Arriving at the Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima is probably one of the only city sights that most tourists see. Lima is more often than not used as a stopover point prior to flying to Cusco or Arequipa. After living in Lima for 9 months, I hate to hear this tale over and over again, or foreigners believing that the self-named City of Kings has little to offer on their South American adventures. Sure enough the boisterous taxi men can be pretty off-putting, and coming outside of summer brings little in the way of nice weather. However, Lima is full of historical gems, stunning sunsets, charismatic eateries and an abundance of unmissable charm.
To try and tempt the avid gringo traveller to spend at least a night or few days in the capital of such a vast country, I have decided to share my top attractions and tips.
Firstly, a trip to one of South America’s most populated city’s, hosting one third of the country’s population, would not be complete without a day, or a few hours if you are in a rush, in the city centre. Don’t be mistaken by thinking that Miraflores is the centre, although geographically these days it seems to be. A trip into Central Lima, as it is well known, takes you to the historical and administrative centre of the city, where the parliament building and main Plaza de Armas famously sit. Every day at 12pm you can catch the changing of the guard and witness the unique but seemingly uncomfortable walking style of those protecting the parliament. A visit to the Catacombs is also a top priority in Central Lima, but not a trip for the faint- hearted or squeamish, and definitely not for those who have claustrophobia.
A night out in Central Lima is one best undertaken in a group and most importantly with locals who know where to go and which streets not to go down. However, the most interesting and diverse club in the city is found here, the notorious La Casona. Set in an old colonial mansion, each room is an exploration of a different music genre from hard Peruvian rock to salsa to EDM. There is something for everyone, and more corridors and hidden rooms to discover each time, getting lost is inevitable, and so is staying until around 6am (time passes differently in La Casona).
Next on the list of Lima highlights, from an insider’s viewpoint, would be a day pottering around Barranco, perhaps stopping by Miraflores and Parque Kennedy on the way. The latter is great for hostels and hotel locations, plus plenty of interesting restaurants and bars, and all the cats nosing around will please any feline-lover. You will also find the biggest Inca Markets in Miraflores just near the main park where you can practice your bartering skills and find everything from fluffy life-sized llamas to ponchos and paintings. If there is limited time, I would recommend visiting the Malecón sea-walk in-stead of the centre park. Hundreds of locals flock here in both Miraflores and Barranco every day to watch the sunning sunset over the sea.
If time allows, other cultural experiences not to miss include heading to a salsa club, where even the non-conditioned salsa dancer is welcomed and believe me, there will be many a salsero happy to teach some gringos. Visiting a peña is also another experience that will make your trip to Lima worth it. These traditional dances don’t begin until around 11pm and they are much more local than you may think, often noting a 90% attendance from the local dancers who all seem to know each other. The pisco sours (not to be missed under any circumstances in Lima) flow and might even give you a bit of confidence to try the shuffle-type dance common at these gatherings.
Speaking of pisco sours, it would be rude not to delve into some of Peru’s best dishes while in Lima. Trying ceviche, raw cured fish is an absolute must and will more often than not be a pleasant surprise. Emoliente is a bit like marmite, you either love it or hate it, or in my case get very accustomed to it even after hating it at first. This warm drink found on the street in Barranco can come in a variety of flavours, but the main base is linseed and aloe vera made into a warming drink (don’t knock it until you try it!). Lima is also pretty famous for it’s sanguches, and if you are on a budget this is even better. Leaving without trying a pan con chicarrón would be almost criminal. Other foods to try would be some anticucho, (it is best to find out afterwards what it is), aji de gallina, causa limeña, anything which contains manjar, and one of my favourite dishes: lomo saltado.
Lima is full of quirks, noise and shocking traffic, but it is also host to historical wonders, bustling night-life and culinary delights. Don’t miss this city on your travels, as if anything it sets a context for the country and appreciation of the vastness and diversity that Peru holds.