We are very fortunate that some of our good friends spent a good stint of time in Peru, and more so that they wrote us a detailed guide to many of the places they visited that would put many guidebooks to shame. Reflecting on today, everything we did was based on these recommendations – so thank you!
Peru is very proud of its chocolate, and based on what we have tasted so far, for good reason. Cusco is home to a Chocolate Museum that is not that more than a glorified shop / cafe unless you partake in a chocolate making class.
A very entertaining 2 hours ensues as we learn a bit about the coco (or cacao) plant – it is fertilised by mosquitos (so the little sods do have a use), it’s beans can produce up to 10 different flavours, and it was first used by the Mayans.
They managed to develop the first few stages of the modern chocolate process, that is: fermentation; drying; roasting and grinding. However they never turned this in to chocolate but instead into an original Mayan drink called “xocolatl” which consisted of the ground beans being mixed with hot water and chilli.
We make and try it and to be honest it’s not bad, but we also try a tea made from adding the dis-guarded bean casings to water and a rather amazing hot chocolate drink.
To make actual chocolate you just then melt the ground bean paste, add sugar and stir for 24 hours (we use some that in true Blue Peter style they prepared earlier) before the fun bit – choosing your moulds and additions!
With our chocolates in the fridge for later collection we head of for some lunch at Jack’s cafe. Great food and spectacular fresh juices (mint and lime) are more western than Peruvian which explains the very “gringo” clientele but it serves us very well.
I have commented before on the beautiful colonial architecture to be found in S.America, Arequipa and the UNESCO heritage sites of Potosi and Sucre in Bolivia to name some. However I think that Cusco, with its mix of both Spanish and Inca styles, and the most beautiful of all the central plazas we have seen, is probably the prettiest place we have visited in the entire continent. Strolling round the streets for an afternoon of stocking up ahead of our forthcoming Inca Trail and picking up souvenirs is a real treat.
Dominating the main plaza is the Cathedral, built upon a site of an Incan palace. As with the city itself, the church is one of the most impressive we’ve seen (though it doesn’t low photos), and the highlights include a full height wooden alter covered in silver, an organ imported from Belgium that due to damage in transit took 100 years to tune(!) and hundreds of religious paintings including local versions of religious paintings. Our favourite of these is the last supper with guinea pig and ‘chicha’ being served! I think that with the photos, multiple altars and statues littered across the 3 chapels that make up the Cathedral it must be one of the biggest collections of crucifixes I have ever seen and leave the building humming Soundgarden.
Our final recommendation from our own personal guide was the Pisco Sour Museum. Not a museum at all, but a very cool bar specialising in the national drink and serving great tapas, and a lovely end to the day.