South America

Restaurant Review: Central Restaurante in Lima Peru

I can't believe I am just getting around to review Central Restaurante in Lima. They were voted one of the best 50 restaurants in the world, so we definitely had to check it out when we were there in November. I should start this review off by giving a small disclaimer...over the last few years of traveling I have really grown to dislike large tasting menus. I have trouble eating every dish because I get full easily and I don't particularly like a lot of the textures these meals usually come with (lots of foams and milky sauces usually). I skipped out on the last few dishes at both French Laundry in Napa and Test Kitchen in Cape Town (this literally brings tears to my eyes). On the other hand, my husband loves tasting menus so we end up trying them a decent amount of times. 

The tasting menu at Central is very unique in that it is based on food items taken from different elevations. You start below sea level and head up to above sea level. I found this approach to be really interesting. 

The dishes at Central were so, so beautiful plated. Some of the most beautiful dishes I have ever seen. They all looked very earthy. 

While I really enjoyed some of the dishes, I didn't find anything to be extremely spectacular. Everything tasted good, but I didn't leave the restaurant wowed by any particular dish. 

On the other hand, the service was fantastic and we did enjoy the experience. While the overall meal was fantastic, I felt that the food left a little to be desired. 

They have the option to not do a tasting menu at Central and I would definitely do that next time. While I enjoyed the experience, I definitely liked the food at Maido in Lima better. What are your thoughts on tasting menus? Do you love them? Hate them?

Is Quito Ecuador Safe?

As were planning our trip to Peru and Galapagos, each travel agent we spoke to recommended a day in Quito, Ecuador. I wasn't very familiar with Quito so I decided to do a little bit of Googling. Long story short...I wasn't very encouraged by what I found. A handful of travel bloggers mentioned that it felt extremely dangerous while they were there and highly recommended not going. 

Our travel agent assured us we would be safe, but in my head I planned that I would stay in our hotel for the 24 hours we were there on the way to Galapagos. 

Looking back now, I'm really glad that I didn't sit in the hotel because I really did feel mostly safe in Quito. Of course we took a lot of precautions: 

1. We hired a tour guide from Latin America for Less who stayed with us the entire day

2. We didn't walk around at night (but we did walk around without our guide during the day in the main area) 

3. We didn't carry anything valuable or touristy with us (no cameras, no backpacks, etc) 

4. We had our hotel and the restaurant call us a registered taxi (there are a lot of fake taxis in Quito) 

After all of the precautions we took, Quito ended up being one of my favorite places we visited. Our tour guide Gina was unreal and we really, really enjoyed exploring her city. 

Even though I was most afraid of taking a taxi to dinner, we ended up eating at one of the most incredible restaurants of the entire trip: Urko. The taxi ride both ways was entirely fine and we enjoyed our night out in Quito. 

With the right precautions, I would 100% recommend visiting and enjoying your time in Quito. 

Have you ever been to a new city where you didn't feel safe? I would love to hear about it in the comments. 

Ecuador Intinan Museum: I'm in the middle of the world!

One of my favorite stops in Ecuador was the Intitan Museum, which can be found in the literal middle of the world at 0 latitude! 

The reason the museum is so cool is because they show you a handful of experiments that prove you are in the middle of the world. My personal favorite was balancing an egg on a nail. 

It wasn't as easy as it looked and only two of the four members in my group were able to become egg balancing champions. 

They also show you how water spins on each side of the equator, how hard it is to walk a straight line on the equator and more. For the $4 per adult they charge for entrance, I found this little stop to be really fun and interesting. 

They will also stamp your passport to show that you were in the middle of the world! This stamp was the perfect addition to our passport stamp from the top of the world, Machu Picchu. 

I often find that touristy places are some of the most fun places to visit when in another country. Of course, I always value real cultural experience, but sometimes things like this are popular because they are fun! I definitely recommend visiting the Intinan Museum next time you find yourself near Quito Ecuador. 

Hotel Review: Aranwa Sacred Valley

After we visited Cuzco for a few days, but before we headed to Machu Picchu, we spent a few days relaxing in the Sacred Valley. We stayed at the Aranwa Sacred Valley Hotel and it was absolutely beautiful! 

The resort is truly in the middle of nowhere, but when you arrive in the gates you can see the beautiful views and pool. They even have llamas and alpacas walking around! The rooms are a little bit on the older side, but the resort is in great shape and very, very beautiful. 

We enjoyed some relaxing time in the pool with a pisco sour and had a great dinner in their restaurant. The next day we went rafting on the Urubamba river, before returning for a fantastic spa treatment in the Unno Spa. 

I definitely think this is a nice destination between Cuzco and Machu Picchu. On our last morning there, we were picked up by bus and taken to Ollantaytambo, which is where we grabbed the train to head to the ruins. 

If you are making a stop in the Sacred Valley, I definitely recommend one night at the Aranwa! 

 

Review: Galapagos Island Land-Based Tour and Red Mangrove Lodge

When we returned home from Peru and Ecuador I dreaded writing a review about the Galapagos Island part of our trip. I mostly dreaded it because 1) I write these reviews for my friends and family and I, of course, always want to tell them the truth and 2) I really wanted the Galapagos to be a bucket-list type part of the trip, but it didn't really end up being that way. 

From the second we arrived in the Galapagos it was pretty much an interesting shit-show. All arrivals to the airport have to take a bus, to a boat, to a taxi to get to the lodge. This experience was insane as they stuff 90+ people on the bus and toss your luggage on top of a boat. It was all very disorganized and we had basically no idea where we were going or what was going on.  Because our flight was delayed, we didn't go straight to the lodge but instead went to see the famous Galapagos turtles. 

The naturalist leading our turtle tour was pretty rude and rushed us through the entire place. We also didn't have any of the right clothes on having come straight from the airport. By the end of the tour, I was relieved to be heading to the Red Mangrove Aventura Lodge. Won't lie though, the actual turtles were AMAZING (see photo below). 

When we arrived at the lodge, I was a little surprised that they were out of wine, sodas and beers. Given that the hotel is all-inclusive, you would certainly expect that they have plenty of options available. We headed to our rooms to relax for a little while before dinner, but surprise, NO hot water in our hotel. Since the Galapagos Islands is extremely remote, I sort of assumed that while hot water could go out that it would likely be back at some point. Unfortunately, that was not the case and hot water was out the entire time. 

This is when I start to ask myself....does the Red Mangrove have a ton of fake reviews on TripAdvisor? The reviews all talk about this amazing resort experience, but I am not really seeing it yet. Long story short, it is obvious to me now that the resort has a lot of fake reviews. 

We head down to dinner and the food served for dinner is NOT good. Well done tuna with rice and vegetables or chicken with rice and vegetables. Certainly not something to write home about. The only highlight of this trip is that the animals are INCREDIBLE. At the Red Mangrove Lodge you can see sea lions just lounging around the hotel. Very cute! 

The next day we head to the Red Mangrove Lodge on Isabella Island. We take a small tender boat to a speed boat to begin our 2.5 hour ride to the island. A few things to note about this boat ride: 

  • The ride is extremely treacherous

  • They stuff tons of people into a very small boat. You do not have a lot of space and there are not enough life jackets for everyone (the police even checked our boat before we left and were not pleased with the situation).

  • There will be at least 4 people on the boat who vomit. Hopefully they won't be sitting next to you (or they won't be you).

When we arrived as Isabella Island we all felt extremely sick due to the ride and were pretty much out for the night. The hotel was pretty much the same as Aventura, except we finally had hot water and they had SOME of the offered drinks...hooray! The rooms in the hotel were fine (mostly clean, but generally old and not nice- about similar style to a hostel in Europe). 

However, Isabella Island is an INCREDIBLE Island for animals. We saw the beautiful Blue Footed Booby. 

We saw penguins, flamingos, sea turtles, marina iguanas and more. 

Seeing the animals was definitely the absolute highlight of the trip and one of the main reasons we came. Our naturalist for this part of the trip was named Pedro and he really was a very nice person. He did his best, despite all of the bad circumstances, to make sure we enjoyed the actual tour part of the trip. We enjoyed a lot of snorkeling at Concha de Perla and a few other small locations. 

We were very tired of the weak food offerings at the Red Mangrove and decided to eat dinner that night at Iguana Crossing. The food there was AMAZING and we got our first taste of incredible Galapagos lobster. 

After 3 days in Isabella, we headed back to Santa Cruz and the Red Mangrove Aventura. Boat ride back was just as awful as the boat ride there. In fact, I actually wondered if we would survive the boat ride when the waves were flying over our boat. When we arrived back, there was still no hot water at the resort. Annoyed and tired of everything related to this company, we headed to to La Garrapata for dinner, where we enjoyed another amazing dinner in the Galapagos. I wish we had dined out every night, but when you have an all inclusive hotel, you assume that the food is going to be at least decent. 

After our last night in Santa Cruz, we did the taxi, boat, bus combo until we arrived back at the airport. I was pretty happy at this point to go home because overall the trip was just exhausting. I expected this to be a bucket list type trip for me, but it really wasn't. The animals and wildlife were amazing, but it ended there. 

We opted to a land-based tour instead of a cruise and I definitely think that was a mistake. I imagine you would learn a lot more on a cruise and that it would be a much nicer experience. That being said, the ocean was VERY rocky on our boat ride and I can't picture being on a boat for 5 days. 

Pros of the the Red Mangrove Lodge and Land-Based Tour:

  • You will see some absolutely incredible animals.

  • The Galapagos are really beautiful and you will enjoy the water, beach, etc.

Cons of the Red Mangrove Lodge and Land-Based Tour:

  • Hotel is no nicer than any $10 a night hostel

  • No hot water in hotel

  • Food is not good

  • No beverages available for all inclusive customers

  • Awful sea-sickness inducing boat ride

  • General disorganization by the entire staff

This review probably sounds like a lot of complaining, but I always tell the truth in my reviews and this one is no different. For friends of mine who have Galapagos on their bucket lists, I would recommend it still, but in some ways I wouldn't. I'm glad for the experience, but I won't be back. 

Review: 2 Day Machu Picchu Trek with Wayki Trek

Machu Picchu has been on my bucket list for the last few years and I finally crossed it off last month (November 2015). It lived up the hype for me and was one of the most spectacular singular places I have ever been. 

I'm not really the type of person who would enjoy a 4 day trek to Machu Picchu, but I did want some sort of hiking experience to go along with visiting the ruins. Wayki Trek offers a 2 day experience and that is what we signed up for! 

Our tour guide Franklin met us at the train station and we took the train to Kilometer 104. From there we started our 11km trek to the Sun Gate. Our tour guide Franklin was super positive and helped make our hike a little less (just a little less!) painful. He took a bunch of photos for us along the way and filled us in on the flora and history of the area. 

I want to be honest in saying that the hike was definitely a little difficult for us. Not in the way where you don't think you will finish, but in a way where you are definitely a little concerned that you are not in good enough shape to make it. Of course, we all made it and were so, so impressed when we crossed the threshold to see the Sun Gate! 

After the incredible hike (and about 100 photo later), we headed down to the town of Aguas Calientes for the night. The next morning we met up with Franklin again for a more detailed tour of the ruins. 

I was really happy we decided to do some hiking on the Inca Trail. It added to the excitement of seeing Machu Picchu and really made for a nice experience. The perfect check off my bucket list! 

Review: Hotel Plaza Grande Quito Ecuador

We just returned from an incredible trip to Peru and Ecuador! I have a lot of posting to catch up on, but I wanted to start with a small, sweet spot from the trip. The Hotel Plaza Grande in Quito! 

Quito was SUCH a surprise to me, mostly because I had read a lot of scary information on Quito, which made me feel like it might not be the safest city to stay. We didn't experience any of this and our tour guide Gina made us feel very, very safe. We also went out to dinner and rode in taxis with no problem. A good reminder to me that you shouldn't judge a city by what the internet says :) 

We arrived at the Hotel Plaza Grande and it is spectacular! The hotel is old-fashioned in a very, very beautiful way. 

Location- The location in old town is absolutely fantastic for walking around! If you want to explore the history of Quito, you are in the best location. It was also very easy for us to take a cab to the newer area of Quito for dinner (dinner review coming soon!). 

Food- Breakfast was included with our stay and it was INCREDIBLE. There are a few options for American style breakfasts, but I suggest you try the Ecuadorian style breakfast. The style of food in Ecuador is delicious and not to be missed. We also enjoyed a great dinner at the restaurant! 

Staff- The staff at this hotel are insanely kind and helpful. Just a few things they did perfectly: organizing a boxed breakfast for us on our last day, getting our bags up to our room before we were even up there, making a delicious welcome cocktail, calling taxis, etc. They were just very, very nice and helpful. 

Room- The rooms have a feeling of unique luxury. They definitely have a beautiful old style, but the bathroom was redone and the beds are obviously new and lovely. I love a hotel that can be old in style, but not feel old on the inside. 

This hotel was obviously a great welcome to an awesome stay in Quito! 

As always, these reviews are my own opinions. I'm never compensated for reviews because I'm not important enough :)