekend, thanks
to new service provided on JetBlue from Fort Lauderdale to Lima.
I chose to visit this “bucket list” area for four days,
starting my trip in the Miraflores district of Lima. A great stopover en route to Machu Picchu, Lima is one of
the upcoming foodie destinations in South America with chefs like Virgilio
Martinez and Gaston Acurio and restaurants that are consistently named among
the best in the world.
|JW Marriott Lima|
I stayed at the contemporary JW Marriott Hotel Lima,
overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The hotel was near one of the finest restaurants
in Peru, the Central Restaurante. With its airy design and open kitchen, the
restaurant defined cutting-edge gastronomy and orientation. Chef Virgilio
Martinez, as charming as he is passionate about the biodiversity of foods in
Peru, made a point of explaining his philosophy of integrating foods along a
vertical plane: specifically including products from the varying altitudes of
the country. The menu that evening included ingredients from the sea (seaweed
calamari on coral), the coast (native corn), the Andes (tuber chamomile), and
the Amazon (spicy roots). Gorgeous
plating of charred purple corn-scented octopus, served with lentils, botija
olives, sprouts and tree tomato; fruit ceviche; and beef short rib that had been soaked for 24
hours in water left me wanting more.
|Fruit ceviche at Central|
From Lima, the flight to Cusco on LAN was a snap,
significantly shorter than the one from Fort Lauderdale to Lima, although not
as luxe. My hotel in an old market
building was cool and trendy, with a gracious mix of thoughtful amenities and
comfort. Views over city rooftops were
striking, and the location was an easy walk to the city’s outdoor markets,
Cathedral, and even a Starbucks. Further
afoot and requiring a car, glorious views from the ancient Sacsayhuamam sanctuary
and its pre-Incan Killke ruins showed off the entire valley with jaw-dropping
Cusco, known as “the belly of the world,” has much to see in
the way of history and mysticism. Officially
named a World Heritage site in 1983, Cusco was the historic capital of the Inca
Empire from the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries. The richness of this culture
pervades the city, its religious icons and its ruins to this day.
The food market, daily arts and
crafts marketplace, and The Plaza de Armas offered a solid dose of history and culture.
Each was filled with the colors and beauty of Peru, particularly the
gold-filled Cusco Cathedral. El Museo del Pisco provided a different kind of
history and more exploration motivation with tastings of Peru’s national
drink, a brandy made in the coastal desert plains of the country. Sample pisco straight up, in cocktails, in a flight, and served with appropriate tapas in this
multi-floor temple to the beverage.
Two restaurants gave me the dining
experiences I was looking for, a mix of tradition torqued forward through
multicultural influences: the Mediterranean-oriented Cicciolina and Peruvian-fusion Limo .
|El Museo del Pisco, Cusco|
|Alpaca skewers, Limo|
In the Plaza de Armas, I
encountered, in amusing juxtaposition, KFC, McDonald’s and the fabulously
creative Limo, all three enjoying wonderful views of the flower-filled plaza
and each with a Peruvian style of its own.
Limo, a standout for ceviches,
tiraditos, and various sushi fantasies, uses Peruvian ingredients highly prized
by chefs around the world, such as pink salt, aji (chili pepper), and huacatay
(black mint). You’ll also find Peruvian favorites like alpaca steak skewers
that pair remarkably well with an aji seco, a chili-infused drink from Limo’s
extensive Pisco menu, or chicha morada, a sweetish drink made from purple corn.
A wall of windows let you watch the comings of goings of the city while you
enjoyed your meal and drinks from the pisco bar.
|Alpaca carpaccio, Cicciolina|
|Pisco coca, Limo|
On the second floor of an old
colonial house, Cicciolina presented
an array of traditional Peruvian dishes tapas-style, including guinea pig (cuy), alpaca and ceviche. Cicciolina’s cuy is presented “causa style,” set atop a fine
yellow potato mash with chilies and caramelized apple. Alpaca carpaccio is a gorgeous spread of thin slices with huacatay oil, goat cheese and cherry tomatoes. I also loved the Peruvian scallops barbecued and
topped with crispy garlic and lime. Heartier Mediterranean fare was also composed creatively
with vegetables and herbs from the Sacred Valley. It was easy to stay and savor
in this friendly, art-filled restaurant, as colorful and creative as the
|Plaza de Armas|
A fitting contrast to these finer dining venues, a
restaurant frequented by locals satisfied a late-night craving for the Peruvian
version of pizza. Served on thick crust,
dripping with cheese and other toppings, the pies at Marengo Pizzeria and the
cheery servers fostered a fun evening of beer, pizza and camaraderie. I especially
loved the giant meat-centric Marengo, topped with bacon, ham, and sausage.
|El Mercado Tunqui|
My base in Cusco, El Mercado Tunqui Hotel, is a
member of Mountain Lodges of Peru, a group of hotels known for their location
and fostering of trekking itineraries. El
Mercado is a short walk up a hill from the marketplace and Plaza de Armas, and
is set in a building formerly used as the city’s old farmer’s market. With a
beautiful open-air courtyard, quirky art installations throughout, and expansive
windows that bring the views of the hills and greenery inside, the 32-room boutique
hotel provided every comfort you could want: a cushy bed, a thoughtfully
appointed bathroom, a tablet for your use, and a quiet respite from the outdoor
activity. The bar, for a traditional Pisco Sour or a Mate de Coca (to help acclimatize to the altitude), and the Taberna restaurant
were also welcome spots when my feet gave out from climbing up and down the
hills or touring the sites.
Cusco is the jumping off point for a visit to Machu
Picchu. Unless you’re determined to hike
the Inca Trail (an aruduous four-day trek that requires a bit of planning), I
strongly suggest taking one of the panoramic trains which parallels it. With a glass ceiling, broad windows on both
sides, food and beverage service, masked musicians, and even a fashion show of
alpaca sweaters, shawls, and scarves, the train trip was both entertaining and
beautiful. The Vistadome train (www.perurail.com) leaves from Poroy, just 20
minutes from Cusco.
Arriving in Aguas Calientes, the destination city for
visiting Machu Picchu, is an adventure itself.
The sheer number of daily visitors makes for a chaotic scene,
as you transfer by way of the Indian Market to a shuttle bus that takes you to the
entrance to Machu Picchu. By the way, if
you’re afraid of winding hilly roads, this may be the time to invest in a good
eye mask for your ride in what is essentially an old school bus.
possible to stay in a hotel in Aguas Calientes, I would recommend returning to
Cusco to unwind in a quieter environment and enjoy an evening of great food and
drink.(I didn’t have time on this visit, but I would have added two other
restaurants to my foodie pilgrimages: MAP Cafe and Gaston Acurio’s Chicha.)
I had always wanted to visit Machu Picchu. I love the
mystery of ruins and the cultures they conjure up. When I visited Rapa Nui
(Easter Island) seven years ago, the island's 800 or more Moai grabbed my attention in a major
way, particularly since no one could definitively explain why and how they were
there, and what they represented. With Machu Picchu, we have more information
to go on. Or at least more theories that
make sense. The Incans built their astronomic-religious city high atop a peak in
the Andes in the fifteenth century but vacated after the arrival of Spanish
conquistadors in the 1500s. Discovered
by American historian Hiram Bingham in 1911, most of the artifacts from Machu
Picchu were seized and moved to Yale University for preservation and study. (They
have since been returned to Peru.) The
most significant and tangible legacy of the Inca civilization, this “Lost City
of the Incas” was named a World Heritage property in 1983, with reconstruction
continuing in present times. The view of the Citadel is one of the most
recognizable in the world.
|Meryl at Machu PIcchu|
The first thing you try to comprehend is why the engineers of
Machu Picchu chose this location, so removed from anywhere else, and seemingly
so protected on its perch in the mountains.
(At its highest point, Machu Picchu’s La Ciudadela sits more than 8000
feet above sea level.) Was there a mystical reason why the Incans chose the
meeting point between the Peruvian Andes and the Amazon Basin? Were the risks
so great that they needed to keep themselves well hidden, without accessibility
to roads, water and other creature comforts? Or was Machu Picchu simply one of
the many estates built at that time to escape the colder climes of
As I walked among the temples and homes, and imagined the llamas
and other animals that had lived with the residents, I marveled at the range of
people climbing the broken and steep steps, from young children clinging to
parents to seniors walking with canes, all from a multitude of countries. There was electricity in the air that seemed borne
out by the compass that spun in only one direction. Another mystical omen? People swear by the
special energy you can feel here. Touch the Sacred Rock and they say the energy
will stay with you.
I could have spent three more days in Machu Picchu, easily,
sitting and speculating about the type of life that had existed there. The Incans had all been killed off. The civilization had vanished with no one to
inherit the treasures of this community, and only a moderate understanding of why. In some ways, the mysteries of Machu Picchu were
like the secrets of Rapa Nui, except that we know far more about the
civilization of the Incas and their ways of life. Would I go back? Absolutely.
But next time I want to bring my hiking boots.
A few practical notes: a valid passport is
required for entry into Peru. It is wise
to obtain altitude sickness medication in advance to prevent headaches and
other maladies. Flat shoes or sneakers are a must, as the hills, especially in
Cusco, can be daunting. Be sure to turn off
roaming on your cellular phone and use WiFi whenever possible – charges are
especially high in the hills. For more
information, contact the Trade
Commission of Peru, 310-496-7411, http://www.peru.travel/en-us/.
Peru is an amazing country of unique natural beauty , different climates and geographies, make them new experiences . but do not forget to visit the ancient Inca citadel of Machu Picchu located in the department of Cusco , I recommend some links to help you plan , your travel time by Peru.ReplyDelete