Hiking the Inca Trail was one of those bucket list travel experiences I had dreamt about. Peru was the first stop in my six months of round the world travel in 2019. Despite the concern of hiking almost 30 miles in the rainy season combined with my dietary restriction, I was pleasantly surprised when our trip was a sunny success and I had no issues finding gluten-free food. I wasn’t about to let celiac disease or the threat of rain stop me from trekking this ancient path!
Before beginning my adventure on the Inca Trail, acclimatization was necessary. Cusco, Peru is the starting point for multi-day hikes to Machu Picchu and sits at over 10,000 feet. I spent four days getting used to the elevation before beginning the Inca Trail trek. Cusco is a historic and charming city – and the former capital of the Inca Empire. The Plaza de Armas, the main square, is lined with vendors, shops, restaurants, and beautiful architecture. Many restaurants in this area cater to tourists and will be more cognizant of food allergies and dietary requirements.
Cusco’s main area boasts numerous restaurants, cafes, and a few markets for food. My first stop was at Per U.K., which offers an extensive gluten-free menu and dedicated kitchen space. The service staff explained to me in Spanish that the head chef has celiac disease and understands cross-contamination. I snacked on Inca corn while awaiting the main course – chicken soup and stuffed peppers with ricotta cheese. Both kept me warm as the rain pelted the cobblestone streets outside.
Restaurants with gluten-free options can be found in other Cusco cafes and restaurants in the main square area. Nuna Raymi has a gluten-free menu as well as Green Point Restaurants. For a rooftop experience that offers traditional Peruvian food, try Marcelo Batata. They also offer cooking classes and cater to those with food allergies. Wherever you choose to dine, be sure to sample chicha morada. Chicha morada is a Peruvian corn-based drink flavored with fruit and spices that is absolutely delicious!
When dining out, be very careful ordering a hamburger or cheeseburger. While without the bun they may appear to be a safe option, they are often filled with bread or breadcrumbs. A piece of grilled chicken may be a better choice – if it is safe. Most fryers usually contain only French fries, but you should double-check with the waitstaff. A gluten-free restaurant card translated into Spanish is an invaluable resource when traveling in Peru. Most Peruvians in Cusco speak Spanish and Quechua, the indigenous language in this region.