The insider advice on this page is from Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for Peru and Bolivia: Marisol Mosquera of Aracari.
A native Peruvian, Marisol shucked a career in the financial world to fulfill her long-held dream of providing international travelers with authentic, first-class experiences that support local communities. Since founding Aracari in 1996, she has become known for her unique approach to travel in Peru, Bolivia, and the Galapagos. From her base in Lima, she works with a network of prominent historians, archaeologists, artists, and dignitaries to deliver privileged access to people and places throughout the region. Guests experience insider status at every destination they visit. Marisol and her team excel at crafting bespoke journeys for families, culture connoisseurs, adventure seekers, and honeymooners. Marisol was also included in Perrin’s People, Wendy’s award-winning list of top travel specialists, which was published annually in Condé Nast Traveler magazine from 2000 to 2013.
Where to Stay and Eat
Best bang-for-your-buck hotel
Located on a main plaza in the heart of Barranco, Lima’s bohemian neighborhood, the charming Hotel B immerses guests in the city’s art and cultural scene. Its rooms showcase original works by prominent contemporary artists, as well as ancient Peruvian sculptures, paintings, and antiques. (We can arrange a private tour led by Lucia de la Puente, owner of one of the most important contemporary art galleries in Peru.) The hotel has an excellent restaurant by Oscar Velarde of La Gloria and a stylish bar with a view over the Saenz Peña Boulevard, perfect for people-watching. The original house was designed by Claude Sahut, the French architect behind the Presidential Palace and several theaters and gardens around the city.
Restaurants the locals love
Canta Rana, a family-run restaurant in Lima’s Barranco neighborhood, is beloved by limeños for its warm, informal atmosphere (walls decked with soccer paraphernalia and photos of famous guests) and traditional seafood dishes. Try the tiradito apaltado, long cuts of raw whitefish marinated in lime juice and crowned with avocado slices, capers, and a drizzle of olive oil.
Sonia, in Lima’s Chorrillos neighborhood, draws a lunchtime crowd with live music, great seafood, and the jovial presence of Sonia and her fisherman husband, Freddy. Order chupe de camarones or chupe de langostinos, a delicious seafood soup with river or sea shrimp.
Bodega 138, hugely popular with Cusco locals, offers a bistro menu of delicious pastas, oven-fired pizzas, and organic salads, a nice change of pace from traditional Peruvian cuisine.
Meal worth the splurge (and the wait)
The ever-changing tasting menu at Astrid y Gaston, housed in a historic mansion in Lima’s San Isidro District. Though regularly ranked among the best restaurants in the world, A+G is not much of a splurge compared to prices in European and North American cities, but you’ll need to reserve months in advance.
Ceviche, in any form. The traditional dish consists of whitefish, usually sole or sea bass, marinated in fresh lime and chiles and served with corn and sweet potato on the side. Seafood such as octopus, squid, or steamed prawns sometimes substitutes for the fish. For something a little different, try the cooked ceviche at La Gloria, the Amazonian ceviche with plantains at ámaZ, or the ceviche maki rolls at Osaka or Maido.
Peruvians love sweets, and there are lots to choose from. Especially popular are suspiro limeño de chirimoya, a rich fruit mousse topped with a fluffy cream, and picarones, deep-fried rings of sweet potato and cinnamon dough dribbled in syrup.
What to See and Do
Northern Peru has its own beauty and, not surprisingly, its own cuisine. Here you’ll find golden sand beaches, majestic peaks, pre-Inca ruins, waterfalls nestled in the Andean foothills—and a respite from the crowds at the more popular southern destinations. Duck with green rice is a norteño specialty; try it at Fiesta Chiclayo Gourmet.
The charming El Albergue hotel, next to the train station in the historic town of Ollantaytambo, has established its own organic farm, where an assortment of vegetables, potatoes (a food indigenous to Peru), corn, and quinoa are grown without chemical fertilizers or pesticides. The farm is situated in the midst of Inca terracing, with views of snow-capped Mount Veronica and the Ollantaytambo ruins. We can organize a tour that includes such experiences as a hands-on lesson in making uchucuta sauce using a grinding stone; a farm-to-table meal; or a pachamanca, a traditional meal of locally and organically sourced meats, potatoes, and vegetables cooked underground with wood-fired stones.
La Rosa Nautica, Lima’s well-known seafront restaurant, is fine for a sunset cocktail, but don’t hang around for the mediocre Peruvian cuisine.
The Cordillera Blanca in northern Peru is the highest tropical mountain range in the world, with more than 50 peaks that exceed 15,000 feet. A great base for exploring the mountains is Llanganuco Lodge, just 30 minutes away from the entrance to the Huascaran National Park, or the Lazy Dog Inn near the town of Huaraz.
The Cerveceria del Valle brewery in the Sacred Valley on the way to Machu Picchu. Inaugurated in October 2014, Cerveceria produces delicious IPAs, porters, pale ales, and other brews found in bars in the valley and in Cusco; we can organize a guided tour with the owner. Peru’s craft-beer scene has exploded over the past few years; a 2014 festival in Lima showcased 60 types of craft beer from 16 different breweries.
Best Culinary Experiences
A sampling food tour of Lima. In this epicenter of gastronomy, you’ll find an array colorful dishes inspired by the country’s dramatically diverse geography, rich ethnic make-up, and long culinary history. On our “Urban Eats” food tour, visitors step inside local markets, traditional bodegas, and artisan eateries that collectively showcase some of the best of Peru’s edible creations.
An interactive and educational pisco tasting workshop led by a specialist in Peru’s national liquor. Learn how pisco has been an integral element to Peruvian life and culture for over 400 years. Savor the multiplicity of flavors produced from the eight varieties of Pisco grapes from across five distinct regions – where each valley engenders flavor differences in Peru’s historic distilled spirit. This can be done in Lima, for those with a serious interest in spirits, or in Cusco, where the focus is more on mixing cocktails.
A ceviche-making class at Lima’s acclaimed El Mercado restaurant, under the expert guidance of celebrated chef Rafael Osterling’s top-notch team (or even Rafael himself, if he’s available); another of his restaurants has been featured on Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants. A morning in his kitchen provides the chance to make and sample your own version of this classic national dish.
The best time to travel to Cusco and other destinations in the Peruvian highlands is in the dry season, from April to October; the landscape is greenest in April and May, just after the rains. High season coincides with the European and North American summer, so to avoid crowds, come in the spring or fall months. That said, Peru is a year-round destination for gourmands, its markets bursting with tropical fruit (much of it virtually unknown to North Americans) no matter the season. Depending on when you come, you might be treated to fresh aguaje, aguaymanto (gooseberry), cherimoya, tumbo, lucuma, granadilla, maracuyá (passion fruit), camu camu, or pepino.
February is the height of the rainy season in both the Andes and the rain forest, though it is still possible to visit Peru’s key attractions. The only exception is the Inca Trail, which is closed for the month of February.
The Mistura food festival, which takes place in Lima every September, may sound tempting, but we do not recommend planning your trip around it. This popular showcase for dishes from the country’s top restaurants is seriously overcrowded and chaotic, and there is no way to avoid the long lines.
Not giving Lima enough time or, worse yet, skipping the capital city entirely. A colorful mix of cultures and ethnic groups, from descendents of pre-Hispanic civilizations to Asian and European immigrants, Lima is the epicenter of the recent explosion of Peruvian cuisine onto the world stage. A trip to a Lima market accompanied by our star chef, Penelope Alzamora, is a great introduction to Peruvian cuisine.
Not venturing beyond the pisco sour. There are all sorts of delicious cocktails based on pisco, Peru’s national spirit. We can organize a cocktail demonstration and tasting session at a top bar like Malabar or ámaZ, the latter of which specializes in drinks based on Amazonian fruits.
Though not customary in local restaurants, tipping has become common in cities such as Lima, where a 10 percent gratuity is the norm.
If you arrange for VIP airport service, an Aracari representative will meet you at the aircraft and, bypassing the main terminals, escort you to a quiet lounge where you can await your luggage as your customs form is filled out for you. He will then guide you through customs, bypassing all other passengers, and to your car for private transfer to your Lima hotel.