One of my favorite things to do when I travel is explore markets and restaurants to try new foods. Okay okay you got me, I just like to eat. A lot. But lucky for me, Peru did not disappoint. Here's what 10 days of eating and drinking my way through Peru looked like.
My good friend Amber and I had planned to travel through Peru before our CrossFit competition in Argentina. I'd always wanted to visit Peru, so when we decided to do this competition, we decided to spend some time visiting Peru as well. Our first two days were spent in Lima, because that's where you typically fly into before heading on to the next part of your journey, which for us would be Cusco and then Machu Picchu. Our first two days in Lima were interesting and we felt quite out of place. We didn't really know where to go, so some of our explorations ended up in areas where we didn't quite feel safe and we certainly didn't find the restaurants I'd been hoping for! Lima is a big, fast paced city and you can easily get caught in unpleasant situations if you aren't careful. However, we quickly learned this and made sure to be extra cautious. The day before we headed to Cusco we visited CrossFit Peru where we met Ximena, their head coach. Ximena welcomed us graciously and completely changed our perspective on Lima. She worked out with us and introduced us to her staff and members. We made plans to hang out with her again when we flew back to Lima at the end of our trip.
When we arrived in Cusco I couldn't wait to visit the Pisac market. Although I really wanted to eat out and try new restaurants, I also wanted to buy my own food and cook while we traveled. Amber and I were staying at an AirBnB in Cusco for 6 nights, and if you're looking for a place to stay I highly recommend staying in one of Anahi's rooms. If this one isn't available find another one of her listings. They're all at the same place and she was more helpful and gracious than any host I've ever had. I wanted to cook our own food so we could eat healthy during the majority of our trip. Especially since we had a competition coming up and we wouldn't be training as much as normal. Cusco is at 11,000ft, so even when we did train, it felt like we were dying. It was rough! We only trained twice while we were in Cusco. Once at CrossFit Cusco and once at Amarus CrossGym. Although we were visiting Cusco in the summer, it was also their rainy season. During our workout at CrossFit Cusco a massive hail storm rolled through. Hail was coming through the roof, but Amber and I trained anyway! Afterwards it was dark and late and our driver got stuck in traffic on his way to pick us up. Luckily we found the cutest coffee shop across the street and got the best hot chocolate I've literally had in my entire life. I wish I could remember the name of the place, but if you visit CrossFit Cusco you must stop here. It's across this street and you won't be disappointed!
Okay back to Pisac. Amber and I visited the market a couple days after we arrived in Cusco and loaded up on enough vegetables, chicken, rice and spices to last us the week. And I think we spent about $8 USD each. Everything was so fresh. I wanted to buy it all. It was difficult to communicate at times, but we got the job done (and now I'm studying Spanish for my next trip)!
The little boy in the photo above knew more about spices than I did. I should have asked for his advice on what to add to our chicken soup! We also bought a bunch of coca leaves to make tea. Coca leaves are supposed to help with elevation sickness. I'm not sure if it actually does, but we made and drank coca tea every day anyway! The elevation didn't bother me too much, except when we tried to CrossFit, so maybe it did help some!
At the market we bought a whole chicken so the first night we had chicken and vegetables and rice and then I used the rest of the chicken to make a stock for our soup. This lasted us a few days and it was delicious!
A few days after we arrived in Cusco, we started planning our trip to Machu Picchu. They suggest acclimating to the elevation before you go, so that's what we did! We planned an overnight trip to Aguas Calientes and woke up at 4am to hike up to Machu Picchu. The hike is pretty steep. Which we were not aware of. We didn't do a whole lot of research! It's pretty much straight up a mile of stairs. You literally climb 1,000ft in elevation. It was incredible though. I guess you could say we actually got 3 workouts in while we were in Cusco! It was also a good thing that we arrived as early as we did because we got about an hour of sunshine at the ruins before the rain and clouds set in and never cleared up. But we got some beautiful photos before that happened.
We tried to wait out the rain, hoping it might clear up, but after a few hours we realized that was not going to happen and decided to hike back down. You can also take a bus, but we were already soaking wet and figured why not just hike! Because our tour of Machu Picchu came to an end sooner than we had anticipated, we had about 6 hours to kill in Aguas Calientes before our scheduled train ride back to Cusco. There isn't a whole lot to do in Aguas Calientes and we were cold and wet. So we decided to splurge on a nice lunch and a bottle of wine at a restaurant we stumbled upon called Incontri del Pueblo Viejo. It was the perfect place to relax and warm up! After we finished lunch we moved to a little couch to relax with a cappuccino and more wine. I ate a lot of good food while we were here. The salmon and a grilled chicken salad. It might have been a bit much, but we did hike a lot!
We warmed up by the wood fire pizza oven in the middle of the restaurant with a glass of wine. Yes I'm wearing the cozy socks that I bought from the market with flip flops. And yes I realize we looked like crazy people. But we so didn't care at this point!
Another market worth visiting is the San Pedro market. Unlike the Pisac market, which you have to take a bus to get to, you can walk to the San Pedro market if you're staying in Cusco. There are a lot of interesting things to be seen at this market so I definitely recommend it! And if you're hungry it seems everyone comes here for a bowl of soup. And you have a lot of options. There are rows and rows of soup vendors!
On our last morning in Cusco I had breakfast at a restaurant that was recommended to us by CrossFit Cusco called Greens Organics. It was a cute little restaurant upstairs just near the Plaza De Armas. The omlette was delicious and so was the coffee. The service was great as well!
Another great place to get coffee in Cusco is The Meeting Place. 100% of the profits go to supporting local projects in the Cusco area and the cafe is staffed by volunteers.
At the end of 6 days in Cusco we headed back to Lima for 2 final days. We were excited for our return to Lima and looking forward to a better experience than we previously had. Ximena had asked Amber and I to teach a gymnastics masterclass to her clients Saturday morning and then she had some fun planned for us. The masterclass was a blast. So many people showed up and we had so much fun. Then Ximena organized for the three of us to go standup paddle boarding in the ocean. It was so hot and we had such a good time! After freezing in Cusco for a week, the sunshine felt great! Our fun in the sun was followed by lunch at Segundo Muelle in Barranco, Lima. Ximena did all of the ordering and oh my goodness was everything so good! The ceviche was incredible and I ate until I was stuffed. It was so fresh. I also decided I needed to try an Inca Cola. It's a Coca Cola product that's very popular in Peru. It's yellow colored so I had expected a lemon lime flavor, but was surprised by its bubble gum taste. I'm not much of a soda person, but I kind of enjoyed it!
Ximena dropped us off to shower and nap after lunch before a night out with some of the members from the gym. It was our last night in Lima and they had invited us to come out for dinner and drinks. I was still stuffed from lunch when we all met up for dinner, but that didn't stop me from eating a lot more. One of the members from CrossFit Peru owns a restaurant called YuMe. It's a Japanese Peruvian fusion restaurant, and if you're in the mood for some sushi while you're in Lima, you must go here! Be sure to order the Peruanísimo (pictured below). I can't remember everything that was in it, but I do know that it had chicha morada (a popular Peruvian sweet drink made from purple corn), pisco (a clear/light colored brandy popular in Peru), and coconut cream. It was so delicious! And the taco katsuo. Which was probably the best thing I've ever eaten. The tacos shells were filled with an avocado sauce, sprouts, tuna sashimi, cucumbers and sesame seeds. Somehow, someway, I plan to replicate these at home.
A few more recommendations from our trip:
1. If you're in Lima during the summer, it's hot! Enjoy an ice cream cone. Amber and I got one for 30 cents!
2. We found it difficult to get good coffee in Lima, but luckily Ximena knew of a good place to take us called the ABC Cafe (aka BiciCoffee). It's super cute and has great coffee. Definitely go here! I also stumbled upon this really cool organic shop called Eco Tienda Natural after I'd gone for a jog by the beach in Miraflores, Lima one day. They sell a bunch of cool products and have great coffee!
3. Try alpaca. I wasn't sure what to expect, but it was really good. It's very lean and gamier than steak. I ordered it at a restaurant in Cusco called Don Carlos. They also gave Amber and I a mini pisco sour which was delicious and cancha salada, which is roasted and salted corn, to snack on before our food came. Cancha salada is delicious and addicting. Our waiter here was really sweet and also taught me how to order a glass of red wine in Spanish: "un vaso de vino tinto por favor". I used that one a lot!
4. Vegetables are hard to come by. Most dishes include rice, potatoes and corn. At one restaurant my side dish was rice with corn in it! So get ready to eat a lot of carbs.
5. Try Lomo Saltado. It's a traditional Peruvian dish and it's delicious! It's marinated strips of beef with onions, tomatoes and fries, and it comes with a side of rice. Like I said, all of the carbs!
6. Although I didn't try this one myself, and I regret it, you should probably try Cuy, i.e. Guinea Pig. And when you do, let me know how it is!