Photo-Illustration: The Strategist: Photos: Tessa Tran
Everyone knows this person who spends weeks sniffing travel blogs, diving deep into the terriers of Tripadvisor, collecting Google Docs from friends of friends, and creating A beautiful mind-style spreadsheets to find the best vacations and possible routes. In this recurring series, we track down the people who did all the hard work for you, and show them a particularly wonderful, particularly thoughtful vacation they took that you can actually fly.
When Tessa Tran, CEO of accessories line Chan Luu, and her husband started thinking about their first big post-COVID trip, they knew they wanted something new and unfamiliar. “We had never been to Peru,” Tran says, “let alone South America.” They decided to find out about the flights and booked their tickets only two weeks before the trip. “Peru has always been on my radar, especially its rich biodiversity, from the Andes to the Amazon rainforest to the coastal regions,” she says. While there were some must-do experiences for Tran, like visiting Lake Titicaca and exploring the food scene in Lima, they didn’t make any concrete plans before traveling. “Whenever I visit a new place, I like to stay there for at least three nights to experience the area,” says Tran. “I don’t like having a busy itinerary with plan after plan. I like to walk around and see where the day takes me. The only caveat to spending a week at 12,500 feet above sea level? “Altitude sickness is a real thing.” Here, Tran shares her favorite local craft markets, morning tennis spots and the Andean chowder she now recreates at home.
We landed in Peru at 4am – the flights weren’t the most convenient. We ended up booking a flight from LA to Dallas and then Dallas to Lima. (There are direct flights via Latam Airlines, though.) We arrived at Hotel B (Jiron Saenz Pena 204) and were greeted with a glass of champagne (followed by a pisco sour), which was the first and last drink we ever had. The hotel is located in the Barranco district, right on the waterfront. When we got to the room, I noticed the circular bath mats with a delicate crochet border. The next day I asked the hotel to help me find a dozen more to take home.
We slept almost until our 11:30 reservation at Kjolle (A V. Stone of Osma 301). After booking our flights, I did a quick search for spots in Lima. I landed on this New York Time article featuring chef Virgilio Martinez and sought a reservation at his restaurant. Predictably, nothing was available at Central, but I landed the last reservation at its sister restaurant, Kjolle, one floor above Central. I think the most memorable part was seeing Virgilio’s Dried Herb Botanical Garden. The food and service were excellent and the cooking was thoughtful and creative; I also treated myself to red wine before noon. As we were leaving, we bumped into the chef. He caught me pointing at it (as I was trying to show it to my husband), smiled at me, and came over to chat.
It was probably a highlight of our visit to Lima. Larco Museum (A V. Simon Bolivar 1515) features pre-Columbian art in an 18th-century royal building. The storage room contains thousands of ancient pottery items and is open to the public. The erotic gallery was a surprising element and not to be missed. The museum also has a lovely cafe in the garden, where we shared a snack and an espresso.
Every morning we cycled along the Miraflores bike path. December is summer in Peru so it was 75 degrees and sunny. We passed clay tennis courts set on a cliff with stunning views of the coastline. Once we found these courts, we knew what our plans would be every morning in Lima. We felt like we were playing Roland Garros.
Wherever we travel, I always seek out local markets, whether it’s food or crafts. Surquillo Market (Lizardo Montero 705) offers so many amazing fruits grown in the Amazon. I tried snake fruit (salak) for the first time – the skin looks and feels like real snake skin. And I was obsessed with purple corn. It contains twice as many antioxidants as blueberries. Peruvians infuse corn and prepare a traditional drink called chicha morada. After Mercado de Surquillo, we stopped at a fish market near Playa Pescadores. Peru is the homeland of ceviche!
Chifa is a fusion of Peruvian and Chinese cuisine, brought to Peru by Chinese immigrants. I didn’t know what Chifa was until I arrived in Peru. You will find in many restaurants, fine dining and casual, there will be ceviche and chow mein on the same menu. With Astrid and Gaston (A V. Paz Soldan 290), we tried a guinea pig bao recommended by the chef. The guinea pig, a delicacy from Peru, was served with a Chinese twist.
We were walking around the city without any plan. We walked around the San Isidro neighborhood and my husband found a cool liquor store to buy a bottle of pisco to take home. The pisco sour is the drink of choice in Peru; it reminds me of a high end margarita. From there we walked past a hair salon and I had my hair washed and dried for 40 soles, or about $11. Then we came across Bosque El Olivar, a beautiful park with hundreds of olive trees, in the middle of San Isidro.
We headed to Canta Rana (Genoa 101), which is within walking distance of Hotel B. This family run restaurant serves classic Peruvian dishes, the freshest and simplest ceviche and the best beans soaked in oil and served hot. I always try to recreate this snack. This was probably my favorite meal and ambiance in Lima. Two blocks down we entered a bodega called Delifrance (A V. Sta. Cross 982). The small shop sells homemade pasta, foie gras, grilled vegetables, tuna swimming in olive oil and imported cheeses. If we were staying at an Airbnb, this market would be a good option to mix things up.
We flew direct from Lima to Puno. From the airport, Hotel Titilaka was about a two hour drive. I asked our driver (booked by the hotel) if he knew of any local craft markets on the way. He took us to a market selling crafts and produce. I picked up two alpaca knits, slippers, a hand-embroidered jacket, antique silver wedding pins made from spoons, and some knit llama ornaments for my nephew.
As the hotel checked us in, we walked around the property. The hotel is located on a secluded private peninsula on the lake. The next nearby town is an hour’s drive away. This place has it all: wide open fields, water, farmland and the most magical sunsets.
Coca leaves are sacred to the Inca culture and treated like gold. We had tea several times a day to help with the altitude. Lake Titicaca is 12,500 feet above sea level – higher than Machu Picchu, which is around 7,900 feet. Throughout the day we drank lots of water, coca tea and muña (Andean mint) tea, as well as getting a breath of fresh air here and there. Dealing with the altitude was a small price to pay to experience Lake Titicaca.
The hotel has organized a pom pom making lesson with local artisans who stop by once a week to deliver locally made textiles and ceramics. I learned how to create traditional pompoms, made from plant-dyed alpaca wool. While sitting with the artisans, we learned that the placement of their hat signifies their marital status. If it’s on top of the head, it means the woman is married. If the hat is on the side, it means she is single or widowed. Before they left, we bought some textiles and a ceramic bread basket (which was used in the restaurant), all made in their village a few kilometers away.
I found myself ordering the Andean chowder five times out of the four days I was at Lake Titicaca. It is made with quinoa and lima beans, two staple ingredients from Peru and grown on the property. I liked it so much that the chef invited me to cook with him to prepare the dinner service. I learned how to make Andean chowder and quinoa salad, which I often make at home now. My husband caught me adding notes in the dining room after class. While the food was amazing and over the top in Lima, I much preferred the food near the lake. It’s rustic and simple.
On one of our last days, the hotel organized a boat trip to Taquile Island, located on the Bolivian side of the lake. The island is home to traditional weavers. Clothes in Peru are so refreshing. The women wore bright color combinations that I would never have thought of.
I dehydrate my own herbs and flowers to make tea on the go. I make tea bags to sip on the plane or in my hotel room early in the morning or late at night.
I try to avoid packing too many beauty products. I love this morning and evening cream; it gives you that glow. No need to apply makeup afterwards.
Walking shoes can be ugly and sometimes you don’t want to wear sneakers or open-toed sandals. They are easy to dress or dress up and have been around the world with me.
I take it everywhere. It’s lightweight cashmere and perfect for the plane or as a luxury layer.
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