Mexico and Peru, Twins..!

There is something in these two countries, Peru and Mexico. No, not just that, there is something in this continent. True, that it is one big stretch of land from North Mexico to South of Chile, right to the end of where humans still live on extreme lands. Never there can be so much of madness, sheer amazing beautiful madness in one stretch of land. The land is known as Latin America.

Machu Pichu in Peru
Palenque in Mexico

Mexico and Peru are far away from each other but yet feel closer to me than any two neighbors. Well, then again neighbors are not known to be the best of friends. We have multiple examples around the world to prove that. I fell in love with Peru a long time back, but my love for Mexico is new. So, you know it feels a little more exciting here in Mexico. When I first came here last year in 2018, I was not even sure if I would stay for more than a few days. Well, here I am a year later on our first group tour to Mexico and beyond for over two weeks.

Over the years in the continent of South America, it has felt more like home than even sometimes in India, the country which is home. Lima, in Peru, is a constant parallel to Mumbai and maybe someday Ciudad de Mexico, or CDMX as it is known, would be the second spot for me in this continent. I keep saying continent, so let me clear this out. Mexico is geographically in North America, and before even we come to the South, there are at least 6 – 7 countries that are a part of Central America, which technically is not a continent. The entire land, however, from Mexico to Chile feels so similar that I choose to call it one land, one continent.

Che Guevera had set course to travel around South America, and further north, where there spoke one language, had many similar customs, and yet there were so many different countries, so many borders. He had thought of uniting all the countries. That did not happen, and never will,  but in my mind, I am at times confused with where exactly I am on the continent. Peru feels like Mexico feels like Peru on so many different occasions that sometimes I just let the food decide which is what. Peru has Ceviche and Grilled Chicken houses everywhere, Mexico has Tacos and other regional food around. So for me when in doubt I just find food to let me know. But then the whole culture of food is so similar in both these countries.

Someone mentioned that in Peru, when you ask an average teenager, “what you want to become in your life?”, the chances are the reply would be, “A chef”. I am sure in Mexico it would be the same. With so much of freshness in food from the streets to the chic restaurants. The basic standard of food in these two countries is high.

The creole cuisine in Peru
The Maya cuisine in Mexico

Then there are the drinks. Pisco in Peru and Mezcal (not just tequila) in Mexico. The cocktails that are made out of these two spirits are some of the best I have had around the planet. There is the beer but that’s a common thing.

What really strikes the chord in these two countries, above food and drinks and the rich heritage with the Incas in Peru and the Maya in Mexico, are the people and the way they treat outsiders. Both countries have their share of big-ticket tourist destinations, with Machu Pichu in Peru and Chichinitza Pyramids in Mexico, but in the end, what is the big take away is the kindness of the people. The kindness and the way they are with tourists. Yes, it’s a little bit commercial, but it feels that both the countries have been there and done that.

The masques in Lima’s Square
The dance in Mexico city Square

Like tourism has already reached a ceiling and now it’s just a constant plateau. A flat good feeling within between peaks of wow! That’s what it feels when I write from this bar in San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico. It just feels wow! It is such a pleasure to be here. Here in Mexico or there in Peru!

San Blas in Cusco

To every traveler in Peru, Cusco is the place to go. One, for exploring Machu Pichu and two, coz Cusco comes with its other sights and high altitude hikes. There is however so much more to Cusco than just the history and nature. True, Cusco or Qosco as it is called in the local Quechua language wouldn’t be Cusco if not for the Incas. But, they are long gone, and what remains is the town itself. A labyrinth of narrow cobblestone streets, like blood vessels running through a body. One of the streets leads to the balcony of Cusco, San Blas.

Is the square with the tower

It is easy to miss the charm of Cusco, let alone visit San Blas and be mesmerized by it. A lot of tourists at the end of their day hikes are so tired that all they do is use Cusco to sleep. It’s a shame as the town has as much in its womb as it has in its surroundings.

The Artisans back in the time (not so long ago) came to Cusco from not only the surrounding villages and Lima but also from other parts of Latin America. Cusco was in the making to become the capital of tourism in South America. And as Cusco was becoming that, San Blas was becoming the place to go to in Cusco.

Narrow Street

Today San Blas feels very similar to Barranco in Lima. Café’s and restaurants adorn every street and unlike the town, they do not feel touristy. The plaza of San Blas is so quiet by the time it is a sunset that you would wonder where is all the buzz that lies just 4 blocks downhill in the central plaza of Cusco. At first, when I climbed the narrow street to San Blas, I did not think much of the climb with shops still asking you to come in and see. But, once in the quarter, suddenly the noises dimmed and the scent of coffee prevailed, coming from the tiny café’s that match the narrow streets.

Cafes I like in San Blas.
The Monkey Café for its really unpretentious and homey feel.
The Cafelito for its vibe and also making it a plantation to cup concept.

When the odd car does pass on the cobblestone street, there is just enough space on the sidewalk to step out of its way. This for me also has been a way to look into space, be it a shop or a bar or a café. Otherwise just walking in San Blas is a joy in its own, without even needing to enter a closed place. No one is in a hurry in San Blas but everyone is moving. Even the whitewashed walls feel like they are moving. Moving with the flowers brushing them in the flower pots hanging over the streets. Sometimes in cities like Budapest and here in San Blas, there is as much to look up at as there is on the street level.

Random musicians

Although I went to San Blas for a view, in the end, I feel it gave me a new point of view to look at Cusco. It also made me increase a night in Cusco for the group stay.

Puerto Varas in Chile

Sometimes a town is so small that everybody knows everyone but also large enough to get lost and not be found. A town can be located on banks of a lake with two volcanoes looking over it, and yet the streets and walking on them can make one forget the towering snow-covered cones. Patagonia starts from this town and goes all the way south, to the tip of the world, Cape Horn. For me though not just Patagonia, but Chile starts here. Here in Puerto Varas.

Puerto Varas street Cafes

The region del Lagos translates to the region of the lakes and is not just a geographical region but a whole state of Chile. The Germans came here in the late 19th century and settled. My guide says they contaminated the locals. The Germans contaminated them with the work ethic that they got along from Europe. In 10 years the region was changed from being a loose settlement of countryfolk to being Chile’s first industrial hub. This back in the early 1900s. No wonder, as we enter the town on a road running parallel to the lake Llanquehue, the very first building that you see is the German school adorned in in its national colors. Puerto Varas feels like Bavaria decided to come to the South Pacific.

How to get to Puerto Varas?

  • A flight from Santiago to Puerto Montt and then by road in 30 mins.
  • OR From Bariloche on a lake crossing over the Andes. Nothing beats this!

Read more about the lake crossing in our South America itinerary.

The lake region here and in general in North Patagonia feels like the Alps, I have heard. I haven’t been to the Alps, so whenever I meet people from the countries where the Alps reside, I ask them how do they feel here. “It is similar but so much wilder” is what I often get to hear. There is beauty in being pretty, but there is a certain charm in being wild. The southern you travel in the Chilean Patagonia, Wild itself gets redefined. For now, though let’s stay in the Lake Region in this part of South America.

Oysters and Crabs, a must in town!

Things to do in Puerto Varas

  • Excursions: From Climbing Volcanoes to Rafting in the river.
  • Café Scene in the city. Spend an entire afternoon taking it easy. The bars are still beer-centric speaking of which P.Varas hosts the October fest too.
  • Outdoor sportswear. Lippi is the local brand to buy Jackets and stuff.
  • All Handmade! I have not seen so many hand-made stuff being sold in a square kilometer.
  • Walk around the lake Llanquihue (jaan quii huey) and on a clear day stare at Osorno and the Kalbuko Volcano.

The lake region is also where Chile’s 70 active volcanoes erupt every now and then. The last eruption was in 2015 when Mount Kalbuco gave out so much of fire that the cloud of ash closed Bariloche’s airport in neighboring Argentina for an entire week. Chile erupts but the winds blow easterly to Argentina to cover an entire stretch of land with nitrogen-rich ash. However, without the rain, Argentina still feels like a desert. Chile on the other side is fertile.

Driving through the countryside and away from the highway, the farmlands come into view and they stretch for so long, that the cows grazing on them seem minuscule over the distance. Nestle owns most of these fertile lands marked with small Nestle logo, which somehow feels bigger than the pastures themselves. As Tata is to tea gardens in India, Nestle is to South Chile.

Coming back to the Puerto Varas which at times just makes me sit and want to do nothing, not even talk to the locals. Eat, yes and maybe just stare out of the window of a café to the street, or out to the lake llanquihue and over to the volcanoes. Or just stare in space, feeling lost in this little town, with no desire to find anything, not even me.

Best of the food scene

  • Seafood not too expensive: Las Buenas Brasas / expensive.
  • Drinks: La Barista (They have heating outside).
  • Icecream: Pudu (artisanal and very good)
charming book shop
Table with a view