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Lending its name to the clear brandy that is Peru's favorite tipple and a source of fierce national pride, the coastal town of Pisco and its surroundings hold a special place in the country's psyche. It's the point where the Argentine hero José de San Martín landed with his troops to fight for Peru's freedom from Spanish rule. It's the city from which pisco was first exported. And it's an important seaport that had its heyday during the 1920s, when guano (bird droppings used as fertilizer) from the nearby Islas Ballestas was worth nearly as much as gold.

Modern-day Pisco shows little evidence of its celebrated past. Instead, what you'll find is a city still struggling to get fully back on its feet after the disaster of August 2007, when a magnitude-8 earthquake shook the town for three minutes.The use of adobe (mud brick) as the main building material had left a vast number of Pisco's buildings unable to withstand the quake, and hundreds of lives were lost as homes, churches, and hospitals collapsed during the tremor. Most travelers now base themselves in Paracas, just a few kilometers down the coast. As for its celebrated namesake drink? There aren't many well-known distilleries around Pisco itself. There are a couple of good restaurants where you can try different brands, but really, you can do that in pretty much any quality eatery in Peru. Generally speaking, pisco is made in the bodegas near Ica (more precisely, between Ica and Pisco), and that's where you should go for tastings.

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