Posts Tagged ‘Puno’

Alma Cocina Viva (Puno, Peru)

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010 by virginia

Because our hotel, the Casa Andina Private Collection, was so far out of the main area in Puno, we ended up eating dinner at the hotel restaurant, Alma, both nights we stayed there. We stayed at many different Casa Andina PCs during our time in Peru and the hotel restaurant was always named Alma but we didn’t know how similar the menu was from place to place. Based on the menus on their website, it looks like each restaurant serves local specialties as well as some standard Peruvian dishes that overlap at each location.

Our meal on both nights started off with a basket of bread. There were some soft dinner rolls as well as seeded breadsticks. The rolls were a bit stale but tasted good when dipped into a garlicky spread topped with sweet balsamic vinegar.

Dinner rolls and breadsticks

Garlic spread with balsamic vinegar

On the first night, neither of us were really hungry so we just ordered entrees and no appetizers. We chose a dish that was described as being a traditional Puno dish, called saqta de gallina. Gallina is hen, but we didn’t know what saqta meant. When the dish arrived and I saw it was in a yellow sauce, I was terrified that it would be the ocopa sauce that I disliked so much. My fears intensified when I saw a bright green herb sprinkled on top of the dish, which I thought would be the dreaded Andean mint. Fortunately, it wasn’t. The yellow sauce had a mild sweet flavor and reminded me of korma sauce, which I love. The pieces of chicken were tender, and it was mixed with onions and potatoes. There was Andean cheese on top of the dish but they were easily moved aside. Josh and I both ended up really enjoying the dish, and we were pleasantly surprised.

Saqta de gallina - a traditional Puno dish

Our other entree was lomo saltado, a standard Peruvian dish. It’s stir fried beef with onions, tomatoes, and peppers, served with french fries and rice. The beef was a little salty but it was tender and flavorful. The french fries were pretty good as well, I just wish they had given us more because there were only about a dozen fries altogether. I do love my french fries!

Lomo saltado

On our second night eating at Alma, Josh got a yellow potato cream soup to start. Peruvian potatoes are a bit more starchy than the ones we’re used to, but the soup was rich and creamy with lots of potato flavor. There was a chili oil on top but it wasn’t spicy, and once it was stirred into the soup we didn’t notice it at all.

Yellow potato cream soup

For my entree, I selected the alpaca steak frites because I loved the alpaca we had at Zig Zag, and I love french fries, of course. Unfortunately, the menu did not say that the alpaca would be crusted in cumin seeds. The pieces of meat were absolutely covered, and while I like the flavor of cumin, crunching into whole seeds with every bite was really not pleasant. I tried to scrape of the seeds as best as I could but it kind of ruined the dish for me. The alpaca was also a bit tough and chewy, and I was disappointed with the dish overall. To add insult to injury, the portion of fries was once again pretty paltry.

Alpaca steak frites

Josh ordered a dish that was recommended, which was glazed kingfish in a sesame honey sauce served with mashed potatoes and garlic tempura vegetables. The kingfish came from the lake, which meant that it was fresh. However, I took one bite and almost spit it out. The fish had been crusted in sesame seeds, which I found overpoweringly bitter, and the honey sauce was so cloyingly sweet. I wanted to try another bite, thinking that maybe I just got a bad piece, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. The first bite had taken me a lot of willpower to swallow and not throw up. It was such a strong reaction that even Josh was a little shocked. Josh liked the dish though, so I guess our palates just reacted very differently to the flavors.

Glazed kingfish in a sesame honey sauce

Overall I wasn’t so thrilled with the food at Alma, but it was certainly convenient for us since it was right in the hotel. I did like the saqta de gallina dish from the first night, and the lomo saltado was decent, but nothing was really super impressive. Prices were on the higher side for Peru, though not very expensive by NYC standards. Entrees mostly ranged from 30-40 soles, or about US$11-14. Service was fine, and they actually brought a phone to us one night when our tour guide was trying to reach us. Still, I kind of regret not eating in the city, especially since we generally don’t like to repeat restaurants when we’re away. Oh well. While I can’t really recommend Alma unless you’re in a bind, I do think that Casa Andina PC is a great hotel chain.

Alma Cocina Viva
Av.Sesqui Centenario 1970
Puno, Peru

Peru Day 8 – Copacabana (Bolivia), Puno, Floating Islands (Uros)

Monday, November 22nd, 2010 by virginia

We had a relatively low key morning when we woke up on our catamaran, as we were still docked at Sun Island. We had the option of going into town early in the morning but Josh and I opted to sleep in instead, which was a luxury for us considering all of the early wake ups we’d been having. Then we were able to enjoy a long breakfast while the boat sped off back to Copacabana.

Scrambled eggs with ham on toast

Bananas, papaya, and pineapple

Back in Copacabana, we split up from the Australian couple as they were headed to La Paz (lucky!) and we were returning to Puno.

Back at the Copacabana marina

The tour company had arranged for us to leave at 4 pm, and considering it was only about 10 am and we had already seen most of Copacabana, we opted for an earlier bus at 1:30. Our guide suggested that we walk to the top of a large hill that overlooks the city, called Calvary Hill. There are many many steps that go up, and along way are the different stations of the cross. On Good Friday, there is a procession that goes up the hill with someone carrying a large cross to replicate the passion of Jesus.

The entrance gate to Calvary Hill

Sadly, we were completely winded by the stairs and only made it halfway up the hill before we called it quits. We had been stopping at every station to catch our breaths, and we calculated that we wouldn’t have enough time to make it to the top and then back down before we had to catch our bus. At the midway point there was a lookout that gave us a nice view of Lake Titicaca, as well as an encompassing view of of the city.

A lot of steps going up

The first station of the cross

At the midway point up the hill

Lake Titicaca


It’s a good thing we turned around when we did because surprisingly, it was harder to go down. The steps were pretty steep and super slippery. It was a struggle not to fall on our rear ends so we slowly inched our way down. We definitely would have missed our bus had we continued all the way to the top.

Another view of the city

When we got back on flat ground, we went back to the Basilica to see the black Madonna, a famous statue of the Virgin Mary made out of dark wood. We didn’t have much time to admire the statue though, because they were preparing for a wedding in the church. On our way out we passed the bride who was resplendent in white. We tried to see an Inca site but it was up another hill and we knew we’d never make it. We headed back to the center of town to check out a local agricultural market. We also did a little souvenir shopping and just walked around for a little while.

Produce stalls at the local market

Ceviche from a streetcart (no, we didn't have the guts to try some!)

Satue in the main square

Lunch was included for us at a little restaurant across the street from the tour company’s office. I was a little worried because we were only allowed to choose from the set menu of the day, not the regular menu. The set menu included soup, entrees of the day, and dessert, all for 25 bolivianos, which is about US$3.50. The rest of the menu was pricier so I couldn’t imagine that we’d get a good meal for $3.50. For the entree, we had a choice between beef, trout, and spaghetti bolognese. We had no interest in the bolognese so we opted for beef and trout.

The soup was an Andean soup with assorted vegetables, grains, and pieces of beef. I was worried that it would have mint in it but it was actually very clean tasting and refreshing despite the heat.

Andean soup with vegetables, grains, and beef

They also gave us a small loaf of bread to munch on, which was accompanied by a super spicy tomato salsa.

Bread and spicy salsa

The trout entree was pink trout from the lake and it was a huge filet just simply grilled. It was nicely seasoned and surprisingly really delicious with just a squeeze of lime over the top. It came with a side of french fries that were a tad starchy but not bad.

Grilled lake trout with french fries

The beef was also simply grilled and perfectly seasoned. It was slightly chewy but the flavor was terrific – really beefy. Overall we were pretty pleased with both entrees.

Grilled beef with vegetables and fries

Dessert was a simple scoop of strawberry ice cream topped with chocolate sauce, which was perfect on a hot, sunny day.

Strawberry ice cream with chocolate sauce

After lunch, we took a bus back to Puno. Sadly, no one picked us up from the bus station so we took a cab back to our hotel. We were in a rush because we wanted to take a tour of the floating islands and we weren’t sure what time tours ended. We asked at the front desk and they managed to arrange a private tour for us that conveniently left from the dock behind our hotel.

Boat to take us to the floating islands

Our guide was a native of the floating islands, which was pretty cool. He told us a bit about the setup of the islands, which are actually pretty incredible. They are made out of reeds from the lake and there are homes, stores, restaurants, and a school on these islands. Each individual island is home to about six families, and they travel from one island to another using reed boats.

Speeding past the reeds used to make the floating islands

Uros is the name of the floating islands

Homes on the islands

More islands

We stopped off at one island where we met the president, who demonstrated how the islands are actually made. Basically blocks of reeds and roots are tied together, then topped with layers of cut reeds. The reeds need to be replaced every two weeks, which just seems to be a crazy amount of work.

The president demonstrating how the islands are made

We took a tour of a home on the island and dressed up in native clothing. The people were so friendly and so excited to be with us, especially the children.

We hopped into a reed boat to visit another island, and everyone sang “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” to us in several different languages. A few of the children came in the boat with us and played around us. They were absolutely adorable

The reed boat dropped us off at a different island that had a hotel (really just a room), a grocery store, and a restaurant.

It was pretty dark by the time we finished touring the second island so we hopped on our boat and headed back to our hotel. The floating islands really are an incredible place, and I was happy that we were able to book our own tour last minute. They were definitely the highlight of Puno. Even now when I think about all those happy and excited children, they just bring a smile to my face. Tourism is obviously a big factor in helping these islanders sustain their way of life so I encourage everyone to visit these floating islands and see for yourself just how amazing these people are.

Peru Day 6 – Sillustani and Puno

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010 by virginia

We had a super early morning flight out of Arequipa to Juliaca. Our flight was at 6:10 am and originally we were supposed to leave for the airport at 4:10 am but luckily our guide was able to get our boarding passes ahead of time, which bought us some extra time. We left for the airport around 5 am, which meant we still had to get up at 4 am to make sure we had everything packed and ready to go.

Needless to say we were pretty exhausted when we got to the airport but we saw a lot of people from our Colca Canyon tour group there so we had a good time chatting with everyone. We were the only ones headed to Puno, while everyone else was off to Cusco. Our hotel had packed us breakfast boxes since we left before the buffet started but we only drank the peach juice and left the ham and cheese sandwiches and yogurt behind.

The flight itself was less than an hour, and we had barely fallen asleep before it was time to get off the plane. We collected our luggage and waited for our transfer from Juliaca to Puno, where we would be staying. And we waited. And waited. Apparently the tour company had forgotten about us. No one knew we were coming. Luckily we met a tour guide from a different company who called our tour company for us, and eventually after waiting for an hour, we were picked up by someone from our tour company who happened to be dropping off another client.

It was sort of a frustrating experience for us but we shook it off and continued on our tour. The drive from Juliaca to Puno included a stop at the Sillustani graves along the way. The site is a pre-Incan burial ground that was used by the Chollas, a group of Aymaras who were conquered by the Incas. The place was so sacred though that the Incans respected the tombs of the Chollas, since they were for royalty. Now the site includes both Incan and Chollan graves. The tombs are called “chullpas” and are tall, round towers. The opening faces the east, and inside the tombs they found mummies of royals who were buried in fetal position, along with their servants.

The tallest chullpa

Inside the chullpa

Other tombs at the site

While I’m not usually one to enjoy walking around tombs and grave sites, I really loved the area. It sounds sort of silly but I could see why the place appealed to the Collas and Incas. It’s situated on a lake, Lake Umayo to be exact, and it was really peaceful there. The grass was a yellowish color, the lake brilliant blue, and there was a soft breeze that billowed through, bringing fresh air and a sense of calm.

Lake Umayo

Cows grazing in a field nearby

A lake on the other side of the site, where there were flamingos

After leaving Sillustani, we stopped at the home of some local farmers. We felt a bit awkward just walking into their place but I guess they must have a deal with tour companies because they seemed perfectly at ease with us poking our heads into their bedrooms and taking stock of their outdoor kitchen. Their home was really pretty simple, just a courtyard with a few small shacks that served as the bedrooms. We also sampled some of their homemade cheese, which I only nibbled at because it probably hadn’t been pasteurized, plus the flavor was too milky for my taste, as well as some small boiled potatoes that we dipped into bowls of clay. The clay was muddy and sort of gross looking, but it actually tasted pretty good with the potatoes. It gave them a sort of salty, earthy flavor.

The entrance to the home. The two cows above the doorway symbolizes that they are farmers.

They had llamas and alpacas out front

They also had a guanaco, which was the only one we saw on our trip

The inner courtyard and the little houses that served as bedrooms

Homemade cheese

Assorted potatoes and root vegetables, plus clay for dipping

Pen of cuy, for special occasions

Afterward, we were taken to our hotel in Puno, which is the city on Lake Titicaca. Our hotel was very nice but it was pretty far from the main part of the city. After dropping off our bags and settling in a little, we took a cab to the Plaza de Armas, or the main square. There really wasn’t a whole lot to see or much going on in the town.

Statue at the center of the Plaza de Armas

We pretty much just wandered around town, looking for places to shop and walking through some local outdoor markets. We also found the main market in the center of town, a two story building where people sell fruits, vegetables, meats, and other foods. It was pretty interesting but not a place where we would buy stuff for ourselves.

The main street downtown with lots of shops and restaurants and is closed off to cars

The main agricultural market in the center of town

Local outdoor market selling everyday goods like clothing and household supplies

We skipped lunch but decided to stop for some ice cream. Josh got cappuccino gelato at a little place called Il Gelato Heladeria Cafe. It had good flavor but was kind of icy and not creamy enough. The gelato flavors they had didn’t appeal to me so I stopped at a place called Chepy’s, which had a long line. It was really cheap (a cone with two different flavors cost 1 sol) but the ice cream was gummy and artificial tasting. I picked grape and strawberry, and both tasted like bubblegum versions of the fruit. Meh.

My grape and strawberry ice cream cone

Before heading back to the hotel, we made sure to see the sights noted in our guidebook. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much. We saw the cathedral, a wooden balcony that is supposed to be famous, and some other supposedly famous building but I’m not sure why.


Famous balcony

Famous building

We also stopped at a cafe with a courtyard and had a beer to kill some time but we were pretty bored. Since there was nothing else to see and nothing left to do, we took a cab back to our hotel, which is right on Lake Titicaca.

View of Lake Titicaca from our hotel terrace

We ended up just relaxing the rest of the night and ate dinner at our hotel because we didn’t feel like taking a cab back into the city. We were pretty tired from our early morning flight, and to be honest, Puno just wasn’t that exciting. We were basically there because it was the jump off point for Lake Titicaca, and the rest of our time on the lake was much nicer. But more on that later.

Quick Update From Peru (and Bolivia!)

Sunday, September 26th, 2010 by virginia

Just wanted to drop a quick post to wrap up the first half of our trip. We’re currently in Puno, Peru, right on Lake Titicaca. Yesterday we went to Copacabana, Bolivia, where we caught a catamaran ride around the lake. We had an amazing time on Sun Island, which is the largest island in the lake. We took a short trek to some incredible Inca ruins, and the views were just beautiful. We also got to spend some time in the village on the island where were able to pet donkeys and llamas, and were in the middle of a stampede of sheep. It seemed like around every corner there was a surprise that absolutely delighted us.

We spent this morning walking around Copacabana (the Bolivian town is supposedly the original, not the one in Brazil) and then we returned to Puno where took a boat ride to the floating islands. The floating islands are absolutely astonishing. They’re man-made islands constructed out of reeds, and there are about six families that live on each island. We visited two islands, and the first was filled with the friendliest children we’ve ever met, who were so excited to greet us and play with us. It was a thrilling yet humbling experience.

Tomorrow we head to Cusco and the Sacred Valley, and we’ll be in Machu Picchu for the next two days after that. We heard that there were strikes in Cusco last week, which are over now and hopefully won’t affect us, but please keep your fingers crossed!