Karencita de Perú

Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

This is a continuation of my recent post https://karencitadeperu.wordpress.com/2011/04/02/the-life-of-the-rich-and-not-famous/.   The first part explained why I had the good fortune to live the “life of the rich” for a weekend and focused on the Miraflores Park Hotel.  However, also included in my prize from Groupon were 2 dinners and a lunch in some of Lima’s finest restaurants.

The first night we went to La Rosa Nautica.   This restaurant is consistently ranked among the top choices for fine dining in Lima and I have wanted to go there since my first visit to Peru.  I have heard many differing opinions about the place from people who have been there, but I wanted to form my own opinion.

The evening started with getting picked up at the hotel and being driven to the restaurant, along with our personal photographer.  Before we even entered the restaurant there were a ton of great photo opportunities.  The location and architecture of La Rosa Nautica is one of the most charming things about it.  It is a Victorian-style building located at the end of a pier above the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean.   To get to the entrance of the restaurant you walk along a lovely pier, which is adorned with gazebos and shops.

When we arrived at the restaurant, to my surprise, we were ushered to a private room, with a single table just for us!  The room was nicely decorated with windows that open to the ocean below.  We had two waiters just to serve us.  If we even looked in their direction they asked us if there was something we needed.  Needless to say, the service was outstanding; however, my experience doesn’t really allow me to judge the service under normal circumstance, when we aren’t being treated like “VIPs”.

Of course, the most important thing about a restaurant is the food.   To start, we had a seafood platter that included parmesan scallops and ceviche – two of my favorite seafood dishes in Peru.  It was delicious.  For the main course, I had chicken in an ‘agridulce salsa de sauco‘ (sweet & sour elderberry sauce) served with puré (mashed potatoes).  Luis had a white fish (can’t remember the name) served with roasted baby potatoes and vegetables.  For dessert we tried the creme bruleé and lucuma-mousse filled crepe with chocolate sauce.  The food was nicely presented and pleasing, although I have to honestly say it was not the best meal I have had in my life.

What made La Rosa Nautica special for me was the ambiance and the service and that alone is enough to go back for.

The next day, after our private half-day city tour, we were taken to Brujas de Cachiche for lunch.  This was my second visit to this restaurant.  The restaurant is located in Miraflores on the Ovalo Bolognesi in an interesting, old wooden building.  What’s interesting about the architecture of the building is that it has a peaked roof, something that is very rare in Lima, where the majority of roof-tops are flat.  We didn’t have a private room this time and were seated in the main dining area, which is glassed-in patio that has been added to the main structure.  It is bright and airy, with an elegant yet casual feel.  Apart from the main dining area where we ate, there are other rooms for private parties and the AQUELARRE Bar.  Attached to Brujas de Cachiche is the popular Bar Huaringas.

The service in Brujas de Cachiche is very good, but it couldn’t compare to our personalized service the night before.   However, where Brujas stands out is in its food.  The menu is vast and offers an abundance of typical dishes from all regions of Peru.   I started with Tuna Causa and Luis had Anticuchos.  For the main course, I had one of my favorite Peruvian dishes, Ají de Gallina.  However, my favorite part of the meal was the dessert… Suspiro a la Limeña.   This is a traditional Peruvian dessert which is basically a base of manjar blanco (otherwise known as dulce de leche) topped with meringue.    Warning:  this dessert is extremely sweet and rich, so it may not be to ‘ taste, but I love it!!

Our last meal was a dinner show at Junius in the Double Tree Hotel in Miraflores.  The dinner consisted of a buffet of typical Peruvian dishes.   The food was good and there was a nice selection of cold dishes, hot dishes and desserts.  However, the real reason to go to Junius is for the live folklore dance show.  The show begins at 8pm, and features traditional dances from all regions of Peru, the Coast, the Sierra and the Selva.  The costumes are colorful, the music is excellent and the dancing is fantastic.  The show demonstrates the profound depth of Peruvian culture with its Incan, Spanish and African influences.

For me, the outstanding performance of the night was the Scissor Dance.    This dance comes from the South Andes region of Peru.  It features male dancers who hold two loose scissor shears in their hands which clash together in a hypnotic rhythm while they are dancing.  The dancers, accompanied by melodies of violin and harp, dance in turns in a sort of competition.  When it is the turn of the dancer, he tries to outdo the steps of the previous dancer.  As the dance progresses, the difficulty increases with each “round” as the dancers display their strength, acrobatics, flexibility and imagination.   It is definitely something that all visitors to Peru should see.


After a lengthy absence  from writing my blog, I am back.  Thanks to all my friends and family who have told me they miss reading my blog posts and that they find them interesting.  It’s nice to hear positive feedback.

Now, on to today’s post.  I recently had the very good fortune to win a contest here in Peru.  Many of you have probably heard of Groupon and may have even used it in your own cities.  I have been using Groupon for a while here in Lima and have gotten some great deals on restaurant meals, massages and even a Brazilian hair straightening treatment.  A few months ago I entered the “Verano Groupon” contest on-line (verano means summer in Spanish) and then promptly forgot about it until I received a phone call one day from someone saying they were calling from Groupon and that I had won a prize.  I was at first skeptical as there are a lot of scams in Peru, but after I did a little bit of investigation it turned out to be legit.   So I went down to the Groupon offices here in Lima to collect my prize… an all expenses-paid, luxury weekend for two in Lima.  Given that I already live in Lima it wasn’t as if I had won a luxury vacation to some exotic destination, but it did include 2 nights at the best hotel in town, meals at some of the finest restaurants, a private city tour, entry to 2 discotheques and a personal photographer to accompany us during all the planned outings.  Needless to say, I was very excited.

Last weekend we enjoyed our prize.  It started by getting picked up at home, which is only about 8 blocks from the hotel, and being driven to the Miraflores Park Hotel.  This is the best hotel in Lima and is part of the prestigious Orient-Express hotel chain.  From the moment I arrived it was very obvious why this is a 5-star hotel.  The facilities are lovely and the service is outstanding.  I often complain that it is hard to get good customer service in Lima, but I guess if you are willing to pay enough you can find it.

Apart from its luxury and good service, one of the most outstanding features of the Miraflores Park Hotel is its location.  As the name implies, it is located in the Miraflores district of Lima beside a park located on the Malecón de la Reserva.  The views from the 11th floor, where the pool and buffet breakfast are located, are fantastic on a clear day.  It’s a shame that Miraflores is often engulfed in a heavy fog or mist; however,  we were lucky enough to catch a few rays of sunshine lounging by the pool during our stay.

One of the things I liked most about the hotel was the lobby.  It is very large, with an extremely high ceiling and when you enter you are greeting by the most pleasant scent.  The Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde cocktail bar, found in the lobby, is very quaint.  If you want to enjoy a drink or just relax in a more spacious environment, there is a lovely seating area in the lobby which is richly decorated with books and interesting pieces of art.

I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to stay in such a luxurious hotel.  However, given the exorbitant prices of the rooms, I don’t think I’ll be staying at the Miraflores Park Hotel again anytime soon, as much as I would love to be able to.

Next time I’ll talk about the 3 restaurants we visited: La Rosa Nautica, Brujas de Cachiche and Junius.

Two weekends ago I rented a car for a day in Lima.  It was a holiday long weekend and we wanted the car for the holiday Monday.  This meant we had to pick the car up Sunday evening and return in Monday evening.    We live in Miraflores and there are quite a few car rental agencies here as it is a touristy area, however, they are not open on Sundays and holidays.   So, we had to go out to the airport to rent a car.

The airport has car rentals 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.  It just so happened that we were going to the airport on Sunday evening anyway to see a friend off to Germany, so it wasn’t too much of an inconvenience.  However, in the future it would be nice if we could pick a car up on Saturday in Miraflores and somehow be able to return it here without having to go all the way out to the airport on Sunday.  We are trying to find a place that will accept returns here on Sundays.

At the airport there are three car rental companies, Dollar, Hertz and Budget.

We looked on line before going to the airport to get an idea of the prices.  They all seemed pretty equal except Dollar included insurance in the price so we went with them.  We rented a Toyota Yaris.  It had about 53,000km and was probably about a 2008.  It was in decent condition, had air conditioning (not that we needed it) and a good stereo.  The total cost for a one day rental, including taxes and insurance, was $40 USD.  This is quite expensive based on cars I have rented in other cities in the US and Canada.   I think in Las Vegas you can rent a car for about $15 plus insurance & taxes.

Something interesting about car rentals here is that they DO NOT come with unlimited kilometers.  I have never rented a car before that had a limit on kilometers.  Our limit for one day was 200km.  We weren’t sure if this was going to be sufficient and the cost per additional kilometer is something outrageous like $0.30 USD + IVG.  IVG is the sales tax in Peru with is a whopping 19%.  Luckily we only ended up using about 150km and didn’t have to pay extra, but I wouldn’t want to rent a car and take it on a long road trip as the costs would add up very quickly!

The car rental booths at the airport are in the arrivals area, before the point where the arriving passengers enter into the greeting area.  So, if you are there just to rent a car you have to ask security to let you through to the car rental area.  Luis and I both went up to the security guard but he would only let me pass through.  He said Peruvians are not allowed to rent cars at the airport and he wouldn’t even let Luis come with me to help translate.  There is quite a bit of discrimination against their own people in Peru which I find very strange.

To rent a car the requirements are:

  • you have to be 25 years or older
  • you need a valid driver’s license
  • you need a major credit card

When you rent the car they put a pending charge of $1,000 on your credit card in case of any damages.  The insurance deductible is $500 and they advise you that if there is any damage less than this you should pay for it yourself.   Before leaving the lot, like at all car rental places, you have to do a thorough inspection of the vehicle and note any scratches, dents or other damage.  Then you are on your way.

In the end, we returned the car without any problems.  It was nice to have a car for the day and although it is a little pricey, I imagine we will be renting another one  in the future!

This past weekend was a long weekend here in Peru.   The holiday is called Santa Rosa de Lima and it celebrates Saint Rose.   We wanted to do something fun for the long weekend so we decided to rent a car and drive to the beaches to the south of Lima.

Lima is on the Pacific Coast and just outside the city to the north and south there are a number of nice beaches and resort areas.   We started out early Monday morning in our Toyota Yaris rental car.   The first stop was at Starbucks for Vanilla Lattes and then we parked at the beach in Barranco (inside the city) to enjoy our chocolate croissants.  The beach at Barranco is rocky and isn’t that great, but it was nice to watch the waves and listed to the surf as we ate our breakfast.

To get to the beaches you have to take the Pan America Highway.   The highway is a toll highway (3 soles each way) and is fairly new and in good condition.  There is a parallel road which is called the Old Panamerica Highway.  It passes through all the little towns along the way and is where you find the access roads to the beaches.

The first beach we stopped at is called El Silencio.   It is located at km 38 of the Panamerica Sur, about 45 minutes from our house.  As it is still winter here, when we arrived at about 10:30am we were the only car in the parking lot.  The beach at El Silencio has a number of bars and seafood restaurants, the majority of which were closed the day we went.  There are tables & chairs on the beach that the patrons of the bars and restaurants can enjoy.  The beach here is sandy and quite clean.  The water is tranquil although at times the waves can be dangerous.  Even though it was cool and overcast, this was our favorite of the 4 beaches we visited and we hope to go back in the summer when the weather is better and we can enjoy the sun and heat.

Our next destination was the Balneario de Santa Maria located at km 52 of the Panamerica Sur.  Santa Maria is a lovely beach resort with high-end residential areas, nautical clubs, sailing ships and yachts.  We went to the small beach at Santa Maria.  There is also a larger one that we passed by but we didn’t stop.  The town was almost deserted when we were there but I imagine in the summer it is packed with tourists and summer residents.   It would be great to rent an apartment here in the summer!

Santa Maria is very well maintained and caters to the upper class.  The landscaping along the road that brings you to the entrance of the town is interesting.  This entire area, even though along the Pacific Coast, is a desert and it is very evident by the vegetation along this road.

The next beach we stopped at is called Santa Rosa.  It is located at km 44  in a district called Punta Negra.  Santa Rosa is just one of many beaches within the district of Punta Negra.  There are  large waves here and it is supposed to be good for surfing.  The beach is long and sandy.  The day we were there, the little town was having a parade to celebrate the Santa Rosa holiday.

Our final destination was another beach in the district of  Punta Negra at km 35 of the Panamerica Sur.  We ate Pollo a la Brasa for lunch in the little town and then went to a beach called Las Pocitas. There is a prominent black rock here, behind which they have built a wading pool with calm waters for the kids.  The rest of the beach has very large waves.  To the left of the big rock are some smaller rocks.  The wave crash against these rocks and it is amazing to watch to power of the ocean.

The main part of the beach, to the right of the big rock, is long and sandy but has a lot of little shells in some parts.   The waves are very large and it looks like it would be a good surfing beach.  There is a boardwalk that runs the length of the beach with what looks like bars and restaurants that are open during the summer season.  Another interesting thing at this beach is a little shrine that overlooks the rocky area.  From here there is a nice view of the entire area.

It was a fun day and I can’t wait to go back to some of these places in the summer!

Machu Picchu is an amazing place that everyone should try to visit at least once in their life.   Even with the multitude of tourists it still has a very tranquil and peaceful atmosphere.

Getting to Machu Picchu takes a bit of work.  From Lima you first have to fly to Cuzco.  At this time there are no direct international flights to Cuzco although they are building a new International airport there which will eventually have direct flights from the U.S.  The flight from Lima to Cuzco is only about 1 hour.   The next step is to get from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, the closest town to the ruins.  The most common and advisable way to get to Aguas Calientes is by train.  There is apparently a road that eventually gets there but it involves a number of buses and other modes of transport and is not very safe.  There are two rail companies – PeruRail and Inca Rail.  PeruRail is the most well-known and is the one we took.  The train leaves from either Poroy or Ollantaytambo.  Poroy is about a 30 minute drive by taxi from Cuzco and Ollantaytambo is an hour and a half by bus.  We left from Poroy and returned to Ollantaytambo.  The first train leaves from Poroy at about 6:45am which means a very early morning to get to the station on time from Cuzco.  Once in Auguas Calientes you have to take a bus up the mountain to the ruins.  They run very frequently and it takes less than a half and hour.

Machu Picchu is very large and there are lots of things to see and learn.  You can choose to “do-it-yourself” and explore the ruins at your own pace or, if you prefer something more organized, there are lots of guides at the entrance offering guided tours.  We opted for the guided tour which lasted about 2.5 hours.  It was not expensive and worth it as they explain a lot about the history, architecture and culture of Machu Picchu.

When you enter the site you start by climbing up a set of stairs until you reach the first point where you catch a view of the historic city of Machu Picchu.  It is truly amazing and takes your breath away.

Exploring Machu Picchu involves a lot of climbing up and down stairs, some of which are quite narrow and steep.  The Inca liked to build their cities as close to the sun as possible so they are often located high up on the steep mountain side.  If you want to climb even more you can make the trek up to Huayna Picchu, the tall peak the stands out above the city, where the Temple of the Moon is located.  The trail gets crowded quickly and is limited to 400 people per day so you have to start quite early.   The view from the peak is apparently amazing!  We didn’t do it as we didn’t have time.  Another hike that is popular is to climb up to Intipunku, also known as the Sun Gate.  This is where the Inca Trail ends and enters Machu Piccu.

Machu Picchu was built around between 1400 and 1450 at the height of the Inca Empire.  It was abandoned just over 100 years later in 1572 at the time of the Spanish Conquest of the Inca Empire.  The site was re-discovered in late 1800’s and brought to the attention of the work in 1911 by American historian Hiram Bingham.   The site received significant publicity after the National Geographic Society devoted their entire April 1913 issue to Machu Picchu.  In 1983 Machu Picchu was declared a “World Heritage Site” by UNESCO and is one of the most treasured historical sites in Peru.

Even with its international importance Machu Picchu is on the watch  list the 100 Most Endangered Site because of environmental degradation resulting from the impact of tourism and uncontrolled development in the nearby town of Aguas Calientes.  There are a number of rules that visitors are supposed to follow while in the site such as no food and water in non-disposable bottles only, but these rules are not strictly enforced or followed.

Next time I will talk more about the buildings and the details of the site.

Cusco, also spelled Cuzco, is located near the Urubamaba Valley and the Andes mountain range.  It was the historic capital of the Inca Empire and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1983.  Almost a million visitors come to Cusco every year to learn about the Inca culture and travel to Macchu Picchu.  In addition to Macchu Picchu there are a lot of other interesting things to see around the Cusco area.  We did a tour of the Valle Sagrada (Sacred Valley), a City Tour that covered important Inca ruins just outside the city and we went horseback riding.  I’ll write more about these things in future posts, but today I want to focus on the city of Cusco itself.

One of the most striking things about Cusco is the elevation.  It has an altitude of 3,400 meters (11,200 feet) above sea level.  In comparison, Vancouver is 2 meters (7 feet) above see level.  That is a big difference.  When you fly into Cusco it is interesting because the plane is in the clouds but you are very close to the tops of the mountains.  When you land you can feel the change of elevation immediately.  The air is thinner and you become out of breath much easier.  For the first day I had a bit of a headache and Luis had a really bad headache that lasted two days.

The most common remedy for altitude sickness or soroche is hoja de coca (coca leaves).  The leaves can be chewed, you can drink them in mate de coca (a tea made with coca leaves) and you can even buy them as candies.  Hoja de coca has always played an important role in the Inca Civilization and continues to be used today for spiritual purposes, medicinal purposes and even commercial purposes.

Chewing coca leaves will not make you “high” like cocaine.  In order to produce the drug cocaine there must be a chemical process at different determined temperatures with elements such as tartic acid, pure clorhidric acid, ether and anhydrous soda sulfate. The coca leaf contains 14 alkaloids, from which the most popular and broadly used is the cocaine, the others are wasted or simply ignored.

The Plaza de Armas and the surrounding area is the heart of Cusco and  is the area most popular for tourists.  The plaza is surrounded by over-priced restaurants that cater to tourists, discos, souvenir shops and tourist agencies.  However, the plaza itself is lovely with a fountain and beautiful flowers.  The two most prominent structures that surround the plaza are La Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesus (The Church of the Society of Jesus) and The Cathedral.  Both the Church and the Cathedral were built between the years 1560 and 1668.  The photo on the left is the Church and the photo on the right is the Cathedral.

Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire from the 1200s to 1532 so it is very old.  As well, a good part of the city is located on the side of a hill.  As such there are a lot of steep, narrow roads and walkways in Cusco.   In one of the pedestrian walkways, famous for its Inca walls where huge stones were precisely carved to fit together without mud or concrete, you will find the masterpiece, a 12-angled stone, about halfway down the street.  In Spanish it is called “La Pierda de Doce Angulos‘ and no matter what time of day there are always people around the stone taking  their picture with it.  Click on this link for more details.

Next time I will talk about the food, the people and the dogs of Cusco!

A few weeks ago I wrote about my visit to a place called Chosica.  We went for the day to visit Luis’ aunt and uncle.  This weekend we returned to Chosica for a bit of R&R.  We went to a Centro de Esparcimiento (Recreation Center) called Los Arrayanes (http://www.losarrayanesperu.com/).  There are a lot of places like this in Chosica where people go for the weekend to camp, relax and have some fun.

We went to Chosica with Luis’ cousin Angel and his friend from Germany, Nancy.  Both Luis & Angel had to work Saturday morning, but the plan was to leave at 12:00 pm en punto (on the dot).  Of course, in typical Peruvian fashion, it was almost 1pm by the time we finally left.  We took a taxi from our apartment in Miraflores directly to Los Arrayanes.  Normally, this would have taken about 1.5 hours, however. we encountered some road work and got stuck in traffic for what seemed like forever!  Strangely, the sun decided to shine in Lima on Saturday afternoon and, although I have been complaining about freezing to death, we were roasting in the taxi as we sat in traffic and only moved a short distance about every 10 minutes.  We finally arrived at our destination at about 3:15pm.

There are places to camp in tents at Los Arrayanes, but since we have neither a tent nor sleeping bags nor any other camping equipment for that matter, we decided to rent a “bungalow”.  It was basic but clean and functional.  It was equipped with dishes & utensils for cooking, a 2-burner table-top gas stove and a small fridge.   We just had to bring our own sheets and towels.   Here is one of the 2 bedrooms, the kitchen and the dining room/living room.

This is the view from our bungalow of the picnic table and parrilla (BBQ).   The other picture is Nancy with our bungalow in the background.

It was beautiful and sunny while we were there and the grounds were very nicely maintained.  There were also lots of places for day use to have picnics and BBQs, as well as places for the kids to play.

At the base of the mountain, just beyond the trees, is the Río Rímac (Rimac River).  It’s quite small, but clean and tranquil.

Apart from camping, there are a number of activities that you can do at Los Arrayanes such as horseback riding, cuatrimotos (ATVs), camas elásticas (trampoline), pedal boats and games like fulbito (fussball).  We were all excited to go horseback riding, but when we arrived and learned what “horseback” riding really meant, we all felt a bit engañado (deceived).  There was one lonely, old  horse and the ride consisted of them leading you around a ring two times.  Not exactly worth it!  Needless to say, we didn’t do any horseback riding.  The ATVs were almost just as bad.  Again, it included two times around a small, round track.  The good thing was that it was very cheap – just 2 soles – so Angel & Luis both tried it.

Los Arrayanes also has a very nice swimming pool.   Although the sun was shining, right when we decided to go swimming the wind picked up so it was a little chilly.  Also, Luis doesn’t know how to swim.  I have never met anyone that doesn’t know how to swim before so this was a little strange for me.  The idea was that I was going to try to teach him.  Let’s just say I didn’t have much success.  Try to explain to someone, in a foreign language, how to float.  Plus he refused to put his head in the water because he didn’t want to get water in his ears!  I have my work cut out for me, but I am determined that one day he will learn how to swim.   In any event, I enjoyed the pool!

Finally, the weekend wouldn’t be complete without a bit of vodka on Saturday night.  This is the four of us after played a drinking game  for about an hour.  We are a little tired and drunk, but having fun!  Chosica is a great place to go for the weekend to relax and have some fun.  I hope we get to go back again soon!

Keeping my friends, family and co-workers up to date on my life and adventures in Perú!

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Miraflores in Lima Perú