10 Things Peru Gets Right

November 18, 2013

To those readers who think I only saw negative aspects of Peru during my stay in South America, think again. There are many perks to living there that really surprised and enticed me to stay.

1. Fresh juice

Peru is no stranger to providing Coca Cola and Inca Kola at restaurants, but I was particularly impressed at the number of places offering freshly squeezed juice and smoothies in a variety of flavors. Unlike in the US, where one would receive a mix of water, concentrate, and artificial sugar, Peruvian juice is the real deal: nothing but pulp, juice, and the option of brown sugar. I had the habit of going to the San Camillo Market in Arequipa every morning and ordering a smoothie with assorted fruits, honey, maca, algarobbina, and a raw egg.

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2. Attire

There are some exceptions during the summer months, but by and large most of the people I saw on the street were well dressed, groomed, and never wearing shorts or open-toed shoes. Tourist can easily be identified with their dreads, backpacks, and sandals. I’m not exactly a prude when it comes to showing some skin in warm weather, but I believe people (particular those in the US) should take more pride in their appearance.

3. PDA

Even after having lived in Asia, I enjoy seeing couples holding hands and kissing openly on the street (though I didn’t happen to see any gay couples in Peru). It screams freedom, and the fact those feelings will not be restricted to back alleys or hidden in the shadows. They say Latin Americans are a very passionate people; based on my observations in the Plaza de Armas at night, I’d agree with that assessment. I might have enjoyed these displays more if I had someone with whom I could make our own performance, but we can’t have everything.

4. Unique drinks

Chicha has been drunk in the Andes region for hundreds of years. They say before girls were sacrificed to the volcano gods, their people had them drink the fermented purple corn and inhale coca leaves, leaving them high and inebriated. Mate de coca mixed with chamomile has become a new favorite of mine as a nighttime beverage, its leaves soothing and good after a physical day. Pisco, though tasting similar to tequila, is very unique to Peru and offers some truly fantastic cocktails like the pisco sour.

5. Natural Beauty

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The jungle. The Nazca Lines (ok, not entirely natural, but amazing). The Ica desert. The Andes. There’s a wide variety of landscapes and ecosystems in Peru, and it’s quite a sight to see.

6. Tourism

Now, before you naysayers say this one belongs in the “wrong” category, I have to say I wasn’t blind. I was on the sidewalk minding my own business as everyone around me tried to pull me into an overpriced restaurant, sell me bus tickets to Cuzco, and throw sunglasses onto my face. I get it. Peru is touristy, much more than I had thought.

However, given that it’s the gateway for travelers to South America and with all it has to offer, I think the level of aggressive tourism here isn’t unreasonable. It’s not completely overblown, and definitely not reaching the levels of Egypt and Vietnam (maybe a smidgen under Thailand). More to the point, the country does a good job taking care of its sights. Macchu Picchu is still pretty pristine considering the number of people to pass through it daily and the opportunities to set up shops and hotels on the mountain itself.

7. We are all Americans

One of the things I quickly realized not to do in South America, contrary to Asia, was to identify myself as an American. Not because I’m ashamed of my heritage, mind you, but in that part of the world, it’s too ambiguous. We are all Americans: Latin Americans, Central Americans, North Americans, South Americans. It put things in perspective, when you realize such a term like American completely negates others belonging to that group. I’m not the only American. I just happen to be from the Estados Unidos.

8. Health supplements

There are too many here to mention. Quinoa, kiwicha, maca, algarobbina, fresh honey, spirulina… all are fresh, widely available, and cheap.

9. Baby alpaca

I have yet to eat alpaca steak, but if alpaca fur is any indication, it must be delicious. Incans used alpacas and llamas for food, clothing, and artwork dating back centuries. In the modern age, older women still wear cloth wrapped around their shoulders that resembles the designs imprinted on alpaca fur, but it’s cheaper to use cotton. Nevertheless, baby alpaca, whose hairs are softer and less likely to fray, are becoming increasingly popular among tourists for clothing. I purchased a grey baby alpaca sweater in Arequipa and don’t regret one bit of that 190 soles.

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10. Cultural diversity

In addition to racial diversity – it’s hard to determine who is Peruvian, with a variety of eye, skin, and hair colors – cities in Peru, by accident or design, have maintained their own traditions. Chincha and Pisco are home to many indigenous people with unique music, delicacies, dance, and attire. Arequipa is similar to Satsuma in Japan, culturally and physically isolated from the rest of the country. Even language isn’t a certainty, with many in the older generations knowing Quechua as well as Spanish.

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