Mr. Love and I had our hearts set on an adventurous honeymoon. We left the beach and the heat behind and took a trip back in time to an era where technology was of little relevance, which left me, a tech junkie by all means- feeling a little uneasy at first to later on unveil one of the most self- elevating experiences one could ever delve into. Here is a diary in Peru.
by Mona Karaoui
Month: End of May, which was a good call, as Peru’s most touristic months are July and August, during the dry season. It gets quite chilly (but not rainy) in the evening, so make sure you’re well covered.
In my suitcase: Honestly, we went unprepared. Make sure you leave your heels, dresses, and ties behind, and stock on a couple of serious trekking pants, Tshirts, jumpers and a light jacket to defy the cold. Invest in hiking shoes; you will need them even if you’re not doing the Inka trail. Oh, and a hat (but buy your Peruvian hat once there; the sun could be a killer during the day, or then again disappear completely).
Stayed at: Let’s get one thing clear and out of the way. The journey to Machu Picchu is long (but OH-So-Worth-It). We made four stops on our way.
- In Lima, we stayed at the first Peruvian arts-boutique hotel ever (How cool is that!) Hotel B was previously a private home in the Barranco Art district that was turned into a seriously hip art spot in 2013. Definitely the highest room ceilings I’ve ever seen, and the back garden with exotic art installations, in addition to the library where the fresh breakfast food gets served are exquisite. A ten-minute walk to some of the Capital’s hottest art galleries (Mario Testino Museum with a dedicated room for Princess Diana portraits included), Hotel B found its way to my heart.
- In Cusco, we were so lucky to get pampered at the Belmond Palacio Nazarenas, which was probably my most favorite hotel in this trip. A restored convent with walls made of Inka stones, the hotel is located in a quiet plaza behind the main Cusco square, and offers inarguably the best quality of service (down to personalized concierge services). Make sure to visit the chapel, an absolute eye-candy.
- On our way to Machu Picchu from Cusco, we spent a night in the cornfields in the middle of nowhere, in the Sacred Valley at the Sol y Luna. The casitas, while modestly furnished, had their own mini pools and patios, as well as small chimneys inside (it gets really chilly at night), a perfect night in for complete disconnection and unwinding.
- Finally once in Machu Picchu, we rode on a scenic bus ride through rivers and meadows (cars are not allowed up due to very narrow and steep alleys) and made our way to the Sanctuary Lodge. The only hotel right in the middle of the Machu Picchu mountain, it buzzes with people 24/7, but then when we wanted a moment of silence, all we had to do was make our way through its fabulous orchid garden (yes, those exist), and into an exquisite little old-style hidden Jacuzzi where we befriended the tip of the mountain facing us, flowers and bees (ouch!)
(If you are the more adventurous type, the Machu Picchu town has a couple of cool hotels where you could stay and then treck your way up on the Inka Trail. You can do that on through an agency or on your own, but then make sure you read Mark Adam’s “Turn right at the Machu Picchu” book before you start trecking!)
One thing you’ll discover when in Peru is “Freshness” with a capital F. All the food is of local produce, hence the big hype about the Peruvian cuisine. Whether in a Michelin-starred restaurant or in a hole-in-the-wall, one thing Peruvians never get wrong is Ceviche! Try all their Ceviche abracadabras and bring back a cookbook home with you. Places I’ve tried and liked are:
- Astrid y Gaston: in Lima’s Miraflores District is a splurge (one of the world’s 50 best restaurants), but this place is much more than a restaurant. It’s a kitchen, a garden, a food gallery, and a castle all in one (and my taste buds are going insane again). We had booked a tasting menu session, and the 32 mini dishes we tried were to die for. Their trout is not to be missed, and you’ll need to nap afterwards (you’ve been warned!)
- Isolina: in Lima’s Barranco art district is a must- try. It bursts with locals and serves a delightful avocado ceviche that you can’t miss. Top that with candy jars everywhere filled with yummy chews, coke chews (to fight altitude dizziness) and good wishes (easy on the coke chews). Salute the wall art on your way out.
The food in Cusco did not disappoint either.
- Ciccuolina: is famous for its thick wood- fired oven pizzas, but the truth is their bread buns are the real winners.
- Chicca: overlooks the Plazza Regocijo and offers the best “lomo saltado” in town (a mix of spicy and fried sirloin strips that are definitely worth the extra calorie intake). Make sure you book one of the balcony tables in advance.
- Limo: possibly my favorite Cusco hangout. Limo’s visitors come for the food, but also for the pisco sour. While I couldn’t make friends with pisco per say, I did indulge in Limo’s creative pisco-infused cocktails, which were divine. Top that with grilled seafood with a side of white corn, Limo’s very own version of Peruvian sushi, and there you have it, la crème de la Peruvian crème.
- In Lima, stick to Barranco. Turn your Google maps off, discover its small alleys and take pleasure in its profuse street art, petite art galleries in renovated houses, and hidden coffee shops in conserved gardens. My favourite was Dedalo Arte y Artesania. The place is huge and showcases a unique array of design works of emerging Peruvian designers, ranging from articrafts to jewelry to furniture. I lusted over an Uh-mazing handmade Peruvian denim jacket and ended up cozying up to it throughout the entire trip. Make sure you take a seat in Dedalo’s secret back garden and gaze at the natural green déco, while sipping your oh-so-fine Peruvian coffee.
- In the Sacred Valley, Pisca Market was a good stroll. While not much to buy from except souvenirs and handmade hats (which were a pleasant find), the market is definitely worth a visit for a view of endless colorful cornfields on your way out. Major Instagram potential here.
- In Cusco, San Blaz and Plaza de Armas are mostly adorned with tiny shops selling handicrafts, souvenirs and “baby alpaca” wool (the Peruvian version of baby sheep). Take your time to browse before you buy. We accidentally found a gorgeous mirror handcrafted by a very talented Peruvian artist, and brought it back with us to Dubai. It’s now proudly sitting in our living room in Dubai. Piece-of-cake.
- Also make sure, you visit the Centro Artesanal Cusco, as it displays the largest variety of local handicrafts for very affordable prices and excellent quality. If you can squeeze in one of their colorful carpets in your suitcase, don’t hesitate!
A time machine is how I like to describe Peru, mainly Cusco and Machu Picchu. A trip back to when smartphones were not so much in demand, where hellos mattered, where the only pictures you could take were using your mere gift of sight, and above it all, an influx of local Peruvian kindness and content that leave you feeling grateful for all the blessings of life that Dubai pours on you every single day.
In Peru, you learn the importance of local produce. Citizens grow corn, potatoes, quinoa in their fields to feed their families, and then use these ingredients to create local dishes that fly high globally. The Peruvian cuisine is the cuisine of the year precisely for that reason: they keep it local, they keep it simple, they keep it clean.
Site to visit:
Machu Picchu was not classified as one of the Seven Wonders of the World haphazardly. All Peru’s roads lead to Machu Picchu, Locals and tour guides alike are still standing at awe of their own marvel, not having a definitive tale to tell (but do invest in a tour guide to show you around regardless). Nothing is documented, but when you’re there you realize life was there. Life is there. The Legacy of the Inkas remains in a city that is lost to the world but that is theirs to keep, untouched, unfiltered, so green that it effortlessly captures one’s eyes and heart. Hence, I naturally left my heart in Machu Picchu.
How to get there:
Our friend David, who is a travel snob and a member of the UK’s Notjusttravel network took care of our travel arrangements and pampered/surprised us all along the way. We travelled with Emirates via New York. 13 hours to the Empire State of mind, then another 8 hours to Lima with LAN airlines followed by an internal flight of 1.5 hours to Cusco, a car ride on the way to Machu Picchu via the Sacred Valley, and a 4.5 hour train ride back to Cusco. The distance is crazy but the discoveries we made were all worth it. P.S: Don’t miss the train ride in the middle of the jungle- mind blowing!
- Altitude pills will be your new best friends. Start taking them in Lima and get your body acclimatized. 3 pills a day to avoid dizziness, and chew on coke gums if you want to explore.
- Make time to visit museums, especially in Cusco. While their content is minimal, they do have a story to tell, one that walks you through the journey of the Inkas that has not yet been fully revealed by scholars or researchers.
- If you are a choco-lover, make sure to visit the Choco Museum in Cusco. Grab a hot choco and enjoy the square view from the terrace. The museum also offers choco-making classes, but you’ll need to book those in advance.
- You can stamp your own passport in Machu Picchu on your way out. Super cool!
- Peru is home to a vast number of world-renowned authors and artists. Invest in books (check out works of Alvaro Vargas Llosa and Jose Maria Arguedas amongst others) or an artwork (Mario Testino and Martin Chambers amongst others) while you’re there.
In a nutshell (the travel junkie does not believe in nutshells still), Peru is a wake-up call, a reminder of “real” things that matter, of the beauty of a universe that we should strive to preserve. No matter what you expect, Peru will give you more: more nature, more beauty, more art, more food, but mostly more modesty, more simplicity, more love and more goodness.