LIMA.....Colonial Charm, Bohemian Cool
Loaded with history, colour and culture, Lima is Latin America’s best-kept secret
For anyone travelling to Peru, the high point of the trip is the bucket-list destination of Machu Picchu, the archaeological wonder in the Andes Mountain. Most tourists land in Lima and immediately continue their journey to the country’s former capital, Cusco, the gateway to the legendary lost city of the Incas. But that is a mistake because you might then miss Lima’s sweeping ocean views, the historic city centre, colonial-style facades, museums, bohemian districts, thriving art and fashion scenes and its remarkable food.
Lima is often called a dull, washed-out city in travel circles. It may not make a delightful first impression, especially since the airport is in an industrial neighbourhood. But wander into the nooks and crannies of this massive city and there are plenty of things to admire. Home to more than a quarter of Peru’s roughly 30 million people, Lima has something for everyone.
Known as the City of Kings, Lima was the capital of Spain’s South American empire for 300 years and enjoyed a position of power and prestige. When Peru declared its independence from Spain in 1821, the declaration was read out in a square designed by Francisco Pizarro — the conqueror of the Inca empire and founder of Lima. At the core of the city is the Plaza Mayor or Plaza de Armas. All major public institutions are built around this. During the colonial era, it served as a market, bullfighting ring and housed the gallows. Walk a few blocks in any direction and you can see churches and elegant houses — a glimpse of how opulent the city once was.
The imposing and distinguished Government Palace occupies the north side of the plaza. On the other three sides of the square are the Cathedral of Lima and the adjoining Archbishop’s Palace (both were originally built in the 1600s), the Municipal Palace and private office buildings. Most structures sport intricately carved wooden balconies. Another must-visit is the Church of San Francisco, one of the best preserved baroquestyle buildings with gilded side altars and an impressive lattice dome. Most people come here for the catacombs. People say around 75,000 bodies are buried under the church. Many of the remains lie exposed, piled in stone pits in the basement of the working monastery.
South of Plaza de Armas is the, Jirón de la Unión, a long, pedestrian-only street, which takes you to Plaza San Martin. Neoclassical and Art Deco architecture, eccentric street performers and shops selling handicraft and Peruvian food and drinks line the Jirón de la Unión.
About 10 km south is the bustling, upscale district of Miraflores. It offers panoramic coastal views, artisanal markets and many fine-dining options. A stroll along the Pacific boardwalks is breathtaking. These and the parks in the vicinity are ideal for biking or picnicking. Dotting the walkway are statues created by famed Peruvian artists. Located in Parque del Amor (Love Park), Víctor Delfín’s massive statue of a couple in deep embrace is hard to miss. The area is also the prime spot for parasailing in Lima.
For souvenirs such as colourful alpaca scarves and sweaters, engraved pumpkins and silver jewellery, visit the Mercado Indio at Avenue Petit Thouars. Foodies should make a trip to the small farmers’ market near Parque Reducto, which is open every Saturday from 8 am to 2 pm. Fresh organic fruits and vegetables as well as olive oil, jam, cheese, coffee, chocolates and teas are available.
The centrally located Parque Kennedy, which hosts craft markets, live music and art exhibitions, is ideal to catch a glimpse of the evening social scene.
To see traces of Peru’s ancient civilisations, head to the Huaca Pucllana, the restored historical ruins of an adobe ceremonial centre built around 500 AD. Lit up at night, it looks spectacular.
Just south of Miraflores is Barranco, which has earned a reputation as the bohemian district, courtesy of its colourful street art and popsicle buildings.
It is home to some of Peru’s finest artists. Built in the 19th century as a beach resort for Lima’s elite, Barranco now has the best nightlife in the city. Colonial mansions have been transformed into boutique bars and live-music venues doused in pisco sours. If you are a party animal, head to Afro-Peruvian clubs and bounce to the beat of cajon drums. During the day, wander around the main plaza surrounded by royal palms, swirls of bougainvillea and elegant colonial architecture.
5 MUST-TRY DELICACIES
Pisco Sour (base liquor with lime juice, simple syrup, egg white, and Angostura bitters)
Ceviche (marinated sea bass)
Chicha Morada (purple corn beverage)
Quinoa specialties like salads and chaufa de quinoa
Causa (a dish of layered potatoes)