Just wait one second – when someone offers you “coca” in Peru, they’re (very probably most likely) not talking about the drug cocaine, even though they come from the same plant. Surprisingly, the coca plant is an important part of daily life here in the Peruvian Andes mountains and has been for thousands of years even before the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the New World. Coca has served various purposes from use in rituals and ceremonies to medical, analgesic and curative functions.
How Is Coca Consumed in Peru?
- “Chacchar” is the verb that describes the continuous chewing of a small ball of coca leaves. In Peru, coca leaves are often mixed with baking soda or other components. This is commonly seen while working the land.
- “Mate de coca” is essentially coca tea, which is frequently offered to tourists (such as in hotel lobbies) to help them deal with the high altitude. The term “mate” comes from the quechua word “matí” (gourd or squash) because it was traditionally served in cups made out of gourds.
- Coca candy in Peru (pictured above) is made out of coca flour. These types of candies are available for purchase everywhere in the city, and are known to help a person adapt to altitude, and mental and physical fatigue.
Where Can I Learn More About Coca in Cusco, Peru?
I stumbled upon the Coca Museum (Museo de la Coca) when walking around the historic center of Cusco. Despite being such a tiny space and doubting the experience at the beginning, the museum turned out to be one of my most favorite places in all of Cusco, which is why I included it in my top 3 hidden gems in Cusco, Peru. The first half of the mini museum provided a ton of information in a small amount of time, and the second half was filled with unique coca-themed souvenirs.