April in Paris Perú

… Oh What Have You Done to My Heart?

By Kelly Villasuso

lima-shutterstock_65447548Lyricist Edgar Yipsel “Yip” Harburg wrote those words to describe the romance of springtime in Paris in his hit song “April in Paris” back in 1932. His words transcend time and place, and are actually befitting of any season in the passionate, prideful, progressing nation of Perú today.

Although April, it happened to be autumn when I touched down south of the equator for a five-day, five-night experience in the coastal region of Perú. With a mandate to enlighten travelers on the luxurious and exciting adventures in Perú beyond Machu Picchu, I went with some apprehensions. When multiple vaccines are required in order to travel safely, and bug spray with Deet is a requisite toiletry, luxury is not usually the first word that comes to mind.

So nothing could have prepared me for the warmth of this country and its people’s embrace, and the luxury and adventure I found therein. What began as an interesting assignment became a whirlwind romance with Lima, Paracas, and the Ica Valley, filled with luxury, passion, and adventure (as well as a small dose of trepidation).

Lima: Bright Lights, Insanely Big City
Making our evening descent, the lights of Lima sparkled like jewels becoming the City of Kings, welcoming me into the 27th most populous city in the world. The sea of people just outside of customs was a harbinger of the masses I would encounter en route to our hotel at 12 a.m. and throughout my stay in Lima. The nearly 10 million residents seemed to all be out — walking, waiting in bus queues, and careening through the streets in one of the oh-so-very-many aggressively driven private microbuses or combis (thank you, private Tikariy driver). The colors, the lights, the people Hitting the Circuits
At 10 a.m., my Tikariy driver and a highly educated, incredibly patriotic tour guide arrived — my first of many enjoyable experiences with this tour
company and my first of many such passionate and patriotic encounters with Peruvians, in general. The unbridled love of the history of country, religion, and coffee kept us impressively well-informed and moving as fast as Lima traffic would allow, energized by the Tostadoria Bisetti café. Government Palace and Plaza de Armas. The history-steeped chapels and catacombs of Iglesia de San Francisco. Barranco, the Puente de Los Suspiros (the Bridge of Sighs), and Artesanías Las Pallas for authentic indigenous arts. Miraflores and lunch at one of Perú’s 50 best restaurants in the world, Maido. My six-hour Lima city circuit ended too soon and left me wanting more.

At 4:30 p.m., I donned my swimsuit and set out for the European Water Circuit in South America’s largest spa, the 20,000-square-foot Heavenly Spa by Westin — my “razón número dos” for choosing this hotel. I quickly discovered that rest and relaxation were not the intent of this particular water treatment, as I had assumed. Rather, the intent was to vigorously awaken my unsuspecting circulatory system with steam, waterfalls, and pulsating jets in every  direction — and I do mean every direction —  while being transitioned from the hot to the very, very cold.

Now very much awake, I was ready to take on Maras Restaurant — my “razón número uno” for staying at the Westin Lima — because anytime I can dine with a chef whose resume includes the likes of El Bulli in Spain and Antica Osteria del Teatro in Italy, I am all in. Olive oil meets dry ice, anyone? That was a smoky cloud of deliciousness, as was the tuna tiradito with a chili sauce and the grilled duck foie gras marinated in my-soon-to-be-favorite pisco mosto verde.

After dinner, we returned to artsy Barranco to take in the romantic Peruvian nightlife and stroll the Bajada de Baños.

shutterstock_183732371Hotel Paracas: An Opulent Bubble
My Tikariy driver was waiting for me at 10 a.m. to start the three-plus hour drive to Paracas. At two different times on Pan Americana highway, we were ushered to the side of the road by the local police only to be waved on once the proper papers were presented by our driver. According to him, tourists can end up paying upward of $100 when stopped (again, thank you, Tikariy).

Just shy of 1:30 p.m., we arrived at Hotel Paracas and I immediately felt I had arrived at a “luxurious Peruvian oasis” and I would be happy in this
exclusive, opulent bubble.

While my luggage was taken to my breathtaking, ocean-facing villa with a private plunge pool by the ever-attentive staff, I meandered the lush, flower-speckled grounds out to the hotel’s oceanfront restaurant, Chalana. I feasted on stunning ceviche, causas, and tiradito masterfully crafted by Executive Chef Franco Rivadeneyra.

Lulled into a state of sated serenity, it was perfect timing to experience The Spa at Paracas and its signature 90-minute massage. From the luxuriously comfortable setting to the highly skilled therapists, I found The Spa at Paracas could easily compete with some of the finest spas in the world. I left feeling like a noodle in Chifa Tallarin Saltado.

Main-pool-2After a much-needed catnap in a cabana by the main pool, it was time to dress up and experience my first sunset overlooking the ocean from the expansive patio or the open-air lounge. Once the sun had completed its final act, it was off to dinner at Ballestas Restaurant, the hotel’s fine-dining option. As with Chalana, I was overwhelmed with the gracious hospitality of Chef Rivadeneyra and every member of his staff, as well as with the exquisite gourmet cuisine, including his signature Costa Sur. Pastry Chef Jair Flores also created an edible masterpiece, a “living dessert,” which started with a pisco-clean piece of glass and then took shape piece-by-delicious-piece: geoglyphs made of cocoa powder and powdered sugar, the constellations made from a variety of sauces, and bite-size pastries and sorbets representing the many indigenous flavors of Perú. This stunning display was then enhanced with a dry-ice fog emerging from a chocolate bowl in the center, temporarily shrouding the edible land of abundance. A true extravaganza!

Adventures Outside the Bubble
As promised in the brochure, ‘the spectacle of nature unfolded’ for me daily in the ‘Rains of Sand,’ so there was no real need to leave my bubble. However, I am so glad I did because the amazing adventures right outside the gate would have been a shame to miss, as would the people I encountered along the way.

On morning of day three, I was whisked across the Pacific in a large Tikariy speed- boat to experience the mysterious, prehistoric El Candelabro geoglyph and the Islas Ballestas, a small group of islands serving as a national ecological sanctuary for sea lions, Humboldt penguins, and guanay guano birds, among others. The opportunity to see these creatures comfortably ensconced in their protected habitat was beautiful. If you go, heed the warnings and postpone breakfast until returning to shore because if the occasional rough seas don’t get you, the smell of the guano just might.

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Causas with octopus and shrimp at Chalana

Later that day, my Tikariy driver and, yes, another passionate tour guide arrived to introduce me to the wonders of Paracas National Reserve and educate me on the ancient indigenous Paracas culture at the Muséo Sitio de Julio C. Tello. The hues of the breathtaking desert and seascapes had me in complete awe, only to be bested by the depth of knowledge this young woman possessed about the rich history of her people and her land. Do history lessons begin in utero in Perú?

Day four and my final full day in Paracas became the most fulfilling and exhilarating day of the trip: sunrise kayaking across Paracas Bay, an education in pisco from the Master Cellar of Pisco Portón, and desert off-roading with a Dakar race driver.

With fog still resting on the bay, I set out at 6 a.m. with Inti Kayak’s co-owner, Luis Vereau, to experience the peace and tranquility of the protected waters of the Reserve at dawn. Vereau’s company is the only licensed ecotourism outfit at the buffering zone of the Reserve and is home to their scallop farming business, eco-lodge (the only one in Paracas), restaurant and kayak tours. The hospitality, not to mention the views, was more than worth the 5 a.m. wake-up call. (lvereau@true-Perú.net)

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Grilled octopus at Ballestas

By 11 a.m. I was off to Hacienda la Caravedo to spend the better part of the day with Pisco Portón’s Master Distiller, Johnny Schuler. Suffice it to say I am a pisco convert. Read the full story, High
Spirited: Pisco Portón and the Master Behind It, on page 78 of this issue.

After a sleepy hour ride back to Hotel Paracas, I had only moments to change into “off-roading attire” and embark on an adventure that was completely out of character for me (hello trepidation) yet in the end was incredibly exhilarating. Buckled into the backseat of the modified SUV, the Tikariy-hired-driver skillfully turned the Ica Desert into an hour-and-a-half-long roller coaster ride, complete with hair-raising drops, gut-wrenching turns, and well-timed stops to take in the gorgeous scenery (and catch my breath). This is an adventure I may not repeat, however would not have missed for the world.

Tikariy-PARACAS-dunes-excursion-then-dine-in-tent-with-Maras-food

The ‘Desert Adventure’ available through Hotel Paracas can include an exciting off-road sand dune excursion in the Ica Desert and a romantic tent-covered evening dinner.

dune-car-racingAll Good Things…
On day five, I return to Lima for a private tour of the collections of Muséo Larco (Lesson learned: Leave a day for this museum alone) before joining the masses on the road back to the airport. My whirlwind romance with the culture and people of Paracas, Ica Valley, and Lima was at an end, but forever in my heart. ¡Gracias, Perú!

Getting There
JetBlue now offers daily flights to and from Lima out of Ft. Lauderdale —Hollywood International Airport. Recommendation: Pay the slightly higher charge for the Even More Space seats — minimal impact on the wallet, maximum impact on comfort.

 

April in Paris Perú