New World Adventures in Food

While you find many special interest tours focusing on archaeology or birdwatching or photography, it is still rare to find an itinerary in Latin America whose centerpiece is gastronomy. Hard to find? Yes. But increasing? Definitely.

A new focus on culinary touring seems to be part of the travel demand for new and involving experiences, and from the top of Central America to the tip of South America, there is a whole world of traditional, criollo, and fusion Asian, African and European cooking to sample and savor. It’s up-close and personal touring when browsing in outdoor markets, learning to cook native dishes, and ingesting the mix of local cuisine and culture with local chefs. Selling vacations that put the accent on dining (and wining) has got to be a delicious experience for all. Consider some of the possibilities.

peru Peru-based Wendy Alperstein, operator and owner of Magical Cusco Tours, is a serious foodie and a rabid admirer of her country. She is also one who believes that, “Peru has so much to offer, so many amazing destinations. But in my opinion, the food is something special we needed to promote as a destination in and of itself.” So she set out seven years ago to make it all happen by creating a unique culinary experience for tourists visiting Peru. “We did this,” she describes, “by bringing together the best chefs in Peru to teach the basics of the classic Peruvian dishes; creating specially designed tasting menus at quintessential Peruvian restaurants; and enlisting our chefs to lead visits to local markets to select ingredients for each day’s cooking classes.” And says Alperstein, “We now make it a point to include a culinary experience as part of all our suggested programs, even if it is just one class or one amazing dinner.”

Magical Cusco Tours’ signature program is the 6-night Taste of Peru tour that starts in Lima learning the basics of Peruvian cooking at Le Cordon Bleu; mastering the famous ceviche dish with Cucho la Rosa, the first chef to introduce Nova Andina cuisine; and sitting down to a 7-course menu de degustacion, prepared by chef Gaston Acurio at his famous Astrid & Gaston restaurant. In Cusco, travelers enjoy a pre-dinner tour of the Pre-Columbian Art Museum and then dinner at its MAP Cafe. Next it’s a full-day excursion to the Sacred Valley where at Hacienda Huayoccaru, owner Jose Ignacio Lambarri, shares his family art collection and a “Fiesta of Potatoes,” featuring a huge variety of dishes made with potatoes. The itinerary includes a full day in Machu Picchu, city tours, and on return to Lima, an outing to the Pueblo Hotel to participate in the preparation of the pachamanca, literally an earth oven in which traditional feasts of meats, vegetables and herbs wrapped in banana leaves are placed on ember-heated stones and covered to cook for hours. (A similar tradition in Chile, usually focused on seafood, is called a curanto.) Using three-star hotels, the tour is priced from $2,379.90; in four-star hotels, from $2,679.90; costs are net, based on shared accommodations.

Under an expanding Taste of Peru program, the operator also offers shorter culinary experiences in Lima. For example, the 2-day Experience Peruvian Culture includes a walking city tour, experience Chifa (a restaurant serving Peruvian-style Chinese food), Peruvian tea time, market visit and fruit festival, and introduction to Peruvian cuisine with a hands-on class and lunch.

Offering new culinary experiences is Marnella Tours, whose Peruvian-born founder Martha Tavera feels that, “Lima, with all its treasures and things to see and do, gets the short end in itinerary planning. But in recent years, with Peruvian cuisine now internationally acclaimed, Lima has almost become the gastronomic capital of the Americas, offering even greater appeal to stay a while, dine around, and even learn to make a signature pisco sour cocktail and cook a specialty or two.”

Marnella’s 8-day Gourmet Journey to Peru visits Lima, Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. The itinerary also includes many mouth-watering gastronomic features: dinner at Huaca Pucllana Restaurant, set within a 1,500-year-old adobe pyramid built by the original settlers of Lima and serving creative Peruvian-criollo specialties; a market visit, followed by a demonstration of preparing one popular Peruvian dish at El Señorio de Sulco with chef Flavio Solorzano in charge; a tour of the San Pedro produce market in Cusco and a class on preparing Andean foods at the Blue Ribbon Cuisine School; and dinner at MAP Cafe. The land cost, with three nights in Lima at the Sonesta El Olivar and four nights in Cusco at the Novotel and including all culinary features, special restaurant meals, sightseeing and overland transportation, is $ 2,750 pp dbl; hotel upgrades are available.