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When the soft American stomach can’t handle the water in a foreign country, the palate rapidly develops a taste for alternative beverages from the region. Peru makes that pretty easy, with its refreshing lagers, natural teas and intriguing liquors. And what better way to become quickly acquainted with a culture than drinking your way through it. So if you’re off to Machu Picchu and wondering what to drink in Peru, here’s a list of drinks that aren’t to be missed.

Courtesy of Calsidyrose.

Courtesy of Calsidyrose.

1. Coca tea: Made from the leaves of the coco plant — which also are the main ingredients in cocaine — coca tea is believed to help with altitude sickness. Travelers heading to Machu Picchu or Cusco, both of which are nestled at high in the Andes, are usually bombarded with offerings of coca tea. It’s believed to help open the blood vessels so oxygen travels easier through your bloodstream, although few studies have been completed. It’s a social drink, delicious with a little sugar and a good pick-me-up on a brisk Andean morning. And rest assured, it does not share the high-octane effects of cocaine.

Courtesy of Ally Marotti.

Courtesy of Ally Marotti.

2. Cusqueña: This beer is nearly ubiquitous throughout Peru. Taking your first steps off the plane in Lima and want to freshen up with a true Peruvian cerveza? Walk into any bar for a taste of Cusqueña. Hiking through remote regions of the Andes and jonesing for a cold one? It’s likely that the small convenience store that locals set up on the side of the mountain has a couple Cusqueñas in its ice box. It hails from Compania Cervecera Del Sur Del Peru, a brewery in Arequipa that’s been around since the early 1900s. The most popular form of the Peruvian-brewed beer is Cusqueña Dorada, the golden lager, but they also brew a red lager and dark lager, both of which are delicious. Make sure to check out the rendering of Machu Picchu on the label.

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Courtesy of Gerzo Gallardo.

Courtesy of Gerzo Gallardo.

3. Pisco: It’s the spirit of the Andes, if you will. Pisco is a yellowish or amber-colored brandy made from distilling grape wine into a high-proof spirit. It hails from the winemaking regions of Peru and Chile and is said to have been developed by Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s. Its taste is bitter and at the same time sweet, akin to tequila. Try it in a mixed drink such as a pisco sour or a Peru Libre.

Peru Libre

Peru Libre

4. Peru Libre: The Cuba Libre’s South American cousin, it’s very likely this drink was a tourist-driven invention, but that does not take away from its tastiness. Although you may see an addition here or there depending on your location in Peru, the main ingredients are pisco, a dark cola, ice and a splash of lime.

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Courtesy of Ryan McFarland.

Courtesy of Ryan McFarland.

5. Chicha: Although the word “chicha” is used throughout the Andes to refer to nearly any homemade fermented drink, the most common form of chicha is made from corn. It can be fermented or unfermented, and some would say it’s a bit of an acquired taste. Different regions and towns use different ingredients: For example in Puno, a city on the shores of Lake Titicaca, they make it from quinoa, and in Huanta, a small town between Lima and Cusco, they make it from the red seeds of the molle tree. The notorious chicha de molle hangover is known throughout the Andes.

Courtesy of Kevin Tao.

Courtesy of Kevin Tao.

6. Inca Kola: Hands down the most popular Peruvian soft drink. It is a bright, almost fluorescent yellow color, and is made using lemon verbena. Most Americans think it tastes like creme soda. The Coca-Cola Company owns the Inca Kola trademark everywhere but in Peru, although you can still find the Coca-Cola name on the side of the bottle. It also comes in diet.

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Tagged: Destinations

Ally Marotti

Ally Marotti

Ally is a Chicago-based journalist, recently transplanted from Ohio.

One thought on “What to drink in Peru: Six unusual concoctions you must try”

  1. The Peru Libre looks good, but if you are serious about not getting sick, remember that ice cubes often carry microbes. My travel medicine clinic doc said, “cook it, peel it, or forget it”!

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