Alec Jacobson

Photographer, Writer
National Geographic Travler: Peruvian Palate
Location: South Vancouver, Vancouver
Nationality: American
Biography: Alec Jacobson is a photographer and writer based in Vancouver, British Columbia, who likes to dive deep into slow-moving stories.  Drawing on his studies in Anthropology, French and Arabic at Amherst College, he prefers to be the only... read on
Public Story
National Geographic Travler: Peruvian Palate
Copyright alec jacobson 2021
Date of Work 06/20/18 - 11/06/18
Updated 03/26/19
Location Cusco, Peru
Archived as
Written and shot for National Geographic Traveler Magazine April/May 2019
With support from the National Geographic Society

In the northeast corner of Cusco Cathedral, tucked behind the altar, past gilded alcoves
and towering columns, Jesus and his disciples feast on guinea pig.

Marcos Zapata, a Cusco native, painted the scene in 1753. The Spanish had conquered his
people and razed the Inca palace of Kiswarkancha, building the cathedral on the ancient foundation. But, with a massive oil painting, Zapata brought the heritage of his people back to the table.

Walking out of the cathedral into the historic heart of Cusco, I briefly felt the pull of the past. The Inca name for the city translates as “navel” or “center.” Their 11,150-foot-high capital, ringed by the tall peaks of the Andes, has been continuously inhabited for some 3,000 years. But the past faded as a set of signs around the edge of the colonial Plaza de Armas—KFC, McDonald’s, Starbucks—brought me jarringly back to the present. Generations of travelers have come to Peru’s Sacred Valley, which stretches from Cusco northwest to Machu Picchu, to see the intricate stonework the Inca left behind. In their wake fast-food joints and restaurants catering to a Western palate have sprung up. Peruvian farmers have taken to planting white spuds instead of the heirloom potatoes in a rainbow of colors that their ancestors cultivated.

Fried chicken and fries may be delicious but so is guinea pig. This was one of the main things I learned from my first trip to Peru in2018 when I’d stayed in a Quechua village a few hours’ drive and a short hike from Cusco, working on a National Geographic Society–sponsored project to study shifting trends in indigenous Andean food with National Geographic Explorer Rebecca Wolff. Everything I ate in each dirt-floored Quechua kitchen was memorable, from fire-seared duck to heirloom potatoes roasted in a sod huatia oven to simple barley soups spiced with ají chiles. Now I was back in the Sacred Valley to get a fuller taste of the Inca’s living culinary heritage—which Zapata knew could not be vanquished.

Also by Alec Jacobson —


Connections to Kith and Kin

By Alec Jacobson / Vancouver, BC — Marvin Delorme is holding a death certificate for a child named Marvin Delorme, issued on May 11, 1963..

Zombie Wells For The New York Times

By Alec Jacobson / Alberta, Canada — William Romaniuk stopped his tractor at the edge of his field and sniffed. A breeze came off the North..

Portraits of Protest

By Alec Jacobson / Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada — Thousands of Canadians have demonstrated in solidarity with US protests against the kind of police violence..

Waiting for the Tsunami: COVID-19 in Vancouver

By Alec Jacobson / Vancouver — The uncanniness of spring weather and the growing flood of COVID-19 in Vancouver, BC.

A Musical Offing for Early Music Vancouver

By Alec Jacobson / Vancouver, BC — When Vancouver started to shut down at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I watched a lot of work on my..

The End of Frenzy: Overfishing in Lake Victoria

By Alec Jacobson / Kasensero, Uganda — This project is funded by two grants from the National Geographic Society.  Update coming soon!  ..

Peleadores: Fighting for Redemption at Mexico's Boxing Mecca

By Alec Jacobson / Mexico City — Romanza Gym is a boxing Mecca in Mexico City where Hall of Fame trainer Ignacio “Nacho”..

Farm to Foodbank for Colorado State University

By Alec Jacobson / grand junction — At the Colorado State University Extension research farm in Orchard Mesa, Colorado, the crops used to go..

Culture Saves Lives: Behind the Scenes of Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week

By Alec Jacobson / Vancouver — Joleen Mitton grew up in Vancouver's Downtown East Side, surrounded by poverty, addiction and other..


By Alec Jacobson / Colorado — Duke Phillips III and his family are on a mission to preserve their ranching heritage and conserve western..

The Mountains Are Melting

By Alec Jacobson / Kilembe, Uganda — “It used to be cold and it rained a little every day and the mosquitos could not sustain,”..

Global Health

By Alec Jacobson — In 2012 and 2013, I produced a series of books for Danbury Hospital to document the places where they hoped..

National Geographic: Fishermen fight to survive on the world's second largest lake

By Alec Jacobson / Kasensero, Uganda — Lake Victoria supports hundreds of thousands of people, but overuse caused fish populations to collapse...

I Gathered With The Rainbows And They Gave Me Pancakes

By Alec Jacobson / Norwood, Colorado — If you want to be precise, the kitchen at the Rainbow Gathering was actually serving “shanty..

Acorn to Cask for The Macallan

By Alec Jacobson / Jerez, Spain — I toured cask makers and sherry bodegas in Jerez, Spain, and The Macallan's home in Craigellachie,..

Chasing Spirits in Old Mexico

By Alec Jacobson / Oaxaca — Published with National Geographic, Roads & Kingdoms, Explore Parts Unknown, Slate. “They say that..

Playboy Magazine: In The Shadow of The Mountain

By Alec Jacobson / Telluride, CO — Though mountain resort towns, like Telluride where I live, are the spectacularly beautiful sites of..
Join us
For more access