Hit the ground running in South America's ancient land of Peru, in search of El Dorado and the lost city of gold. Here are the best places to eat, sleep, drink, play, explore and awaken your spirit within.
Want the best tips on where to eat, sleep, drink, play and explore? The LifeStyle Channel's Travel Expert, Rose Jacobs fills us in on the essential sights of Peru.
Your heart will be beating to a different drum when you touch down in Peru. That’s possibly partly due to the change in altitude (Cusco City sits at roughly 3,400M above sea level)… but it’s also because Peru has an effect on people that is often unexpected and indescribable. It’s a combination of the warm people, the bold clash of colours, music, dance and traffic… and of course the mystery that still shrouds much of the Incan past.
If you’re like me and you don’t consider yourself an expert on Peruvian history then in a nutshell, the Inca tribes were a fascinating race. Fiercely loyal to the gods and Pacha Mama (Mother Earth), they believed in trilogies, represented by three animals. Heaven is the Condor. Present life is the Puma. And the underworld, or death is the snake. Interestingly, Incan architecture reflects this, as we have recently discovered… Cusco, held by the Incas as the “navel” of the world, was built in the shape of the Puma. Machu Picchu, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World is built in the shape of a Condor. And the snake??? Well… that’s El Dorado… still yet to be discovered, but believed by many to be sitting deep underground in the Peruvian Amazon jungle. I know, pretty awesome huh?!
The beauty of Machu Picchu
Speaking of Machu Picchu… this of course, is the main reason for the majority of Peru’s tourism… and rightly so. Nothing will prepare you for the sight that lies before you when you arrive (by foot or by bus) at the peak of the mountain. The beauty of Machu Picchu lies in the location of the immaculately constructed stone-wall city, literally above the canopy of Peru’s cloud forests, chosen for the purpose of housing Inca royalty – and with the hidden agenda of evading the Spanish conquistadors who were successfully destroying all other Incan structures across the country. And it worked! The city was never officially finished and thanks to zero written records of the Inca culture at the time, no-one knows for sure why they suddenly departed this magnificent city (it only took 20,000 men 200 years to build). But one thing is for certain, there is an energy about the rocks, about the mountains, the air even of Machu Picchu that leaves you with a fresh perspective on what our lives are really about. And in my book, that’s worth travelling to the other side of the globe to experience.
If I don’t warn you first about one of the most popular traditional Peruvian delicacies, then you may be in for a rude shock, so best you’re briefed now. Guinea Pig. No joke. It’s on most restaurant menus, prepared in various ways. Try it if you dare, but don’t say I didn’t warn you when you see them being cooked on long sticks in roadside barbecues across the countryside! I had one as a pet as a kid, so you’ll have to forgive me for not being able to describe the flavour.
That said, Peruvian Cuisine is exquisite! Modern fusion meets a plethora of locally sourced ingredients; there’s nothing Peru doesn’t have at her fingertips! The size of the corn is more than three times that of anywhere else in the world, thanks to soil so naturally rich in nutrients. The tropical fruits that grow in the jungles are equal to that of any south pacific island nation. The meat is raised on the most heavenly lush ranges that even you’d be happy to call home. And the seafood available down the west coast is as diverse and fresh as you can imagine.
HACIENDA HUAYOCCARI: Nestled high above Peru’s Sacred Valley, just outside of the city of Cusco is a traditional family-owned and run Hacienda with a restaurant full of original recipes. Do not miss out on the Elderberry cheesecake dessert!
MAP CAFÉ: Sitting right in the heart of the city of Cusco, MAP café is a once in a lifetime dining experience. You will be seated inside a glass container, within the central courtyard of the Pre-Columbian Art Museum.
INDIO FELIZ: This your must-see dining experience when you visit Machu Picchu. It’s a family run, cosy and colourful, traditional Peruvian restaurant, right in the heart of Machu Picchu Pueblo (The town at the base of the mountain of the archaeological site). Definitely have the Crème Soup of the day entrée.
If you’re not actually sleeping outdoors doing one of the treks, then chances are you’d like to stay somewhere that embraces the Peruvian environment and boasts all the comforts. If so, then the only place for you is the TAMBO DEL INKA RESORT AND SPA. For a start, the resort sits at the base of glacial mountains, within the Sacred Valley, in a small town called Urubumba, named after the powerful, fast flowing river of the same name, that happens to flow directly alongside the resort. Waking up to the sounds of the flowing water and seeing the breathtaking sights of the mountain peaks is pretty awesome, but so is this hotel, in its own right. The spa treatments rooms even offer Inca Gold Body Wraps! It’s also the only hotel in the Urubumba region to have it’s own private train station to Machu Picchu.
All this exploring, you’re going to need to try a traditional South American cocktail. They’re not hard to come by, offered at almost every restaurant in Peru, but the PISCO SOUR is likely to become your favourite go-to thirst quencher from this day forth. Beware the egg-white calories and the pisco itself can knock a punch. I was warned by several locals that after three, you’ll be singing. And in my case, that’s something no-one needs to hear!
Cosy up on a sofa near the fire and be serenaded by local musicians performing everything from jazz to traditional Andean beats, while sipping on a Pisco Sour (of course) and sampling local tapas dishes. The JAZZ BAR CUSCO is located in Cusco’s old town so even sitting inside the stone walls will leave you in awe of your location!
Get off the beaten track even further and get a ride through the Sacred Valley of the Incas to a small town called PISAC. The drive itself is mesmerisingly beautiful, as you follow the Urubumba River north. The town is sweet, but the Inca ruins that sit high above the town are a sight to behold. Inca terraces once used for harvesting sit 3,400 metres above sea level and tell the stories of how the Inca civilizations lived, worked, worshipped, and buried their dead. It’s believed between 5,000 and 10,000 Incas were entombed in the rocks surrounding the ruins.
While you’re there, stop in at the PISAC MARKETS in the heart of town – this is where you’ll do the best shopping of your life! The handicrafts are so intricately made, with such colour and skill, you’ll find it hard to barter as you’re told they expect, because you’ll feel that every piece is a masterpiece.
AWAKEN THE SPIRIT
Your visit to Machu Picchu is a no brainer. It is absolutely one of the most spiritually rewarding destinations on earth. That’s why millions of tourists flock there. But if you’re also after an experience that will move you, quite probably to tears, that the rest of the tourist pack doesn’t know about, then head to Chinchero Village and experience a private mystical blessing ritual with an Andean Priest, a Shaman. Here, he will give thanks to Pacha Mama (Mother Earth) by creating an offering, in your honour, containing different elements from the Andean faith. If there’s ever a time when you should make a wish and believe in your heart that the gods are listening, then this will be it.
Rose travelled as a guest of SCENIC TOURS and flew with QANTAS AIRWAYS.
Do you have a question for Rose? Ask her here!
Rose Jacobs is a Travel Journalist and Television Presenter and writes her own blog poopypropeller.blogspot.com.au with travel advice for parents travelling with kids. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook!