I've only been to Peru once...and to be fair, I've seen very little of it. Just a small part of Lima, Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. But I would like to think that what I did see was pretty representative of all the great food, fun, beauty and people that the entire country has to offer. As you'll see below, one quick trip has already led to a pretty huge itinerary of what I would suggest if you were to plan a visit of your own but I'm sure I'm only scratching the surface...so for those of you who've travelled more extensively in Peru: What am I missing? Where have I gone wrong? What would you suggest?
Wherever you visit and whatever you decide to do and eat...happy travels. You'll love Peru! Need some more convincing to start planning your own trip? Check out my Peruvian Foodie Photos here!
Local Foods to Try: when I travel internationally my number one priority is to eat how the locals eat so here are a few of the top items that I would make sure you don't miss when traveling in Peru.
- Ceviche, ceviche, ceviche! Seriously...eat this as often as you can while in Peru. It is so good and fresh and there are lots of varieties to try so you'll be pleasantly surprised every time.
- Quinoa Soup - this is a unique but delicious soup that is pretty common in the rural areas of Peru. It's light (which is perfect when you're in high altitude) but comforting all at the same time. Delicious.
- Lomo Saltado - I am not a fan of this dish in the states typically...I find it to be pretty boring, but give it a try while in Peru. The one time we had it I was swooning and begging Christian for one more bite.
- Alpaca - yes, you read right...Alpaca. Carpaccio, tartar, steaks, skewers, any way you see it prepared try it because it is phenomenal and you'll come home wishing you could get it here! Read my full post on Alpaca here.
- Guinea Pig - what's the point of traveling if you're not going to eat how the locals eat? Yup, you gotta try guinea pig while in Peru...particularly if you're in the highlands. My full run-down of the guinea pig experience can be read here.
- Coca Tea - they drink this everywhere in altitude, claiming that it helps with altitude sickness and digestion. It might...I bought into it an drank tons of it and the worst part of altitude sickness I experienced was bad headaches. It's mild, a bit like Japanese Green Tea. There are also coca candies, straight coca leaves to chew, etc...
- Pisco Sour - this is the national drink of Peru...and it's delicious. Pisco (a clear/yellowish grape brandy), lime juice & simple syrup topped with frothed egg whites and a few drops of angostura bitters. Delicious. Trust me.
- Chicha Morada - better known as purple corn juice. Sweet and purple...what more could you ask for?
Restaurants: while we focused a bit more on street food and local markets on our trip to Peru there are a few restaurants we tried that I would recommend.
- We honestly ate the free breakfast that came with most of our hotel rooms while in Peru...if you have that same option I would encourage you to check it out before going out and paying for breakfast. Most of ours were fantastic with amazing fresh fruit, freshly squeezed juices, meats, cheeses, pasties and sometimes eggs made to order.
- Jack's Cafe in Cusco, Peru - if you're craving a more traditional breakfast this Australian-run spot is the perfect place. Good lattes and coffee too!
- Pescados Capitales in the Miraflores region in Lima is supposed to be great for lunch and drinks as well
- In Lima stop by any of these restaurants right on the shore to watch the sunset - Cala, La Rosa Nautica or Costa Verde
- While in Cusco there is no shortage of spots to grab a drink or quick bite. In my opinion, the San Pedro Market is the perfect spot for lunch or a quick snack. For a drink, start at the Plaza de Armas and head up any one of the little side alleys and pick a bar that looks like it has a lot of locals. That strategy never steers me wrong!
- If, instead of authenticity, you're looking for a good 'ole Irish pub (or want to catch a soccer game in a fun environment) while in Cusco check out Paddy's Irish Pub right in the Plaza de Armas. There's also an English Pub right around the corner.
- Astrid y Gastón, Lima - if you can swing it, this is a must...but make sure to book a reservation super early. It's been named one of the Top 50 Restaurants in the world, and rightly so! You can read my full review of our experience at Astrid y Gastón here.
- La Mar, Lima - if you can't make it to Astrid y Gastón or don't want to spend quite that much money then try their sister restaurant, which is also fantastic. We actually have one here in San Francisco and it's our favorite Peruvian spot...great Ceviche and Pisco Sours.
- Pachamama, Cusco - quaint little restaurant with a great outdoor courtyard and delicious simple Peruvian food. We had great quinoa soup, alpaca skewers and a yummy potato appetizer. They also have great Chicha Morada (purple corn juice) and iced Coca Tea.
- Maizito Grill & Restaurant, Cusco - I was skeptical since we just randomly picked this place and it was right on Plaza de Armas, but it turned out great! Live music, a view overlooking the plaza and delicious food. We went with a big group and tried everything from alpaca tartar to guinea pig to delicious alpaca steaks in coca sauce to the best quinoa soup I had on the entire trip. No website from what I could find...but it's right on the upper level of the Plaza de Armas.
- Cicciolina - this is right off the main square and appears to be more international Peruvian cuisine...read higher class and a bit fancy, tapas style. While we didn't actually make it here, trusted friends recommended it highly and when we looked at the menu while it was closed one day it did look pretty delicious.
Things to Do: of course there are lots of things to do throughout the entire country of Peru, but even if you just make it to Lima, Cusco and the Sacred Valley like we did you won't run out of activities!
- Tour the historic center...Government Center, City Hall, Basilica Cathedral and the Basilica & Convent of San Francisco and Catacombs.
- Tour the Huaca Pucllana ruins in the Miraflores district. They are over 1500 years old and amazing simply because they're right on the edge of a bustling city! It's beautifully lit at night as well.
- Stroll along El Malecón - a six mile stretch of parks along the beach in the upscale Miraflores district, which is a great neighborhood for dinner and drinks as well
- Larcomar - Seaside shopping, eating and drinking nestled right into the cliff-side overlooking the Pacific. It's a bustling entertainment complex with nightclubs at night, but the setting is unique.
- Puente de los Suspiros - perfect for a romantic evening stroll and to check out the bohemian Barranco neighborhood.
- Mercado Surquillo - this is Lima's best and largest food market located in Miraflores. Stroll around downstairs and sample fresh produce, cheeses, breads and more. Head upstairs to grab a bite at one of the local food stalls. It doesn't get any fresher....and you may even bump into some local chefs doing their shopping while you're there!
- Sacsayhuamán - this is an ancient walled Inca site on the outskirts of Cusco, which was formerly the capital of the Incan Empire. Pretty impressive with an amazing city view.
- Stroll around the Plaza de Armas and lose yourself in the meandering cobblestone alleyways that have ancient Inca stones as walls in some areas. Amazing churches and a good place to do some shopping too.
- Explore the San Pedro Market...it's so great that I wrote a whole separate blog post about it. Amazing produce, freshly squeezed juices, the freshest meats and cheeses along with freshly cooked meals to order right in the back of the market. I could honestly spend a full day here!
- The Sacred Valley
- Pisaq - this, our guide said, was our first training hike for Machu Picchu...and with the high altitude it sure did feel difficult! But the views up top were totally worth it and had me asking if Machu Picchu would really be any better than this!
- Ollantaytambo - second "training hike" and our last night in a hotel before starting our 4 day Machu Picchu hike. This town is absolutely adorable and I would have loved more time there and the ruins overlooking the town are pretty amazing and just beautiful at sunset from the town square. Adorable little cobblestone alleys to wander around in as well.
- Machu Picchu - what can I say? It's Machu Picchu! Worth all the hype and I strongly encourage you to do the 4-day hiking/camping trek vs. taking the bus up. Why? Because it makes it an almost spiritual experience and when you're going somewhere as amazing as Machu Picchu it should be a pilgrimage shoudn't it? And last time I checked, pilgrimage don't include bus rides. But beyond that, the hike itself is beautiful, challenging and incredible and you'll get the chance to get up close and personal with 4+ amazing Incan ruins that you can only see by hiking. The only down-side is that this intimate, spiritual 4-day experience makes the tourist-crazed Machu Picchu feel a bit hectic and overwhelming. They should allow the hikers 1-2 hours alone at the Machu Picchu site as a reward for working so hard to get there!
- Lima - if you're planning on going to Astrid y Gastón or La Mar then I would stay in the Miraflores District. It's a nice area since it's out by the beach and perfectly safe to walk around at night, which can't be said for all of Lima.
- Cusco - try to stay near the Plaza de Armas...not right on it, but definitely near it.
Enjoy Peru...and when you get back make sure to come back and tell us all about it!