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MachuPicchu was on my bucket list and I decided to pick this place because it was the closest “new” 7 wonders of the world to where I live. In addition, Peru is one of fairly safe countries in South America. There are many articles and forums online that said Lima is dangerous, you just have to take it with a grain of salt. From my own experience, Lima is fairly safe, as long as you are in the right district. The key is to blend with the local (do not show off) and you should not have any problem.
My wife and I flew with JetBlue from SFO (San Francisco) to FLL (Fort Lauderdale) with “Even More Space” upgrade and it was worth the money since it was a long flight (total: 11 hours of flight time). Our itinerary started from SFO (San Francisco) to FLL (Fort Lauderdale) – 5.5 hours, then from FLL to LIM (Lima) – 5.5 hours. We stayed 3 nights in Lima and we headed out to CUZ (Cuzco). After arriving in CUZ, we went to directly to Urubamba with taxi – 1.5 hours. From Urubamba, we took a train to MachuPicchu Pueblo – 1.5 hours. From MachuPicchu Pueblo, we took a bus to MachuPicchu Sanctuary – 20 mins. We stayed in MachuPicchu for 2 nights, then we headed straight to Cuzco (Poroy Station) by train – 3.5 hours. We stayed 2 nights in Cuzco and we spent our last night of our trip in Lima.
Our flight from FLL to LIM (Lima) had 18 hours layover but luckily we have a timeshare through Wyndham and they have many properties in Fort Lauderdale. We stayed at Wyndham Sea Gardens in Pompano Beach (20 minutes from FLL airport) and we got there past midnight super hungry and tired. There was a local 24-hour donut shop and it was a life saver. The donut was super good & super soft, even though it was not hot anymore.
Dandee Donut Factory
Weather.com predicted that it was going to rain everyday during our whole trip. When we got to FLL, it was raining pretty heavy but it cleared up the next day. Since we were close to Miami, we wanted to try out Cuban food and we called one of the restaurant that was featured in “Anthony Bourdain – No Reservations”, but they did not open due to renovation. So, we checked Yelp and found Versailles. This place was big and they have a separate bakery and restaurant.
I have a friend from Peru and she introduced this driver to me. The rate was 50 soles from Lima airport to Sheraton Lima, which takes around 45 minutes drive. He was a nice guy but his car did not have air conditioner and we had to open the window the whole time we were with him. When there was no traffic, it was fine but there was traffic, I could not breath because of the smoke that is coming out of old trucks and buses.
After a pretty long flight, we finally made it in Lima. We arrived at Lima airport around 11PM and the first thing to do was to find cell phone since I do not want roaming charges from Verizon (last time I checked, it was super expensive). After I got out the gate, there was a “Rent-A-Cell” kiosk with sales people offering Cell phone service. For 12 days and unlimited internet SIM card, the rate was US$76. It is still cheaper to use T-Mobile but it was a hassle to apply then close account (I did it once when I went back to Indonesia). Anyway, there was no other company in the airport that offer cell phone service, so I had no choice. “Rent-A-Cell” used Claro as its provider and I believe Claro is the biggest carrier (coverage in small cities) in Peru.
Our driver, Luis, met us in the waiting area and he could not speak English very well, just like our Spanish. The worst part is when I tried to use Google Translate (yes, I have downloaded the Spanish dictionary and make it offline) and it was not translating because it required internet connection and the SIM card did not have internet connection (WTH?). We just had to try to speak with our horribly broken Spanish.
Luis explained to us that there are several districts in Lima and some of the districts are dangerous. The best district would be San Isidro, the second best is MiraFlores since all the high-end restaurants are there. He also told us about anti-cuchos (skewers) only being served at night since it is a finger food. Since we were really hungry, we had to stop by to eat and Luis brought us to La Nortena anti-cucheria, where they served anti-cuchos. We got there and we were so confused when we tried to order a regular bottle water. The waitress asked us, “congas?” We did not exactly understand what she was saying and we just said “si”. Then, we got our water and we realized it was sparkling water. We had no clue what “congas” meant until we got our sparking water bottle with writing “CON GAS” and translated the word “CON” in Google Translate. We ordered our food and their anti-cuchos de corazon was super delicious and fairly cheap (20 soles for a plate of 2 skewers, corn, & yucca).
After a good late night dinner, we finally made it to Sheraton Lima (Central district). Its interior structure reminded me of Luxor, Las Vegas. Everybody in the hotel was polite and spoke English well, even the bell boy and we were finally back in our comfort zone. The hotel was located right next to a pretty big strip mall and Plaza Vea (grocery store). They also offer free shuttle to Larcormar (a huge shopping mall in Miraflores district).
Plaza De Armas/Plaza Mayor
The next day, we went to Plaza De Armas/Plaza Mayor and went for Chifas (Peruvian Chinese food) afterwards. We went to Plaza De Armas on Saturday and it was super crowded. Despite of rain prediction, it was cloudy with no rain in sight when we were there.
Beside many people, there were also a lot of homeless dogs in Plaza De Armas however they were not under weight. As you can see from picture on the left, there is definitely something wrong with one his leg. I felt bad but there were just too many of them. It was sad, very sad. With all the money that they are charging tourists, I am very sure Peruvian government can build and sustain many animal shelters.
Just like with any government, even in the U.S., it is prone to corruption and the money ends up being funneled for itself, not for betterment of its people. I think that should be enough politics for right now. We did not go inside the church and other tourist traps. Basically we were just walking around town until we were tired or hungry.
After walking around for a few hours, we decided to try out Peruvian Chinese Food in Calle Capon (China Town). I was hoping to see other fellow Asians as they were really scarce to be found in Peru. Even in China Town, there were not many Asians could be found there. We stopped at Chifa Wa Lok and the food was good. I ordered Beef with mushrooms and those mushrooms were huge. I love mushrooms, so it was a no brainer. All the dishes were good, it was very close to the real Chinese food (not Panda Express Chinese).
Plaza De Armas Alleyway
Our trip was free style but we made reservations for 2 high caliber restaurants (Astrid Y Gaston – Casa Moreyra & Central Restaurante) because there was no way to get in without having reservation in advance. A tip for you: E-mail your hotel concierge to make any reservation (for free) and save yourself a bunch of hassle. Gaston Acurio is very famous in South America and this particular restaurant was featured in Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods America, so we had to try them out. However, this is their new place, they used to be in a much smaller restaurant.
We called in taxi from hotel to get to Astrid Y Gaston and the cost was 45 soles. When we arrived there, we were WOWed by the sheer size of this restaurant (it was a church at one point in time, I believe). They have 2 different sections for each type of menu and we had the tasting menu (28 courses menu). People that had made reservations for regular menu went in first and we had to wait a few minutes longer for our tasting menu. It was worth the wait, the experience was WOW beyond words. Everything was (almost) perfect.
Stay tuned for detailed description, pictures, & videos for all of the 28 courses tasting menu in the next part.