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Arequipa, Peru, Yummy Food October 26, 2011

The Quest for the Best Picanteria in Arequipa

The main reason we came to Arequipa was for the food, typical comida ArequipeƱa such as ‘rocoto relleno’, ‘chupe de camarones’, ‘chicharrones’ and more. We had never considered ourselves foodies in the slightest bit before we got to Peru. Never before being obsessed with food, I think being away from good food for months in Colombia and Ecuador finally took its toll.

(Mis)adventure, Tacna October 14, 2011

Getting Scammed at the Peru – Chile border

Tacna, Peru

Something fishy in Tacna border crossing

There's something fishy around here - by hitthatswitch

We knew there was something fishy

about the $20 ‘tourist card’ fee the collectivo driver demanded from all the gringos in the taxi.

There were some signs that should’ve raised a lot more flags than they did that day at Tacna International Bus terminal:

– Guy 1 mentioned that it’s only levied for first time visitors (we had never heard anything like it before about Peru-Chile border crossing).
– Guy 2 said something about the fee is for making the line goes faster (as in like a ‘bribe’?).
– The price was quoted as both in Chilean peso and Peruvian soles but the two numbers are off by $4 each. Which is – well, significant.

But we were vulnerable:

– We just had a 6 hour bus ride and it was getting dark outside
– I was sick and really wanted to get across to Arica, Chile as soon as possible

But more importantly:
We haven’t read anything about the scam> during our research Quite the contrary, we did read something about paying for a tourist card. Now that I looked at that post again I realised that the blog poster fell for the scam without realising it and that the scam has gone up from 15 soles to 50 soles, all within 4 months.

Because we’re so used to rely on hearsay and on our own research, we’ve learned to ignore our own instincts that were sounding the alarm with a gigantic hammer labeled ‘Use only in case of impending idiocy’.

So these guys really knew what they were doing on how to take advantage of the situation, because we went from ‘No, this is crazy. I’ve never heard that we have to pay.’ to ‘Well, maybe we missed something and they’re right?’

Between the guys rushing us around and being pushy and me being sick, and the only other gringo in the taxi having paid up – we paid too (the cheaper of the 2 ‘versions’ of the price).

As soon as we got the hostal in Arica, I looked around the net and I found the only other account of the scam online:

It does seem to be a relatively recent scam since I only found the thread after researching a weird combination of searchwords. The regular keywords such as “Peru – Chile border crossing” didn’t seem to bring up that one thread.

Realising that because of this, there will be a lot more people falling for the scam, I had half a mind to do the 2 hour drive back to Tacna, Peru to confront the guys and to warn the others. But Jack mentioned, half-jokingly, that it might get us both killed. With $20 a person, it’s a big money maker.

So I thought I did the next best thing: put up warning on travel forums online and hope others doing their research about this particular Tacna – Arica border crossing will come across it.

And go back to my zen center and hope karma will get the best of those scammers.

And try to remember the lessons learned from the scam:

– Try to cross the border during the day (psychologically it helps us from feeling rushed).
– Only pay ‘visa fee’ or any kind of immigration fee really to custom border officials.
– Be careful of anyone wearing giant cold chains around their neck (ok, maybe not really).

On the bright side of things…

The Tacna – Arica border crossing itself was a piece of cake – very smooth and orderly. So now, we’re in Chile!

I have to say that nothing like being scammed colored our opinion of a country, that’s why I’m glad those guys said they’re Peruvians. We really, really want to like Chile – our host for the next weeks or so.

We have been impressed so far: friendly people and cars that actually stop for pedestrians on sidewalk (I know! Crazy, huh?). And oh, their soccer team is better too – they just kick Peru’s ass in their latest match: 4-2.

Tell us:

What’s your almost-scammed or fudge-I-got-scammed story from your travels?

Cuzco, Peru October 11, 2011

How to Survive Cuzco on a Budget

Cuzco, Peru

Despite unpleasant things we heard about Cuzco (it’s expensive and overrun with tourists), we found ourselves unexpectedly charmed Cuzco’s architecture and alleyways.

Cusco Plaza del Arma

It turned out that Cuzco is not as expensive as we were led to believe either: Our hostal and food cost is not any higher than the average we’ve been spending in Peru.

The thing is: it’s easy to spend a lot money in Cuzco.

Especially on food and tours.

Every other building in the Cuzco’s Old Town seems to be selling overpriced comfort food that reminds us of home: pizzas, burritos, hamburguers, etc.

There are hundreds of tour agencies in Cuzco offering everything from “meh” city tour to treks around the Sacred Valley.

Fortunately, good value on food can still be found in Cuzco.

Eating in Cusco

The buffet at Maikhani

The buffet at Maikhani

Cuzco is big enough city that there’s a big range of choices of restaurants to pick from. Just to give you an example: a lunch at Jack’s Cafe, a popular gringo cafe in Cuzco, will easily set you back about 20-25 soles. Literally next door is a restaurant selling set menu that includes soup, main dish (a selection between Peru’s comida tipica: lomo saltado, aji de gallina, trucha frita, etc), and drink for a whopping 5 soles (less than $2).

Other good places to eat that became our staples are:

The market – The cheapest food in town can be found in town’s market – about 10 min walk from Plaza del Arma. Not necessarily the best in cleanliness or even taste, but it’s good value. Egg sandwich (1.20 soles), fresh juice (2.50 – 4 soles), and a plate of rice with fish (3 soles) is our breakfast staple. Try the quinoa drink (1 sole). It’s made of blended quinoa and apple (and maybe milk) – drunk warm it’s quite filling.

Hanaq Pacha – 10 soles set menu comes a variety of appetizer and main course to choose from, desert, and drink. The food leans towards Western influence – it’s a good value if you’re craving something other than ‘comida tipica’. Delicious food and friendly service.

El Encuentro – Right next door from Hanaq Pacha this place serves good and plentiful vegetarian menu for 7 soles. It comes with DIY salad bar, soup, entree, and tea. The entree is usually a version of stew/curry of some sort of beans.

Prasada – A late found, this hole in the wall place is a treasure. Serving vegetarian snack food such as pizza, falafel burger, vegetarian tacos, etc. The portion is decent, the service is friendly, and a really good value for the price (5 – 6 soles).

Prasada, Cusco

Jack’s Cafe – not quite budget, but a good value if you’re craving comfort food. They make the best cappuccino (seriously) and their breakfast dishes (huevos rancheros, pancakes, etc) are large enough for 2 people. Food from 15 soles.

Maikhani – Indian food buffet for 15 soles. Delicious curry dishes (when it says spicy, it’s really spicy). The vegetarian dishes are less stellar than the meat dishes, but still pretty good. Especially after you’ve gone curry-less for 5 months.

Things to Do in Cusco on A Budget (ruins free)

Jack and I choose not to get the boleto turistico since our interest in ruins is limited. If you’re a ruin non-enthusiast like us, the following activities are relatively cheap, do not involve ruins, and we found to be worth our time.

Maras and Moray – Of the two, we think the salineras of Maras is the one worthy of visit. Unfortunately, the transport from Cuzco is bundled in with a visit to the ruins in Moray which we thought was just ok. Interesting, but not worth the 10 soles admission. Any tour agency in Cusco offers this. 20 soles (not including entrance fees).

Ollantaytambo as a day trip – Doable as a day trip from Cuzco, we enjoyed Ollantaytambo as a fun place to walk around. Apparently it’s one of the few continuously inhabited pre-Incan sites in Peru – and if you know what you’re looking for, you can see characteristics of Incan masonry on the walls and on the foundation on the houses in Ollantaytambo. By the way, the hike up the pre-Incan granaries (across from the Ollantaytambo’s main ruin is free and provides a nice view of the town.

Market day in Chincero, Peru

Chincero – known for its Sunday market, it’s a lot more traditional than the one in Pisaq. It’s not yet swarmed with kids dressed up in traditional clothing and hound tourists for photo ops.

Salsa lesson – Salseros Cusco on Colla Calle offers group salsa lesson for 10 soles for 1 hour every Monday, Wednesday and Friday (beginner 5 – 6 pm, intermediate 6 – 7pm, advance 7 -8 pm). Highly recommended. Many bars around Plaza del Arma offer free salsa lessons as well, but the quality of the lesson is lacking.

Chocolate Museum – Even though they weren’t as liberal with free samples as we were led to believe (bummer) we did walk out knowing more about this awesome fruit than before. The 7 soles sample (3 chocolate pieces and an espresso) was a good deal. Great view of Cuzco’s rooftops from its balconies.

Laguna Yanacocha – beautiful lake (more like a pond) surrounded by forests, little known in the area. How to get there: take a Cusco – Urubamba combi (that passes through Pisaq), then get off at Wayohari. The trail starts from the pueblo (ask around for the start) to the laguna takes about 1.5 -2 hour.

Budget Stay in Cusco

We stayed in quite different spots while we were in Cusco. We paid 40 soles for a private double room that include en-suite bathroom in all of these places.

Hospedaje Sambleno – decent room, hot showers (when it works), but fast wifi.
Casa de Los Cerezos – small room, good shower, very fast wifi, and a kitchen. It’s next to Plaza San Blas, past a an artesanal market.
Samanapata Backpackers – large room, good hot shower, wifi was just ok even though we were right next to it.

Spanish School in Cusco

We went and did private Spanish classes in 3 different schools in Cusco. Two of these I really enjoyed:

San Blas Spanish School – I had Gustavo and Jose as teachers. They’re awesome. 23 soles per hour.

Proyecto Peru – I had Angie whom I also liked very much. 25 soles per hour.

See the places on the map

Green – hostales
Blue – places to eat
Red – places of interest
Magenta – spanish school

View Cusco Budget in a larger map

We don’t consider ourselves ‘budget travelers’ in a regular sense – chasing pennies and eating peanut butter sandwiches all day (funnily enough – peanut butter is expensive here so the stereotype doesn’t really work). But we do enjoy getting good value for our money (who wouldn’t?).

Even though, we – mere mortals – allow ourselves to give in to temptation every now and then as well.

For more on traveling in Peru, check out this guide.

Have something to add to this list? Let us know in the comment below.

Lima, Peru, Yummy Food September 27, 2011

Peruvian Ceviche for the First Time in Lima

We met our host in Lima, Ana, when we were volunteering in Banos, Ecuador.

When we finally were making our way to Lima and making plans to meet up with her, we told her that there are 2 things we’d like to do in the 2 days we’re in Lima:
1. See the ‘erotic pottery’ exhibition in Museo Larco
2. Eat yummy Peruvian food

And boy, like an awesome host that she is, she fulfilled both of our wishes.

Cuzco, Peru September 23, 2011

The colorful salt ponds of Maras

Cuzco, Peru

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These salt pans have been used to extract salt from the local subterranean stream since pre-Incan times. We visited the salt ponds in Maras as a day tour from Cuzco.
Cost: 25 soles ($9) for transport to both Maras and Moray – entrance fees not included.
Entrance fee to Maras: 5 soles
Entrance fee to Moray: 10 soles (or included in your ‘boleto turistico’). It was just ‘meh’.

Peru, Trujillo, Yummy Food September 1, 2011

Eeew, raw fish – Gluttony in Trujillo

Trujillo, Peru

Remember that day in Trujillo when we ate nothing but American chain food?

Well, it didn’t take for the guilt to sink in and we decided to make it up for our remaining 2 days in Trujillo. Well, the guilt and the price tag, really. Pizza Hut was expensive.

Everyone that we’ve met unequivocally said that Peru has the best food in the whole continent.

Well, we’re going to judge it for ourselves. We’re skipping Trujillo’s more known comida tipica: cabrito, lomo saltado, and other local delicacies and sticking to sea food, taking advantage of the fact that Trujillo is located on the coast.

Come with us on a 2 day tour of Peruvian food!

Day 1
We found ourselves in Huaychao, a coastal village 30 min away from Trujillo. And there we had our first encounter with ceviche.

Ceviche – First encounter

I’m not a big fan of raw fish. I’m one of those people who go to the sushi restaurant and order exclusively from the fried/cooked roll sections.

So ceviche presents an interesting dilemma: it’s cooked. But not with fire. Does it count?

Regardless I decided that going to Peru without trying ceviche at least once would be a blasphemy.

When it came, my heart sank.

Ceviche in Trujillo, Peru

Our first ceviche

It looks worse than I imagined. It jiggles when I tried to spear a piece with my forks.

Jack was looking at me expectantly, camera handy. ‘Go on – you ordered it’.

I took a deep breath, ‘Ugh, whatever…Here’s one for the road’

I put a liveless, cold piece of mystery fish in my mouth and swallowed.

First impression: it was sour. Then: a little chewy, it was not so bad.

I doubt that I’d be craving it anytime soon, but I did finish the plate. But I was glad to have Jack’s chicharron de pescado (fish nuggets) as a chaser.

Chicharron de Pescado

Fried fish nuggets. They taste as good as they sound.

Chicarron - Jack's new favorite food

Chicarron - Jack's new favorite food

Then as a second chaser, this is what I ordered:

Pescado de Ajo

Pescado de Aji

Now this – this is how I like my seafood: HOT (just how I like my men šŸ™‚ ). Fried fish covered with garlic sauce, shrimps, and odds and ends of other seafood.

It was good, but a dish with garlic in the name I expected it to be a lot more garlicky.

Despite the huge lunch, we wanted more. So we walked for a couple of blocks, and ducked in into another restaurant. This time we ordered the calamari.

Calamari – Deep Fried

The aji that it came with was bomb. It was so hot.
“Senora, una CusteƱa negra, por favor” we managed to choke out with our burning tounge.

More chicharron, Trujillo, Peru

More chicharron - Huanchaco

Day 2
We were invited by our Couchsurfing host to a cevicheria. “Best ceviche! Lots of people come”

And it was true. The place was packed.

Not tempted in the slightest bit, I stayed away from the ceviche section and ordered something I knew was going to be hot.

Palahuela – Quickly a favorite

Palahuela or seafood stew is my kind of seafood: thick, filled with chunky pieces of seafood. It was delicious! It’s even better than the Pescado de Aji.

I can eat this every day. And for $4 a plate, I might actually be able to afford it.

Parihuela - Trujillo, Peru

Parihuela - A Seafood Stew

Leche de Tigre

Or tiger’s milk. It’s basically a soup served in a cocktail glass made out of ceviche juice. It’s white and it has floaty stuff in it. It tastes strongly of lemon/lime.

Forgot to take pic of ours. So this one is courtesy of by canelita0306

And it’s cold.

Despite how it looks (only slightly better than the ceviche itself). It actually goes very well with ‘maize’ or toasted corns.

More fried stuff…

Jack decided that he hadn’t had enough fried stuff and ordered another plate of chicharron de pescado. I envy his metabolism that seems to be able to handle as much fried food as he wants.

Taking out our CS host for lunch

Us and our CS host after a particularly good lunch

Wha? Chinese food?

Unfortunately we had to end our gastronomy trip in Trujillo on a downward turn, in a chifa – a Chinese restaurant. The cevicheria we wanted to go to was closed for a private event.

There are so many of these ‘chifas’ in Peru serving huge plates of what you’d expect out of a Chinese restaurant – rice or noodles – but with a Peruvian twist.

Which I think simply means a blander version of Chinese food.

In the end…

Trujillo gave us 101 lesson on Peruvian seafood and it whetted our appetite for more.

As a matter of fact, the only reason we’re going to Arequipa next is to check out its supposedly varied and unique twist on Peruvian food. Yumm, can’t wait! Sorry, Colca Canyon – no offense.

The owner of the cevicheria that was closed for a private event promised us free ceviche if we ever come back. But the question is…

Would we try ceviche again?
Absolutely. As one reader suggests on our FB page, eating it with rice/chufa as chaser will help soften the acid of the lime juice.

But Peru does seem to have a lot of options when it comes to food – I’m afraid it will be awhile until I order one again.

Chachapoyas, Peru August 30, 2011

Kuelap – The Pre-Inca Ruins of Chachapoyas

As the first city in Peru that we’ve stayed in, Chachapoyas had the unfortunate responsiblity of giving us a good first impression of this 3rd country in our RTW travel.

Fortunately, Chachapoyas had nothing to worry about.

Its neat and tidy plaza and white painted buildings brought us back to all of those cute Colombian pueblos that we loved so much.

And if you’re into ruins, you’ll love it even more. This area is not only blessed with dramatic sceneries, but it’s dotted with more ruins that you probably have time for.

Peru, Trujillo August 16, 2011

Playing Americans in Trujillo, Peru

Big cities are never quite our things.

We’ve been on the road for 4 months and the number of big cities we can safely say we’ve explored is very few. There were those 3 days we spent in Medellin. The 1 day spent in Quito.

So safe to say that for the 4 months we’ve been traveling in South America we never had the opportunity to enjoy big city stuff. Things such as concerts, museums, and the hustle bustle of a city life.

Things such as shopping malls. Western style shopping malls.