Misti volcano (Arequipa)


By Marni Leopold


A trip to Peru is like eating potato chips. You can’t stop at just one.  While potatoes are native to Peru (actually 3,000 different kinds!), the comparison ends there.  The reason being, while chips are enjoyable, traveling to Peru is life changing…

It was for world renowned Chef Nobu Matsuhisa who lived in Lima 40 years ago.  During that period, he developed his unique style of cuisine that fuses Japanese dishes with Peruvian ingredients, the genesis of his famous Nobu Style. The Nobu empire today spans 40 restaurants and 16 hotels around the world and is still growing.  Time spent in Peru in 1976 was also transformative for Annie Hurlbut, the founder of retail chain Peruvian Connection.  Annie was studying anthropology at Yale University and while on a trip to Cusco, fell in love with the Alpaca ponchos and sweaters she encountered in the local markets.  Since that first trip, Annie now has 8 Peruvian Connection stores in cities including NY, Boston, Aspen, Chicago, Kansas City, London and others as well as a very successful online and catalog business. More personally, my New York born-and-bred father went to Peru for the first time in 1986.  He was lured by the mystique of Cusco and Machu Picchu and was there well before they became the easily accessible, luxury destinations they are today. To date, my father hastraveled to Peru 8 times, with another trip planned for early next year to visit the friends he met there more than 30 years ago.  To say that Peru has changed my father’s life is an understatement.  He surely never could have imagined back then that his daughter would have a career working for the country today. An important part of my role is to introduce fashion and food executives to manufacturing in Peru. When they, too, fall in love with Peru, and they really do, that’s just the icing.  Read on to see their words…

Chef Nobu Matsuhisa

Dreaming of Cusco and Machu Picchu

Usually the first must-see on everybody’s list when visiting Peru is Cusco and Machu Picchu, and with good reason. Built in the 15thcentury, Machu Picchu stands at a majestic 7900 feet above sea level and is an incredibly sophisticated feat of engineering.  Ryan Lobo, Co-Founder of women’s designer collection Tome, visited both recently. Upon his return, he said, “Cusco is such a beautiful, historic city, and the Palacio del Inka hotel is seriously glam with very good food, Pisco Sours and a really fabulous spa for in between pounding the pavement and seeing the sites.” Ryan added about Machu Picchu, “…climbing it is an experience I will treasure for the rest of my life.”

Alfonzo Yepez, Design Director at ATM Anthony Thomas Melillo, has been to Cusco 3 times so far and said, “I loved it every time.  I definitely enjoyed the architecture and history of the place and to my surprise the city is much more lively and cosmopolitan than what I had expected to find up in the middle of the Andes. Cusco is full of life with amazing restaurants, art galleries, scenic walks, live music, cozy bars full of locals and tourists from around the world.”  He went on to say that “Machu Picchu was the culmination of a lifelong dream and indeed it was probably one of the most beautiful dreams I ever had.” Giuseppe Valentini, Lead Apparel Designerof Tesla, told me, “the entire feeling of Peru is something special, the food, the culture, the connection to craftsmanship and pride in everything Peruvian.” A magnificent coupling of ancient and modern.

Ryan Lobo of Tome

Alfonzo Yepez of ATM

Andes + Arequipa + Alpaca = Awesome 

Nicholas Kunz, Co-Creative Director of luxury fashion brand Nicholas K, remarked, “Peru is one of the most beautiful places for anyone to visit.”  Her most recent trip there included the Andes Mountains in Southern Peru, some 13,000 feet above sea level.  This is an animal-lovers paradise and home to the Alpaca.  Fun fact: 80% of the world’s Alpaca reside in Peru.  Nicholas went on to say, “the highlands are cinematic and truly take your breath away…I enjoyed the peacefulness and harmony with the animals and spending time with the local herders to understand their culture and the care that goes into raising the animals and producing the best fibers…”

Nicholas Kunz of Nicholas K

Michelle Gabriel & Dana Davis of Mara Hoffman

Dana Davis, Vice President of Sustainability, Product & Business Strategy, along with Michelle Gabriel, Senior Design & Product Development Manager at Mara Hoffman, just visited Colca Canyon on a free weekend while in Arequipa.  Dana said, “we hiked 5 hours down to the Sangalle Oasis at the Rio Colca, all with a kindly guide dog who found us at the trailhead and ushered us through the journey.  We stayed the night at the oasis and hiked back the next day.  It was amazingly beautiful and truly a once in a lifetime opportunity to hike the second deepest canyon in the world.” Dana went on to say, “the culture of food is delicious and fresh.  The people are kind and proud of their country which makes the experience of being in Peru so positive…it is an easy trip being in the same time zone as the east coast of the US.” The largest city nearby, which is also the second largest in Peru and the center of the Alpaca industry, is Arequipa.  Its nickname is the ‘white city’ because of its many buildings made of a white volcanic stone called sillar.  Megan Johnston, an executive at Jonathan Simkhai, traveled to Arequipa.  Megan said,“the beauty of the city really stood out…the Santa Catalina Monastery was stunning…” The Arequipan cuisine is some of the best in the country. Specialties include rocoto relleno, a spicy meat and vegetable stuffed red pepper, chupe de camaronesa tasty seafood soup of shrimp, Peruvian pepper, cheese, potatoes and for dessert, queso helado.  Megan said, “every meal I ate was an inspirational and happy moment. I absolutely loved the food!”  She added, “I’m looking forward to many, many more visits.”

Lima: Fine Dining and the Epitome of Cosmopolitan

Lima, the capital of Peru, was once thought of as a city to land in and then depart for elsewhere in-country.  But for some time now, Lima has been a true destination unto itself.  It’s the perfect blend of historical sites, ancient architecture, culture, mixed with all the modern musts such as top-notch shopping, nightlife and overflowing with gourmet genius, from the local establishments to five-star dining. Peru’s booming gastronomy scene is centered there, with 3 of its restaurants included on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list for several consecutive years.

Chef Nobu Matsuhisa

Chef Hilary Henderson & Chef Peleg Miron of Wolfgang Puck with Chef Wong

Chef Nobu traveled back to Peru last summer and reflected, “times have really changed.  Every restaurant I visited has become more sophisticated…There is more variety in ingredients and techniques used in creating the new dishes…I am happy to say that many of the dishes on our menus are already inspired by Peruvian flavors and ingredients.” Executive Chef Peleg Miron of Wolfgang Puck’s Spago restaurant on Maui was enamored with the seafood he ate while there, calling it “amazing”.  He thoroughly enjoyed the “high-end, sophisticated and very modern approach to food and service… everything from the special ingredients that you can find only in Peru to the way it is being treated by the cook.”

Quite Possibly the Best Surfing in the World

Peru has 1500 miles of coastline.  The surfing starts right in Lima and goes north from there, up to Puerto Malabrigo, better known as Chicama – also known as home of the longest left-breaking wave in the world – and beyond.  Peru’s shores boast some of the best surfing, anywhere, providing riders year-round swells.  California local Megan of Jonathan Simkhai took advantage of her time in Lima and went to Playa Makaha in Miraflores, a suburb of downtown Lima.  She enjoyed its easy access and

Megan Johnston of Jonathan Simkhai

thinks it’s the perfect spot for beginner and intermediate surfers.  Giuseppe of Tesla spent some time surfing in Chicama and commented, “the ocean is impressive.” Then there’s the northern food. Giuseppe enthused, “the food is amazing…Since my visit, I have been trying to replicate the same flavor of ceviche!”

Mike Faherty, Designer and Co-Founder of Faherty, who grew up on the beach in New Jersey and whose brand is heavily influenced by this aesthetic, echoed the sentiment, “the food is amazing…I love the ceviche restaurants on the coast as well as the more famous restaurants in Lima.” He added, “I love getting up early and jogging along the coast in Lima. The running trails along the water are great and the city has such a nice buzz in the morning.” Mike also surfed on the “northern coast at a secret spot. It was such beautiful landscape. Not a person to be found outside our group. And most importantly, waves were great.”

Kuelap: the Machu Picchu of the North

Kuelap is long considered the Machu Picchu of the north. This fortress city was built by the Chachapoyas people, also called the Warriors of the Clouds, and is situated high in the mountains on a cliff, at more than 9800 feet above sea level.  The archeological remains here predate those at Machu Picchu by more than 600 years and are impressive, including more than 400 or so round stone homes and ceremonial buildings, massively high stone walls with carvings of jaguars, snakes and other designs symbolizing the power and strength of the warriors who lived here so long ago. With all of this in mind, it made perfect sense that my father’s second trip to Peru, in 1988, was to Kuelap. At that time, it was a 3-day adventure for him and his friends to get there, including crossing the fast flowing Utcubamba River by an ‘oroya’ (see photo), followed by a steep and long hike.  From my father’s diary of that trip, “the sight of Kuelap is almost too much to take in in one view.  Sitting at the top of the mountain, the walls run for almost 600 meters.” Fast forward to 2017, a new state of the art cable car was built, which now takes visitors from Nuevo Tingo at the base of the mountain to the summit in 20 minutes, with dramatic views at every vantage point.

Kuelap 1988, Photo taken by my Dad, Fred Leopold, of his friends 

Kuelap today, Telecabinas Kuelap (Click for more info)

Kuelap is located where the Andes mountains meets the Amazon rainforest.  The Peruvian Amazon covers about 60% of the country and is the 4thlargest rainforest in the world.  It’s incredibly diverse, hosting thousands of types of plants, birds, mammals and more. There are several ways to visit this part of Peru, including luxury cruises up the Amazon River.  In 2013, for my father’s 75thbirthday, also his 8thtrip to Peru, he took the family to a wonderful lodge inside the Amazon jungle along the Tahuayo River, a tributary of the Amazon River. Cooling off in the River was a favorite activity and with birds and monkeys overhead, the memories are indelible. My brother said, “what to us at first were trees and vines, through our guide, we realized are homes for the countless animals we ultimately saw.”

Pisco! And the Coastal Dessert

While Pisco, the spirit of Peru, is widely known for the key role it plays in the beloved Pisco Sour cocktail, it’s also a port city in the region (or departamento) of Ica, south of Lima. There are many Pisco vineyards and distilleries to visit, some dating back to the 16thcentury, which of course can include tastings of Pisco and its 8 different grape varietals. Its production process is unlike that of any other spirit, such as gin and vodka. The Pisco Route covers the different valleys of the region, with many hotels and attractions along the way.  One example is the nearby Paracas National Reserve, spanning over 800,000 acres, it’s a place where the sea meets the desert.  A vast amount of exotic and endangered marine life as well as an impressive bird population call this area home, a colorful contrast to the desert backdrop. Most of this region receives very little rain, about 1 inch per year, which benefits the local archeological sites that remain in good condition due to this dry climate.  It’s also an ideal location for the annual Dakar Rally.  Over 500 drivers of motorcycles, all kinds of cars and trucks, from around the world, take part in this challenging off-road race. This year, the course was entirely in Peru, traversing 3,100 miles from start to finish, with a good portion of the route driven through the desert.

Dana Davis of Mara Hoffman

What’s Next?

There’s no shortage of answers to this question. With so much to see and do, “tourism to Peru is growing almost 10% a year, expecting to reach almost 5 million visitors this year. US travelers will account for about 700,000,” according to Conrado Falco, Director of the Trade Commission of Peru in NY. Nicholas Kunz said, “the Peruvian Amazon is my next destination.  It’s a high contrast to what I have already experienced.  Peru has so much diversity and natural beauty.”  Chef Peleg Miron also wants to visit the Amazon, as well as plans to visit Cusco and Vinicunca (also known as Rainbow Mountain) and surf at Chicama, of course, since he lives on Maui, he must check it out.  Ryan Lobo says, “I’m desperate to visit Arequipa and the Nazca lines.”  He has all sorts of theories on how the Nazca lines came to be and is curious to see for himself. Or perhaps Ryan is going back to eat more cuy, which is guinea pig, and a dish he tried in Cusco.  Though he reported, “it didn’t taste like chicken.” My father’s next trip to Peru is to Mancora,a charming beach town.  His dear friend Michel, whom he met on his first trip to Peru (and the guy towing the line in the Kuelap photo), lives there.  Alfonzo Yepez said the reason he loves Peru is “because of its natural beauty, its worldly cuisine, its hospitable people and because Peru is a jewel.”  Or is that more than 1 reason?