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South America – Passport Therapy https://passporttherapy.com A Travel Blog by Tara & Michael Thu, 06 Dec 2018 01:39:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.4.1 https://passporttherapy.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/cropped-PT_logo_alt-blue-e1499713657443-1-150x150.png South America – Passport Therapy https://passporttherapy.com 32 32 128707636 Our Top Ten List for Buenos Aires https://passporttherapy.com/top-10-activities-buenos-aires/ https://passporttherapy.com/top-10-activities-buenos-aires/#respond Thu, 12 Oct 2017 19:48:33 +0000 https://passporttherapy.com/?p=2357 Long-touted as the “Paris of South America,” Buenos Aires is a huge metropolitan city that has a little something for everyone.  But given its sheer size, it can be slightly overwhelming to narrow down what activities are a must. So after spending an amazing ten days in this fabulous city, we have compiled our favorite activities into one list:  Visit …

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Long-touted as the “Paris of South America,” Buenos Aires is a huge metropolitan city that has a little something for everyone.  But given its sheer size, it can be slightly overwhelming to narrow down what activities are a must. So after spending an amazing ten days in this fabulous city, we have compiled our favorite activities into one list: 

Visit Evita’s Grave

You probably saw this one coming.  Yes, La Recoleta Cemetery is in practically every guidebook, travel blog, and tour itinerary, but that’s because it’s just one of those places you need to see.  While the main attraction is the final resting place of Eva Perón, all of the tombs within the walls are like pieces of art.  Take some time and wander around.  Another site worth seeing is the tomb of Rufina Cambaceres, who according to legend, was tragically buried alive. Creepy. The cemetery is open daily from 7am-5:30 pm.

Spend the day in Palermo

This is definitely the trendiest neighborhood in Buenos Aires, which yes, does make it touristy.  That said, it has some of the coolest restaurants, bars, and shops. Not to mention that almost every wall is decorated with hip street art. Perfect for that #instaworthy shot.

Make a Reservation a Closed Door Restaurant

A Puerta Cerrada or Closed Door Restaurant is a totally unique way to experience the Argentinian cuisine and culture. These restaurants are more like a dinner party hosted by local chefs inside their homes.  We went to Casa Salt Shaker, hosted by Chef and sommelier Dan Perlman and his partner Henry Tapia.  They open their home on weekend evenings to diners who want to experience their constantly changing five-course meal and meet some new people as the dining table is communal.

Eat at a Parilla

As you might already be aware, Argentina is the land of beef.  And while I don’t eat meat, Mike is a carnivore and he was determined to have an amazing steak dinner while we were in Buenos Aires.  He was successful.  We visited two different parillas while in Buenos Aires, one of which turned out to be “life-changing” for Michael.  If you’re into steaks, we recommend hitting up La Carniceria.  It’s small, so make sure to make a reservation.  For my veggie friends, the options aren’t endless but I still managed to have a delicious meal consisting of grilled veggies, a baked potato, and the best gin and tonic on the planet.

Enjoy the parks

With all of the steaks, pizza, pastries, and empanadas you will likely be consuming on your trip to Buenos Aires, you might be thinking a little exercise would be nice.  Luckily, Buenos Aires has one of the best networks of city parks that we have come across.  Get outside, go for a jog, and breathe in the city.  Almost all of them are also equipped with outdoor gyms, so you can also get in some pull-ups and tricep dips if you so choose.  If you’re thinking that working out on your vacation sounds like a terrible idea, we would still recommend taking a stroll through the parks.  Set up a picnic if the weather is right!

Stroll through La Boca

One of the most interesting neighborhoods in Buenos Aires has to be La Boca.  The birthplace of tango and home to one of the most popular football stadiums in South America, this area has a little something to offer to everyone.

A must visit in this neighborhood are the famous El Caminito streets.  They are lined with brightly colorful shanty houses that beg for photos.  Just be mindful that tourists are subject to pickpockets in this area so keep your eyes on those phones or cameras.

Listen to Jazz at Thelonious Club

If you’re craving a night of live music in an utterly cool setting, look no further than Thelonious Club. Located in Palermo, this jazz club features live performances Wednesday-Sunday starting at 9:30 pm.  On Friday and Saturday nights, the club offers two bands in the lineup.  The club is pretty small so we highly recommend reserving your spot at a table ahead of time.  Once there, you’ll notice that the club is a recycled house with bare brick walls and low-lighting.  Order a drink (or two) and enjoy the show!  This will no doubt be a highlight of your trip.

Spend a Sunday at San Telmo Market

The biggest attraction of Buenos Aires’ bohemian neighborhood is its Sunday market.  From 10 am – 4 pm every Sunday on Calle Defensa, both locals and tourists can be found shopping for antiques, crafts, food, drinks, clothing, and much more.  If you’re lucky, you might also see an impromptu tango performance. While we were there, we found ourselves watching a live band while drinking Malbec and eating barbeque.  Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon!

Dance the night away at La Bomba de Tiempo

This was quite possibly the coolest thing we did while we were in Buenos Aires.  Every Monday night at 7 pm, a 17-person percussion group performs South American/African beats to a crowd of about 1,500. The show is improvised through hand signals, which makes it not only more impressive but also unique from week to week.

Important to note that it’s only on Monday nights so plan accordingly.  The show is located within the Konex Cultural Center.  You do not need to buy tickets beforehand we would recommend getting there early so that you can enjoy a beer (or Fernet & Coke) before the lines get crazy.

Embrace Your Inner Flaneur

Sometimes you just need to relax and watch the world go by.  Luckily, you can find a cafe on pretty much every corner of Buenos Aires to accomplish just that.  If you want to act like a true porteño, then order a cafe con leche and a medialuna (small croissant-like pastry). Some classic cafes are Cafe Tortoni and Cafe Gate Negro. 

However, if you’re like us and are constantly on the hunt for the most hipster joint to serve you up a pour-over then head to Coffee Town (inside the San Telmo market), All Saints Café (located in Belgrano), or Félix, Felices & Company (located in Palermo).

 

Interested in a quick getaway to the French Riviera? Check out our 3 day guide to Nice!

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Cafayate: Exploring Argentina’s Lesser Known Wine Region https://passporttherapy.com/cafayate-exploring-argentinas-lesser-known-wine-region/ https://passporttherapy.com/cafayate-exploring-argentinas-lesser-known-wine-region/#respond Fri, 25 Aug 2017 15:00:20 +0000 https://passporttherapy.com/?p=2276 A meal without wine is breakfast.  We wholeheartedly live by this slogan.  Being from the Bay Area, we have been spoiled by the close proximity to Napa Valley and the wonderful wines it produces.  Because of this, when we first arrived in South America, we admittedly were disappointed with the limited selection that was available.  We remained optimistic, however, because …

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A meal without wine is breakfast.  We wholeheartedly live by this slogan.  Being from the Bay Area, we have been spoiled by the close proximity to Napa Valley and the wonderful wines it produces.  Because of this, when we first arrived in South America, we admittedly were disappointed with the limited selection that was available. 

We remained optimistic, however, because we knew that Argentina was home to the Malbec heartland, Mendoza!  Finally – a great selection of wines to be consumed meal-in and meal-out! 

Unfortunately, despite ALL effort, we just couldn’t seem to fit Mendoza into our itinerary.  Things just don’t always go as planned.  Ah, the joys of long-term travel.  But, as they say, things happen for a reason, and this is what led us to another wine region in Argentina: Cafayate.

This small, dusty, town is about 3 hours south of Salta by bus and is the birthplace of Torrentés, a dry but fruity white wine that pairs perfectly to the hot climate.  We spent 3 days sampling wines from the various bodegas and have compiled a guide to moving through them.

Winery Bodega El TránsitoCafayate Mural of WineWinery Nanni Wine Bottle WallDrinking garden of Bodega NanniCafayate Painting of Native Wine DrinkerCourtyard of Bad Brothers Wine

Tasting Rooms in town

  • Bodega El Tránsito: We found the staff to be a bit unenthusiastic but considering how cheap the tasting was we were not affected by it that much, plus we did enjoy their Pedro Moises Red Blend enough to buy a bottle, which waived one tasting fee.
  • Bodega Nanni: We opted to skip the tasting/tour and just buy a bottle of the Torrontés and enjoy it in their courtyard because the scenery is beautiful
  • Bad Brothers Wine Experience: More of a wine bar than traditional winery but offer their own label to taste in a flight; we loved the outdoor patio area and the tapas are delicious!
  • Bodega Porvenir: This winery was closed when we were visiting, but we did have the opportunity to try their wine later in our trip. We heard positive reviews from fellow travelers about their in-person visit, so we feel confident in recommending them to others. 
Exploring the wine trail of CafayateRelaxing at El Esteco winery in CafayateSoaking up the sun at PiatelliEnjoying the wine at El Esteco Cafayate Argentina

Outside of town, there are a handful of wineries that demand either a bus, taxi, or bike.  We opted to go the bike rental route and would recommend it but be forewarned, it can get pretty challenging – especially in the heat!

We’ll be honest, this wasn’t the romantic, picturesque bike ride we had originally dreamed up in our heads.  We were on mountain bikes (not cute little beach cruisers), the ride there was a gradual incline (yay, sweat!) and it was post-harvest, so the vines were all bare.  But because of all this, the product waiting for you at the end is much more rewarding.

Recommended Winery Route

  • Dominga Molina: Tasting includes 5 wines of your own choosing (except for their sparkling, and premium labels) along with cheese/crackers; This was our favorite winery because the service was great and super private, likely because it was the furthest distance from town.
  • Bodega Piatelli: Two tastings offered, premium and standard, and must be done with a tour. The tours in English run every 2 hours starting at 11am.  Since the location here is gorgeous, we just decided to have an appetizer and drink a bottle outside.  This spot, though beautiful, is much more touristy.
  • Bodega El Esteco: Short hours on the weekend, so make sure they are open before heading out; we arrived after the tours were closed but were able to do a tasting in their courtyard (you pay based on the wine you choose).  Lovely setting and there is a hotel on the property if you want a full vineyard experience.

If you don’t have time to visit many wineries but want to try a variety of local product, head over to Chato’s Wine Bar.  Oscar, the owner, is incredibly knowledgeable about Argentinian wine and he has an extensive collection for you to choose from.  Plus, he’s adorable and provides excellent conversation.

Bonus Treat: Ice Cream & Wine

The last (and arguably most important) thing for us to mention about Cafayate is the helado de vino.  Yes, wine ice-cream.  In a wine town as hot as Cafayate, it makes perfect sense that this delicious treat would exist.  And we have Heladería Miranda to thank for this.  She was the first to create the local Torrentés and Malbec sorbets.  Make sure to get the both flavors side-by-side in a cone but be careful – these babies are like having two full glasses of wine!

Cheers!

 

Is Peru’s first hop-on hop-off bus worth the price? Read our review to find out! 

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Peru Hop Review: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly https://passporttherapy.com/peru-hop-review-good-bad-ugly/ https://passporttherapy.com/peru-hop-review-good-bad-ugly/#respond Thu, 17 Aug 2017 16:29:38 +0000 https://passporttherapy.com/?p=2264 As the name entails, Peru Hop is a hop-on, hop-off bus service operating within Peru and Bolivia.  It starts in Lima and ends in La Paz (or vice-versa) and they offer a variety of pass combinations to hit cities in between.  The service is geared towards travelers and backpackers looking to follow the notorious “Gringo Trail” while promising safety, flexibility, …

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As the name entails, Peru Hop is a hop-on, hop-off bus service operating within Peru and Bolivia.  It starts in Lima and ends in La Paz (or vice-versa) and they offer a variety of pass combinations to hit cities in between.  The service is geared towards travelers and backpackers looking to follow the notorious “Gringo Trail” while promising safety, flexibility, and a good time along the way. 

 

The Good:

  • Safety.  The most common horror stories we heard about buses in South America were around theft and crazy drivers.  With Peru Hop, we never had to worry about either.  Not only are they professional about keeping the doors locked up, the buses are also equipped with 24 hour GPS monitoring, which informs their HQ if there were any unplanned stops. Overnight bus rides have two drivers on board to prevent exhaustion. Not once during our trip did we feel unsafe, or worry about our driver’s performance
  • Flexibility. You can change your bus times whenever you like and your tickets are good for up to one year.  So after choosing your start and end locations, you have a full 365 days to get from one spot to the other.  This is super convenient for travelers who aren’t sticking to a strict time table and want the option to stay longer in certain cities.
  • Local Guides.  These guys are tasked with a variety of jobs from booking hostels to making tour arrangements and even providing giving local history during the trip. They provide all explanations in both English and Spanish and to top it off, they’re all super approachable and fun.  We even shared a bonfire with a few guides in Huacachina!
  • Freebies.  They organize free stops along the route that include (but aren’t limited to) viewing of the Nazca lines, a Pisco distillery, and historical slavery tunnels.
  • Punctual.  The buses have door-to-door service and do everything they can to leave on-time.  This is quite rare across South America, where many don’t leave the bus terminal until 20-30 minutes after schedule.
  • Border crossing. We were pretty nervous about this since Bolivia has A LOT of stipulations for Americans coming into their country.  The Bolivia Hop guides were super helpful, though, and made sure that all of our paperwork was organized and complete.
  • Fun.  Peru Hop is essentially a hostel on wheels, so you will meet loads of other travelers and since the itinerary is usually similar for everyone, you have a built in network of people to explore the cities with.

The Bad:

  • Price.  While we believe that you get what you pay for, you will be spending more on Peru Hop than you will if you just navigate via local buses.
  • Hostel Pickup not available in Cusco.  Though this is not a huge deal, it can be a bit of a pain to get to the Peru Hop terminal in Cusco as it is not the main bus terminal (it has a specific office) so just make sure your taxi driver knows this!
  • Promoted Offers.  We loved that Peru Hop offered discounts on local hostels and tours.  At first, we used these exclusively until we did a bit of our own research.  We consistently found cheaper options and really wished that these had also been promoted by the company so that we didn’t feel pigeonholed into the ones they offered.
  • No Wi-fi.  Almost all buses actually lack wi-fi (so you really have no alternative) but we thought this should be noted anyway.

Heading to Machu Picchu? Check out our review of Alpaca Expeditions, a top operator in Cusco!

The Ugly

  • Overnight buses.  While the seats do recline, it’s just not enough to expect a decent night’s sleep. We know, we know, it’s a bus so it’s obviously not the same comfort level as a hotel but having the option to pay more for a fully reclining seat would be worth it.  Many bus companies in South America offer “cama suite” seats at a more premium price.  These seats fully recline and (in our opinion) it’s worth the extra money.
  • Toilets.  We won’t dwell on this one too long but it should be noted that the buses do have toilets.  So why is this a negative?  The guides will tell you over and over again that the toilets are only to be used for “number one”.  Unfortunately, you may still encounter someone that proceeds to use it for other reasons, and then the entire bus suffers.  Best of luck on this one.
  • Wristbands. While not as garish as the cheap paper wristbands most hostels provide, the reliance of wristbands was a bit annoying. Nothing says tourist like matching red and blue wristbands featuring the hipster llama on them.

Bottom Line

Recommend!  We would happily use these guys again.  Though they might be a bit pricier than the average bus company, having everything under one roof saved both time and headaches, especially at the beginning of our trip. Seasoned travelers and those on tight budgets should look elsewhere. 

 

Learn the history of Peru’s national spirit, and a recipe to make a Pisco Sour at home!

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Alpaca Expeditions: The Good, The Bad And the Ugly https://passporttherapy.com/alpaca-expeditions-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/ https://passporttherapy.com/alpaca-expeditions-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/#respond Thu, 10 Aug 2017 16:39:19 +0000 https://passporttherapy.com/?p=2328 So, you want to hike to Machu Picchu? Good choice. Taking a train or hiring a car is for bums, and you’re more interested in working out your bum instead. Hiking to Machu Picchu is the only way to truly appreciate the degree of difficulty in both building and reaching this city in the sky, and how crazy sophisticated the …

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So, you want to hike to Machu Picchu? Good choice. Taking a train or hiring a car is for bums, and you’re more interested in working out your bum instead. Hiking to Machu Picchu is the only way to truly appreciate the degree of difficulty in both building and reaching this city in the sky, and how crazy sophisticated the Incas were to pull it off. When deciding which route is right for you, there are a few details you must consider:

  • Is hiking directly into Machu Picchu via Inti Punku (Sun Gate) a must? If so, the Inca Trail is the only hike that does this. All alternative routes end up using a train or tram to reach the base entrance with all the normies who took the train the whole way.
  • How much are you willing to spend? The Inca Trail hike is capped at 500 permits per day, which includes guides and porters. With demand for this hike at an all-time high, and the supply capped, you are going to spend anywhere from 2x-3x the price of the alternative routes.
  • How soon are you traveling to Peru? We booked our trek on January 23rd, 2017 for July 2nd of the same year. When we spoke with our tour guides, they were already accepting bookings for 2018. It was our understanding that the longer you wait to book your hike, the worse your campsite you will be. Since the tour operator needs the permits before booking, those selling last minute permits to the trail tend to camp at sub-optimal sites for trail navigation and arrival to Machu Picchu.

Depending on your answers above, you will know if the Inca Trail is right for you. We knew from the get go that we wanted to do the Classic Inca Trail, so our review is solely focused on the 4D/3N Classic Inca Trail Trek. However, we have had friends do the Salkantay and Lares and absolutely loved it. On the Lares, you get a llama to carry your gear.  So depending on your love of cute, cuddly, furry animals, that might be a huge plus.

After researching from a handful of highly-rated companies, we booked our trek with Alpaca Expeditions, a 100% Peruvian and locally-owned operator based in Cusco. 

 

The Good

  • Professional guides fluent in English. No joke, these guys were using words I only ever recall from my college lit courses. Our two guides, Villejio and Ronaldo, were hilarious and provided interesting history lessons throughout the four days. 
  • Great food and a lot of it. I’ve never eaten so much food in four days. Every meal has, at a minimum, three courses. This also includes vegetarian or gluten free options depending on your group’s dietary needs. Plus, a popcorn and hot cocoa happy hour every night!
  • High-Quality Equipment. From the sleeping bags to the tents, everything was in fantastic condition. We opted to rent the hiking poles, sleeping bags and inflatable air mattresses for an additional cost and it was well worth the price.
  • Locally owned and ethical. Alpaca Expeditions makes a big deal about this, and rightfully so in my opinion. Porters and guides have a long history of being exploited by tour operators in Cusco. It isn’t uncommon for some to wait months before being paid for their work, and even then they may only get a portion of what is owed. Alpaca Expeditions provides porters with new uniforms, high-quality hiking boots, and timely payment. 
  • Campsite location and time management. This is probably the most important aspect of actually doing the Classic Inca Trail. Since treks with Alpaca Expeditions fill up quickly, they book the campsites much farther in advance than some of the cheaper, lesser known operators. This means getting out in front of the crowds and making it to the Asunagate first to witness the sun crest over the mountain top and bathe Machu Picchu in its rays.

The Bad

  • Tip collection and breakout. My only issue with this tour operator was how gratuity was handled, or rather, how it wasn’t handled. It was left to us to figure out how to collect and divide the tips among the porters and cooks.  After which, we were asked to present to the entire group their individual take. Due to language barriers, the cultural difference with tipping and the slapdash way the tips were pooled together, everyone went to bed annoyed and flustered. Not a deal breaker, but something that needs to be fixed. 

The Ugly

  • Let’s talk about poop 💩. This is definitely the lowlight of life on the Inca Trail. Squat toilets that look like something out of Saw. You need to collect your own toilet paper and store it for proper disposal, which half the hikers seem to ignore. Instead, it piles up in the stall adding new layers of detail to an already dour decor. Add in the fact that, at night, you will be in frigid temperatures with only a headlamp to light your way and you have yourself a recipe for a wonderful toilet experience. That is if you are lucky enough to even go to the bathroom. Probably half of our group was experiencing some form of constipation, which coupled with the copious amounts of food at each meal, led to some fellow hikers being physically hindered during the last day on the trail. 

Bottom Line

The Journey is the Destination is the Alpaca Expeditions slogan, and their Classic Inca Trail trek reflects that. They have put together a high quality, well thought-out trek that made it the highlight of our South America adventure. We highly recommend them.

 

Want to learn how to travel across Peru easily? Read our review of Peru Hop

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The National Drink of Peru: Pisco https://passporttherapy.com/peru-pisco-sour/ https://passporttherapy.com/peru-pisco-sour/#respond Tue, 08 Aug 2017 15:00:36 +0000 https://passporttherapy.com/?p=2234 When we travel to new places, one of Mike’s favorite things to do is seek out the local cuisine, typically from an old lady hustling from a street cart at midnight, while Tara is usually the first to order a local libation.  And Peru was no different.  Enter in, the pisco sour.  This delicious cocktail can literally be found at every …

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When we travel to new places, one of Mike’s favorite things to do is seek out the local cuisine, typically from an old lady hustling from a street cart at midnight, while Tara is usually the first to order a local libation.  And Peru was no different.  Enter in, the pisco sour.  This delicious cocktail can literally be found at every bar in PeruIf you’ve previously been traveling through Chile, you may have noticed that there is no shortage of pisco sours there either.  If you want to avoid getting into a heated discussion with a Peruvian, it’s best not to even mention the Chilean version because both Peru and Chile lay claim to its base liquor, pisco.  Peruvians are fiercely proud people and seem to have a small complex over their defeat at the hands of the Chileans in the War of the Pacific, and this long-standing dispute over pisco has become somewhat of a proxy war for righting old wrongs.

According to Peruvians, pisco was created from distilling grapes that emerged on their lands during the colonial era, after the Spanish brought over vineyards.  The first reports of the production of this grape spirit can be traced back to the start of the 17th century.  Today, Peruvian pisco is produced only on the coast with the aim of protecting the designation of origin.

While many cocktails are built from pisco, the pisco sour remains the most popular and iconic of the bunch. The pisco sour was actually invented by an American in the early 1920’s, when Victor Vaughn Morris (a bartender in Lima) was attempting to make his favorite drink, the whiskey sour, but ran out of his beloved spirit. Desperate for a drink, he used what he had readily available, giving birth to the pisco sour.  The drink’s popularity spread quickly and other bars began to experiment with their own versions.  By the end of the decade, the modern pisco sour was born.  The drink is so popular today that it even has its own holiday, celebrated by Peruvians on the first Saturday of February.

Now that you have a brief history, we’re sure you want to know where the hell to get one of these delicious cocktails. We recommend you skip a headache caused by those awful 2×1 happy hour pisco sours advertised at every bar in every town, and head to a classy establishment. If you’re in Lima, head to one of the coolest bars in town, Ayahuasca, which not only offers a delicious pisco sour, it has pages of variations on this classic. Heading straight to Cusco? The Pisqueros at Museo Del Pisco has you covered. This place is not so much a bar as it is a house of worship for all things pisco.

Or maybe you’re interested in making your own?  Below is a recipe for a classic pisco sour that can be whipped up at home.  We only ask that you invite us over to share.  Salud!

via museodelpisco.org

INGREDIENTS:

  • Simple Syrup (highly suggest making your own with 1/2 cup sugar and 3 spoonfuls of water)
  • 7 1/2 oz pisco
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 1/2 oz of lemon juice
  • ice
  • bitters

 

DIRECTIONS:

Syrup:

  • Put 1/2 cup of sugar in a small pot with 3 spoonfuls of water, just enough to dampen the sugar
  • Cook on a slow fire, stirring with a spoon until the sugar is entirely dissolved
  • Take it off the heat and let it cool for a few minutes

PISCO SOUR:

  • Add the lemon juice and the pisco to the warm syrup and beat firmly until the ingredients have been mixed well
  • Pour the mixture into a blender and add ice until the liquid volume has been doubled
  • Blend at top speed for approx. 30 seconds, until the ice has completely dissolved
  • Add an egg white and blend again at top speed for 1 minute
  • Pour the mixture into a jar and serve immediately, in “old-fashioned” glasses on in white wine glasses
  • To top it off, add a drop of bitters to each glass, in the middle of the foam
  • ENJOY!

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Cusco: 5 ways to pass the time before Machu Picchu https://passporttherapy.com/5-ways-to-pass-the-time-in-cusco/ https://passporttherapy.com/5-ways-to-pass-the-time-in-cusco/#comments Wed, 02 Aug 2017 15:00:10 +0000 https://passporttherapy.com/?p=2158 Cusco, the starting point for the famed Machu Picchu. The center of the universe, according to the Incas, and certainly the center of tourism in Peru. This city is both wonderful and exhausting, as almost everything in the downtown area is catered to tourism, and the exploitation thereof. Despite the constant calls of “Masaje!”, aggressive street painters all curiously named …

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Cusco, the starting point for the famed Machu Picchu. The center of the universe, according to the Incas, and certainly the center of tourism in Peru. This city is both wonderful and exhausting, as almost everything in the downtown area is catered to tourism, and the exploitation thereof.

Despite the constant calls of “Masaje!”, aggressive street painters all curiously named Pablo Picasso, and the mind-numbingly numerous tour operators hawking the same tours, we came to love our extended stay in Cusco. Below you will find some of our favorite activities to pass the time until you visit Machu Picchu!

Channel your inner Alice Waters at Organika

Look, we are from San Francisco so, we love organic, local, farm-to-table establishments. Big, juicy, multicolored beets? Edible Flowers? Towering beds of lettuce? Ya, that’s our jam. So when we headed to South America, we had more than a few friends and family laughing about how we were going to struggle in the land of Lomo Saltado and roasted Cuye. Fortunately for us, we found Organika.

This farm-to-table establishment serves some of the best salads, period. Their vegetable lasagna will melt your heart (and your mouth if you’re not careful). They made a dessert dish using tomatoes as their main ingredient, tomatoes! This place was so good we ate there three times. However, don’t just think this place is for the vegetable obsessed, this establishment offers some fantastic meat dishes as well, such as an Alpaca steak that will have you viewing those little guys in a different light.

Tucked away in an alley about 2 blocks away from the Plaza de Armas, do yourself and your body a favor, and give Organika a try.

Calle Resbalosa No 410 – Centro Historico, Cusco 084, Peru

Take in the view at Mirador San Blas

Put on your walking shoes, we’ve got steps to climb

If you intend to hike to Machu Picchu than consider your time in Cusco as a pre-hike training experience. At the very least, it will help you cope with the fact that walking up a short flight of stairs feels like you just PR’d a 10k. We spent two weeks in Peru, slowly making our way to Cusco, and still, we were floored by the altitude and the abundance of stairs in every direction. If you can embrace the no pain, no gain attitude, consider a walk up to the Mirador San Blas to soak up an amazing view of old town Cusco.

Don’t worry, I wouldn’t make this suggestion if there wasn’t a delicious alcoholic beverage waiting for you at the end. Conveniently located immediately next to Mirador San Blas is Limbus, with a covered, outdoor bar providing the same, wonderful panoramic of the city, but with the added benefit of Pisco Sours.

After recovering your breath, explore this beautiful neighborhood of colorful doors and artisan shops, filled with hand-crafted jewelry, beautiful maps, and a ton of hippie travelers.

Cooking the Andean Way

 

There is no better way to experience a country’s cuisine than taking a cooking class. You not only get to enjoy your creation, you get to take it with you on your travels. We booked what ended up being a private cooking class with Natural Terra at the end of Calle Choquechacca. Proprietor and chef Pierre Castillo offered a menu of traditional dishes, as well as vegetarian variants, with a focus on high-quality, local ingredients.

His class consisted of a guided tour through two markets, the famous San Pedro Market and the locals only Mercado Cascaparo Chico, where you buy ingredients to cook a two-course meal. We spent about four hours in total between the tour and cooking our lunch, which gave us a ton of time to work up a huge appetite. If you are in the market for a cooking class, we highly recommend giving this one a try!

Please note, due to an issue with TripAdvisor, Natural Terra is designated as Permanently Closed. As of July 1st, 2017, Natural Terra is open for business. For that reason, we recommend trying Pierre by e-mail to reserve your class. 

naturalterrarestaurant@gmail.com

Choqechaka 338, Cusco, Peru

Learn how chocolate is made at the ChocoMuseo

via www.chocomuseo.com

We love chocolate, we love free, and we definitely love discounts, so when we found out the ChocoMuseo, located next to the Plaza Regocijo, offered all three, we knew we had to stop by.

The museum is small, the tour is short, but the payoff is big. Free chocolate samples, a tasting of 4 different chocolate liquors made in-house, plus a discount on all the amazing chocolate items located in the shop, make this a must do during a spare hour in Cusco. 

Keep an eye out, as different promoters offer different discounts. We used a discount through PeruHop for 15% off our purchase, while the promoters on the street were offering a 5%-10% discount card. 

Calle Garcilaso 210, Cusco, Peru

Dance atop the Rainbow at 17,000 feet

I’ll be honest with you, this is not the hidden gem it is made out to be, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it! Flex your photo-editing skills and crop your fellow tourists out of the shot to get your instgram-ready photo with the mountain.

The hike isn’t hard, but the altitude means you will be stopping every few minutes to catch your breath. There are alpaca grazing all around to keep you occupied as you rest, and if need be, you can hire a horse to ride for most of the hike. If you decide to get a horse, get it early, as everyone has to hike the final leg of the journey, and you should get the most bang for your buck.

Feel free to shop around, and try to find an operator that leaves early. It sucks waking up at 3 AM, but it will be worth it. Our departure was at 5 AM, and when we arrived about 300-400 people were waiting at the base of the mountain. 

The post Cusco: 5 ways to pass the time before Machu Picchu appeared first on Passport Therapy.

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