Lima is the capital of Peru, the third largest country in South America. For most travelers, Lima is just a short stop on the way to the main attraction of Peru, Machu Picchu. But after spending a brief 48 hours in the capital, I'm of the opinion Lima is not to be missed. From its culinary escapades, beautiful colonial architecture contrasted with dilapidated buildings and shantytowns, and the bustling city life, Lima is definitely worth more than just a stop over on the way to the Sacred Valley and Cusco.
Upon arrival in Lima, from Miami International, I was presented with a bustling crazy airport, at 10:30 PM. Many of the flights from the US tend to arrive or leave very late at night. The airport is by no means quiet! As Peru was my first solo adventure into a country whose first language was not English, I was rather intimidated. Luckily, my transport was already arranged with my hotel. My driver did not speak English, but he got me to my hotel in one piece, although with nerves frazzled. A tip to any traveler to Peru... The stories about reckless and crazy driving are true. Growing up in Johannesburg, South Africa, I thought we had bad drivers. Nope. Joburg drivers are fluffy little bunnies. Peruvian drivers are bats out of hell! But I arrived in one piece and a little more exhilarated than expected.
Day 1 in Lima:
Puku Puku Cafe
Le Mar Cebicheria restaurant
I stayed at Hotel De Mariel, located within the Miraflores district. Within less than 5 minutes walking distance are two great stops in Lima. The first is the Mercado Artesenal; a large marketplace in Miraflores with plenty of stalls selling typical Peruvian souvenirs. You can pick up keychain llamas, alpaca clothing (not sure about its authenticity!), pisco sour trinkets (read crude pisco sour pots), shot glasses, mugs, bags and shoes. It's a really good place to check out some souvenirs if you want to get started straight away. This is literally across the road from my hotel.
Around the corner is one of Trip Advisor's most highly rated "restaurants" in Peru - the Puku Puku cafe. This is a really neat space and I can see why it is so popular. It is a gorgeous little eco friendly, organic cafe serving pastries and coffees. I ordered myself a cappuccino and muffin to enjoy before exploring the market. It was amazing to say the least. I'm always a skeptic when I hear things like "Peru has the best coffee and chocolate" because everyone has different tastes and preferences. Well, Puku definitely taught me differently.
Lima is also well known for its culinary conquests, and so I felt it fit to try out one of their most popular restaurants, also a Trip Advisor classic. This time I went for Le Mar Cebicheria, renown for its ceviche and ..... Atmosphere. Trusty Trip Advisor warned that it is incredibly difficult to get a seat at this restaurant, so I arrived a few minutes after they opened their doors, and requested a table in Spanish - oh yeah. Fortunately for me, they quickly realized I was not fluent in Spanish, and gave me a server who spoke English, thankfully! I must say, the servers were excellent. Very attentive, friendly and helpful. My server suggested the ceviche (obviously) and the Causa sampler. I was also presented with some Peruvian corn, plantains and various dipping sauces while I was waiting - which was not very long. Speaking of long, within 30 minutes, there was a long line of people outside waiting to get a table, so you know this place is a popular choice in Lima. Little did I know that this was the first stop on an incredible journey of delicious food in Peru.
The food was delicious, although, considering Peruvian serving sizes, I couldn't finish it all, even after the server put in a smaller size dish request for me. I would not hesitate to recommend a visit to this restaurant. The service, atmosphere and food were faultless!
After lunch, I made my way to the Huaca Pucllana complex; adobe pyramids located right in the middle of a residential district of Miraflores. As such, the contrast between buildings built in 500 AD, over a thousand years ago, and the architecture of modern day Lima is a site to behold. The ancient monuments are considered to old Administrative and Ceremonial Centers of the Lima culture, a society that exists between 200 and 700 AD. For a small fee, you can take a guided tour of the complex, exploring the ruins and learning about the ancient cultures that lived there.
Day 2 Lima:
Parque del Amor
Plaza San Martin & Plaza de Armas
Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco
Lunch at La Lucha Sangucheria Criolla
Parque de la Reserva
La Dama Juana Restaurant
My last 24 hours in Lima were just as much fun as the first. At this point I had met up with my tour group, Contiki's Inca Panorama Tour, so most of our wanderings were pre-arranged. In the morning, we visited the Parque del Amor, or the Love Park in Miraflores. It is a small park dedicated to lovers, and features a sculpture "El Beso" by Victor Delfin. It overlooks the coastline of Miraflores, and is decorated with other mosaics dedicated to love. Quite a beautiful spot, and also aptly decorated to the Peruvian people. The more time we spent in Peru, the more it became apparent that Peruvians are an affectionate people and you could often see couples in embraces, holding hands and being affectionate with one another.
We headed to the historic district of Lima, where the Plaza San Martin and Plaza de Armas can be found. The Municipal Palace at the Plaza de Armas is beautiful, and features neoclassical and colonial architectural influence. The beautiful yellow color is also a sight to see. Across the way, we also witnessed a bride being brought to her wedding day in the church. There is a lot of liveliness to be seen in Lima, even on a Saturday afternoon.
I also made my way to the Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco (San Francisco Church). Unfortunately, one cannot take pictures from within the building, but it is another must see for the fantastic features and interesting history surrounding the church. Located inside is a beautiful library. I'm pretty sure this is actually where J.K Rowling had influences for her Harry Potter books. I so wish that I could have taken a picture inside here, it was beautiful! Truly gorgeous! There is also a beautiful ceiling to stare at as well.
We headed back to Miraflores to lunch at La Lucha Sangucheria Criolla. What a treat! Sandwiches and fruit juices are the popular choices, and they do not disappoint. We strolled through Kennedy Park afterwards, working off the massive and delicious sandwiches we consumed. Kennedy Park is also an interesting spot, as it is home to hundreds of stray cats, and is known as the Cat Park.
The rest of the day was spent exploring Miraflores, and I also went to the Parque de la Reserva, or the Magic Water Circuit - a fun and interactive musical fountain exhibit that commemorates the civilian reservists who fought in the defense of Lima during the War of the Pacific. There is also a water, music and laser light show, which is a lot of fun. After the fountains, we had dinner at La Dama Juana Restaurant in the Barranco district of Lima. We feasted on a Peruvian food buffet while watching excellent dancers from the region. It was a lot of fun! We were treated to our first Pisco sours and Chica Morada, and flags from everyone's home country were brought out to the table too. The dancers were incredible and even pulled up people from the audience to take part - watching your tour mates try to light one of the dancers on fire while they sashay across the dance floor is truly one for the books!
I feel a bit sad that Lima gets a bit of a hard knock when it comes to people's opinions and perspectives of the city. Yes, it has a number of problems, but there is still plenty to do and see in the city, especially if you are a big foodie as well. I loved Lima, even with my anxiety over crossing the roads and taking taxi drives!
I hope this helps with planning your trip to Lima and Peru. There is plenty to see and do. After my 48 hours in Lima, we headed to the city of Arequipa, a beautiful city built from white volcanic rock spewed from its three volcanoes! Well worth the trip! If you want to read more about my adventures in Peru, start with my review of my Contiki Tour: Inca Panorama, as it gives a great itinerary for all the things we did.