Tag Archives: cusco

Our best of Peru

Most amazing train ride: Front seat on the train to the Sacred Valley. (on the way home, there was a fashion show on the train…)

Most dazzling monastery: Santa Catalina, Arequipa limaarequipaconvent.jpg

Best old world/Inca village with most intense cobble stoned lanes: Ollantaytambo 


Most bizarre landscape: the salt pans of Salinas and terraced circles of Moray


Best religious site with skulls and boxes of (human) bones: San Francisco Monasterio in Lima

Best church: That’s a tough one, in Cusco – the Cathedral and the Iglesia de Compania de Jesus and the church in San Blas. or the Iglesia de la Compagnia in Arequipa.

The Cathedral in Arequipa


Best market: Also a hard call. Pisac, Arequipa (below) and Cusco are strong contenders


Best folk art: Artesanias Las Pallas in Lima’s Barranco neighborhood

Best contemporary crafts gallery: Dedalo in Lima’s Barranco neighborhood

Best quality Andean Textiles: Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cuzco, on Av. El Sol or Shop of the Weavers of the Southern Andes on Tullumayo in Cusco.

Best hidden museum: Museo de Arte Popular, Cusco

Most spectacular site/ruins: Machu Picchu, hands down

Grandest plaza: Toss up between Cusco and Arequipa

Best service at a hotel: Apu Lodge, Ollantaytambo 

Best art at a hotel: Second Home Peru, in Lima (below)



Most ancient-feeling hotel: La Casa de Melgar, Arequipa


Best hotel to bring earplugs: Ninos Hotel in Cusco, lovely courtyard but carries sound especially people wandering through at 5:30 a.m.

Best sight for sore eyes: Our son.


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a long trek home to Iowa from Cusco Peru

As I watched the choir I normally sing with perform this afternoon in Iowa, I knew I’d made the right choice NOT to join them so soon after a long series of plane rides to get from Cusco to Des Moines. (Not direct, as you might imagine.) We left Cusco yesterday at 1:30 p.m. under overcast skies – one hour after we were scheduled to depart and technically on a flight that the agent rebooked us on that was one hour before our original flight. Much as we would have loved to stay in Cusco longer – especially since our flight from Lima to the U.S. didn’t leave until 1:25 a.m. (yes a.m.) – I think we made the right call to leave (or try to leave) Cusco by midday because the weather was getting worse and we’re told that flight problems often ensue. (The guy who checked us in at the front desk said just a day or two earlier a bunch of tourists got stuck in Cusco due to flight cancellations.)

And we made the most of our last afternoon in Peru by exploring the arty Barranco neighborhood on a gorgeous, refreshingly sunny Saturday afternoon. We finally found some of the lovely old mansions and interesting galleries and shops we’d heard are in Barranco. And it was fun to join the couples on the high overlooks watching the sun drop behind the ocean and fill the sky with pink and purple.We were bowled over in particular by a crafts gallery, Dedalo, in an old casona on one of the prettiest streets in Barrano, Saenz Pena, a boulevard with a pretty park that leads down to a gardened overlook above the Pacific. Each room is filled with different contemporary crafts, most it appears by Peruvians, with a great selection of jewelry, ceramics, textiles, sculpture. There’s also a lovely cafe in the rear. Glad I bought a cloth tote bag in the market in Cusco to handle all the gifts I couldn’t cram into my regular bag.

We also went to an interesting photography exhibit of high fashion portraits for mags like Vogue and Vanity Fair  by Mario Testino of famous models and actresses (Giselle,  Kate, Christy, Naomi, Reese, Jennifer, Gwyneth, et al.) , some but not all clothed, at MATE, a new cultural center/cafe created by the Testino and housed in a chic restored old mansion in Barranco. (I was familiar with his work, especially his famous portraits of Princess Diana, see photo below, but didn’t know he was from Lima. I thought he was Italian. He also went to the same university my son is attending in Lima…Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru). Guess it pays to read your inflight magazine (I learned about MATE while leaving through Lan Airlines magazine during our Cusco-Lima flight.) We ate dinner at a fun Italian-Peruvian place called La 73 in Barranco, although the pasta was too rich for me and the churros too sweet (they were not only covered in sugar but filled with a carmely-creme. Then you were supposed to dip them in hot chocolate the consistency of pudding. I liked the cebiche best – which was an interesting mix not only of raw fish but avocado, pieces of toasted corn and the thick Peruvian corn, red onions and a little sweet potato. And D reports they had an excellent Pisco Sour. The service was also good and it was fun to eat outside on the patio on a busy street next to a television studio where a crow of people were waiting for the stars to leave for the night (and cheered when they spotted one after another.)

We arrived at the airport, as advised, three hours before our 1:25 a.m. flight and it was wise. It took a little while to get our bags out of left luggage and then we had to wait in some long lines that fortunately moved quickly. The flight left a little late but we arrived on time which was good since we had only a 1.5 hour connection in Atlanta which can be tricky when you’ve got to jump through so many hoops to make the next flight (immigration, customs, retrieve luggage from the international flight then check luggage for the domestic flight and go through security again and race to another terminal to another gate.) Our taxi ride to the airport in Lima last night also was an adventure. Not only was our driver the usual kamikaze driver but he stopped not once but twice to try to fill up with gas – in this case natural gas that somehow goes into the front of the car and fills up a tank in the rear of the car right behind where we were sitting. The gas station attendant kindly opened up both of the doors where we sitting in the back so we didn’t faint from the fumes. All this at about 10:30 p.m. in a dimly lit neighborhood after our drive had already warned us to keep our bags out of view  so someone wouldn’t try to reach into the car and grab them (or at least we think that’s what he was trying to tell us.) Anyway, we made it and so ended a wonderful two week South American adventure. Hope we can explore more in years to come!

Testino in September 2007.

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Fine dining in the sacred valley at el haucatay ; cusco photos

We had one of our best meals of the trip and definitely the best meal of our Sacred Valley segment at a small place on a back street in the town of Urubamba called El Huacatay. We have a chef in Boston who has Peruvian roots and a Peruvian restaurant called Taranta to thank, since our guidebook Lonely Planet didn’t include it. Behind a wooden door on a dark narrow street the restaurant opens up into a small courtyard where the kitchen is to the left and a small two room building, very cozy, very busy with a large German group and in our room another smaller group of Germans and Peruvians.

Here is what we ate:
potato coconut cream soup, yellow potatoes with two chili dressed shrimp on a skewer and crispy wonton threads
Caprese salad “Peruvian remix”, sliced tomatoes with Medan cheese fried in a kiwicha crust, served with Andean mint, dried yacona nd a carob vinegarette.
Mayala Frita, roasted beef shirt with a pachamanca sauce, a quail egg over green colored rice, lightly fried potatoes and a mint onion salad.
Sautéed shrimp in a mild red chili paste, with orange slices, creamy mashed potatoes with. Risky avocado slices fried in panko.

The photos below are of Cusco: me on the balcony of the church in the San Blas neighborhood, which is deceptively modest on the outside. Inside it has a stunningly ornate gold altar, an equally ornate wood carved pulpit ( complete with a skull said to be that of the altar’s carver.)
and many beautiful Cusco school paintings and sculptures; another of D with the alpacas roaming around at Sacsaywaman, the imposing Inca fortress above the city; the last is of me catching my breath after the strenuous uphill climb to Sacsaywaman from downtown Cusco.




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Cusco at last

Another day, another beautiful city in Peru, our last for this trip, alas. We are also staying at a lovely old hotel, the Ninos Hotel (the one on Meloc Street). It is run by a nonprofit that uses the proceeds to support needy children AND it turns out to also be very charming and affordable. Right now I am sitting Ina n adirondack style chair on the second floor terrace overlooking the hotel’s charming courtyard which has stone arches, wooden balconies, a gurgling fountain and lots of potted plants. This is an old colonial building which like several of the places we have stayed in Peru, offers little clue from the outside of the world within. From the street it is a stone building with a big green wood door with lots of ornamental brass thingamajigs. Our room is somewhat spartan but in a chic way, with well chosen tables, beds, light fixtures. Not bad for $50 a night.

Cusco reminds us a little of Arequipa because of the main square which is dominated by a cathedral and Jesuit church and rimmed by arcade-style buildings lining a lovely park. But the architecture is different. The cathedral and church are not the white Arequipa stone but a light brown stone. There are also lots of narrow lanes made of round cobblestones and big flat stone blocks leading up from the plaza into the pretty artsy neighborhood of San Blas, which is fun to explore, with lots of little shops selling baby alpaca sweaters, handmade jewelry, textiles from the amazon, handmade macramé and stone necklaces sold by Anglo kids who display their stuff on the sidewalk. The setting for Cusco is also very dramatic. It is set into a valley with mountains gently rising off in the distance on all sides. At times the city reminds me of Greece (especially the San Blas lanes) or of Spain (especially all the lovely plazas sprinkled around downtown) or of Florence (given all the art and artists around.)

The sights we have seen:
– The Jesuit church on the main plaza and the cathedral, both which have astonishingly ornate gold covered altars. The cathedral has famous “cusco school” paintings which are an interesting mix of European style art and Andean influences. This includes the famous Last Supper painting where Christ and friends are dining on, among other things, cuy (aka guinea pig).
– the main market, Mercado San Pedro. I never tire of wandering around the markets in these towns (or just about any town) because you see how people live, what they buy, what they sell, what they eat (chicken soup served on big porcelain bowls was a popular item at lunch, with people sitting on benches in front of the stands where,the soup was prepared on the spot, holding the bowls and eating.)
– Qorikancha, another impressive Inca ruin that the Spanish build a colonial church and convent right on top of so it is an odd hybrid architecturally.
– a terrific textile museum/shop selling woven items from different villages. It also had a really interesting exhibit on how the weavers work, all by hand.
– the museum of popular art, a hidden gem, that displays the folk art of artists from about the 1930s onward, all kinds of tableaus of Christian scenes and everyday life scenes with figures made of clay or tin or silver or bronze. One Christ on the cross was made of cuy bones (aka guinea pig)’
More tomorrow on the food…





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Best Peru restaurants and a Boston-led food tour of Peru!

Pachacamac.jpg the temple of Pachacamac

I met the head chef at Taranta, a wonderful Peruvian restaurant in Boston’s North End and he had lots of suggestions for our upcoming trip to Peru, in part because he leads what looks like  fantastic food tour of Peru. (for more info see: http://www.tarantarist.com/adventures/)

At his restaurant I had some Cusqueña beer (brewed near Cusco, I believe) which was excellent.

These are the restaurants he recommended (and I’ve made reservations at several!)

– Mercado
– Central
– Cala
– La Mar
– Las Brujas de Cachiche
– Malabar
– Astrid y Gaston
– La Cicciolina
– Pacha Papa
– Limo
– El Huacatay

– In Arequipa, we need to try these dishes: Rocoto Pelleno (stuffed red peppers made with a fiery hot pepper called rocoto – not the bland red bell pepper) and Chupe de Camarones (Shrimp and Potato Chowder.)

– In Cusco, he said we’ll receive coca leaves when we arrive on the plane and should use them right away to try to avoid altitude sickness. It’s a big no-no to spit out the leaf onto the ground but okay to spit it out discretely into your hand.

– In Urubamba in the Sacred Vally, at El Huacatay  restaurant he said we should say hi to the chef Pio who is his friend.

– He recommended the north of Peru including Trujillo area.

– A good day trip from Lima: the temple of Pachacamac, an archaeological site 40 km southeast of Lima, Peru in the Valley of the Lurín River. Wikipedia reports that most of the common buildings and temples were built c. 800-1450 CE, shortly before the arrival and conquest by the Inca Empire.

–  For info on Inca terracing (a farming method) he suggested looking up a National Geographic on the topic. The technology is called Borai (?)

– He also recommended a Peruvian restaurant in London – Lima London!

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Gathering string for our eventual trip to Peru – Lima, Cusco, Sacred Valley, Amazon!

Our son is studying in Peru this summer and fall so we’re gathering some string in plan for a trip to see him, perhaps in November. Below are suggestions from my  aunt in NYC who was there last December, my friend S. who went there on her honeymoon 12 years ago and some info from Fodor’s and other websites:

Lima – famous Peruvian restaurant ASTRID Y GASTON. This is the flagship restaurant of Peru’s most famous chefs – Gaston Acurio and Astrid Gutsche) Peruvian food is supposed to be among the world’s best. They offer a culinary tour of Peru that looks fantastic: http://taste-of-peru.com/culinary_programs/programs.php;

Frommer’s Review

Hidden discreetly behind a nonchalant facade (though one of an antique colonial house), on a busy side street leading to Parque Central, is this warm and chic modern colonial dining room and cozy bar. It continues to be my favorite restaurant in Peru. Gastón Acurio is the celebrity chef of the moment, with a burgeoning empire of fine-dining restaurants not only in Lima but also a handful of other cities on the continent (one opened in San Francisco in spring 2008) and a cooking show on TV. His signature restaurant in the capital is warm and elegant, with high white peaked ceilings and orange walls decorated with colorful modern art. In back is an open kitchen, where Gastón can be seen cooking with his staff, and a secluded wine-salon dining room. The place is sophisticated and hip but low-key, a description that could fit most of its clients, who all seem to be regulars. The menu might be called criollo-Mediterranean: Peruvian with a light touch. Try spicy roasted kid or the excellent fish called noble robado, served in miso sauce with crunchy oysters. The list of desserts — the work of Astrid, the other half of the husband-wife team — is nearly as long as the main course menu, and they are spectacular.

They are featured in the 2011 documentary about Peruvian food/chefs/farmers and the September gastronomic fair in Lima – Mistura: the power of food.

Mistura: The Power of Food Poster

– for Lima lodging: Second Home Peru in Barranco neighborhood looks like good place to stay, judging from Fodor’s. http://www.secondhomeperu.com/location-second-home-peru.html

Frommer’s Review

Lilian Delfín runs this extraordinary, and unique, small inn in the longtime, coast-hugging home of her father, the well-known Peruvian painter and sculptor Victor Delfín. The place is perfect for the relaxed and still slightly bohemian neighborhood of Barranco. This is no bland B&B; the idiosyncratic 1913 home is replete with artistic flavor — and multiple works by Delfín, who recently turned 80 and continues to paint every day (the artist’s studio and living quarters are apart from the main house, tumbling down the cliff). Though the house overlooks the ocean and the rooms are exceedingly spacious and elegant, the rambling two-story house — something like a Tudor-Craftsman — is probably not for everyone. But many, especially those interested in the arts or spending a few days in town, will find it a magical home away from home in Lima. To my mind, it’s one of the coolest and best-value places to stay in all of Peru. My large room had a beautiful wood floor and beams, a huge picture window framing the misty gray Pacific, deep claw-foot tub, and what felt like the most luxurious linens in Lima. If you ask politely, Lilian may take you to visit her father’s fascinating studio, where a giant puma-head fountain spouts water into the swimming pool (open to guests). But at a minimum, you’ll get to have breakfast at Delfín’s funky, Gaudí-style, neo-medieval kitchen.

Cusco – spend at least two days there, first night that arrive stay in Sacred Valley which is lower altitude (to avoid altitude sickness; My aunt stayed at  Sol and Luna Hotel and ate at Hacienda Huayoccari. Also visited the salt mines?

While a large part of this valuable cultural legacy is to be found at museums in the City of Cusco, the mansion today houses a vast collection of folk art, with pieces dating back to the seventeenth century. Colonial paintings, ceremonial goblets known as keros, pottery, porcelain, and Huamanga stone relics are just part of what you will discover during your visit. A blend of Spanish traditions with indigenous customs inherited since the dawn of time, this plantation manor is a perfect spot to sample life in the country, learn about typical locally harvested products and admire the colourful flora. This visit culminates with a superb meal prepared with fresh produce of the plantation. The current inhabitants of the house, the Lambarri-Orihuela family, will be your hosts

Hacienda Huayoccari ***

Urubamba Sacred Valley icon, Peru Luxury Tours, Peru luxury travel Homestay / Best available

There are two double bedrooms available in this lovely secluded Hacienda, built in the Fifties by one of the most prestigious families in Cuzco: landowners and art collectors. It is located 2km uphill from the main Cuzco Urubamba road, very near the village of Calca, approximately 1 hour drive from Cuzco.

Huayo Ccari is a private home. The price reflects the privilege of staying in a private home and not the hotel-type facilities of lodging in this category. It provides beautiful surroundings, amazing garden and views, antiques and folk art throughout and delicious food. Electricity goes out when the last person retires and there is no television or international direct dialing. Hot water and electricity 24 hours.

The house is lived-in by its owners and receives guests to private luncheons by appointment only. One of our favourite spots in Peru.


They hired driver to get to ruins. Fantastic huge market in Cusco. Spend more time here than Macchu Picchu. They stayed at Hotel Monasterio in Cusco. (beautiful, pricey – gets high praise in fodor’s. Another option: La Casona. I like the idea of the Ninos Hotel – not only cheap but proceeds from our stay  at this “children’s hotel” provides medical and dental care, food, etc. for 250 disadvantaged chidlren who attend day care on the premises. Very popular. Need to reserve way ahead. http://www.ninoshotel.com

There’s also a Second Home Cusco: a a Bed and Breakfast located in the historic district of San Blas. Second Home Cusco offers 21St-century comfort in a Colonial house conveniently situated. Second Home Cusco features three junior suites, furnished in an eclectic style. Each Suite has a private bathroom, queen-sized –bed, cable TV, telephone and other amenities to ensure an enjoyable stay. A continental Breakfast is served each morning in the sunny patio.

We also have two sisters locations:
stay in Ollantaytambo/Cusco: www.elalbergue.com

Macchu Picchu – can do day trip, don’t need to stay overnight.It’s a lower altitude. My friend S. was in Aguas Calientes.

Amazon – Everyone seems to leave from  Iquitos, historic Amazon port city in northeastern corner of Peru.  from Lima spent three nights on a boat. limited hotels.(Fodor’s recomends three-day cruise to Pacaya Samiria Reserve.)

Here’s my friend S’s account: In the rainforest, took  a boat along the Amazon and then the River Napu to some jungle lodges.  We had our own guide there, hiking every day and enjoying really great meals. No hot water, outdoor showers, cots with mosquito netting, a great adventure . The highlight of the rainforest part of the trip was the ability to go up to the canopy on catwalks that ran from platform built around a tree to another. We were quite high, and the catwalks were quite scary  at first.  We launched our trip to the rainforest from Iquitos. At that time, you could only arrive by air or by boat (no roads into the place).


Lake Titicata – my cousins went there. lots of birds, big canyon. Aqua something. Fodor’s says the lake is the highest navigable lake in the world.

– My aunt  mentioned pills you can take three days in advance to ward off altitude sickness.


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