Ron Stern | Global Gumshoe
I didn’t think it was possible to see much of Peru in just a short, three-day trip. After all, this is a country with a rich cultural history, diverse topography and abundant natural attractions. I could have spent a lifetime discovering Peru’s treasures, but here are a few favorites.
A prized possession of the Spanish colonies, Lima was the wealthiest city in the Americas for three centuries. Its historic downtown was given Unesco World Heritage status in 1991. I spent a pleasant afternoon in the city center, sampling local foods, admiring the various styles of colonial and baroque architecture, and popping into churches to view some of the local religious history.
The districts of Miraflores and San Isidro were great places to visit, combining modern residential living among parks, sidewalk cafes, shopping malls and restaurants. Cala, overlooking the ocean, is a wonderful place to enjoy local fare.
Lima’s many accolades include being the undisputed culinary capital of the Americas. Peruvians embrace their multicultural past by incorporating foods from the various ethnicities that migrated here: Spanish, South African, Italian and Chinese.
Topping the list of most-loved favorites would be ceviche, a blend of fresh raw fish, lemon or lime juice, onions and spices. Next would be lomo saltado, prepared with marinated sirloin, onions and spices in a sauce and served with rice or fried potatoes.
The light yellow Inca Cola, made from lemongrass and tasting like bubble gum, is probably the most popular soft drink. The alcohol beverage, pisco sour, can be found at most restaurants in Lima. Made from a distillation of grapes with egg whites and lemon juice, it is similar in taste to a whisky sour.
Located in the southeastern part of the country, in the shadow of the Andes, Cusco is a short flight from Lima and home to 400,000 residents. Locals and tourists intermingle in the relaxed atmosphere of the city’s main square.
The Church of the Company of Jesus overlooks the square and features a huge cedar altar gilded in gold, along with many other artworks. Entry is free, but no photography of any kind is permitted.
Dedicated to the sun god and venerated by the people of Cusco, Coricancha was one of the main temples in the Inca Empire from the 10th to 15th centuries. You can tour the grounds and see a part of the original wall for a small fee.
At the textile mill in Chinchero, there are local workers making everything from colorful rugs to hats and sweaters from regional materials. They even dye fibers on-site, in much the same way as their Inca ancestors, centuries before.
I planned an entire day when visiting Machu Picchu via the Peru Rail. I started out with a hour-and-a-half train ride through the Sacred Valley. You can book online and add the lunch buffet as you roll past magnificent views of the Andes, the Inca Trail, rivers and forest.
From the town Aguas Calientes, buses are waiting to take passengers up to Machu Picchu, and my first bird’s eye view of the ruins and surrounding green mountains was breathtaking. It can take several hours to explore the many nooks and crannies where the ancient Inca civilization called home.
The return ride was with the Hiram Bingham Orient Express luxury train, operated by Peru Rail. This is truly an indulgent experience with white linen tablecloths, wine, gourmet appetizers and entrees, as well as pre- and on-board entertainment.
While I did pack a lot into a couple of days, you can benefit by staying longer. There seems to be something magical about this country that will enchant and entice you to explore its many mysteries and adventurous spirit.