Chicha Arequipa

Chicha Arequipa
Calle Santa Catalina 210 inside 105
Tel: (51) (54) 287360

Gaston Acurio is one of the premier chefs in the world and is credited for helping bring Peruvian cuisine into the modern era.  His famous restaurant is La Mar in the Miraflores section of Lima, where we tried to have a holiday dinner.  Regrettably, that restaurant was closed for the entire week we were there which was definitely a bit of a disappointment considering pretty much everyone and their mother recommended it.

So when we arrived in Arequipa, much to our delight we discovered that one of his other restaurants was open.  It wasn’t the flagship venue, but the folks at our hostel said it was excellent regardless.  This place would easily turn out to be the best meal we had in Peru (in my opinion) – and the worst, in a way, as it ended in a bit of a disaster unfortunately.

We made our way over to ChiCha (it was only a few blocks from our hostel) and we could tell immediately that our dining experience here would be a cut above the norm.  The restaurant’s ambiance has a relaxing courtyard feel, with a smart casual dress code and a friendly staff.

The meals there are pricy, but won’t break the bank.  I’d consider it one of those “let’s have a nice dinner tonight” treat after all the hiking and street cuy you eat.  After the pisco tasting in Cusco, I was more than happy to try a few more pisco drinks on their extensive pisco menu.

The lomo saltado that my sister ordered was the best one I had in Peru, perfectly seasoned, juicy, with just the right amount of char on the outside.   Mom ordered an alpaca curry that was a little more unique, but worked really well with the quinoa side that came with it.  I ordered an amazingly tasty dish as well, the pork stew.  The stew is definitely one of those comfort foods you have when you’re famished – hearty, warm, and even comes with a bib because it is a bit messy.  But it got really messy when I made one of the bigger mistakes of my life.  The stew came with (I looked it up after the fact) a fiery rocotto pepper.  This baby was easily the hottest thing I’ve ever eaten, and not thinking first, I took a giant bite out of it.  My body shutdown.  The burn was intense.  After about 10 minutes of heavy breathing and 4 glasses of water it calmed down a bit, but I legitimately struggled to finish my meal.

Despite the dracarys (Hi Game of Thrones fans) attack on my innards, the stew was actually really, really good.  But as I alluded to earlier, a bit of a disaster struck because of the meal – and I don’t mean the heat from the pepper.  Shortly after dinner, I fell victim to my first case of what we think was food poisoning.  We’re pretty sure it was from the pepper, since it was the only thing that I had eaten that my Mom and Sister didn’t try.  So that rocotto was just the gift that kept on giving for the next few days…

I’ll leave you with this tip: Whenever you travel – be sure to have or have quick access to Pepto Bismol.  It really saved me for the next part of the trip.  



Peru Part V – Last day in Cusco

Bringing our Cusco portion of the trip to a close started with a pleasant, but ultimately unnecessary bus tour in the morning and spending some more time independently checking out some of the remaining sights.

Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco Store & Museum
Avenida Sol 603
Monday-Saturday: 7:30 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Sunday: 8:30 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.

This was one of the sights at the top of my list coming to Cusco, but I may have hyped myself up a bit much.  Not to say it wasn’t interesting and a great value (the museum is free), I was just a bit underwhelmed.   The showroom is what you walk into when you first enter, so make your way to the back and the left to get to the museum exhibit.  It’s pretty small, even smaller than the coca museum, but the displays are very interesting and you do get a lot of information and textile examples.  If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to see women on the showroom floor making the textiles on the loom.  The items in the showroom are very nice, but very expensive.  So unless you’re in the market for something specific, don’t go in there thinking you’ll be able to get just a nice souvenir.

Pampa del Castillo at Plazoleta Santo Domingo
Monday-Saturday: 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Sunday: 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Looming over the city of Cusco is the Qurikancha, an ancient Incan temple which was later turned into a Spanish church.  This place is another great deal at 10 soles and it’s very much worth hiring a guide for an additional 10 soles to give you a tour (the guides will be milling around the front wearing grey jackets).  The temple is a nice combination of ancient Incan structures displayed (still standing despite the numerous earthquakes due to its advanced design) and fine Spanish oil paintings depicting the standard religious scenes.  Under the field in front of Qurikancha is a museum housing more paintings, mummies, and relics (we didn’t visit this however).  Again, very few photograph opportunities are allowed here.

Mercado Central de San Pedro
Tupac Amaru


Cusco Artesian Market
Avenida El Sol and Av Tullumayo

A great place to find a souvenir or get a sense of the local culture is at the markets.  The Cusco Artesian Market is located near the bus stop and is mainly full of touristy items.  That being said, you can find some great textiles and cheap finds for gifts to bring back.  Walking up and down the vendors was surprisingly a pleasant experience.  Unlike the shitshow souqs in the Middle East, the vendors here are very friendly and respectful.  They’ll approach you and obviously ask if you were interested in seeing anything, but will leave you alone and drop back with a smile if you decline; much more polite and not pushy at all.

Now if you want to see something really crazy, check out the Mercado Central de San Pedro.  Not only will you have the usual offerings of vegetables, fresh juices, breads, and souvenir items like at the Cusco Artesian Market, but you’ll get to straight up see butchering of llama and alpaca (there was a dude with a f**king axe hacking away at the body of an alpaca or whatever.  I too frightened to take a picture of him).  The smell of blood definitely made my stomach turn when I first walked it, but the sensation did go away after a while.  Making sure that we weren’t just being nosy outsiders looking in, we started to chat up one of the llama head sellers and she was surprisingly very friendly and open to answering our questions.  Definitely a deceptively cool place once you get over how shady and dirty it looks.

La Cusquenita restaurant

Looking for a good local place to eat in Cusco, we asked our guide from the Machu Picchu trip for a recommendation and he said La Cusquenita was a great place to have a taste of what the locals eat.  I hate to say, it was not very good and I would not recommend going there.  Granted, you get a TON of food for the price, but the food was kinda gross.  Especially nasty was the cuy that they served which was dry and had a nauseating licorice spice.   I’m not going to even bother with the address and hours of operation, but if you’re near the Cusco Artesian Market and you see this place, I’d probably recommend trying somewhere else.   (In fairness, it seems like on TripAdvisor the majority of the folks do like it and had pretty good things to say about the dinner and show.  Since we were there at lunch, perhaps the dinner time experience is a bit better.)

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Peru Part IV – Pisco tasting and the Inca Museum

After our trek to Machu Picchu we spent another couple days in Cusco to take in what the charming little town had left to offer.  We came back to Cusco on Christmas Eve, and we discovered that our previous concerns about the possibility of nothing being open because of the holiday were completely unfounded.   Let me tell you  – don’t worry about things being closed when visiting Cusco during the Christmas holiday.  The place was hoppin’.  Crowds and crowds of people were in the streets, restaurants had patrons coming in and out all night, and people were setting off fireworks like it was a war-zone (This was no joke; through the night our hotel room would vibrate with what sounded like shotguns being fired on the street).  The Peruvians know how to party.

Here’s a rundown of a few more of the things we did in Cusco:

The four types of pisco: Aromatic, Non-Aromatic, Mosto Verde (partial fermentation), and Blend.
The four types of pisco: Aromatic, Non-Aromatic, Mosto Verde (partial fermentation), and Blend.

Museo del Pisco
Calle Santa Catalina 398 | corner with Calle San Agustin
Open everyday 11:30am – 1am
Kitchen is open from 12pm – 3pm & 6:30pm – 11pm
(with several plates available outside of hours)

If there’s one thing you must try, it’s a pisco tasting at the Museo del Pisco.  The name is a bit of a misnomer, the place isn’t really that much of a museum and more of just a bar.  If you’ve never had pisco, this is a good place to become educated in the national beverage.  The menu boasts an overwhelming amount of pisco – much like a wine or whiskey list. I decided since I knew absolutely nothing about pisco, I went with the tasting (40 soles for one, 60 soles for two).

Pisco tasting with Sergui
Pisco tasting with Sergui

Now in the US, tastings usually come with 4 or 5 glasses and you sample a bunch of different types of beer, liquor, whatever.  When I ordered the tasting, little did I know it would come with a personal pisco sommelier.  My sommelier’s name was Sergui, a clean cut, well groomed/dressed Russian guy who gave me the complete rundown of pisco.  He was amazingly thorough, especially after my response to his question “What experience do you have with pisco?” was “I’ve had some pisco sours in college…”  He was extremely passionate about the liquor and clearly loved his work and answering questions, which made the experience that much more enjoyable.

Even if you don’t want to try it (because that s**t is strong), the Museo del Pisco has a variety of other beverages, a fun vibe, with good live music (to my delight they played Pearl Jam’s Even Flow during my tasting) and a friendly staff. This is a highly recommended visit.

Museo Inka
Cuesta del Almirante 103
Monday – Friday : 8am – 6pm
Saturday and Holidays: 9am – 4pm

Museo de la Coca
Calle Palacio 122
Monday – Sunday:  9am to 8pm.  (Free on Sunday)

Little Inca man.  Notice the bulge in his cheek?  He's chewing on coca leaves.
Little Inca man. Notice the bulge in his cheek? He’s chewing on coca leaves.

As far as actual museums go, we stopped by a couple.  Both were 10 soles, but one was way better of a value than the other.  I’ll start with the Museo de la Coca (Not to be confused with the Choco Museo).  We only really went to this museum because the restaurant we wanted to have lunch at wasn’t open yet and they were offering free visits for the holiday (it’s normally 10 soles).  It’s a neat little museum that provides a nice look at the history of coca and its cultural impact.  You could probably do the museum in an hour or so if you take in each display, and I actually really enjoyed reading the mythical history of how coca became a part of Inca culture.  I wouldn’t say this place is a must-see, but in the end, if you really want to visit it and you’re in the area, 10 soles really isn’t that expensive.

However, if you compare it with what 10 soles will get you at the Museo Inka, you’ll see the drastic difference.  Museo Inka at first glance really isn’t anything to write home about.  In fact, when you first walk in and look at the first few exhibits, the initial reaction will be, “Well this place is an effing rip-off”.  Don’t let the first couple of rooms fool you.  Once you head up to the second floor, the museum is way nicer and jam packed full of amazing artifacts.  The museum walks you through the history of Peru with displays containing Peruvian tools, pottery, textiles, ceremonial garb, weapons and gold relics.  The one really cool highlight is a burial chamber display featuring several mummies. If the weather is nice, the impressive courtyard is a nice place to relax a bit as well.  Unfortunately, like a lot of museums in the world, they don’t allow photography and I usually respect that request, so no pictures (sorry).

Peru Part III – Machu Picchu

Obviously one of the highlights of any trip to Peru is a visit to Machu Picchu.  No trip would really be complete without it.  For this post I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking.  I will make one point however.  Most people will say that you must, must try and get to Machu Picchu for the sunrise.  I no doubt believe that that is probably an amazing time to see it, and we even got ourselves up before the ass-crack of dawn to try.  However, know that whenever you visit Machu Picchu, the weather is going to be a roll of the dice.  Unfortunately we weren’t so lucky, and the morning of our visit was cloudy and rainy.  Our guide commented on this saying that he loves how all the guidebooks suggest this, but they never tell people that its cloudy like 60-70% of the time.

So go early, if anything to beat the crowds, and if you’re luckier than us you’ll have clear skies.

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Peru Part II – Inca Trail and Aguas Calientes

No trip to Peru would be complete without seeing the country’s iconic ruins high up in the Andes: Machu Picchu.  There are several ways to go about visiting this legendary place.  For the adventurous backpackers, there are 3 and 4-day hikes on the Inca Trail that finish up at Machu Picchu.  For a less vigorous trip, you can opt for the option we chose:  A one day hike along the last part of the Inca Trail, a night in the small town of Aguas Calientes and a sunrise visit to Machu Picchu the following morning.

Before I get into the “good” of the trip, I want to get the relatively “bad” out of the way.  The tour company we booked our trip through was called Peru Gateway Travel – and I would NOT recommend them.  Now nothing “horrible” happened, but they were very disorganized and did a piss poor job of preparing us for the excursion.  They typically hold pre-trip briefings where a company rep comes to your hotel and goes over what you’ll need to pack, where to be, details, etc.  However, in our case, we were directed to a random address in Cusco to find for ourselves, and relatively late at night.  The thing is: they gave us the wrong address. So my family, while suffering from altitude sickness, was left wandering around a city they don’t know in the dark.  When they got back to the hostel, we had the hotel manager call the company (who gave them an earful) and a representative eventually showed up.  The next problem was that the kid they sent barely spoke English and thought we were going on the 4-day hike.  He was going over all the wrong details, and had no idea what details we needed to hear.  So we ended up bringing way to much of the wrong items for our hike, and all along the way didn’t really have any clue at any given time if we were in the right place or not.

So long story short, like I said, while the hike wasn’t horrible (our guide, Diego, was actually quite good), I’d recommend working with a more organized group.  Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to the trip itself.

We took the Peru Rail to the 104 KM point of the Inca Trail.  The train ride took about 3 hours from Cusco and was surprisingly comfortable.  We got of the train and our guide Diego* commenced to take us on our hike.  Going back to how bad our prep was, we were seriously over-packed so here’s are a few tips:

-Take only what you know you’ll NEED and not what you might need.  Figure out if water and/or food will be provided in advance.
-If you’re getting a travel company to put this together, they’ll probably provide a bag lunch.  Leave extra room in your backpack for that so that you’re not carrying around a one pound plastic bag full of food  on the Inca Trail.  Trust me, it’s super annoying after about 200 meters.
-If you’re not in the best of shape, or would have trouble walking up to the 15th floor of a building at any given point, I’d suggest having a walking stick.

The hike itself is moderate to very challenging at points, including one steep section the locals call the “Gringo Killer”.  You’ll also want to make sure you’re good and acclimated before you go.  Coca leaves, which Peruvians/Incans have been using for centuries to help with altitude sickness, might help you.  But even if they do, it’ll only provide a small amount of comfort.  Once you get going, take the time to enjoy the beautiful mountain ranges, hundreds of different types of orchids along the path and and the unmatched feeling of breathing in the fresh, clean air of the Andes.  Part of the way on the trail we stopped at Winay Wayna, an ancient Incan ruin built up along the mountainside.  This location provided a great place to sit back, relax and enjoy the view.

The end of our hike concluded at Machu Picchu, but we only did a quick look since it was towards the end of the day and we would be going to be back the next day at sunrise.

For our evening stay, we made our way down to Aguas Calientes, the teeny, tiny town at the bottom of the Machu Picchu mountain.  This town really isn’t worth visiting on its own unless you’ll be at Machu Picchu for two days.  The town is very touristy and is full of hostels, touristy restaurants, an unbelievable amount of massage parlors, and a ton of backpackers.  Despite the touristy-ness, the town is cute and not a bad place to stay for the evening.  Here’s where we stayed and ate:

Hostel Chaska
Alameda los artesanos #209
Urb. Las Orquideas,
Machu Picchu, Peru
974 789818

The hostel we were put up in was Hostel Chaska which was a perfectly good, above average hostel.  Clean and no nonsense.

Chaska Restaurant
It was “eh”.  Full of backpacking groups and a basic menu of steaks, chickens, and other normal peruvian fare.

Inka Wasi Restaurant
Another “eh” restaurant.  Clearly you’re not going to have fine dining in Aguas Calienetes.  I did try one of the dishes here that I heard I had to try called Cuy, otherwise known as Guinea Pig.  Again, it was “eh”.  Kind of annoying actually.  I’d say it’s worth trying for the amusement of seeing a whole guinea pig (head and all on your plate), but it’s like eating shitty crabs: it’s a lot of work to get to just a little bit of not that great meat.

Cafe de Paris
Actually a pleasant little place to take a load off and have a latte and croissant.  The owner is actually French and you can tell he’s really into his baking (we asked him about the ingredients) which uses Peruvian spices along with European ingredients.

*Diego has been a Inca Trail guide for over 15 years and has hiked the Inca Trail hundreds of times.  His rate to guide a 4-day hike is $500.  So if you are ever interested, contact me and I will send you his email address.

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Peru Part I

Happy New Year everyone!  Hope you all had a festive holiday.  I for one had a great vacation with a trip to beautiful Peru.  It was certainly a whirlwind trip consisting of 10 days of hiking, sightseeing, trying new foods and dealing with unique travel issues such as altitude sickness.  And the Peruvian people are amazingly friendly and down to earth.  We’ve got lots to cover so let’s begin.

Our first night was a quick stop in Lima with an early flight the next morning to Cusco.  Getting a cab from the airport is surprisingly simple – the cabs don’t have meters so you can negotiate a charge in advance with basic rates on billboards throughout the terminal.  We’ll go over Lima later on since we spent time in the city at the end of the trip, but I’ll say this one point – our first night did not make a good first impression.  Admittedly, we stayed in an area near the airport because of the early morning flight, so it wasn’t exactly tourist friendly.  But the hostel we stayed in was a little dingy and the surrounding area made me feel like you’re asking to get mugged/raped/kidnapped/take your violent crime pick by taking one step outside.

Regardless, we survived the night and made our way to Cusco, a charming little city high up in the mountains that acts as a starting off point for those who are traveling to Machu Picchu.  You can spend a good few days in Cusco, and you should because the first day in Cusco should be for rest.  The altitude is no joke, and there’s a good chance you’ll experience some form of altitude sickness.  The sickness can range from none at all (for the lucky ones) to puking your guts out all day.  For me, I had a headache, a little dizziness, and my fingers became a little numb.  This discomfort lasted about a day.  So if you’re going to visit, my advice would be to plan a good 24-hours to acclimate.

The weather in Cusco was also pretty hard to predict, in that it could rain at any point ( is pretty useless saying that there’s a 50% chance of rain all the time).  So you have to pack accordingly; keep an umbrella or poncho with you.  Since we had a day in Cusco before our trek out to Machu Picchu, we explored a little bit of the city.  Here’s a rundown of where we stayed and what we saw on Day 1.

Los Aticos Hostel
Calle Quera 253
Cusco, Peru
Phone:+51 84 231710

I would highly recommend staying at the Los Aticos Hostel if you visit Cusco.  The hostel is located very close to the main Plaza de Armas and is within walking distance to most of the sights in the city.  The rooms are clean and have a “cabin” feel.  With the raining coming down it felt like we were camping.  Our room was two floors, with the beds upstairs and a living area/kitchen/bathroom downstairs.  It was a little chilly upstairs, but they provide space heaters which warmed the room up a bit (but you do need to give them some time to heat up).  There is also complimentary breakfast, a laundry machine for guest use, fast WiFi, and they do sell oxygen tanks at the front desk.

Los Toldos
Calle Almagro 171
Cusco 5184, Peru

We stopped by this Peruvian chain for lunch since it was near our hostel and it did not disappoint.  The 1/4 chicken was cooked to perfection – juicy and flavorful, the meat fell right off the bone.  The Washington, D.C. area has several Peruvian chicken joints, and it’s clear that they are trying to mimic what this place does with excellence.  The platter comes with four sauces, which I believe were variations of ketchup, mustard, some green spicy sauce, and a white ranch sauce (maybe?).  The platter also came with crispy french fries and access to the salad bar.  I also took this opportunity to try Inca Kola for the first time, a radioactive looking soda that tastes like cotton candy.  The restaurant is reasonably priced as well.

Choco Museo
Calle Garcilaso 210
Cusco, Peru
Hours: 11:00 AM – 7:00 PM every day

This free museum is actually a branch of the Choco Museo in Lima, but is still well worth the visit.  It’s a great place to relax if you’re trying to get a rest from the altitude.  You get a little tour of the store and there is a fair amount of exhibit reading to be had.  For those that want to partake in a chocolate making class, you can do so for 70 soles (around $25).  If you don’t want to take the two hour class, sample some of their chocolate in the cafe.  Give the Iced Chocolate drink a try.  It. Is. Awesome.

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