Guide to Lima
We flew into Lima after sunset, so it was difficult to appreciate the geography of the city in the dark. That said, as we drove in from the airport, it was clear that while the main highway ran along the coast, the city itself was perched high up on a cliff that ran parallel to the highway. The road was spanned by numerous bridges leading from the beach up to the cliff with signs that indicated that they were the escape route should a tsunami rear its head. Welcome to life along the Ring of Fire!
When the sun rose the next morning, it revealed a crowded, modern city shrouded in mist. Turns out, Lima is the largest city located in a desert. Even though it’s right on the coast, the clouds rarely hold enough water for it to rain in the city. The result is a hazy shroud that usually burns off by mid-day. In October, the city is fairly cold as long as the cloud blanket remains, but it can warm up to over 27C (80F) once the sun starts to peak through. Welcome to desert life – something we were going to get quite a taste of during the rest of our Peruvian travels!
Deserts, earthquakes…kind of makes one wonder what the Spanish saw in Lima. The answer, of course, was silver. Lima was the port gateway to getting the riches out of South America and back to Spain. For that reason, one would easily imagine Old Town Lima to be resplendent with beautiful old colonial buildings. However, one would be sadly mistaken – thanks to said earthquakes, very few actual colonial buildings remain. Most of the oldest buildings were built in the 19th century, and they include the presidential palace, a cathedral, and some old houses.
Speaking of the president…Peruvian politics are quite interesting! They seem to have a love of presidents from immigrant backgrounds. The current president is the 80-year old son of Polish and German immigrants, and their most famous president, Alberto Fujimori, is of Japanese descent. Fujimori, whilst currently serving a life sentence for corruption, is still a polarizing figure. It seems that half of the population thinks that he’s right where he belongs in prison, and the other half thinks he’s a saviour. (Sound familiar?)
We never made it to downtown Lima, but for the low low price of 1 sole (25 pence), we took a crowded local bus for 30 minutes along the coast we did visit the seaside neighbourhood of Barranco. Perched on the cliff, it overlooks the only beaches in all of Lima that are actually swim/surfable, making it a bit of a resort town. It reminded me a bit of a Latin American version of Georgetown in DC. The buildings were older and colonial, and the neighbourhood had purposely cut itself off from the main part of Lima via less public transportation and higher property taxes. There were tons of cute cafes and restaurants, but the thing that truly made Barranco stand apart were the beautiful murals by local artists that met the eye everywhere you turned. Apparently a contest is held, and only the winners are commissioned to paint. The result is a degree of beautiful creativity that is worthy of the trip alone.
Kelly’s Top Tips for a Guide to Lima:
- Stay in Mira Flores – it’s a great centrally located neighbourhood with plenty of good restaurants and shops, and it’s easy to get to other areas thanks to good transport links. In addition, it has Kennedy Park, which is full of well-tended stray cats, a sunken dance floor where locals go to salsa, and an area full of local artists selling their work.
- Figure out the bus system, and you can save a ton of money
- Enjoy the free guided walking tours. The ones in Old Town and Barranco are especially good. You just tip at the end. The Old Town tour ends at a pisco shop with a free tasting. 😊