Peru, South America

Peru Part I – A First Step Into South America!

I couldn’t believe it, and those whom I told to said I am crazy, I made a last minute trip to Machu Picchu during Thanksgiving week! Technically speaking, I already used up my vacation days for the remaining of the year so I did work remotely from Monday to Wednesday; I have both Thursday (Thanksgiving) and Friday off as holidays. We flew out on Saturday very early in the morning, we watched the beautiful sunrise at the gate waiting to board our flight, Copa Airlines from Boston to Panama City!

The cheap fare ($445 round trip from Boston to Lima, Peru) required a night over at Panama City and we thought it was nice to check out Panama that we never have been to. During the 6 hours flight, we were served breakfast, I was glad to have some hot food for breakfast. But the remaining of the flight no more food so I was starving, luckily, I bought some snacks with us!

We arrived Panama City after 2 pm, going through immigration was the strictest I ever seen, all my 10 fingerprints were scanned! It took a while to go through the line because of that. Once we got out of the custom gate, our driver was there with my name waiting for us. I booked straight through the hotel – Waldorf Astoria Panama, it was expensive at $80 round trip but better to be safe as we speak no Spanish at all. I read through TripAdvisor and people said taxi price from airport to the city average at $30 one way. We stayed at Waldorf Astoria Panama because it was the least expensive of the big chain hotels, can you believe it, Waldorf Astoria at $99 per night!!! It’s probably the cheapest Waldorf Astoria ever, this was our first time staying at a Waldorf Astoria. Husband is a Hilton Honors Diamond member so we got free breakfast plus an upgrade to a high floor room!

Our room, it was modern but with a golden touch for a simple glamour feel:

The restroom is inside that corner, it was kinda of odd angled inside:

The toiletries: Salvatore Ferragamo!!!

We were on the top floor with the view of the city:

Panama City is nicknamed as the Dubai of South America; there are full of high skyscrapers on the way from the airport to the hotel and many under constructions. But once we got into the city, surrounded by high raise buildings are very old buildings in urgent need of maintenance. The view of the city from our room:

Welcome treat from the hotel: two bottles of water and yummy macaroons!

We were so tired after the flight this time so we ended up taking a nap before heading out to dinner!

I read not to venture out too far at night as some areas in Panama City are not safe! I did my research and picked a restaurant just one street down from our hotel – the hotel areas are safe – Gaucho’s Steak House. We got there just when it opened for dinner and presented different types of steaks to show and tell!

And freshly baked huge bread!

The restaurant interior design, it was classy:

We ordered the “jumbo” cocktail shrimps, those were not jumbo at all! Few pieces of shrimp for like $10+ dollars, expensive and not good at all!

The garlic sauce calamari were delicious at around $7.

I ordered the grilled chicken, I read reviews that their chicken is very good so I gave it a try. This huge piece of grilled chicken breast and a potato at $13. They grilled perfectly; it was perfectly cooked and yet maintained its tenderness!

Hubby ordered the steak trios at around $37; it was expensive because the steaks are imported from the US….sorry forgot what they were, I think they were tenderloin, sirloin, and erm never heard of the 3rd one before.

All three grilled perfectly and they marinated just about right, very tasty!

Three sauces: garlic, herbs, and sour cream. I like dipping the chicken with the garlic sauce.

We were filled and the dinner cost $72.74 (half of it was the steaks cost) included 10% tips, not bad for the good quality of steaks! After dinner, we walked out to Cinta Costera for the view of the high raise buildings from the bay area but it wasn’t impressive as not all buildings have their lights turned on for the night skyline view. We guessed the reason why the Waldorf is cheaper than Le Meridien or other hotels was that it was so unfortunately covered by other high raise buildings so it didn’t have any water view! We headed back to our hotel and had a good rest. The next day, we had breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant – BRIO Brasserie. Breakfast was excellent with varieties of food like a 5 stars hotel should be!

They even have freshly squeezed watermelon juice and Eggs Benedict!

And an omelette station for freshly made omelette!

I like the cubical lights hanging down from the ceiling:

We checked out after breakfast and got to the airport for our 11:26 am flight to Lima. Overall, Panama City is not my style of travel places that I am looking forward to visit as it’s like a city that keeps building high skyscrapers so it’s very dull cement like.

The flight was around 3.5 hours but they served lunch!

We finally arrived Lima, Peru and our driver with my name tag was there waiting for us! He barely speaks English but not an issue as long as he came on time! The moment our car got out of the airport, we immediately smelled the polluted air emitted from old cars! It was very noticeable and the sky was grey looked like it was covered by a layer of smog. The houses looked like they are not finished since they have steel beams sticking out without a roof! At first, my husband thought it was a jail because of the beams sticking out. And then he saw more and more buildings like that then it reminded us of Croatia where we saw many unfinished houses as well. We found out in Croatia that it was to avoid paying taxes as the houses are still “under construction” state.

Traffic was very crazy, I can not imagine driving in Lima! It was a 4 lane “highway” but with like 7 cars in parallel trying to cut each other! Our driver of course drive like that as well constantly zigzagging; I guess you get used to drive that way or else you’ll never be able to get out! And then at a traffic light when the cars stopped, a guy came out and start juggling!!! We were shocked LOL! I have seen people selling flowers at traffic lights but never see someone juggling balls! At least it was a creative way to get attention to make some money!

Our one hour ride from the airport to Miraflores, where majority of tourists stay and considered a safe section in Lima, we passed through the Sheraton in the city center. Across from the Sheraton is this department of justice building:

At first, I planned to stay at the Sheraton as it’s near the historical center that we can walk to but after reading reviews about that the area is not safe at night, I had second thoughts. I finally made up my mind and stay in the newly opened Courtyard Marriott at Miraflores. We redeemed two nights (one going to Lima and one the night before our flight back home) with our annual free night certificate that we received from our Marriott credit card. We had cancelled the cards after the certificates were issued because we didn’t stay as much in Marriott chain hotels as we thought we would so not worth to pay the annual fee! The hotel is located right in the center of Miraflores and just few blocks away from the Kennedy Park and Larcomar Shopping Plaza. Another plus was that it included free breakfast!

We checked in and got an upgrade, how sweet even though we are just silver member! The bad news was we were informed that the hotel will be having an upgrade of its wifi network so no internet from 11 am till the late afternoon the next day (which was Monday that I need to work)!! I’ll worried about that tomorrow!

Our spacious modern room with the “city” view! They have both the Europe and US electric outlets so we didn’t have to use our adapter that we packed!

The bathroom is huge! That bottle of water with a tag said “5 Sols” urggg can’t even give us a free bottle? They do have ice machine on each floor so at least that’s good. The toiletries were Neutrogena brand.

The no roof buildings weren’t great of a view LOL!

My remote “office” for tomorrow haha!

Our plan for today: check out the flea market for souvenir shopping or at least to get an idea of prices so we can compared when we are in Cusco. We went down to the business center and print out a google map for direction. Just right across the street is the Inkafarma (pharmacy) and we went in to get the over-the-counter pill for altitude sickness called acetazolamida first. I wrote it down on paper and gave it directly to the pharmacist, she speaks no English at all so luckily I wrote it down on paper. The box of 20 tablets cost 70 something Sols around $20 USD. We followed the map to get to the flee market street “Petit Thouars Ave”, it was very easy to walk to as the main streets are well marked. Both sides of the avenue are filled with artisan markets grouped in blocks with a name. This one called Sipan Artisan Market. I took those photos with my iPhone since we don’t want to get attention pulling out my big DSLR from my bag!

This one called Cuzco Market.

But once you went through a few of the stands, it seemed like every stand is selling the same thing! However, I love the bright colored patterns of all their crafts!

And you must bargain! I saw a light purple scarf and I touched it to feel it, it felt soft. It said it’s 100% Baby Alpaca! I asked how much? The old guy punched in his calculator and said 60 Sols, I punched back and said how about 40 Sols? He replied with 45 Sols. I said oh no sorry and then he said okay 40 Sols! At that moment I felt I scored a great deal LOL at 33% off! I know I know how can that be 100% real Baby Alpaca selling at flea market! But it did feel softer than the other scarves I had touched at other stands! It’s probably acrylic but it felt soft and warm and the baby purple I love so at least to me it’s worth the 40 Sols around $12 USD hehe.

We walked from stands to stand and markets to markets until we got tired and decided to head back. Some shops are closed since it’s Sunday like this one with very cute wall painting:

On the way back, we walked to Kennedy Park where the street was filled with people selling paintings! Is it really that much painters in Peru? The paintings are very colorful!

In the park, there are many cats roaming around!

I wondered if they actually belong to someone to put them there for tourists to take a photo and ask for money? Nope, no one came out to ask me for money at least haha!

We heard cheerful music and a big crowd of people gathered on one corner. We thought it was some street dancers but nooooo! It was a like a public stage where couples of various ages dance in the middle of the park! Now that’s love 🙂

Not sure if they are locals or tourists but they definitely having a good time!

We continued walking along the Jose Larco Ave to get to Larcomar Shopping Mall. We walked pass by numerous pharmacies, I swear that they have at least one in each block; we saw more pharmacies than any other type of stores! We went into a large sized pharmacy where we spotted fridge with cold drinks! I saw Inca Kola, we need to try this out and our favorite Fanta! Each cost like 2.30 Sols so less than $1 USD each, pretty cheap for tourist area! I heard that Inca Kola is the most popular drink in Peru even Coke Cola failed to overtake it so Coke Cola ended up buying the company! At first sip, the taste was very familiar but can’t tell exactly what it tasted like, it was definitely not as sweet. Hum..what it tasted like? I said it was like a mix of pineapple and banana! My husband said it tasted exactly like the drink he had when he was a kid in China and they called it “banana soda” so banana! Later, we asked our tour guide and she said it tasted like bubble gum haha! If you ever had a chance to try it, what do you think it tastes like?

It was quite a long walk to Larcomar! There was a book exposition there and wow it has been a while since I see so many hard-copy books….how electronics changed our lives! The shopping mall is filled with tourists and brand named shops. I went into one of the famous brand selling real Baby Alpaca clothing store named Kuna…the cheapest 100% Baby Alpaca scarf cost around 150 Sols, that’s around $45 USD!!! The texture is like baby soft, light weight, and warm! Alright, the one I bought at 40 Sols is most likely to be fake haha!

If you are not into brand names, it’s still worth a visit to the mall for its view! The highway underneath the cliff is the section called Barranco, another popular area where tourists stay and safe.

Christmas decorations at the mall but it was around 70 degrees. I love spending the holidays at a warm place! I saw photos that Miraflores is a popular paragliding area but that day we saw no paraglide – probably due to the weather!

We went to Mango’s located in the mall for dinner as Sunday most of the restaurants that I wanted to try are closed! In case you don’t know, Lima is known as the culinary capital of South America! This year, 3 restaurants in Lima made it into the world’s top 50 restaurants with Central Restaurant being the 3rd place IN THE WORLD!!! When I found out about the world’s top 50 restaurants, I emailed each and they are fully booked like two months out oh my!!! Bad planning on my part this time!

Mango’s menu:

We ordered fresh mango juice refreshing!

I tried out Chicha Morada, a Peruvian drink that is made from purple corn and cinnamon! My husband doesn’t like the taste of cinnamon so I ordered it instead. It was interesting; tasted like fruit juice but with cinnamon, but as I drink it more, it became too sweet for me. I asked for a cup of ice to add to it so it’ll be colder and less sweet. I don’t know why but I feel like the drinks in Peru were not cold enough!

For appetizers, we ordered the Causa Sushi Style (25 Sols around $7.50). It looked very nice and I was a bit surprised on my first bite because the roll was made out of potatoes instead of rice! It was tasty and very filling since it was made from potatoes. Another FYI…potatoes is one of the major crops in Peru, they have over thousand varieties of potatoes!

We also ordered a Peruvian famous dish – ceviche – fresh raw fish marinated with lime juice. It’s similar to Hawaiian’s poke (that we really missed). The plate was huge and not only with raw fish cubes but also shrimps and scallops! The lime juice sauce is too sour for our taste though! We couldn’t even finish the dish because it was too sour and it was tons of fish!

Mango is right on the cliff of the mall so it has nice view of the ocean and highway underneath 🙂 We didn’t get a “window” table though since we didn’t make any reservation. Remember to wear a jacket, the ocean wind at night was cold!

Hubby ordered a shrimp and fish dish, the portion of the fish was less than the appetizer LOL. It was good though!

I ordered the beef tenderloin with potatoes and peppers. Tasted like stir-fried but I think it was overcooked. Both plates were served with white rice yay rice!

After dinner, we took a walk around the mall!

On the way back to the hotel, the street was filled with tourists going out at night. The outside wall of a casino, we like how it’s Venice-theme…ahhh how much I miss Venice!

The free breakfast at the Courtyard Marriott the next morning. Hubby was thinking it’s a Courtyard and free breakfast included so won’t be have too much varieties. He was so wrong LOL! We really liked the small potatoes, they were yummy in small bites!

It was very nice and comfortable!

After breakfast, we headed back to our room and I continued working. The view from my “office”…not too pleasant hehe! Luckily, internet was still working till at noon when we checked out. Our driver (the same one who picked us up from the airport) was there waiting for us already.

One hour to get to the airport and our flight was at 3 pm so plenty of time in case of traffic. We took the Star Peru last flight at 3 pm to Cusco. I took the risk as I read reviews that sometimes due to bad weather Star Peru and other low cost carriers may cancel their flights since their planes were older planes. It was good weather the week we were there so no cancellation or flight delays 🙂 Star Peru’s planes were fine, yes they were older, but with 4 engines…should be pretty safe LOL!

The one hour-ish flight they served a snack! I picked Inca Cola and sweet potato chips 🙂

The view from the flight, I saw tons of mountain ranges!


The runway of Cusco’s airport:

Cusco-the city on top of 10,000 feet!

Smooth landing!

The airport is quite small! When we were waiting for our luggage at the belt (oh I forgot our carry on luggage were too big to fit in the overhead bin so they checked our bags), a guy screamed my name. And my natural response, I looked back, he came over and greet us. I thought he was the driver or else how could he know my name? He had a cart and placed our luggage on the cart and pushing them out and we followed. Then once we walked out of the baggage claim area to the outside of the building, a guy holding a tag with my name!!! Urg…that’s the driver!!! Uh oh we’ll need to “tip” this guy grrrr. I was scrambling to search my bag for small change as we were walking to the parking lot which was only like 15 steps away! All I found was a 2 Sol coin and I gave him that. He said wow 2 dollars blah blah. OMG I want to tell him that what a scammer he is! He saw my name that our driver was holding and went in to the baggage claim area to pretend to be the driver!!! And not to mention, it only cost us 20 Sols for the 10 minutes taxi ride to our hotel while he got 2 Sols to walk across the street GRRRRR! Those scammers!!!

The Cusco airport:

We saw the blue sky and were able to breathe a little of “fresh” air before we were out of breathe due to high altitude! We arrived at the Palacio del Inka, a Luxury Collection Hotel and the moment we stepped inside the hotel, it smelled so good! The hotel lobby has a very strong smell of flowers…so good! We were seated on a sitting area and immediately served cocoa tea (which said to help with altitude sickness) while the front desk person took our passports and prepare the check-in paperwork. This is what I called 5 stars service!

The hotel lobby is very unique and beautiful! I love the ancient and luxurious decors of the hotel!

The front desk:

We were upgraded to a suite due to hubby’s SPG platinum status!!! The receptionist walked us to our room which we’ll never be able to find it ourselves! The hotel is like a palace with many courtyards and hallways…I paid special attention on our way to our room so I can remember the way! We got room 401 located on the 4th floor which is the top floor. The room has two “balconies”:

The view from the balcony of the living room: the orange roof tops!

The living room:

Spacious restroom and then the bedroom:

The only complain I have is the desk, not only small but no lights so it was so dark! Me working remotely 🙁

The bedroom has two paintings:

Their toiletries, I like their bottles, perfect size for carry on baggage and durable! I bought those travel sized bottles from Dollar Tree and they break easily. One of my sunscreen bottle leaked so I refilled it with one of those bottles and I really like it!

The hotel also provide 4 free bottles of water per day, more than enough per day, how generous!

While hubby relax, I was working 🙁

The hotel elevator is so small, I think it can fit 4 people haha!

I made advanced reservation for dinner at Cicciolina (Calle Triunfo 393) at 7 pm. It took less than 10 minutes to walk there and very easy walk from our hotel. I like the streets in Cusco, very well arranged and marked so it was easy to find places! We got there early and just across from it is an artisan market so we went in to check it out!

Souvenirs!!! I got very cute magnets 5 for 3 Sols and I didn’t bother to bargain since they were already very inexpensive!

The restaurant is located on the 2nd floor and have to walk into the courtyard to get there. A lot of buildings in Cusco are like that have a courtyard in the middle and shops surround it!

I ordered the Inca Kola again, I guess I got addicted to it LOL!

We ordered the sesame shrimps…..I noticed sesames are commonly used in Peruvian cuisine! Pretty tasty 🙂

This shrimp kebab dish was soooo good with avocado and the sauce tasted sweet and very delicious!

I ordered duck breast, it was good but not as impressive as the duck breast we had in Avignon, France!

Hubby tried the alpaca steak haha! Its texture was as tender as lamb but without the lamb taste!

The interior of Cicciolina, it was full house!

We had a wonderful first meal in Cusco – it cost $59.27 USD included 10% tips….not bad for the quality of food and atmosphere!

Another restaurant within the same building but barely as busy!

The way to the door to get out of the building complex, each inch of space is utilized well in Cusco – a very colorful hallway selling paintings!

As soon as we walked out to the street, we saw lights sparkling up on the mountain like a sky of shining stars! It was an amazing sight!

We walked to the Plaza de Armas which is the end of this street, wow the plaza is very beautifully lit up at night!

It was like at 9 pm and many people were still out enjoying the night life in Cusco! The colonial architectures and churches surrounding the whole square were a treat to photograph….but I didn’t brought the tripod with us for this trip!

The balconies that stick out are Spanish colonial architectures:

Cusco Cathedral:

Church of la Compañía de Jesus:

Statue de Pachacutec in the middle of the square:

The statue was the most photographed spot I guess; we had to wait for our turn 🙂

The buildings were very pretty at night, I can’t wait to see them during day time to see the differences!

I felt absolutely safe walking around Cusco city center at night with my camera! I didn’t let my shutter button to rest a bit, there were so many angles to photograph the plaza!

A very nice colonial street sign:

At the front of the cathedral, see how huge the architecture is?

I think we walked around the plaza a couple of times making sure we are not missing any nice angles 🙂

This angle from walking up the stairs in front of the cathedral…it was like less than 15 steps and I am already out of breathet! My hands felt numb once a while LOL not sure if it’s high altitude or side effects from the medicine! But you can definitely notice the difference in Cusco!

It was getting cold so we decided to walk back to our hotel. On our way more interesting balconies:

Along the way, we went into a market to get drinks, we bought two big bottles of guess what? Inca Cola haha! Back to our hotel, the hotel entrance lamp caught my attention:

The beautiful lobby lit up at night, love those huge hanging lamps!

I didn’t count how many corridors we had to walk through to get to our room….here’s one:

The ceiling color tiles:

Another corridor to the other side of the hotel, not to our side, we never walked thru but interesting in bright red-orange color:

Another one:

Next plus the courtyard:

One more…

We passed the courtyard where we’ll be having breakfast tomorrow morning, it’s very nice!

Ohh another hallway:

Finally, we made it to the elevator and up to the 4th floor to our room; we were out of breathe due to the high altitude! The moment we got into our room…we walked to the balcony and checked out the view:

Cusco at night!

I was very impressed with how beautiful Cusco is! I strongly suggest to stay at least two days in Cusco to check out this beautiful city – was once the capital of the Inca empire! And if you don’t mind carrying some weight, bring your tripod!

Stay tuned to more photos and trip reports on my journey to Machu Picchu by subscribing to my blog 🙂

9 thoughts on “Peru Part I – A First Step Into South America!

  1. As usual, love reading your blog and seeing your beautiful photographs. Can’t wait for the next installment! This is like an early Christmas gift! Thank you for posting.

  2. A little background on the Inka Kola for you Lisa, The original flavor can from a combination of Andean herbs, and the flavor is often hard to pin point, but the most common flavors that people tend to pick up on are bubble gum, cream soda, banana and occasionally a hint of pineapple. It is the only non-Coke product to ever be approved for sale in McDonald’s, and the only soda to ever outsell Coke in a region, and still does, and while Coke did purchase the rights to it outside of Peru, they do not own the rights within Peru, Coke bottles and distributes it here in Peru but the family of the inventor receives all the profits from sales within Peru.

      1. No problem, as with any type of soda flavor, the actual components that make it up are a closely guarded secret, and based on the fact that it is now all artificial flavors, it wouldn’t surprise me if two of the flavors they are using are Banana and Pineapple.

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