Published on February 5th, 2014 | by Daniel0
Peru – The Best of Lima, Cuzco and Arequipa
I visited Peru during the summer of 2012. I had been in South America before, but for logistical reasons skipped Peru at that time. But now I was determined to visit it, as I heard good things about its cultural heritage, people, nature and food.
As I was living in Argentina at the time, I booked a direct ticket from Buenos Aires to Lima, with 2000 dollar cash on me, as dollars were at a premium in Argentina at those time (still is). After arrival in Lima I made sure to take the dependable Taxi Green taxis from the stand as I heard some really bad stories about tourists getting robbed by their taxi drivers and their friends if they waved a taxi down from the street. It was an enjoyable ride along the coastline to the Miraflores district, where I arrived at my apartment an hour later.
Miraflores is the area in Lima where most of the expats and foreigners stay. It is a somewhat strange, very western, expensive, clean bubble in a sea of Peruvian chaos. When you walk around the streets in Miraflores you have sometimes the feel you are in a western city. This diminishes the feeling of being in another country, but for long-term it is a very nice neighbourhood as you can take very nice walks along the famous green coast. And you are always able to take a cheap taxi ($2) to the other neighbourhoods of Lima.
For instance, in the neighbouring area of Barranco – a 10 min ride max – you have very good nightlife and great ceviche. And you can get to the Historic Center of Lima (Centro Historico) also very quickly by taking the special bus or the taxi. The historic center of Lima was actually surprisingly nice – considering it is not well known to be – with a very local feel and friendly locals. As a foreigner you will feel much more special there than in Miraflores. While I have also visited some other areas of the city, I found these 3 districts (Centro Historico, Barranco and Miraflores) the most interesting places in Lima.
If you want good food in Lima, I can recommend you to try the ceviche and other seafood in Barranco. I am also guilty of really liking Pardos Chicken, which is a kind of Peruvian fastfood joint with very tasty grilled chicken. Miraflores has some good places as well, especially east of Avenida Larco, both north and south of Avenida Benavides. Nightlife centers in Barranco and in the Larcomar Mall in Miraflores.
After Lima I went to Cuzco by plane. This is basically a trip in a couple of hours from sea level to 3000 meters high up in the mountains. Unsurprisingly, you will get many warning about possible height sickness. During my stay in Cuzco (5 days) I did not had much problems with it. But then, I chewed a lot of coca leaves and drank a lot of coca tea, which is supposed to help battling it. Cocaleaf is legal ánd tasty by the way. Other people I met mentioned some dizziness and lack of oxygen because of the height, but nothing too serious.
Cuzco was a bit disappointing to me. I had higher expectations for it than it was the case for Lima so that by itself could be one of the reasons. But Cuzco is touristy, and as I might say, extremely touristy. As it is a rather small city every place remotely of interest tends to get swarmed by foreign tourists. Especially the main squares are problematic. What I also found striking that in Cuzco you will find the highest amount of English-speaking locals in Latin America. Locals talk to you in English by default, instead of their native Spanish or even Quechua.
Nonetheless, Cuzco was still a fun experience as its markets are really great and as I got see Macchu Picchu, which, despite its enormous popularity, is still impressive and the views around it are great. I took a tour there with the train and bus. You can call this the “lazy route”. The train ride is beautiful though. But if you have enough time you should try to hike there with the 4 day (or 1 day) Inka Trail, which some of my friends did, and which has great views. You will also be able to see Macchu Picchu as one of the first persons that day, at sunrise, before the “bus people” arrive.
After Cuzco I took another place ride to Arequipa, the “white stoned” city. It is named like that because most buildings in the center are made from white volcano stone, giving it a very scenic look. As Cuzco, Arequipa is also very popular with tourists. However due to its much larger size you do not really notice this that much in Arequipa. The monastery in Arequipa is a good visit, as well as just walking around the old city. I felt much more an explorer in Arequipa than in Cuzco, also because there is just much more to explore. And I could practice my Spanish – the amount of English speaking locals in Arequipa was much lower than in Cuzco.
In Arequipa I took a very good bus tour (which I can recommend) to the surrounding regions, including the (almost obligatory) Alpaca farm. The views were great and you see a lot of different kinds of foods produced which you can also taste. I stayed in a very good boutique hotel, with every day a freshly cooked breakfast by menu choice. The nightlife in Arequipa is worthwhile. Some locals showed me some great spots, where the beer was extremely cheap and the Peruvians had a lot of fun. My biggest tip would be: make sure to find locals in Peru and let them show you the good places.
Peru is country I really liked during my 3 week trip, but I do not think I can live there as a digital nomad for a longer period. As a tourist it is great to see all the monuments and such. As an expat I would miss the intellectual stimulus of say, Buenos Aires, the diversity of Bogota or the good beaches in the Caribbean. However, all in all, I vow to come back another time to show others around, as the people are extremely nice, the food is great and the natural splendour is worth it.