Welcome to our travel and foodies guide to the best of Peru. I’m struggling to name another country with as much diversity as Peru.
Peru was the epicenter of the Inca empire so there’s plenty of history.Then there is the influence of the Spanish and the people of the Amazon region, and more recent history brings Japanese influence as well. Geographically, Peru contains most of the world’s known climatic zones as well, which all just adds to the interest for a traveler. And of course, different cultures and climatic zones results in great diversity when it comes to food and drink.
In addition, Peru’s middle class has grown substantially in the last 10 years resulting in any number of fabulous restaurants and cafes to keep any traveler happy. Pull up a seat, grab a coffee (or a pisco!) and read why you should consider Peru for your next travel destination.
Travel and Foodies Guide to the Best of Peru: Lima
When traveling to Peru, your first port of call will almost certainly be Lima, Peru’s capital and largest city with about 8.5 million residents. Lima’s reputation as a food destination is growing. In 2016, Lima had 3 restaurants in the top 50 on the World’s Best Restaurants List – Maido, Central and Astrid & Gaston. And all three of these restaurants are in the top 10 of the 50 Best Restaurants in Latin America!
If you want to visit any of these restaurants, make a reservation well in advance, about the same time you book your hotel, maybe even before! You can check their menus online, they are all fine dining experiences.
When visiting Lima, we stay in Miraflores, just south of the main city, it’s a great place for restaurants and markets.
Miraflores is also a pleasant area to walk around and there are 2 fabulous restaurants we highly recommend:
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- Costazul. It’s small, not fancy, but has a fabulous personality and is highly-rated (and has been for many years). Carlos, the owner, is a barrel of laughs and plays great music! The ceviche here is legendary. And don’t forget a Pisco Sour, the national drink of Peru (and Chile).
- La Mar. More up-market than Costazul, and a little more expensive. (La Mar is #12 on the Top 50 Restaurants in Latin America). This restaurant is only open at lunch time (to use the morning’s seafood catch while it is at its freshest). It is very busy and does not take reservations, so expect a wait. It has a wood-fired oven and makes some traditional Peruvian seafood dishes as well as a variety of ceviches.
Lima’s also a great place to check out the local markets or perhaps take a cooking class. We have a great recommendation for both a market tour and a cooking class with a local chef in Lima.
We are always on the hunt for a great coffee shop and we found Arabica in Miraflores. If you like your coffee, we highly recommend you stop by for a cuppa!
Travel and Foodies Guide to the Best of Peru: Cusco and the Sacred Valley
If you are going to Machu Picchu, then you will certainly travel through Cusco and the Sacred Valley. Be aware, the elevation is very high in Cusco. Visit the Sacred Valley first. It is at a slightly lower elevation. Discover the agricultural secrets of the Incas as well as many Inca ruins and visit the local weaving cooperatives to learn about the beautiful and colorful textiles of Peru. It is fascinating to me how they can grow wheat at 9,000 feet. The Incas were amazing farmers.
Then spend a few days in Cusco where you can visit a myriad of tourist hot-spots. A great place to splurge on a luxury stay is the stunning Palacio Nazarene Hotel, a historical hotel in an old convent.
A few days in Cusco and you will have adjusted to the altitude. We found the coca tea a great help in adjusting, especially if you have a headache from the altitude or aren’t feeling too well.
Incanto, a restaurant in town, is well regarded and we quite enjoyed our meal there. The food is very good, service is excellent and the ambiance is nice. Reservations are recommended.
Travel and Foodies Guide to the Best of Peru: Machu Picchu
Leaving Cusco, our next port of call is Machu Picchu. You can hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu arriving at dawn on the fourth day at the Sun Gate to see Machu Picchu in all its glory. It’s highly emotional, inspiring and will leave you with a great sense of achievement. If you can, do this!
Or you can take the train to Agua Calientes and take a bus to Machu Picchu. Tickets need to be arranged well in advance to avoid disappointment. Machu Picchu lives up to all the hype and is well worth the effort.
Travel and Foodies Guide to the Best of Peru: Lake Titicaca
The name alone is intriguing enough. Lake Titicaca is just magnificent and is the subject of my favorite Peruvian photograph.
The floating reed villages, ancient cultures and magnificent weaving are all great reasons to visit here. And for accommodation, Titilaka Lodge is an absolute gem. All inclusive, it includes your excursions and an opportunity to sample some fantastic, local cuisine.
Travel and Foodies Guide to the Best of Peru: Arequipa
Don’t forget the white city! Arequipa has the reputation for being the best foodie city in Peru. It is an easy place to walk, contains a magnificent square and there is no end of good restaurants. Good meal choices are cuy (guinea pig), lamb’s head soup and stuffed peppers, also known as Rocoto Relleno.
This is a place for attending a cooking class (including a visit to the local market) and pisco sour class, which we highly recommend. Do not miss the very picturesque Santa Catalina convent.
If you want to take some alpaca wool souvenirs home, this is a great place to shop.
Travel and Foodies Guide to the Best of Peru: Amazon
Another iconic destination in Peru is to visit the Amazon basin. The Amazon rainforest covers almost 60% of Peru. (And they still have 85 other microclimates!) There are 2 major towns where tours for the Amazon Rainforest depart- Iquitos or Puerto Maldonaldo.
One option is to stay on the river at one of the many eco-resorts around Puerto Maldonado. It is easy to fly there from Cusco or Lima. We visited during dry season, which offers a great opportunity to see wildlife as they concentrate near the water’s edge. We were lucky enough to see a jaguar on this trip but sadly, no photograph, as it was night.
The fruits, flora and wildlife from the rainforest are amazing.
Your other option is to travel to Iquitos for a cruise on the Amazon River. There are air links from Lima. We went in wet season a prime time for bird-life and plant life. It is a spectacular option. The sunsets over the Amazon River were magnificent. An Amazon cruise is everything you imagine it to be. A great opportunity to see the villages and wildlife along the river. I will never forget the sloths here!
Travel and Foodies Guide to the Best of Peru: Planning a Trip
We always like to prime ourselves by reading up on destinations before we go. Here is our curated catalog of books, cookbooks and movies about Peru.
If you are after a 2 to 3-week itinerary of Peru, click on the link. It includes transport options and things to be aware of.
Travel and Foodies Guide to the Best of Peru: Peruvian Food
Did you know that Peru has been voted world’s best culinary destination for the last 5 years (2012-2016)? In 2016 they beat out other finalists: Australia, China, France, India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Spain, Thailand and USA. Impressive, wouldn’t you say?
So why not see what all of the fuss is all about. Here are some of our the recipes we featured on Compass & Fork from Peru: