City Travel Guide – Cuenca, Ecuador

Cuenca, Ecuador is an expat mecca which means you’re going to hear more English (and French and German) and see more North American and European faces here than anywhere else in Ecuador except maybe the Galapagos Islands. But Cuenca is also full of history, culture, hotels, and good food (you can thank the expats for that last one), as you’ll see in this travel guide to Santa Ana de los Cuatro Ríos de Cuenca.

Plaza de las Flores - Cuenca, Ecuador

Plaza de las Flores in Cuenca, Ecuador.

Cuenca was first inhabited by nomadic cave men and more securely established in 500 AD. The place has been important to the Cañari people, the Incas, Spanish conquistadors, and now people from all over the world including the proud Cholas Cuencanas who swish around the city in their layered skirts, bright colors, and braids.

Architecture in the Historic Center of Cuenca, Ecuador

Architecture in the historic center of Cuenca, Ecuador.

Situated at 8,200 feet (2,500 meters), the Tomebamba River runs through the city whose historic center has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1999 on the merits of the colonial architecture there. When you’re done exploring the city, Cuenca makes a good base for visits to the Ingapirca archaeological site and Cajas National Park.

Historic Center - Cuenca, Ecuador

A typical street scene in Cuenca, Ecuador.

 What to do in Cuenca

Churches ofCuenca, Ecuador

Just a few of the 52 churches in Cuenca, Ecuador.

There are 52 churches in Cuenca, so you could spend your whole visit just peeking into them. Instead, focus on the best of the churches and save some time for the architecture, art, and culture in Cuenca too.

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception or the New Cathedral - Cuenca, Ecuador

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, aka the New Cathedral.

We took the guided tour (US$3, in English) of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, commonly referred to as the New Cathedral, which includes the crypt and a hike up to the terrace on top for views of the city.

Inside the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception - Cuenca, Ecuador

Inside the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

The Museo de Arte Moderno (better known as MMAM) is located in a peaceful renovated house which was originally built in the 17th century. It’s any small rooms and outdoor courtyards now provide the right setting for a changing selection of modern art (free, donation requested).

 Museo de Arte Moderno (MMAM) - Cuenca, Ecuador

A playful sculpture at the Museo de Arte Moderno (MMAM).

Cuenca shows its Incan roots at the Pumapungo archaeological site (free) which preserves some of what remains of the city of Pumapungo (“the door of the puma”) which the Incas established after narrowly defeating the Cañari people. Researchers believe Pumapungo was second only to the Incan capital of Cusco. Located in the historic center of the city on a hillock over the Tomebamba River, this site is primarily a collection of stone walls and foundations and a re-constructed building.

Pumapungo archaeological site, Cuenca, Ecuador

The Pumapungo archaeological site is an Incan construction that’s right in the middle of modern Cuenca.

The nearby Pumapungo Museum (free) is the city’s biggest museum and it delivers a colorful, comprehensive deep dive into the different cultures and ethnic groups in Ecuador including clothing, customs, money, pottery, textiles, and more. The museum also has some shrunken heads from the Shuar people. Most display explanations are in Spanish.

Pumapungo Museum - Cuenca, Ecuador

A display in the Pumapungo Museum.

So-called Panama hats actually come from Ecuador (they got their misleading name with US President Theodore Roosevelt was given one to shield him from the sun while touring the Panama Canal). Hat making is a revered art in the country and Cuenca is home to a number of master hat makers. The most famous is Homero Ortega. We also found good quality hats (at cheaper prices) at La Paja Toquilla.

Architecture Historic Center - Cuenca, Ecuador

More architecture in the historic center of Cuenca.

Many walking tours of the city are offered as well and some of them are free (but tip if you can). This can be a good way to quickly get a taste of the architecture and history of Cuenca.

On a hillside on the outskirts of the city is the Amaru Bioparque Cuenca Zoologico  ($4) where some animal enclosures at the self-funded zoo appear to be made from chicken wire and ingenuity. This worked well to craft a kind of monkey habi-trail that allowed the monkeys to roam further without getting out, but it did seem like the puma could probably escape if she really wanted to.

Spectacled Bear - Amaru Bioparque Cuenca Zoologico

Andean bears at the Amaru zoo in Cuenca.

We also saw Andean bears (the zoo was also home to the first Andean bear cubs born in captivity in Ecuador), lions, condors, and a wide range of reptiles in an exhibit completed in association with the young and passionate herpetologists and tour guides at Tropical Herping.

To tour the zoo you have to walk along a 1.5 mile (2 km) dirt trail that is steep and uneven in places, so wear walking shoes and clothes. Allow at least an hour and a half.

Street Art, Cuenca, Ecuador

Street art in Cuenca.

Restaurants in Cuenca

Another great thing to do in Cuenca is eat. Thanks, in part, to the large expat community the city has a lot of restaurants catering to a many different tastes.

Fabianos pizza, Cuenca, Ecuador

Dinner at Fabiana’s pizza.

Fabiano’s Pizza serves legit pizza (see above) at great prices to a crowd that’s heavy on the expats (the place had a festive nursing home vibe). The most expensive 12 slice pizza was around US$17.00 and a generous glass of wine was US$3.50. Cash only. English is spoken (did we mention the expats?).

Arepas Moliendo Café, Cuenca, Ecuador

Amped up arepas at Moliendo Cafe.

Arepas are a humble thing, unless you get them at Moliendo Café where this simple cornmeal patty is topped with heaping portions of home cooked Colombian favorites including beans, hogao (a rich sauce of chopped and simmered vegetables), chorizo, chicharron (fried cubes of meaty pork skin), and much more. Portions (around US$3.50 per order) are huge. The Colombian owners also import Postobon soda and Aguila and Poker beer from Colombia.

El Mercado restaurant, Cuenca, Ecuador

Part of the most impressive meal we had in Cuenca, at El Mercado restaurant.

One of the best meals we had in Cuenca was at El Mercado, overlooking the river where polished international cuisine (rack of lamb, grilled octopus, risotto) is served along with creative cocktails (don’t miss their version of a Moscow Mule made with fresh ginger, agave syrup, aguardiente and soda water) and an extensive (for Ecuador) wine list. The excellent bread is homemade, the tableware is chic, and the service is good. The owners also have their own organic farm outside the city and we hope they never take the luscious grilled salad off the menu.

Thirsty? The Far Out brewery makes German style craft beer which you can get at their brew pub in the historic center of Cuenca. 

Ristorante Trastavere, Cuenca, Ecuador

Chef Massimo is from Rome and his Ristorante Trastavere is super Italian.

Ristorante Trastavere, on the corner near the intersection of Honorata Vazquez and Presidente Borrara Streets, is the creation of Rome-born chef Massimo. He opened the place in 2015 and continues to make homemade pasta, gnocchi, bread, and sauces. He makes his own mozzarella, smokes his own fish, and cures his own meats too. The food, served on red and white checked tablecloths in a small dining room above his even smaller open kitchen, is extraordinary. He now has a pizza joint across the street so Fabiano’s has some competition.

La Chalupa, Cuenca, Ecuador

Just one of the inventive cocktails at La Chalupa.

La Chalupa Mediterranean restaurant was opened in 2015 by a young Basque chef. It’s a festive place, equally good for a meal or one of the cocktails created by bartender  Bernardo Arias. Order his Cajas Spirit cocktail which, he says, was inspired by nearby Cajas National Park. It’s made with rum or tequila that he infuses with herbs harvested from the park. Then tonic water, lime juice, and Angostura bitters are added (around US$5). It’s bracing and refreshing, just like a hike in its namesake park.

Cuenca is full of coffee shops and cafes. We had great brews at Goza Espresso Bar and at Café de Nucallacta where they only serve Ecuadorean coffee that they’ve roasted themselves.

Tiesto's, Cuenca, Ecuador

Chef Juan Carlos Solano in a rare quiet moment at Tiesto’s.

Sure you can order off the menu of Ecuadorean classics at Tiesto’s, but it’s much more fun to let Juan Carlos Solano, the self-taught chef and owner, tell you what you should eat. The well-trained waiters will make sure you understand the wide variety of house made condiments which are meant to be eaten in a specific order and in specific combinations. Solano is all about playing with flavors and whether he’s cooking prawns or pork he’s got a vision of the final dish and how it should be enjoyed. Buckle up and go along for the ride.

For a snack or light lunch head to the corner of Juan Jaramillo and Estrella Streets. Here you’ll find a cluster of small places selling sanduches de pernil (roasted pork leg sandwiches) for about US$2. Pick a place (they’re all good) and enjoy.

Rio Tomebamba, Cuenca, Ecuador

Part of what defines Cuenca is the Rio Tomebamba which runs through it.

Hotels in Cuenca

Hotel Los Balcones is a long-standing favorite in Cuenca because it’s right in the center, moderately priced for a mid-range hotel in this city, and is a comfortable combination of history (the building was constructed as a private home in the 18th century) and modern amenities. Service is excellent, many rooms have small balconies (as the name would imply) and the sunny upstairs breakfast room is a great place to start your day.

Hotel Los Balcones , Cuenca, Ecuador

Our room at Hotel Los Balcones in Cuenca.

Hotel Santa Lucia, a bit musty and dusty around the edges, is located in the historic center in a building that was built in 1859. The place is full of antiques and history. Read our full review of Hotel Santa Lucia for Luxury Latin America.

Hotel Santa Lucia - Cuenca, Ecuador

A room at Hotel Santa Lucia in Cuenca.

Hotel Victoria is owned by the Duran family, pioneers in tourism in Cuenca (they also own Posada Ingapirca near the Ingapirca archaeological site). The riverfront hotel is iconic in the city as is its El Jardin restaurant which is modern incarnation of a restaurant created in the 1970s.

Hotel Victoria - Cuenca, Ecuador

Our room at Hotel Victoria in Cuenca.

Hotel Victoria is not a fancy place in the traditional sense of luxury, but it is flawlessly dignified. Rooms vary greatly and some (like ours) are small, but we had a great river view and lots of ambiance. A great full breakfast with made-to-order eggs is served daily in the El Jardin dining room with river views.

Hotel Zahir 360 is a real anomaly in Cuenca. In a city where almost every hotel exists in a historic building full of antiques, the Zahir is sleek and modern. It’s also not in the historic center but on the other side of the river. Read our full review of Hotel Zahir 360 for Luxury Latin America.

Zahir 360 hotel - Cuenca, Ecuador

The Zahir 360 breaks from the hotel crowd in Cuenca with a very modern design.

We walked past the Siena Hotel on our last day in Cuenca. We did not stay at this central hotel, but we did quickly tour some rooms and it was stylish and comfortable and nailed a boutique hotel vibe better than any other hotel we saw in the city.

Here’s more about travel in Ecuador

 

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Epic Drives: The Death Road in Bolivia

This 23 mile (37 km) stretch of dirt road in the mountains north of La Paz, Bolivia may be the most notorious death road in the world.

Beginning of North Yungas road, Bolivia's death road.

The North Yungas Road, aka the Death Road, in Bolivia was once the most dangerous road in the world.

Driving the Death Road in Bolivia

Right out of La Paz, the paved highway climbs to 15,260 feet (4,651 meters). After cresting La Cumbre pass, we traveled 19 miles (30 km) down the highway to 10,433 feet (3,180 meters) and the beginning of the North Yungas Road, also known as Bolivia’s Death Road.

Driving north yungas death road Bolivia

The entrance to Bolivia’s Death Road.

There are two entrances to the Death Road and they’re very close together. They both get you there, but the first turn off you come to when traveling from Lima (you’ll see a beat up old sign) seemed slightly less rough.

Check out our video, below, taken with our Brinno camera mounted on the dashboard of our truck as we drove Bolivia’s Death Road.

The 23 mile (37 km) road drops about 6,820 feet (2,080 meters) and ends in the valley below the town of Cocoiro where the dirt North Yungas Road rejoins the paved highway.

Vehicles in both directions are required to travel on the left hand side of the Death Road so that the driver is on the outer edge of the road instead of the center-line. This allows drivers to more safely maneuver as close as possible to the cliff-edge or mountain wall when passing another vehicle. If you’re traveling from Lima toward Cocoiro you will be driving on the cliff side of the road.

North Yungas Death road Bolivia

The scenery is stunning along Bolivia’s Death Road.

The road is all dirt but it was in very good condition when we were there. It’s single-lane in many places, there are some blind corners, and there are areas were water is cascading onto the road from the hills above.

However, the road also has guard rails now and we saw just two other vehicles during the 1.5 hours we were on the road. There are a few tiny settlements along the way and there’s a 5 BS (about US$0.72) fee per car to drive the road. 

Our receipt for the 5BS per car fee you have to pay when you drive Bolivia’ Death Road.

A new paved highway to Cocoiro was built in 2007 which greatly reduced the number of vehicles on the old Death Road. This means that Bolivia’s infamous Death Road, where hundreds of people died in traffic accidents, is really not all that dangerous anymore. 

Before the new highway was opened in 2007, the North Yungas Road, aka the Death Road, carried a lot of traffic and was the most dangerous road in the world. Photo: Wikicommons

The Death Road is now used almost exclusively by travelers who’ve signed up for a downhill biking adventure. A dozen or so bikers still die on the road each year and if you drive the Death Road in the morning there will be bikers on the road along with your vehicle. Most bikers are gone by the afternoon.

Biking Bolivia's death road.

Travelers on a guided downhill bike trip make up the majority of traffic on Bolivia’s Death Road these days.

A chilling Death Road back story

Bolivians we’ve spoken with say that the Death Road is called that not because of the substantial number of fatalities from accidents on the road fatalities but because opponents of the government were thrown off the road in to the gorge to certain death below during Bolivia’s bloody revolution in the 1950s.

Here’s more about travel in Bolivia

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Behind the Lines – Archaeological Sites in Nazca, Peru

The overwhelming majority of people who travel to the town of Nazca, Peru come to see the famous Nazca Lines. We did too, exploring the Nazca Lines from the air and on the ground. But the area also has many archaeological sites that helped us understand a little bit about the Nazca people who were the ones behind those famous lines in the first place.

Nazca lines hummingbird colibri picafloe

The Hummingbird, one of the most famous of the Nazca Lines.

The archaeological sites in Nazca, Peru

There are tour companies in Nazca (spelled Nasca in Peru) who will take you to the archaeological sites around the city, but we drove our truck (as usual).

Grave Chauchilla Cemetery Nazca

Incredibly well-preserved mummies like these can be seen in situ at the Chauchilla Cemetery archaeological site near Nazca.

The Chauchilla Cemetery site (8 PEN or about US$2.50), in the desert about 20 miles (30 km) from town down a sand road in good condition, is a remarkable spot. Here more than 30 extremely well-preserved mummies can be seen in situ, still resting in their graves which have been excavated and opened for viewing.

Mummies Chauchilla Cemetery Nazca

The mummies at the Cahuchilla Cemetery still have hair and skin and many have long ropes of hair or fiber draped over them as well.

Mummies Chauchilla Cemetery Nazca

Mummies with pottery burial objects at the Chauchilla Cemetery archaeological site near Nazca.

A winding path connects the burial chambers where the skeletons of men, women, and children sit in a crouched position, their remains still covered in the textile shrouds they were buried in.

Researchers believe the cemetery was established in 200 AD and bodies were buried here over the next 600-700 years. Most of the bodies still have hair on their skulls and some are draped in what looks like long dreadlocks, but which may be twisted fibers. Many also still have skin on their bones thanks to the dry conditions and what may have been expert mummification work by the Nazca.

restoring tomb Chauchilla Cemetery Nazca

A worker restoring a tomb at the Chauchilla Cemetery.

There’s a small museum here as well which displays pottery and more mummies (Spanish only).

Museum Chauchilla Cemetery Nazca

The mummified remains of a child in the small museum at the Chauchilla Cemetery archaeological site.

The Cahuachi archaeological site is about 20 miles (30 km) from Nazca. There are two routes to the site and both require nearly 10 miles of driving on a bad road. If you turn at the Mojoja Hotel sign you’ll be on a road that’s less washboarded, but much rockier than the other route. Pick your poison. Once at the site (free) you will likely be met by Pablo, the man who has been the caretaker of this remote site for more than 15 years.

Cahuachi archaeological site Nazca

Excavated building foundation at the remote (but worth it) Cahuachi archaeological site.

For a small tip Pablo will explain the basics about the more than 30 structures here (in Spanish) which are spread over a vast area which was believed to have been a ceremonial site or a pilgrimage site that flourished until it was abandoned in 500 AD. Then you’re free to walk around the excavated foundations and some re-constructed areas. Pablo believes the Nazca Lines point to the Cahuachi site.

Not far from Cahuachi is the Estaquieria site (free). There’s not a lot to see here except the jagged remains of more than 200 wooden posts which remain stuck in the ground at evenly spaced intervals. Did the posts support a massive roof? Were they used to chart the movement of the sun or the stars? Or were they, as some speculate, used to begin the mummification process?

Estaquieria archaeology site Nazca

Hundreds of wooden poles remain planted in the earth at the eerie Estaquieria archaeological site. Their use remains a mystery.

Grave Robbers Estaquieria archaeology site Nazca

Looters around the Estaquieria archaeological site have dug up the earth, revealing bones, pottery shards, and even textiles.

Grave robbers have pillaged the area around the wooden pillars and bones, pottery shards, and pieces of fabric can be seen littering the ground. It’s an eerie site with a burned-out and deserted feeling. We saw no one else out there. 

Just a few miles out of Nazca, the Aquaducto Cantalloc site (10 PEN or about US$3 which also gets you into the nearby Los Paredones and Las Agujas sites) is both beautiful and astounding.

Cantalloc Aqueduct- Nazca

These spiral constructions combine form and function at the Aquaducto Cantalloc site near Nazca.

Here the Nazca people meticulously engineered and built 21 spiral holes which descend into the ground. They look like the art of Earthworks artists like Robert Smithson and Andy Goldsworthy, but they served a very serious function.

Cantalloc Aqueduct- Nazca

Part of the ancient aqueduct system at the Aquaducto Cantalloc site.

Researchers believe these stone and earth spirals were part of an elaborate irrigation system along with a network of flumes and aqueducts. The system is still being used to irrigate nearby fields.

Aquaducto Cantalloc Nazca

Karen at the bottom of one of the spirals at the Aquaducto Cantalloc site.

This aqueduct system is even more impressive from the air so check out our drone travel video footage, below.

One of the most accessible archaeological sites is Los Paredones (The Walls) which is near town on the side of the highway leading from Nazca to Puquio. Here a trail leads up and around a hill past some rebuilt structures and many low walls (hence the name).

Los Paredones was built by the Incas, not a Nazca site, in the 1400s and is thought to have been an administrative site between inland areas and the sea. The same 10 PEN (US$3) ticket also gets you into the nearby Aquaducto Cantalloc and Las Agujas sites. 

Los Paredones archaeological site Nazca

Structures at the Los Paredones site were built by the Incas.

Just a few blocks from the central plaza in Nazca you will find the well-curated Museo Didactoco Antonini (15 PEN or about US$4.60). Inside is a great collection of pottery and textiles created by the Nazca people, much of it from the Pueblo Viejo, Estaqueria, and Cahuachi sites. Descriptions are all in Spanish. Visit the back garden to see sections of old aqueduct and some peacocks.

 Museo Didactoco Antonini

Part of the pottery collection at the Museo Didactoco Antonini in Nazca, Peru.

 

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Eating Our Way Through Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants (Part 2)

When we published our first post about eating our way through Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants we included a hit list of ranking restaurants that we hoped to visit soon. We’re delighted to report that our travels have taken us to three of the heavy hitters on that wish list including Maido which is the #1 restaurant in Latin America according to the 2017 list.

Eating our way through Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants

When the 2017 list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants was released we were happy to see Colombian chef Leonor Espinosa’s Restaurante Leo continued to rank high. She also took home honors as the Best Female Chef in Latin America for 2017. Harry Sasson Restaurant, also in Bogotá, moved WAY up the list and in Lima, Central dropped one spot to #2 to make room for Maido to rise up to #1.

Maido restaurant Lima Peru

Maido – Lima, Peru

We were excited to finally get a tasting menu reservation at Maido just a few months before it took over the #1 spot (and #8 on the list of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants). Unfortunately, that excitement didn’t last long.

We’ve had a lot of tasting menu meals in Lima and around the world and they’ve all had one thing in common: a story that’s subtly told as the meal becomes a journey guided by the hand of a chef with a point of view. Sadly, our 13-course tasting menu at Maido (one of the most expensive in Lima) was little more than a long series of small plates (you can see some of them above) brought quickly and mostly without much explanation, context, or a sense of Chef Mitsuharu Tsumura or his vision.

Don’t misunderstand. The food was very good. The famous fish hot dog was playful and satisfying and the raw fish courses (toro nigiri topped with a quail egg, for example) were so outstanding that we wished we’d skipped the tasting menu and booked two seats at the bustling sushi bar instead. The skill and top-notch ingredients in the kitchen were very apparent. What was missing was soul.

Even great restaurants can have a bad night and we’re willing to attribute our disappointment at Maido to an off night and, perhaps, a touch of over hype.  But no customer should leave one of world’s most highly acclaimed restaurants feeling rushed so they could turn the table. 

 

Casa do Porco - Sao Paulo, Brazil

A Casa do Porco – Sao Paulo, Brazil

This place rose to #8 from its debut last year at #24. That’s a big jump but we’re not surprised. When we ate at A Casa do Porco we were blown away by the porky goodness being created by Chef Jefferson Rueda (pictured above with some of his plates) who cooks a pig (porco in Portuguese) like no one else.

Pork sushi rolls (yes! raw pork!), pig foot soup, his take on steamed pork buns, meaty deep-fried chicharron cubes topped with guava pepper jelly and micro greens, succulent whole-roasted pig served chopped with grilled greens, polenta, and creamy beans…We could go on and on.

Insider tips: Go for lunch in the late afternoon for the best chance of getting a table (A Casa do Porco does not close in the afternoon like many restaurants do and they do not take reservations). And though all menu prices are remarkably reasonable, if you’re on a tight budget, grab a fantastic pork sandwich on a homemade ciabatta roll from the restaurant’s to-go window on the street. At R$15 (about US$4.50), it’s a delicious steal.

And find a way to save room for dessert. Saiko Izawa, the pastry chef at A Casa do Porco, was named Best Pastry Chef in Latin America for 2017.

 

La Mar – Lima, Peru

This chicly casual cebicheria, created by Peruvian celebrity chef Gastón Acurio, is an institution in Lima. And for good reason. The ceviche we ate at La Mar puts all other ceviches on notice. The Tiradito Andino (sliced marinated raw trout with artichokes, bamboo sprouts, and avocado), sizzling huge shrimp in clarified butter, grilled octopus…it was all amazing (as you can see, above).

The inventive chilcanos (a classic Peruvian cocktail made with pisco and ginger ale) were fun without being foofy. The restaurant, #15 on the 2017 list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants, only serves fresh and sustainable fish and seafood sourced from like-minded fishermen and co-ops, so chef Andrés Rodríguez’s menu changes based on what’s available. The sommelier was amazing and the waiters were knowledgeable and proficient in English (if you need that). We would eat at La Mar every day if we could.

 

Astrid y Gastón – Lima, Peru

Gastón Acurio is the only chef with two restaurants on the 2017 list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants. In addition to La Mar, his flagship restaurant, Astrid y Gastón is ranked at #7. This place is an enduring classic for a reason: historic building, eclectic design, great people watching, and impeccable Peruvian favorites. Standouts from our nine-course tasting menu (some of which you can see, above) included guinea pig Pekinese, confit suckling pig, and a ceviche made with sour orange.

It’s a lot of rich and complex food and at one point we were so stuffed that we took a break and wandered around the 300-year-old mansion to marvel at original tiles and breezy gardens. Then came an avalanche of desserts created by Gastón’s wife Astrid (the box in the photo above is bursting with chocolates). This is not a complaint, just fair warning.

 

Gustu - La Paz, Bolivia

Gustu – La Paz, Bolivia

The #14 restaurant is in La Paz, Bolivia and is that country’s only ranking restaurant. Gustu is almost militantly Bolivian, using and serving only ingredients grown or made in Bolivia. This is not a limitation but a challenge to the talented staff, many of them trained at culinary schools opened by the philanthropic arm of Gustu.

We ate at Gustu twice, first for their 10-course tasting menu (many of those courses are pictured above) which featured raw llama, quinoa, dry aged beef, amaranth “caviar”, and much more in dishes that were somehow rustic and polished at the same time. We later returned for lunch which offers a choice of three appetizers and three mains including meat, fish and veg options, then dessert for 95BS (about US$14). It’s an incredible value. Eat lunch at the bar to be closer to Gustu’s excellent selection of Bolivian craft beers, spirits, and wines.

 

Rafael restaurant Lima

Rafael – Lima, Peru

It took us a strangely long time to get to Peruvian chef Rafael Osterling’s eponymous Rafael restaurant, even though there’s one in Bogota and one in Lima. Rafael in Lima is #24 on 2017 list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants and during a recent dinner visit we fell in love with the casual, modern decor including a pleasingly rambling collection of modern art (loved the 1960s canvas folding beach chair folded and hung on the wall in all it’s graphic and utilitarian splendor).

The bar (where a tapas menu is available) has an impressive selection of libations including a number of bourbons (a rarity in much of Latin America). This inspired us to order a Wonder Woman cocktail with Buffalo Trace bourbon and smoky Laphroaig Scotch. It was splendid. The menu is wide-ranging with something for everyone and a long list of daily appetizer and main course specials. The eating started with a basket of chewy bread with topping choices including organic butter, goat cheese cream, and thin slices of mild pastrami pork.

With so much choice, placing our meal order took some time, but wait staff was patient and helpful (including English) and we never felt rushed. We shared a tuna tiradito started that came already split onto two beautifully presented plates. The sauce was lively and the sliced, raw fish nearly melted in our mouths. The most beautiful plate we ordered was cloud-like gnocchi (the pastas are homemade too) in a goat cheese sauce with cherry tomato halves and thin-sliced radishes. Confit pork came in two luscious squares on a bed of creamed cauliflower. The confit grouper on squid ink rice with scallops and shrimp was the most surprising and satisfying dish – essentially an elegant deconstructed paella.

The extensive dessert menu is full of temptations. Go for it, but leave room for the small bites of elegant sweets brought before your check.

 

Next up: Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants hit list

We’re still hungry. Here are some of the restaurants on the 2017 list that we’re looking forward to visiting soon.

Lima has 10 restaurants on the 2017 list – the most of any city in Latin America. We’ve eaten at seven of them. Other Lima restaurants that are squarely in out sights: Amaz (#47) and Malabar (#30), both from Chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, and Fiesta from Chef Hector Solís (#46).

Sao Paulo, Brazil has six restaurants on the 2017 list and we’ve only eaten at one of them. On the top of our Sao Paulo hit list is D.O.M. at #3 on the Latin list and #16 on the 2017 list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. But we’ll be saving room for Maní (#9), Mocotó (#27),  Esquina Mocotó (#41), and Tuju (#45) as well when we return to Sao Paulo.

 

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