Jul 052013

Andes Plane

HI! I hope everyone had a wonderful 4th of July! Peru and Ecuador were so amazing. My best friend Megan and I almost ripped up our return tickets back to California so we could stay longer! I’m going to share the details of the trip with you so please bear with me as there will be about 6 posts related to the trip coming up in the next two weeks. Normal posts will be resume after!  :) 

Piriwana Hostel CuscoPiriwana, our Hostel in Cusco

Our first destination in Peru was Cusco. We shared 6-person room in our hostel that consisted of 3 bunk beds and a private bathroom. Our room opened into the courtyard (pictured above) which was fun because there were always people hanging out there. Megan I ate the hostel’s complimentary breakfast in the morning which included unlimited bread with margarine and jam, cereal, coffee and mate de coca. Mate de coca, or coca tea, is awesome! It helps with altitude sickness and gives you energy so we drank this almost everyday in Peru. Cusco is just a little over 11,000 ft. in elevation so I immediately noticed the thinner air but didn’t feel any altitude sickness except for shortness of breath (quite possibly just due to my lack of exercise).

We were fortunate to be in Cusco the week before Inti Raymi, Cusco’s huge celebration of the Winter Solstice, so that we could see all of the pre-festival parades and events. Locals prepare for this festival throughout the year, so when it happens, it’s huge!! During our stay in Cusco, we saw parades that went all day, big events in Plaza de Armas (the city’s main square), and it was the first topic of conversation when we talked to anyone in the city. There were performances and parades everyday so it was really exciting to see so much of Cusco’s cultural festivities when we walked around.

Performance in the city's main square, Plaza de Armas

Performance in the city’s main square, Plaza de Armas

Kids dancing in the parade

Kids dancing in the parade

The crowds during the parade

The crowds during the parade

While in Cusco, we also checked out the Mercado de San Pedro, a local market in Cusco. It basically has everything you’d ever need. There are isles of textiles, rows upon rows of little stalls that serve as restaurant stands, fresh meats, veggies, grains in bulk, and more. There were a lot of locals here eating at the food stalls, sitting on stools elbow to elbow while they enjoyed their hot soups (caldo), freshly made juices (jugo), and meat dishes.

I think my favorite part of the Mercado de San Pedro might have been the meat/butcher section. It wasn’t like anything I’ve ever seen before! There were organs laid out on display, animal heads, and even brain–we had to brace ourselves! It’s fascinating though.

Mercado de San Pedro Cusco


In terms of textiles and souveniers, this market was a little more expensive than the others we visited so Megan and I went back to a market that was closer to our hostel to buy a few gifts. Ummm, we ended up buying WAY more than we intended. Oops.

san francisco mercado

After we dropped off our new finds at the hostel, we headed to Los Toldos, a rotisserie restaurant that serves amazing pollo a la brasa (roasted chicken). The moment you walk in, you can see all of the chickens that were previously roasted, and a new batch on the spit with the juices and fats dripping into the fire. I ordered the 1/4 pollo a la brasa which came with fries and a few types of dipping sauces, and Megan ordered chicken soup. Both of our dishes came with an unlimited salad bar too!

polllo a la brasa

The pollo a la brasa was incredible! So juicy and tender. Plus, the portion was huge. The 1/4 pollo dish cost 14 soles (about $5 USD) and I couldn’t even finish it.

After lunch, we made our way to the San Blas area so we could make a dinner reservation at Pachapapa, a place that we heard served delicious “cuy” aka guinea pig! Yep, guinea pig is a delicacy in Peru so we figured we had to try it. We made a reservation for later that night and put a 50% deposit down for the guinea pig. When we got to the restaurant for dinner, we were seated on an outdoor patio with heat lamps. You could also see where the chefs were cooking the cuy over the fire which was kind of neat. We ordered causa rellena (a potato dish) as an appetizer, our first pisco sours of the trip, and a chicha morada (a traditional, non-alcoholic drink made out of purple corn).

Pancha Papa in Cusco

Pancha Papa. Can you see the oven in the back?


Dinner was fantastic! The cuy was tasty but I wouldn’t exactly say we could see ourselves craving it in the future. They bring it out to you on a platter so you can take pictures and then they cut it into smaller pieces so it’s easier to eat. I can’t really compare it to anything I’ve eaten before but I guess you could say that it subtly resembles the taste of duck or quail. This was one of 2 meal splurges during our trip, and we were not disappointed. After we ate, we rolled ourselves back to our hostel to pack our day packs, leave our backpacks at the hostel’s storage room (because you can’t bring them on the train), and get ready to head to Aguas Calientes around 5am in the morning.

Meg Steph Cuy


Then the 12 Hour Panic!

After we got on the bus that takes you to Peru Rail (the train that takes you to Aguas Calientes) in the morning, the bus was stopped after about 45 minutes of driving and we were told that all of the buses had to turn around due to a mudslide that happened the night before. The train is the only possible way to get to Aguas Calientes, which is the entrance town to Machu Picchu so we…sort of freaked out!!

Panicked from the fact that there was a chance we wouldn’t be able to see Machu Picchu during our trip, we tried to figure out alternative routes with the help of a wonderful woman from Australia that spoke better Spanish than us (I hope she made it to Machu Picchu the next day!). We asked the Peru Rail employees if we could walk past the mudslide or take a taxi all the way to Aguas Calientes but were told that the train was the only way in and out of the city–unless we wanted to cab 4 hours and then treck through the jungle for another 3 hours. And that was not going to happen so we went back to Cusco and were forced to frantically taxi around the city trying to change our hostel reservations, bus tickets, and Machu Picchu entrance tickets. Luckily, everything worked out and we were able to put Machu Picchu off for a few days and head down to Puno/Lake Titicaca instead! We had already planned on heading to Puno but not until after Machu Picchu so we were happy it all worked out.

Our overnight bus to Puno didn’t depart until 10pm that night, so we were able to check out some more areas of Cusco. We went to the cacao factory and bought/sampled a ton of delicious chocolate. We also got to visit the coca museum and learn about the history/importance of coca leaves in Peruvian culture!

Next stop…Puno and Lake Titicaca! :)

[Normal blog posts will resume in 2 weeks but I have a few recipes for you next week as well!]

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  2 Responses to “South America: Cusco, Peru”

  1. So awesome. It brings me back to my travels. I miss being down there. I cannot wait to see all your posts!

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