Jul 10, 2013

Peru Traveling Tips

Peru Traveling Tips to Help Maximize Your Experience

If you want to make the most of your trip to the Peruvian Andes, do what the locals do while you’re there. You won’t regret it. So go buy yourself some multi-colored indigenous garb, brush up on your Quechua, and immerse yourself in the local culture. These four Peru traveling tips will get you started on your quest for a killer cultural experience in the Peruvian Andes. Before you know it, you’ll be eating cüy, drinking chicha, chewing coca leaves, and playing the pan flute with a local charanguista.

Peru Traveling Tip #1: Drink Chicha


According to the English fairy tale, Rumplestiltskin miraculously spun a room full of straw into gold. Years later in a distant land another incredible metamorphosis took place when the Andean people fermented corn into a frothy alcoholic beverage colloquially known as chicha. While this may seem like a strange comparison, chicha is as good as gold amongst Peru’s indigenous laborers. After hours of grueling work in the fields and the silver mines, nothing hits the spot like a tall glass of fermented maize. And trust me, there are many Andean folks that will stand behind that assertion. Pale yellow in color with a thick, milky appearance and a slightly tart aftertaste, chicha is the Andean equivalent to apple cider. If you want to get the true taste of the Peruvian Andes, order a glass of chicha while you’re there and have a drink with the locals. Cheers to trying something new, or upyaykurikuy, as they say in Quechua.

Peru Traveling Tip #2: Listen to the Charango


In 1529, the Spanish arrived to Peru with guns, horses, highly evolved diseases, and of course, the guitar. Poor and oppressed under the cold reigns of the Spanish conquistadors, the locals couldn’t afford the expensive components used to make classical guitars. Making use of what they had, the locals created a small, stringed instrument made of local wood and the shell of an armadillo. They called it the charango. Much like African peoples used drums and percussion instruments as vehicles of expression, the charango came to be the voice of the indigenous struggle throughout South America. While traditional armadillo-backed charangos still exist, skilled luthiers now make handcrafted wooden instruments with beautiful tones. If you’re looking to experience a taste of true Peruvian culture, go watch a traditional Andean band play live and see the charanguistas in action. If you like the sound, check out some music by charango maestros, such as Héctor Soto and Gustavo Santaolalla.

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Mi ronroco tiene una pena

Héctor Soto

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De Ushuaia a la Quiaca

Gustavo Santaolalla

Peru Traveling Tip #3: Chew Coca


The Andean altiplano is one of the highest places on earth and soroche, or altitude sickness, can easily occur at such extreme elevations. Perched at 12,000 ft. above sea level, Cuzco is more than twice as high as Denver. In order to work hard in the thin air and combat the debilitating effects of soroche, the indigenous people have chewed coca leaves for centuries. Considered sacred amongst the local inhabitants, this mild stimulant can be chewed or brewed in a tea. In recent decades, the coca plant has been cut with an array of chemicals and refined into cocaine. Beginning in the 1980s, the United States and other powers launched a campaign to halt the cultivation of the plant in South America, sending planes armed with poison to destroy coca plantations. Despite international pressure to criminalize coca, the plant remains legal in Peru and Bolivia and continues to be an integral part of the Quechua and Aymara cultures. If you want to live like a local and kick the headache in the process, keep a bag of coca leaves nearby while you’re traveling in the mountains. It really does help with altitude sickness. You won’t have to look too far to find it either. Coca can be purchased for next to nothing at any village market, and it is usually offered at restaurants and hotels, as well.

Traveling Tip #4: Eat Cüy


The last of my Peru traveling tips goes out to all of the exotic cuisine aficionados looking for the ultimate Andean culinary experience. While ceviche is officially the national dish of Peru, that is more of a representation of coastal Peru than the rest of the country. The people of the Andes typically eat a wide variety of potatoes and red meats that may seem a bit unorthodox to westerners. Travelers are often surprised to see llama, alpaca, and other Camelids offered in local restaurants. While the alpaca steaks are definitely a bit different than what travelers are used to, guinea pig definitely raises the most eyebrows. Known as cüy amongst the local Quechua people, guinea pig is a popular dish throughout the Peruvian Andes. While the small rodent is occasionally filleted and cooked as a flank steak, it is traditionally rotisserated and served whole. Though many travelers shy away from this petite Andean delicacy, I would advise you to try it a time or two. You’ll be hard pressed to find a restaurant at home that’s offering the dish. Not to mention the locals always get a good laugh at the sight of a tourist taking their first bite.