Things To Do In Lima.
After hanging out in the mountains for a few weeks we were ready for some city civilisation. Lima seemed a good and natural option to explore for a few days before hitting Cusco and ultimately Machu Picchu. We’d been told by other travellers the city was nothing to write home about and pretty polluted so we weren’t expecting too much before we arrived. The night bus from Huarez dropped us off at the Cruz Del Sur bus terminal at 5am. The ride had been comfortable and pretty decent as we’d opted for the semi cama VIP seats ($30USD) which recline to an almost flat 160 degrees. The service is smooth once you get out of the mountain bends and you’re given a blanket and pillow which means sleeping is an actual possibility. We’d booked a hostel in the affluent and safe area of Miraflores which was about a 20 min, $6 cab ride from the bus station. We probably could have haggled for a slightly better rate with the unlicensed guys outside the terminal, but it was too early and our brains weren’t in gear yet so we jumped in with one of the official Cruz Del Sur drivers. The first thing we noticed was how modern the roads were and also how crowded with expensive European cars, not something we’ve been used to for the last five months. The city itself seemed grey, cold and damp – more akin to a morning on the A1 into London than the rugged highlands of Peru we’ve become accustomed to.
We arrived at our hostel ‘Casa Hualpa’ and were told there were no rooms ready yet so we’d have to wait in the reception area until someone checked out. Up until now we’d been fairly lucky with early morning check ins and shown to our rooms upon arrival, although we always knew this might be a possibility. Tired and worn our we sat on the lumpy yellow sofa, reading our books and browsing through local information leaflets. The saving grace was the huge pot of steaming coffee the kitchen put out around 7am which we duly got stuck into. Shortly after they also gave us a much appreciated breakfast of scrambled eggs, even though we technically weren’t entitled to one until the next day. Things were looking up. Rather than hang around for a room to catch a couple of hours sleep, we decided to head out with our maps and start exploring the city straight away.
The morning grey had lifted and blue skies shone as we walked to Kennedy Park, a meeting point and event space situated in the heart of Miraflores. Most of Peru has stray dogs roaming the streets, but in Kennedy Park it’s cats, lots of cats. People come here to drink coffee, sit, chill and chat, all the while surrounded by the parks resident felines who go about their daily business as only cats do. We picked up a tasty smoothie and walked south down the Malecon Baltra, a rather busy road that leads down to the coast. We passed by the grand Miraflores Tennis Club built precariously into the rock face but looking impressive with an array of colourful flowers on display. There’s also the Parque De Amor which despite the name seems to be just a roundabout with a huge set of red plastic lips in the middle – you need to walk through this to cross the busy intersection to reach the coast path. Until you get to the sea cliffs the route is a little more than a busy dual carriageway with nothing but the aforementioned couple of minor sights of interest.
We meandered along the coastal path high up above the sea looking down onto the smashing waves below and a smattering of surfers trying to catch an ever elusive break. The beach is a stony volcanic black and not somewhere you’d really want to spend an afternoon soaking up rays, although there were a few odd souls splayed out anyway. We bought some bananas from a street stall for 50c and enjoyed the fresh sea air whistling up the cliffs.
After a time we got to Larcomar, a huge modern shopping mall built into the rocks facing sternly out to sea. Packed with uber brands such as Chanel, Tom Ford and Guess, it caters for the more affluent Limans. We wandered around for a while, feeling slightly out of context in contrast to the local markets with their basic goods we’d been shopping in recently. There were a few familiar restaurants there too, but all were out of our backpacker budget so we soldiered on past TGI Fridays, Mango and Giraffe, where you can easily pay $25 for a burger and fries.
We walked out further south in the direction of Barranco, the old district of Lima famed for its galleries and bohemian vibe. On route we found a local comedor (restaurant) serving a typical menu of the day style lunch for 10 soles ($4), much more up our frugal alley. No frills here just a kitchen, some tables and the obligatory TV blaring away in the corner. We both had a hearty chicken Gallina soup to start and filling chicken lomo for our main – which is roughly a stir fry with rice. Both did the job and gave us the energy needed to continue.
We arrived at Barranco square shortly after and did a lap of the big water fountains situated proudly in the middle. The library is prominently featured on the south side and has a surprisingly good permanent display of Peruvian photographers out front. It’s a vibey area with many of the old buildings having been re purposed into galleries, hip cafes or bars serving expensive pisco sours to a mix of wandering tourists and in the know locals.
However, our main goal of the afternoon was to find the Mario Testino photography gallery which we did easily enough and paid the 10 soles ($4US) entrance fee after we’d spent some time taking photos of the surrounding area.
Peruvian born but located in the UK for many years, Mario Testino has been the go-to-guy for fashion photography for nearly two decades. The gallery presents his work from the past 20 years with huge printed images in his trademark high contrast and confronting style. There’s lots of pictures featuring iconic images of Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell with more recent additions from Gigi Hadid and Zayne Malik making an appearance.
There was also a special room dedicated to his famous session with Princess Diana just before she died which many said elevated her from people’s princess to international style icon. The best part for me was a new exhibition ‘Alta Moda’ from last year featuring traditional Peruvian costume and dress. It was a vibrant and colourful portrait of people from all over the mountain region and contained the most interesting content of the gallery in my opinion.
After several weeks of eating mostly chicken and rice for lunch and dinner, we were looking forward to trying out some of Lima’s alternative culinary offerings. There’s heaps of good restaurants in town and we seriously considered menus for both the impressive Ik and Michelin starred Astrid y Gaston which both looked excellent. However we just couldn’t justify spending $400 US on a tasting menu with paired wine, as much as we would have loved to. So we took to Uncle Google and found a highly recommended restaurant (#10 on Tripadvisor no less), with a reasonably priced menu in the local vicinity.
Rigoletto serves up Italian-Peruvian fusion and has been in operation for over 20 years. I took out the crumpled shirt I keep for such occasions and tried to give it some semblance of an airing. Liz managed to look flawless in her all purpose black dress and sandals. We arrived and were shown to our table after a short wait in the reception area. The dining room was smart with a black and white décor and a handful of tables. To be honest it was more corporate dining than romantic and cosy but the atmosphere was lively and the service was great. I had the Osso Bucco which was rich, tender and delicious and Liz had the octopus risotto which she said was amazing. The two bottles of wine (Argentinian malbec) were fairly decent, but considering we haven’t had a good drop in over 4 months it was awesome. The whole bill came to around $100 US which I thought was very reasonable for the good food, fun evening and change of scenery from chicken & rice.
We met a Dutch guy at breakfast who recommended a free walking tour around the city. Being big fans of a good walking tour, we hot footed back down to Kennedy Park for the 11am meeting point (just opposite McDonalds) and found our group. We were shown to the Bavarian Beer House opposite the park where they gave us a free taster (v nice thank you) of the house ale to kick off proceedings. We then took a bus down town into the historical city where we took in the many sites of a traditional colonial spanish town. The Plaza de Armas, Cathedral, a myriad of churches, an old library, the Presidents Palace and the old train station. They were all majestic and impressive with lots of history attached.
However we’ve explored so many of the same style of cities (the invading Spanish didn’t have much imagination when it came to town planning) that they now all seem to meld into one. One of the most interesting parts was a side street which had been completely painted by famous shamans during their hallucinogenic Ayahuasca trips.
These were bright and colourful genre paintings, depicting sacred figures and artefacts they consider important to their culture. The fact that this was in the middle of an area akin to Downing Street in London made it all the more appealing.
We wandered the markets and grabbed some dubious looking food in a small kiosk by the old bridge that leads up into the favelas. To round off the tour we were taken to a tiny bar and shown how to make real pisco sours with some of the most toxic tasting spirits i’ve ever tasted.
We’d been told the old town was a no go area at night but it was hard to see how that could be with the amount of police present everywhere. While admittedly we were only there until around 5pm it felt safer than most big cities in Latin America we’d visited. After a quick siesta back at the hotel we arranged to meet a couple from London who’d been on the tour with us earlier. Peru were playing Paraguay in the world cup qualifiers so the whole town was buzzing with people packed tight into bars or watching on the pavements outside. We needed food so grabbed a quick burger in an unassuming joint but when Peru scored their third goal the place went off. The owner gave everyone a free beer and by the time we left it seemed they were set to have a fiesta that went well into the night. We met up with our new friends at the Bavarian Bar where we’d started the day and got stuck into the extensive list of beers on the menu. There were some interesting porters and dark cafe beers which we dutifully tried but my favourite was a pumpkin IPA they’d brewed for Halloween and had a load left over. Peru ended up winning the football 4-1 and so there was a jubilant atmosphere as we walked back through Miraflores to our hostel with many people hanging out in Kennedy Park playing merrily with the cats who seemed to be lapping up the attention.
The next day we caught an early morning taxi to the airport and were back on the same grey roads we’d encountered just 48 hours previously. It was a nerve wracking ride with our driver narrowly avoiding collisions on more than one occasion. We drove fast through many parts of the city that didn’t look like the areas been to and I wondered how much of the real Lima we’d actually seen. We were only there for a short while but had had a great time and left with fond memories of the city. I’d recommend a trip to Lima for anyone thinking about visiting Peru and if you’re heading to Machu Pichu it’s certainly worth spending 2-3 days here before continuing on with your journey into the Sacred Valley.