True to our new mindsights of city living being something we no longer avoid, we made sure to spend some time in the bustling cities of both Arequipa and Cusco. We went in with little expectations or prior knowledge, which we’ve learned is definitely the best way to visit any new place though it’s not always easy. We spent more time than we had planned in both of these beautiful towns, about five days in each, and as always we barely scratched the surface of what they had to offer!
Cusco is the jumping off point for Machu Picchu. Whether you plan to take the Perurail, as we ended up doing, or the cool back-door overlander approach with its 16 hour round-trip drive, you will definitely end up in Cusco before and probably after, your visit. After weaving our way through the tiny cobble-stoned streets of the city, we found our spot among the 14 other Overlander rigs in the camp situated a convenient 20-minute walk above the city square. We spent the next few days camped with old road friends Fran and Doug Calder of Calder Escapes, and Rochelle and Yannis of Overland Diaries, and many new road friends like John of Wyld Eagle who also has a Four-Wheel Camper, and Junior and Cris of Terra Viagem who have a very popular Youtube channel in their home country of Brazil.
The city itself is gorgeous and sparklingly clean! Even the people who were hawking tours and trinkets were pleasant and respectful, making the whole experience of visiting Cusco much more enjoyable than is expected of a tourist-centric town! A highlight for sure was finding yet another Irish Pub in South America! At this point, we have just decided that part of our trip will be dedicated to sniffing out every Irish Bar from here to Ushuia. A noble pursuit in our opinions. This one touts its status as the highest Irish-owned pub in the world at 11,156ft. It even got the seal of approval from an Irish backpacking couple we met in Ecuador and ran in to again in Cusco for a pint and a catch-up! All in all, Cusco was a pleasant surprise!
Ok, lied about not having ANY expectation for Areqiupa... Our Kiwi friends Mowagon had told us there was an awesome brewery in town that was not to be missed. So I did expect to find delicious beer, because when these two tell you not to miss a brewery, you get yourself to that brewery!! We found another wonderful Overlander camp in the garden of a lovely old hotel, but this time we found ourselves with just one neighbor, a sweet French couple with a beautiful 6x6 Sprinter that KP drooled over big time!
For the five days we were in Arequipa, we found ourselves making the ten-minute walk to the square almost every day for some sort of delicious meal. The first day we stumbled on the Irish pub (Success!) and had a very mediocre meal, but a surprisingly good margarita and then delicious Tiramisu ice cream as we strolled around the beautiful city. That night we returned to the square to visit the Indian Restaurant - aptly named India - for some yummy Chicken Masala and Lamb Vindaloo! The restaurant only had about 5 tables and filled up fast with British and German backpackers. It got so busy, we ended up sharing our small table with a very sweet German couple who had just finished their Colca Canyon hike that morning and looked like they were in desperate need of a large plate of Indian comfort food!
We knew Arequipa would be one of our last big cities for several weeks, so we spent our time there bouncing between auto parts/lubricantes for KP and beauty/grocery stores for me, meeting after our separate adventures for some delicious treat. We had a lovely night visiting the Chelewasi Public House, the aforementioned brewery we had to visit. To our surprise, it was owned by yet another expat Oregon brewer! We know of at least three in South America, so far. This time however, we didn’t get to meet the owner because he was in Lima competing in an international beer festival, something we lamented not knowing about ahead of time, because we would have been ALL over that!! But we had some of the best burgers we’d had in a long time and some of the best beers for sure! We capped the night with roof-top Pisco Sours over the square, checking off another in our list of roof-top bars around the world!
We highly recommend in any large city you visit, check if they offer a Free Walking Tour. These two to three hour jaunts usually take you to interesting sights you wouldn’t otherwise visit, and the guides are full of tidbits about the city you won’t find in the Lonely Planet. Our tour took us to Mundo Alpaca to hang out with some adorable new llama and alpaca friends and learn about how they harvest and use the wool, through back streets lined with beautiful locally-mined, white stone buildings, to an incredible restaurant with a different rooftop view of the square, and right in to the kitchen of a fabulous Pre-Inca restaurant. The chef of this restaurant greeted us by welcoming us “home” and proceeded to fascinate us with facts about the way they cooked long before the Spanish arrived, using only clay pots, each with a single food use so as not to mix flavors, and cooking directly on coals and volcanic rock plates. He also made us a round of delicious Pisco Sours using Passion Fruit instead of lime, so yummy! I seriously could have listened to this man talk passionately about food and his culture for hours, but we had to move on and KP and I headed off to find another Pisco Sour as the first had just made us thirsty. We visited the Museo del Pisco (just a fancy bar with a cool name) where the knowledgable bartenders prepared a Pisco tasting for us with four hand-selected bottles to give us a variety of flavors. Our love of Pisco only grows! Next stop was wood fired pizza in another tiny and packed restaurant where the pizza was so good we ordered a second one, and then came back the following night for more!
We reluctantly pulled ourselves away from Arequipa, with lighter wallets, and heavier waistlines, as we made our push toward the Bolivian border and our last tourist stop in Peru: Lake Titicaca!