Why Peru Should Top Your Offseason Travel Bucket List
A quick Google search of Peru reveals thousands of images of Machu Picchu—the iconic 15th century Incan citadel built amongst wispy clouds and emerald-colored peaks. But did you know that two of the world’s best restaurants are also in the country’s capital? Add to that: the exchange rate is American friendly (1 Peruvian Nuevo sol equals 30 cents USD), and prices are already low, meaning you can afford a South American get away without breaking the bank. Here, we unpack two of the country’s most beloved destinations, and where you should eat and drink when you’re in town. In the meantime, you’ll find us at Root & Flower or Two Arrows dreaming of offseason—preferably with a Pisco Sour in hand.
The capital of Peru is a colorful sprawl amongst the cliffs that separate the historic city from the Pacific Ocean. As a result, exploring Lima’s cultural attractions (Museo Larco and Iglesia de Santo Domingo are some of the most popular) is a must.
Where to Eat
Just don’t discount the city’s culinary scene. Peru is an eclectic destination for self-proclaimed “foodies,” thanks to its diverse environment. Local chefs have access to fresh seafood, and robust seasonal fruits and vegetables from the country’s interior. (Ceviche, for example, originated in the country, and Peruvian coastlines are home to the world’s most productive anchovy fisheries.) The result? Central and Maido—two of the world’s top ten ranked restaurants at numbers 5 and 10, respectively—are in Lima. And both serve a multi-course tasting menu for a fraction of the cost for a similar experience at other culinary hubs that made the World’s 50 Best list. (For instance, Copenhagen’s Noma, in Denmark, costs about $500 per person for lunch.)
If you’re adventurous, find somewhere you can sup on guinea pig—it’s the country’s signature dish. However, if you’re trying to find some truly local flavor, Barranco is the perfect jumping off point.
“Barranco is hip and cool and artsy,” says Root & Flower co-owner Mat Guzzetti, who’s spent a month annually in Peru for the last two years. “It’s got this really authentic character and a progressive vibe, it’s just a cool, bohemian part of the city.”
Barranco’s known for housing some of the Lima’s leading photographers, designers, musicians and artists. The renowned Museo de Arte Contemporáneo (MAC) is located in the Barranco district too. And it has some of the city’s best beach access. Friday and Saturday nights, in particular, are when this part of the city comes alive.
Isolina Taberna Peruana, Mat’s pick for an authentically delicious meal in the heart of Barranco. “Progressive and interesting cocktail menu, and the sangria was really good,” he says. isolina.pe/en/home/
A stop in Cusco is nothing new. It’s South America’s oldest continuously inhabited city and serves as a gateway to Machu Picchu. That’s a perpetual draw for the some 5,000 people who hike to the ancient city each day during high season (July, August, and September). Despite the popularity, you should find time to linger in the city before you head up to the ruins of the ancient Incan city. However, keep in mind you need tickets to see Machu Picchu, just beware of scammers. The red roofs of Cusco are ringed by lush mountains, and you can walk the cobblestone streets to find cultural gems like Museo Machu Picchu, which houses the world’s largest collection of artifacts from the site. And since the city sits at over 11,000 feet above sea level, you might appreciate the time to acclimate.
Where to Drink
Cusco’s also the perfect place to get an authentic Pisco Sour—Peru’s official drink. It even has its own national holiday, Día Nacional del Pisco Sour, celebrated annually on the first Saturday of February. If Pisco’s new to you: it’s South American brandy, made exclusively in Peru and some regions of Chile. Per government standards, Pisco needs to be made in one of the country’s five official Denomination of Origin departments—Lima, Ica, Arequipa, Moquegua and Tacna.
Which brings us back to the cocktail itself—traditionally made with Peruvian Pisco, freshly squeezed lime, simple syrup, ice, egg white, and bitters. It’s shaken and served up with a foamy finish, just be prepared to try some unique takes on the classic.
“There were so many niche Pisco cocktails I tried to bring back. I infused Pisco with habanero for a spicy passionfruit drink with a little bit of ginger beer. That was similar to something we tried that was super good,” says Guzzetti. “And then there were some that I couldn’t imitate here that I loved, like a coca leaf Pisco Sour, which has some anise characteristics.”
And, of course, a buzz.
Museo de Pisco, Mat’s pick for authentic Pisco cocktails in the heart of Cusco. museodelpisco.org