PERU - They arrive by the plane load, wearing hiking boots, backpacks and headbands. "Machu Piccu?," the Peruvian customs official asks wearily. And off they go to one of the world's most intoxicating sights -- and the mountaintop home of the nation's most famous site.
In the process, however, they are doing themselves a huge injustice.
For in their quest to follow the masses, many travelers to this South American nation roughly 10 times the size of New York might be neglecting what is its most valuable resource: Food.
Billing itself as the "gastronomic capital of the Americas," Peruvian cuisine is the forefront of a Latin revolution in kitchens everywhere. It is Incan tradition fused with Spanish colonialism, lightly tossed in a vinaigrette of Afro-Asian culture and sautéed in imagination as fertile as the land from which its innumerable produce comes from.
A temperate climate, rich soils, lengthy coastline and diverse geography bordered by the Andes mountains mean freshness and variety. It boasts 3,000 different varieties of potato. Ancient grains such as quinoa have now become a staple.
Ceviche might be the most famous dish but on a recent week-long trip, I enjoyed "cuy pekines" -- guinea pig -- alpaca and more vegetables than I probably had eaten the entire previous year. Even rock moss and flowers will find their way into dishes, although what arrives on your plate wouldn't look out of place in the Museum of Modern Art.
"Everything that is edible, we try to use in our creations," one chef told me.
While its restaurants continue to win awards and its chefs continue to win praise, the big winners might be its nearly 30 million people, imbued with an awareness of nutritious -- and inexpensive -- eating.