We had originally intended to bypass Lima entirely. Snippets from fellow travellers and crime warnings in guidebooks had brought us to the conclusion that a visit to Peru‘s capital city would break the carefree mood of our beach holiday. Ironically, a robbery in Ica forced us to spend a few days in Lima while we renewed our passports. Red tape aside, we had a great time – so great that we ended up spending a few more days there on our return to Chile.
There’s no getting around it: Lima is big, bustling, polluted and a little scary. But then what city of almost nine million people wouldn’t be? Obviously there are places you wouldn’t visit at all and others where you wouldn’t tarry at night. But there are far more places which are worth visiting, more than enough to fill at least a week and not run out of things to do.
Downtown Lima boasts colonial buildings which would be the envy of many European capitals, and the centre of the action is undoubtedly the Plaza de Armas. The intricacy of the carvings on the Archbishop’s Palace is mind-boggling and the adjoining cathedral isn’t exactly modest, but the bronze central fountain is actually much older, dating back as it does to 1650. The plaza may be redolent of Europe, but the palm trees and the cholitas selling Andean trinkets break the illusion.
It’s still a great place to watch the world go by: grab a butifarra (homemade ham on a crispy white roll garnished with lemon, onion and herbs) and a Cusqueña from one of the many street-side trolleys and just enjoy not having to be anywhere else. When you’re finished you can head over to the Museum of the Inquisition for a gruesome reminder that we don’t only have good ham to thank the Spanish for.
Miraflores is more Paris than Madrid, with its wide tree-lined boulevards and fantastic shopping. But Paris does not command views of the Pacific Ocean (over which thrill seekers can paraglide) from its shops nor does it boast a pre-Incan pyramid in its centre. Huaca Pucllana is an adobe structure which dates back to the Lima civilisation and the view of high-rise apartment blocks from its summit is surreal to say the least. Vaya Adventures has its guests stay in the heart of Miraflores, in close proximity to some of the city’s top restaurants.
The gentrified Bohemian hangout of Barranco is also well worth a visit. I’d advise going in the late afternoon when you can enjoy a promenade along the cliff-top path, taking in the views of the surfers below and the aforementioned paragliders above, and enjoying an ice cream on one of the many benches. Then make your way to one of the extremely atmospheric old-school bars with ceiling-high shelves of bottles and moustached waiters who’ve been there so long even they have begun to gather dust. After a Pisco or two, the choice is yours: onwards to one of Barranco’s many nightclubs, or head back to Miraflores for a sophisticated meal.
These are just a few of the highlights from my trip to Lima. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s one my favourite cities in the world, but I’d definitely place one of the bars I drank at in Barranco (name of establishment long forgotten!) in my top five. The recently-released drug mules (and the family members of those still incarcerated) we met at the South African embassy were also unforgettable…but that’s a story for another time, another post.