Posts Tagged ‘Peru’

Chifa Sipan (Cusco, Peru)

Friday, June 10th, 2011 by virginia

As strange as it may sound, Chinese food is actually really popular in Peru. We saw lots of Chinese restaurants in Cusco and Lima and wondered if we should give it a shot. Our tour guide in Cusco recommended a place for lunch called Chifa Sipan, saying that it offered classic Peruvian Chinese food. Not knowing what that meant, we decided to take him up on his recommendation and try it out.

Josh saw peking duck on the menu and immediately jumped on it. Peking duck is one of his favorite dishes, but this version was like nothing we had seen before. It turned out to be thin slices of duck on a bed of deep fried rice noodles. There was no crispy skin, no wraps or buns, no strips of raw scallions or cucumbers, and no hoisin sauce. It definitely wasn’t peking duck as we know it, but at least the duck itself was tender, and the brown sauce it was doused in had decent flavor.

"Peking duck" Peruvian style

We also picked another one of Josh’s favorite dishes, pork in garlic sauce. Again, this particular version wasn’t recognizable to us. The pork was in large slices rather than the smaller, shredded kind we’re used to, and it was much darker in color than we expected pork to be. Unfortunately the meat was kind of tough and chewy. The pork was sauteed with lots of veggies – broccoli, peppers, scallions – which I liked for the health factor (we hadn’t been eating too many vegetables on our trip) and the crunchiness factor.

Pork with garlic sauce

We also got an order of chaufa – fried rice – to round out our meal. The fried rice was the most recognizable dish for us, and had lots of roast pork in it. This pork was much tastier and tender compared to the pork in garlic sauce, and it had the barbecue flavor we’re used to in char siu.

Chaufa especial - fried rice

Overall we found the Chinese food at Chifa Sipan to be a bit of a mixed bag. I think we just didn’t know what to order and tried to order dishes like we normally like here in the U.S., but the Peruvian version was not what we were expecting. I wouldn’t be adverse to trying it again if I knew what the specialty dishes are, or at least what locals usually order. The restaurant itself had kind of an old school Chinese joint decor, and service was fine. The three dishes we ordered was a lot of food, more than we could finish. Prices were very reasonable, and our meal with a few sodas came out to 52 soles, or less than US$20. It might feel counter-intuitive to eat Chinese food in Peru, but it really is part of their local culture. Peruvian fusion food isn’t new to us here in NYC either – Nobu is Japanese-Peruvian fusion, and there is a restaurant in Chinatown called Red Egg that is Chinese-Peruvian fusion. I would love to eat at Nobu, of course, but I’m also curious enough to give Red Egg a shot one of these days. If you’re in Peru, try it out. Just ask for recommendations or specialties first.

Chifa Sipan
Calle Quera 251
Cusco, Peru

Peru Days 13 & 14 – Cusco

Sunday, June 5th, 2011 by virginia

We had two full free days in Cusco and spent our time relaxing, wandering through the city, shopping, drinking and, of course, eating. It was a nice way to wind down our trip, since our itinerary had been so jam packed up until this point. We basically slept in, had breakfast, walked around, did a little shopping, grabbed lunch, walked around some more, then went back to our hotel for a little rest. Afterward, we’d head out to a pub for a drink, then go for dinner. Not a bad way to spend our time!

Scenery around Cusco:

One of the areas we walked around was called San Blas, which is the artists’ district. It’s uphill from the center of Cusco, which made it a pretty tiring walk because we had to climb up a lot of steep steps. Once we got there, however, we saw lots of funky little shops selling all kinds of art, as well as larger workshops where they do the actual handiwork. We looked around for a while but most of the items we liked were pretty expensive.

Artist workshop

Courtyard behind the church of San Blas

Church bells

Fortunately the artisan market was a more reasonable place to shop. There were lots of stalls to browse through, and choices between mass produced items and handmade crafts. We did a little bargaining while we were there, though prices weren’t too bad to begin with. The key to bargaining is to get larger quantities of items, rather than trying to negotiate for a single piece.

Fountain near the artisan market

Another fountain

We also shopped at some smaller markets, which we would stumble upon randomly while we walked through the streets. There was a pretty good one near the famous 12 sided Inca stone. The stone is sort of hidden in an alleyway among many other Inca stones, so just look for a crowd gathered around a particular spot.

12-sided Inca stone - count 'em!

As for the pubs we visited, we mostly stayed around the main square. There was one in particular, the Cross Keys, that we liked. It had a British theme and it seemed like a hang out for English speaking foreigners. They were showing soccer on TVs and we just hung out for a while. I stuck with Cusquenos but Josh was craving something darker and tried out a few of the English beers they had on hand. A lot of the bars around the main square have 2-for-1 happy hours, but just for mixed drinks, not beers. I didn’t mind, as I found pisco sours to be tasty, refreshing, and intoxicating.

All in all, Cusco was a great place to finish up our trip. It’s a low key city that’s nice to walk around. There was lots to see in terms of beautiful buildings and intricate Inca stonework, but we didn’t feel any pressure to constantly be in tourist mode. Our favorite parts were just hanging out, eating/drinking on balconies overlooking the square. We had some good meals and a not so great restaurant experience, but more on that later. I promise, we’re almost done!

Los Toldos (Cusco, Peru)

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011 by virginia

We told our tour guide in Cusco that we really wanted to try pollo a la brasa, or Peruvian style chicken, but every time we asked someone they would send us to a fancy place that didn’t actually serve it. Our guide gave us two recommendations so we went to both places to check them out. We eventually chose the one that looked to be the most crowded, but both were actually pretty busy, and all the food we saw going by looked mighty tasty. What drew us to Los Toldos were the rotisseries right out front with lots of chickens going round and round, dripping glorious juices and fat everywhere.

Our idea to pick the busiest place backfired a bit because the restaurant had run out of regular Cusquena beers. All they had left were the malted version, which Josh and I weren’t big fans of because we thought the flavor was a bit too sweet and syrupy. We decided to go the non-alcoholic route instead (shocking, I know!) and got a pitcher of limonada, which is lemonade blended with egg whites, so that it’s nice and frothy. It’s tangy, sweet but not overly so, and extremely refreshing.


Josh and I decided to split an onion soup to start, and a half chicken platter for our entree. The onion soup was lighter than a regular french onion soup, but it was still topped with a nice stringy cheese. It had good flavor and I liked that it wasn’t too rich or heavy. The onions were soft and sweet, and we polished off the bowl quickly.

Onion soup with cheese

We were excited for the piece de resistance, the pollo a la brasa. The rotisserie chicken was tender and juicy, exactly as we had hoped. The chicken flavor was very pronounced, not like the flavorless chicken we get here at home. The skin was well seasoned and really delicious; it was hard not to eat it but we only had a taste and then pulled it aside. We started eating the chicken with knives and forks first, but we eventually abandoned all utensils and dug in with our fingers, making sure to get out all the best little bits from the nooks and crannies.

Pollo a la brasa

The accompanying french fries on the platter had soaked in a lot of the chicken juices so they weren’t as crispy as I had hoped, but they were really flavorful. The juices paired well with the starchiness of the Peruvian potatoes, and I was still happy to munch away on them.

French fries

Overall we were both extremely pleased with the pollo a la brasa at Los Toldos. It was exactly what we had been craving – simple, juicy rotisserie chicken. The onion soup was delicious as well, and we liked the casual, homey atmosphere. It seemed like most of the people eating there were locals, which is always a good sign. The portions were big, and our bill ended up being 52 soles (under US$20). It’s probably not the cheapest pollo a la brasa in the city, but we would definitely recommend this place to anyone looking for good chicken in a restaurant setting.

Los Toldos
Calle Almagro 171
Cusco, Peru

La Chomba Ajha Wasi (Cusco, Peru)

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011 by virginia

During our tour of Cusco, we made sure to get some local recommendations from our guide. We told him that we missed out on trying chicha, a fermented corn beer, while we were in the Sacred Valley, so he told us about a local place close to our hotel where we could try some. He also told us to try frutillada, which sounded pretty tasty to me.

We found the restaurant easily and there was a sign for it on the street but when we walked through the doorway, we ended up in a little courtyard that seemed to be pretty residential. Fortunately there was another sign posted and we made our way into the restaurant, which was actually larger than it looked on the outside.

The sign inside the courtyard

It was a super casual place, with long communal tables and stools. Nobody spoke english but we were able to get by. When we ordered a glass of chicha, however, they told us they had run out. Darn! We were extremely disappointed and ordered a glass of frutillada instead, which is basically a non-alcoholic chicha with the addition of strawberries. It’s a nice pale pink color, frothy on top, and looks sort of like a strawberry smoothie. The taste, however, was very different. It had a sour, fermented, yeasty flavor, with just a slight sweetness from the strawberries. There was also some sort of seasoning on top that I couldn’t identify, as it had an unusual taste. I wouldn’t say that I enjoyed the flavor of the frutillada, but it was certainly interesting to try.


While we were sipping the frutillada, one of the restaurant workers came bounding in, holding up a pitcher of chicha triumphantly. I don’t know where he went to get some but we were absolutely thrilled. Talk about good service! He poured us a glass and it looked and smelled exactly like what it is – fermented corn beer. It has a pretty low alcohol content but our guide had warned us to drink only half of what they served (the glasses here were huge, bigger than pint glasses) because chicha can be hard on an inexperienced stomach. The chicha was a bit too warm and yeasty for my taste so I stuck mostly with the frutillada, but Josh preferred the flavor of the chicha.


Because we had skipped lunch, we decided to order a dish as a snack to tide us over until dinner, and to coat our stomachs a bit for the chicha. The menu at the restaurant was pretty basic, which we were happy about because we had eaten too much rich food already on our trip. We decided to get an order of chicharron, which is deep fried chunks of pork. It was served on a plate with large corn kernels, potato, and raw red onion. The pork was a bit tough but it had crispy skin, which is always a plus. It wasn’t fancy or dressed up in any way, just the perfect food to soak up the chicha.

Chicharron (fried pork)

Our total bill was ridiculously low – just 20 soles (US$7.40). I would definitely recommend checking out La Chomba Ajha Wasi if you’re looking for some local flavor in Cusco. It’s a no frills place but service was friendly and we were able to try chicha. It would be a good place to sit down for a bit, grab a snack, and drink some cold Cusqueno beers. Many thanks to our guide for the great recommendation!

La Chomba Ajha Wasi
Av. Tullumayo 338
Cusco, Peru

Peru Day 12 – Cusco

Sunday, March 20th, 2011 by virginia

Yes, I still have a few Peru posts left to write. I know it’s been a while but we’re almost there, I promise! So after we arrived in Cusco, following a magnificent day at Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu, we had a tour of the city and the surrounding area ruins the next morning. It was a little cool and drizzly that day, the only time it really rained on our whole trip, so we felt pretty lucky with the weather.

Our tour started out at Koricancha, or the Temple of the Sun, which was literally across the street from our hotel, the Libertador  Palacio del Inka. It was an important temple for the Incas, but the Spanish eventually built the Cathedral of Santo Domingo over the temple. Still, they kept a lot of the original Inca walls with their unique trapezoidal doorways and windows, and the fascinating interlocking stones.

Spanish style courtyard inside

Trapezoidal windows that all line up

How the Inca stones interlock

View of the cathedral from the courtyard

View of Cusco and the solar garden

The next stop on our tour was a short drive from downtown Cusco, up into the hills were we went to visit Sacsahuaman. The site is believed to be an Inca fortress, with massive stone walls that form a zig zag pattern. The stones used in the wall are so big that it’s hard to imagine how the Incas managed to carve them and move them into position. There is also a theory that the walls were built in the zig zag shape as to form the head of a puma, when looking at the walls the the city of Cusco itself from above. Whatever the reason, it’s a pretty impressive sight.

Stone walls

Zig zag pattern

Massive interlocking stones

Trapezoidal doorway

After leaving the zig zag stone walls, we went over to Kenko, an Inca religious site with underground caves and temples. Many rituals are believed to have been performed here. In one cave, there was a huge stone slab that was supposed to have been used as an altar during the mummification process. It was an interesting place, and I was only slightly creeped out.

Going into one of the caves

Huge altar that was cold to the touch

Stone sculpture

Our last stop in the hills was Tambomachay, also known as the baths of the Incas. There are a series of aqueducts that lead to a temple where natural spring water pours out from specific points. It was a beautiful sight, and the sound of the water was very soothing.

Tambomachay - the Baths of the Incas

On our way back into the city, we stopped at a high point to look at the zig zag walls of Sacsahuaman, and a statue of Jesus that overlooks the city.


White statue of Christ

The last stop of our city tour, and the end of the organized portion of our vacation, was the main cathedral on the Plaza de Armas. The cathedral was very intricate on the inside, with lots of carved woodwork and paintings, but no photos were allowed, unfortunately.

The outside of the cathedral

After the tour ended, we went to see La Campania church, which is also on the Plaza de Armas, next to the cathedral. There was an entrance fee to get in but it’s supposed to be the most beautiful church in Cusco. To be honest, I didn’t find it any more or less beautiful than the other churches we had seen, so if you don’t want to pay the entrance fee or don’t feel like seeing another church, you’re not missing a whole lot by skipping it. The church was pretty similar in style to most of the other churches, and there wasn’t anything in particular that stood out to me.

La Compania Church

Our tour guide on this day was really great, and we chatted him up on places to eat. We were complaining that whenever we asked other guides or the concierges at our hotels for local recommendations, they would send us to expensive, upscale places that weren’t really reflective of the local cuisine. He told us a place to try chicha, a sort of fermented corn beer, so we ended going there for lunch. The place was great, exactly what we were looking for. None of the waiters or counter people spoke english, and everyone eating there was local.

After going back to the hotel to rest for a while (being in altitude really does sap your energy!), we went back out and walked around the city at night, taking in all the lights and sights. Cusco was definitely one of the more lively cities we stayed in. There were lots of people out and about, and the bars and restaurants all seemed to be pretty full.

Plaza de Armas at night, with the lights of the surrounding hills in the background

A gateway into the city

One of the many plazas in the city

A government building

After walking around a bit to work up our appetites (the altitude also saps your desire to eat), we went to a restaurant that was also recommended by our tour guide, a place to get pollo a la brasa, which is Peruvian style rotisserie chicken. The place was not fancy but the food was fantastic, and exactly what we were craving.

It was a pretty packed day for us but also bittersweet because we knew that our trip was almost over. Still, we had a few more days in Cusco on our own, and we were looking forward to relaxing and exploring the city at our own leisure.

Inka Grill (Cusco, Peru)

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011 by virginia

We arrived in Cusco relatively late in the evening, and although they gave us a snack on the train, we found most of it to be pretty bad so we decided to go out for a late dinner when we got into the city. We asked the front desk at our hotel for some restaurant recommendations, specifically saying that we were in the mood for some Peruvian style chicken. One of the restaurants they sent us to was the Inka Grill, which was right on the main square. As soon as we saw it, we knew they didn’t serve the Peruvian chicken we were looking for, but it was late and the menu looked ok so we decided to go in anyway.

The restaurant was definitely more upscale than what we were looking for, though the decor was pretty nice. It wasn’t crowded because of the late dinner hour so it was pretty quiet, giving us the opportunity relax and chat. We started with a nice bottle of red wine and they brought us some homemade potato chips to start. The chips were made from yellow starchy potatoes, and even though they were fresh, they weren’t nearly as tasty as the chips we had at the Lobby Bar at Tambo del Inka. The chips came with a green sauce on the side for dipping, which I thought would be a garlicky ajo sauce, but turned out to a mint sauce made from my dreaded Andean mint. Yikes! I still don’t know what it is about Andean mint, but I had to force myself to swallow that bite rather than spit it out. Josh liked it though.

Yellow potato chips

We weren’t starving at this point so we couldn’t stomach the idea of an elaborate dinner. There was a small section of the menu that featured sampler platters, which we thought would be the perfect way to try different things without having to order tons of food. The samplers were portioned for two people so we picked out the one that seemed to be the most Peruvian, the Novo Andean Sampler, figuring that would be enough food to make up a light meal. We turned out to be right, as the platter was pretty huge.

Novo Andean sampler platter

The platter came with stuffed chili peppers, kiwicha chicken fingers, alpaca brochettes, and quinoa croquettes. The chili peppers were stuffed with meat and weren’t spicy. They were smothered in a gooey, stringy cheese that was similar to mozzarella. I was a bit nervous when I saw all the cheese, since I’m usually not a fan, but when it was melted over the chili pepper it worked well and added a nice richness and saltiness.

Stuffed chili peppers smothered in cheese

The kiwicha chicken fingers were strips of chicken coated in kiwicha, or amaranth seeds. The seeds have a similar flavor and texture to sesame seeds and provided a good crunch. The chicken strips were kind of thin so they were a little dry but we remedied that by dipping them into the accompanying sauces.

Kiwicha chicken fingers

This wasn’t the first time that we had eaten alpaca on our trip, and this version was pretty good. We knew from experience that alpaca can get dry very easily, but these brochettes were well seasoned and perfectly cooked so that they were still tender and juicy. The meat also tasted a bit beefier than usual, which was a pleasant surprise, as we had previously found alpaca to be more similar to veal or pork. This was one of our favorite components of the platter.

Alpaca brochettes

The quinoa croquettes were another of our favorites. They were nicely fried to a golden brown crisp on the outside and warm and creamy on the inside. It tasted like the quinoa had been mixed with cheese, which made it extremely rich and decadent. Quinoa normally has a lovely texture that rolls along on your tongue, and in this creamy format it was similar to cheese grits – we enjoyed it immensely.

Quinoa croquettes

Overall we liked the atmosphere of the Inka Grill, but we probably didn’t taste enough of their food to know whether or not it’s a good place to have dinner. The sampler platter was generously portioned but the chicken fingers were just ok, and the croquettes were good because they were fried well. The brochettes were pretty impressive though, so I guess my recommendation would be to stick with the “grill” part of the Inka Grill. The menu was pretty eclectic, with items like pizza and pasta, french onion soup, and oriental chicken salad. I guess it caters to every taste, but we tried to stick with choosing a platter that seemed the most Peruvian to us, or at least used Peruvian ingredients. I remember thinking that the restaurant was pretty pricey though, we didn’t look too in depth at the menu since we weren’t so hungry at the time.  Location might have been a factor, as it’s right on the Plaza de Armas, but we kind of got the feeling that this place caters mostly to tourists. It had an upscale vibe to it and was a nice place for a drink and a snack, but I think we had better and cheaper meals elsewhere.

Inka Grill
Portal de Panes 115 Plaza de Armas
Cusco, Peru

Restaurant Pizzeria Bar (Aguas Calientes, Peru)

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011 by virginia

After we took the bus down from Machu Picchu, we decided to grab a quick lunch before we had to catch our train to Cusco. The main square is right by the bus station in town so we went there to look for a place to eat. There are lots of restaurants to choose from, but there are always people standing outside each restaurant waving menus around, trying to get you to go in. It’s kind of annoying because we wanted to look at menus first before we decided where to eat, and it was hard when you’re constantly being accosted by people trying to get you to go in. We ended up deciding on pizza, so we actually went into the only restaurant where no one bothered us. I’m not sure exactly what the name of this restaurant was, as the sign above the door just said Restaurant/Pizzeria/Bar.

If you’re facing the fountain and the Inca statues in the square, the restaurant is to the right, in the middle of the row of restaurants. It’s on the ground level, with balconies overhead. We sat just outside the restaurant, still in the shade but we enjoyed the fresh air. We toasted our success in climbing Huayna Picchu with a few Cusquena beers, which were cold and refreshing.

There were lots of different pizzas to choose from, and some of the combination of toppings sounded pretty interesting. We ended up choosing, appropriately enough, the Machu Picchu pizza, which was topped with sauce, ham, chorizo, hearts of palm, oregano, and cheese. The first pizza they brought us, however, was not what we ordered, though we didn’t figure that out until after we each taken a bite of our slices. Oops! They had given us a veggie pizza by mistake, which had peppers and onions on it. We probably should have realized right away because there were peppers and no meat, but we thought maybe the meat would be underneath all the cheese. They were really nice about the mix-up though, and let us finish eating our slices while they fired up the correct pizza for us.

Veggie pizza with peppers and onions

We could definitely see the meat on our new pie, which had thin slices of chorizo and lots of pieces of ham strewn on top. There were also long strips of hearts of palm, which I thought was an intriguing pizza topping. I like hearts of palm in salad, but it didn’t seem like something I’d put on pizza. It actually added a nice crunch and a bit of tanginess that helped cut through the saltiness of the chorizo and the richness of the cheese. It was a good combination of flavors.

Machu Picchu pizza with sauce, ham, chorizo, hearts of palm, oregano, and cheese

There was definitely a lot of cheese on the pizza, though not a lot of tomato sauce. They were also pretty heavy handed with the oregano, as the top of the pizza was just covered in green flecks. Flavor wise it was pretty subtle though, so I didn’t mind all the herbs on top.

Lots of cheese and oregano on each slice

The crust was a bit thicker than the pizza crust at Inka Wasi but it had good flavor to it. I don’t know if it was baked with eucalyptus leaves but I thought it tasted a little floral. There wasn’t much charring on the bottom but it was still slightly crispy.

Underside shot

Overall we liked the pizza at this unnamed pizzeria. It’s definitely a low key joint, not as polished as Inka Wasi in terms of atmosphere and decor, and the menu wasn’t as refined. There was a lot of variety on the menu though, and the location couldn’t be beat. We were right on the main square and could people watch. It would be a nice place to hang out in the afternoon for a drink and some snacks. Prices were pretty reasonable, as our medium sized pie with all those toppings cost 32 soles, or about US$12. I’m not sure how helpful I’m being since I can’t give you the name or the exact address of the restaurant, but if you’re really interested in going just look for the Restaurant/Pizzeria/Bar sign on the side of the plaza closest to the bus station – it’s not too hard to find!

Restaurant Pizzeria Bar
Aguas Calientes, Peru

Peru Day 11 – Machu Picchu, Huayna Picchu, Cusco

Thursday, January 20th, 2011 by virginia

WARNING: This is a ridiculously long post and I tend to ramble on about my thoughts during that particular day. If you start to get bored, just scroll through the pics – I won’t be offended!

I have to say that without a doubt, this day was definitely the highlight of our Peru trip. Bold statement for sure, considering all the amazing things we saw on this trip, but nothing was able to surpass how we felt when we were sitting at the tippy top of Huayna Picchu with Machu Picchu in the background way below us. It was an absolute thrill for the both of us, and I was so proud that we made it all the way up without any major difficulties.

On the day that we went to hike up Huayna Picchu, we had to get up at 3:30 am to line up for the buses that would take us to the top of Machu Picchu. This was because only 400 people are allowed to climb Huayna Picchu each day, 200 at 7 am and 200 at 10 am, so we had to make sure that we were on one of the first buses that left the station in the morning.

It was a pretty rough morning for the both of us since neither Josh nor I are morning people. Plus the rally in the square had kept us awake for most of the night so we were not happy campers to have to get out of bed so early. By the time we got up, got dressed, packed our stuff, checked our bags, and checked out of our hotel, it was about 4:30 am. Luckily the bus station was only a five minute walk so we joined the end of the line around 4:35, and there were probably at least 100 people ahead of us already.

The line at the bus station at 4:30 am

It was pitch black outside still, and it was kind of chilly. There was a mist hovering around us, and we were worried that it would turn out to be a rainy day. If conditions are too bad, they won’t let people climb Huayna Picchu because it’s too dangerous. We stood in line and just waited, watching as the line grow longer and longer behind us.

The buses don’t start running until 5:30 so we had to wait for about an hour before anything happened. It was a good thing we bought bus tickets the day before because there was a separate line to get tickets. That line wasn’t long, but if you were by yourself it would be hard to save yourself a spot in both lines. The line soon started to move, and we were counting how many buses pulled out before we got to the front of the line. There were probably about seven buses ahead of us, so we were pretty sure we would be able to get the Huayna Picchu stamp, but we really wanted the 7 am slot rather than the 10 am slot, since we had to catch a train back to Cusco in the early afternoon.

It was still misty by the time the sun rose, and the mountains were cloaked in a pretty dense gray fog. We finally reached the entrance gate and immediately found the guy who was stamping tickets for Huayna Picchu. We were thrilled when we were able to get stamps for the 7 am time slot, and I immediately felt relieved that we wouldn’t have to rush to get back in time for the train. We had heard varying reports of how long it would take to climb to the top, and I knew that I would want to take things slowly because of my fear of heights.

The sun rising behind the mist and clouds

When we walked into the main part of Machu Picchu, it was eerily quiet and calm, a huge departure from the previous day when it was packed with people. The view was also different, since a large part of the structures were shrouded in the fog, and we couldn’t see Huayna Picchu at all.

Postcard view obscured by the fog

We walked around for a little while, savoring our solitude and the peacefulness that we felt. Even if you don’t plan on climbing Huayna Picchu, I definitely recommend going to Machu Picchu super early in the morning because it feels like a completely different place when there aren’t so many tourists milling about. You can walk around at your own pace and see things up close without having to wait in line or waiting for people to move out of your way so that you can take a picture. It’s definitely worth waking up early for.

After we had seen all the things we wanted to see, we found a little nook by some stairs where we could sit down and just stare at the awesome view in front of us. We watched birds fly around chasing each other and just enjoyed being there in that moment. I know it sounds really cheesy but it was a pretty moving experience. This was a trip that we had been planning for a few years, and it really hit us that we were finally there, and that it was everything we hoped and imagined it would be.

By the time 7 am rolled around, it was still misty and foggy. We saw a line start to form at the start house so we waited just a bit longer before heading down there ourselves. We got in line around 7:30 and there were still quite a few people in front of us. I didn’t care because I preferred to be at the end so that I could take my time. I knew the paths and stairs would be narrow and it would be harder to have to keep letting people pass us because I was too slow.

At the starting gate

We finally reached the little house where we had to sign our names before we could embark on the hike. We saw that we were the 118th and 119th people to go that day. The first part of the trail was pretty easy – it was wide and there wasn’t any huge drop off to one side. At one point the trail even went downhill, which was nice, but we knew that meant we would have a long way to go uphill to get to the top of Huayna Picchu.

Path goes down before it goes back up

Sure enough, there were winding stairs that traversed up one side of Machu Picchu, and led out to the narrow path that connected Machu Picchu to Huayna Picchu. I was a little nervous at this point because even though there were cable railings for the steepest and narrowest parts, the railings were kind of low and I had to almost sit down in order to keep holding on. Nevertheless, we crossed over to Huayna Picchu without any huge issues.

Crossing over to Huayna Picchu

Me clinging to the cable railing until the last possible second before I had to let go to continue

Once we were on the other side, this was where the climbing began in earnest. There were lots of steps, some super steep where I had to cling to the cables to pull myself up. Still, it wasn’t as difficult as I had feared because there were no sheer drop-offs along the path – at least none that I could see. The path was pretty woodsy so there were lots of trees and greenery surrounding both sides of the path, disguising any sort of cliff.

All the steps heading up Huayna Picchu

There's definitely a drop off next to the path, but it's sort of obscured by the trees and bushes, giving me a much needed false sense of security

We climbed slowly and steadily, not caring if people passed us along the way. We weren’t in any rush, and while we were pretty hot and sweaty, we weren’t terribly out of breath or struggling too much with all of the steps. Higher and higher we climbed, unsure of how far we had gone and how much there was left to climb. At least the scenery was beautiful to look at, and we were lucky that the morning mist and fog had cleared up so we were able to see out into the distance.

Once we had gone up a good distance, we looked down and could see Machu Picchu peeking out between the trees. The smaller it got, the happier we were, as it meant we were getting closer to the top.

Machu Picchu in the distance, peeking out from between the trees

Eventually, people who were ahead us on the hike had already reached the top and were headed back down, passing us on the way. We asked everyone who passed how much further we had to go before we would reach the top, and while the answers always varied, everyone said that the view from the peak was absolutely worth the climb. Buoyed by that and by everyone’s words of encouragement, we steadily made our way higher.

Eventually we reached a cluster of Inca structures, and we knew the top couldn’t be so far away. Unfortunately, this was the most treacherous part of the hike. The structures had narrow and steep stairs running along the sides, but no cables to help us climb. I guess they didn’t want to ruin any of the incredible stonework by screwing in metal bolts everywhere but it was incredibly hard for me to go up all those flights of stairs with nothing to hold on to. I ended up clinging to the walls with my hands, grabbing anywhere that jutted out so that I could get a decent grip. It was pretty awkward but it did the trick.

Steep and scary climb up the Inca structures

Beautiful stonework

More stairs upward

Inca terraces

View of Machu Picchu from the Inca structures

Josh's camera was able to zoom in for a great shot of Machu Picchu. The houses at the bottom of the picture was where we started from.

Looking down from the structures

Once we got to the top of the structures, I knew we had to be close to the peak. After ducking into an opening in the rock wall and actually having to crawl through some narrow crevices, we finally arrived at a ladder that took us to the top of Huayna Picchu. I took a deep breath and climbed up, with Josh following close behind.

One of the crevices we had to crawl through

The ladder we climbed to get to the very top of Huayna Picchu

Once I got to the top of the ladder I could see the incredible view spread out all around. Unfortunately, my fear of heights kicked into hyperdrive and I could not bring myself to stand up. I ended up swinging my legs around the ladder and crawled onto the large flat rock that the ladder rested against. There were a lot of people at the top, and not so much room to maneuver. This was definitely where if you slipped and fell, you were going to fall a long way down. There were people just milling about, relaxing and taking in the sights.

People hanging out at the top of Huayna Picchu

The best spot to take pictures at the top was a little outcropping where it almost looked like a seat had been carved into the rock. From there was a perfect shot of Machu Picchu in the background, so there was quite a line of people waiting to take photos. I apologize to anyone whose photo I’m in, because I was basically paralyzed by fear and refused to move from my spot just off the ladder. When it was finally our turn to take a photo, I basically crawled onto the seat with Josh, shaking the entire time. I absolutely refused to look down over the edge, I just looked at the person taking our picture for us, pasting a smile onto my face. I was proud of the fact that we had made it, but I was truly terrified at the same time.

View of Machu Picchu from the top of Huayna Picchu

When we were finished, I quickly crawled back into the middle of all the rocks and sat down, and only then would I take in the amazing 360 view. And what a view it was. We could see the beautiful green peaks of the mountains all around us, and a beautiful view of Machu Picchu in its entirety. We sat there for a while and just appreciated the scenery, but we knew that the next wave of people who started at 10 am would be arriving soon, and it wouldn’t be fair to make them wait for their turn at the top.

Uneven rocks at top, and a long way down...

Green mountains all around

Sadly, however, going down was excruciatingly painful for me. I debated going back the way we came, down the ladder, but with all the newcomers arriving at the top, there was just no space for me to go down that way. So I had to crawl to the opposite side of the rocks on top and then basically shimmy down the uneven and narrow steps until we reached a ledge. This part wasn’t any better, as there were sheer drop offs all around. I walked facing inward and clinging to the walls.

See the narrowness of the path on the way down, the uneven steps, and the steep sheer drop offs

Down and around we walked for a short bit, with me going down the stairs on my behind, until we reached a larger terrace that faced Machu Picchu. There were lots of flat rocks here so we sat down on one and rested, snacking on some pound cake that our hotel packed for us, and drinking lots of water and Fanta. We sat there for about 20 minutes, just enjoying the view. During that time I calmed myself down and psyched myself up for the rest of the journey down.

Our view while we rested, snacked, and rehydrated

Zooming in on the start house and the next group of hikers lining up

Our next biggest obstacle was coming down the narrow and steep stairs of the Inca structures that I struggled with on our way up. If I thought coming up was scary, going down was even scarier. At first I tried to go down backwards, facing inward, but the steps were too uneven and precarious. I kept losing my footing because I couldn’t really see where I was going when I faced the steps. So I just turned back around and continued downward while sitting on my butt, taking each step one at a time. It was a slow process but luckily there were no people behind us, and my arms got a great workout from lifting myself up and lowering myself down each step.

Inca trapezoid window, alcoves, and doorway

Steep terraces

At long last we finally reached the regular path, and it was much easier from there on out. I was still holding on to all the cables on the way down but I felt much more comfortable because I knew this path wasn’t as treacherous, and there were no more steep drop offs to deal with. Going down this part was definitely easier on the legs than going up, and we made much quicker process. Finally we crossed back over to Machu Picchu, and when the path started going upward again, I knew we were close to the finish.

Finally the little house was in sight, and this was when I really got excited. We signed ourselves out, took a quick victory shot, and then immediately collapsed on some benches nearby in the shade. We were flying high from all the adrenaline but we were physically exhausted at this point. We were slightly out of breath and dripping with sweat but we had never felt better. We were just so proud that we had done it, and even though I’m sure most people think that the Huayna Picchu hike really isn’t that big of a deal, it was a huge accomplishment for us.

A look back at Huayna Picchu on our way out

The hike was tiring and there were definitely steep parts that we had to work hard to get through, but we never felt like we couldn’t do it nor did we ever really struggle with the physical aspect required. My fear of heights was probably my biggest obstacle but I made it through without any major freak outs. The only time I was truly terrified was at the top, but if you’ve been up there you can probably understand my fear. You’re basically on a jagged pile of large rocks, with no real path or secure place to sit, and all the rocks slope downward so that if you slipped, you had nowhere to go but off the top of the mountain.

Whenever I got scared on the steep and narrow steps, I just went down on my butt. It wasn’t graceful or attractive, but it did the trick. I was really lucky that Josh is such a patient person because he let me go at my own pace and never rushed me or made fun of me when I was afraid. He always walked behind me to make sure that I could get pass whatever obstacles we faced, and he made sure to be ready to catch me in case I slipped.

We rested for a while in the shade and chugged more water. We started out with a large two liter bottle of water, two 20 oz bottles of water, a 20 oz bottle of Fanta, and a 20 oz bottle of Inca Kola. I only had one 20 oz bottle of water clipped to my belt while poor Josh carried all of the other liquids plus our snacks in his backpack. It was really heavy, but we made sure to stay hydrated the entire hike so the weight gradually lessened as we drank all the water.

Once we felt vitalized from our break, we decided to take the short hike to see the Inca Bridge. We had heard the hike was quite beautiful, but that the bridge was kind of a disappointing sight. It turned out to be true. The hike itself wasn’t nearly as strenuous as the Huayna Picchu hike, though we still had to sign in and out in a guest book at a little hut on the way.

Beautiful scenery along the way

The path did get pretty narrow at some points, and there was either only a really low wall (about a foot high at most) or nothing at all, so that I could see the sheer drop off to one side. I just walked close to the wall the whole way, and tried not to think about it. The hairiest part was right at the end of the hike. The path that led directly up to the Inca Bridge was really narrow and there was no barrier to the cliff side. There was a rope attached to the mountain wall but it was stretched out and basically useless, because you could pull it past the edge of the cliff. Plus it was really windy at that point, and I felt like I was going to blow right off the path.

Narrow path and sheer drop off. You can also see the Inca Bridge to the right.

I would like to say that the scariness of the hike was totally worth it because the Inca Bridge was incredible, but lets face it, the bridge was literally a pile of rotting wood planks. There was a fence that blocked off the trail in front of the bridge so that people wouldn’t be tempted to walk across it.

Inca Bridge

In all, the Inca Bridge trail was a nice walk, but the bridge at the end was a bit of a letdown. Our guide warned us about that the day before, but I guess you have to see it for yourself to believe it. If you have the time, go for the walk. If not, don’t feel too badly because you really aren’t missing that much. If you have a choice between the bridge walk or going to the Sun Gate, definitely head for the Sun Gate.

The walk back to the main part of Machu Picchu was easier because I knew what to expect. We went back to the same spot where we had sat early in the morning that day, before the Huayna Pichu hike, and rested for a while, drinking some super sweet Inca Kola. It tasted kind of like bubble gum, or overly sweet cream soda. Not exactly our favorite, but we were happy for the sugar after all the walking we did.

Our own Inca Kola advertisement

More postcard views

After we caught our breaths, we headed to the entrance gate to catch a bus back into town. Our train to Cusco was leaving in the early afternoon, and we wanted to make sure that we wouldn’t be late. When we got back to town, we stopped for a quick lunch in the main plaza. Then we went to our hotel to change and to pick up our bags. We definitely didn’t want to be all sweaty and gross on the long train ride back to Cusco.

When we arrived in Cusco, the tour company picked us up and took us to our hotel, the Libertador Palacio del Inka. It was centrally located so after we dropped our bags off in our room, we headed into town to find dinner. We had asked the concierge for some recommendations (we were craving Peruvian style chicken, or pollo a la brasa), and while the restaurant he sent us to was nothing close to what we were looking for, the food was decent. Afterward, we walked around the square for a little while and then headed back to our hotel, since both of us were exhausted from the long day of hiking.

The main square in Cusco

Beautiful balconies overlooking the main square

I’m sorry that this post was absurdly long and that I rambled on for a quite a bit. I’m sure if you asked people who’ve done the Huayna Picchu hike if it was really that hard, they’d tell you it was a breeze. And in some ways, it was. We definitely took a lot longer doing the hike than most people (some people we spoke to said it would only take about an hour and a half round trip, and we took twice as long), but we were purposely taking our time because I was worried that if we rushed, I would end up freaking myself out and aborting the hike midway through. In the end, however, I conquered my fear of heights, and I was so proud that we climbed to the tippy top of Huayna Picchu without any freak outs or severe difficulties. It was an exhilarating feeling to be up there, looking down at everything and seeing how high we had climbed. We definitely felt like we were on top of the world, and the adrenaline buzz lasted us the rest of the day. I would absolutely do this hike again, and I definitely recommend doing it to anyone who is going to Machu Picchu. It’s definitely worth waking up at 3:30 am for!

Inka Wasi (Aguas Calientes, Peru)

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010 by virginia

By the time we got to our hotel after spending the day at Machu Picchu, we were pretty exhausted so we knew that if we settled in, we would probably fall asleep and end up not eating dinner. Because we had a grueling hike planned for the next day and would be leaving the hotel before breakfast, we knew that we couldn’t afford to skip another meal so we forced ourselves to leave our room. We stopped in at the hotel bar first to get our free welcome drink, a Pisco Sour. We hadn’t had any since Lima so I had forgotten that I actually really liked them. After chatting with the bartender, he told us to eat at Inka Wasi, the restaurant across the street from our hotel, because they had good pizzas.

When Josh and I saw pizzerias all over Peru, we were sort of confused but figured that they catered to tourists. Our guide in the Sacred Valley told us that Peruvian pizza was actually different from other pizzas because they are cooked over eucalyptus leaves, which impart a unique flavor to the crust. That actually sounded pretty interesting to us so we decided to try it out. Once again we weren’t too hungry so we decided to split a medium pizza (which was still pretty small) and a chicken entree. After we placed our order, they brought us some garlic bread to munch on while we waited for our food.

Garlic bread

The bread was pretty standard but tasty, and it was cooked in the same oven as the pizza so it had a nice crunch and smokey flavor to it. While we were enjoying the bread, someone set off firecrackers right outside the window where we were sitting, which scared the crap out of us. Turns out it was the start of a rally for someone who was running for mayor. A crowd of people were marching down the main street of the town carrying balloons and signs, playing drums, and generally just making a lot of noise by chanting and setting off more firecrackers. It was pretty intense and the parade of people walking by on their way to the main square lasted for a good 15 minutes.

Huge crowd of people headed to a political rally in the town square

After all the excitement passed, we turned our attention back to our food. The pizza we chose was the restaurant’s namesake, Inka Wasi. It was basically a meat lover’s pie, topped with ham, chorizo, pepperoni, and chicken.

Inka Wasi pizza topped with ham, chorizo, pepperoni, and chicken

There was a lot of cheese on the pizza I don’t think there was any sauce. If there was, it was undetectable. The toppings were pretty bountiful, with the chorizo and pepperoni adding some spice and tanginess to the pizza. There was also a lot of oregano sprinkled on top that gave it a distinctive taste.

Slice close up

The crust was pretty thin, almost cracker-like around the edges, though the middle was slightly chewier. The pizza oven was very close to where we were sitting so we watched the chef make them. The crusts were actually pre-made flatbreads that he would put the cheese and toppings on. I was worried about the crust being pre-made but I actually wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference because it wasn’t overcooked or dried out. The eucalyptus leaves burning in the oven did give it a slight floral flavor, but it was very subtle. If I hadn’t known beforehand I probably wouldn’t have guessed eucalyptus.

Underside shot

The chicken we got was pollo a la plancha, meaning it was grilled. I don’t know why we were expecting something exciting so we were pretty disappointed with what arrived, which was just a piece of plain chicken breast accompanied by some rice, potatoes, and sauteed veggies.

Grilled chicken breast with potatoes, rice, and veggies

Surprisingly, however, the chicken was pretty tasty – very flavorful and moist. I’m always astonished by how much better chicken tastes in other countries. It’s not just a boring white meat, it actually tastes like a bird. It was well prepared too; tender, juicy, and well seasoned. The sides were decent but plain. The potatoes were fried on the outside and soft on the inside, reminding me of fried yuca. The sauteed vegetables were buttery but standard.

Overall we were pretty happy with the food at Inka Wasi. The pizza was really tasty and the chicken was cooked perfectly. Service was super friendly and efficient. It’s no wonder the restaurant was hopping when we first arrived. There was a 30 minute wait for a table so we ended up taking a stroll and doing a little shopping to kill some time. Price-wise it was a bit expensive for Peru, more on par with NYC prices. The pizza, which was about the size of a large dinner plate, was 42 soles, or US$16. To be fair, there were a lot of toppings on it. The chicken was 33 soles, or US$12, which is not bad. We also had a few Cusquena beers so our total after tax and tip was S/129, or US$48. Certainly not a bargain but we enjoyed our meal thoroughly. I would definitely recommend checking it out if you’re in Aguas Calientes. The seats near the window are great for people watching!

Inka Wasi
Pachacutec 112
Aguas Calientes, Peru

Tinkuy Buffet at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010 by virginia

There’s a hotel right next to the entrance of the Machu Picchu archaeological site called the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge. It’s the only hotel that’s actually on top of the mountain, not a bus ride away, and is therefore very expensive. We stayed in the town of Aguas Calientes below but our tour package did include a buffet lunch at the Sanctuary Lodge’s Tinkuy Buffet. We went to the buffet after the guided portion of our tour. Since we had been walking around the ruins all morning and into the early afternoon, we were starving and pretty happy that we didn’t have to go too far to get lunch.

The restaurant is huge, which is good because it was really busy but there were still plenty of tables. The buffet itself, however, isn’t really that extensive. There were two sides to the buffet but both seemed to be serving mostly the same thing, with maybe just a slight variation on side dishes.

The inside of the restaurant

We nabbed a table next to a window and Josh watched our stuff while I got on one of the lines. There were salad items in the front so I picked out a few things to try first. There were beets, which I always love, pasta salad, caprese salad, fish ceviche, and roast beef. While the pasta salad and roast beef were pretty standard, the ceviche was surprisingly delicious, especially for a buffet. It was  light and refreshing, with a nice acidic brightness. It may not have been as sophisticated as some of the ceviches we had at Alfresco but I enjoyed it a lot, even going back for seconds. The caprese salad was good too, even though it wasn’t made with fresh mozzarella, but there was plenty of fresh basil pesto on top.

Pasta salad, caprese salad, ceviche, roast beef, beets

For the main entrees, there was osso buco and roasted chicken. The osso buco was tender but a bit fatty, and the sauce was kind of bland. The chicken was a much better dish – moist, tender, and flavorful. We ate it with rice and some roasted potatoes on the side.

Osso buco, bread, roasted chicken, roasted potatoes, roast beef, rice

There were a few more salad options, and oddly enough, spaghetti with meat sauce, but that was basically the extent of the buffet. There was dessert too but we weren’t in the mood. While the food wasn’t bad overall, it wasn’t that great. The Tinkuy Buffet is definitely a convenient option, but I’m not sure it’s worth it. The cost is about US$35 per person, which is pretty steep. It does include unlimited soda though, which was a bonus. We were really thirsty from all of the walking so we definitely took advantage of the soda fountain. If it comes as part of your tour package, that’s great, you’ll enjoy it, but I don’t think you should go out of your way to eat there.

If you plan on spending the day at Machu Picchu, I suggest packing a light snack to tide you over until you go back down to the town where prices are more reasonable and the food is better. They say you can’t bring food or drinks into the archaeological site but that wasn’t really true. No one checked our bags, and you definitely need tons of water to get through the day. We saw lots of people just sitting down on some rocks and having a snack. The scenery is unmatched. Obviously just don’t litter, and whatever garbage you end up with you have to take back out with you because there are no garbage cans anywhere. We ended up eating some pound cake at the top of Huayna Picchu the next day and it was one of the best experiences of our lives. While the buffet was forgettable, that view definitely was not.

Tinkuy Buffet at Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge
Machu Picchu, Peru