Lima: An Introduction
Lima’s old center is an architecture lover’s dream. Century’s old colonial buildings line the streets and even the most ordinary of houses pose in an elegant manner. Intricate stone work designs the entryways to the many churches, hanging wooden balconies manicured to perfection stretch over the narrow streets, and like selfish models all buildings, even ones as normal as the National Post Office, beg to have pictures taken. Along the coast, the colonial nature of the city gives way to tall five star hotels, casinos, shopping malls, and all the amenities of a generic modern city. Still, despite the modernity, the region of Miraflores, with its tall cliffs and ocean views will still manage to sense a tingle or two of emotion through your spine. In reality, Lima is not just one city, but a number of different ones tied together in a beautiful urban mess.
Lima: A History in Brief
Lima was founded by Francisco Pizarro, along with the rest of the Spanish Conquistadores of Peru, in 1535 on the soils that are said to have once belonged to Aymara speaking indigenous people. Lima, formerly known as Ciudad de Reyes, gets its modern name from the Aymara word for a yellow flower, known as Limacc, that grows along the rivers of the region. After spending the 17th and 18th centuries in relative calm, aside from several earthquakes and tremors, the city of Lima eventually fell to independence in 1821.
Independence, however, for Lima, and Peru in general, didn’t mean peace and calm. During the 1879-1883 “War of the Pacific” which Chile, Chilean troops forced themselves all the way north to Lima and even occupied the city for a short while. In 1940, a huge earthquake shook most of the city’s poorly built buildings to the ground.
Today, Lima still shows off its colonial past in the form of buildings, museums, and churches many of which have been restored, or are in the process of restoration. However, Lima is also beginning to feel very modern in parts, especially along the coast in districts like Miraflores.
Culturally speaking, Lima is as “Spanish” as a city gets in Peru. It was the last stronghold of Spanish loyalist forces before giving way to Simon Bolivar and Jose de San Martin’s independence armies. And unlike most other Peruvian cities there was very little in terms of indigenous population in the area of modern Lima at the time of settlement. As such, Lima tends to lean slightly to the Spanish side of Peruvian society rather than the indigenous.
Fast Facts about Lima
- The population of Lima is around 8 million people
- The original name of Lima was La Ciudad del Reyes (The City of Kings)
- Lima is home to the oldest University in the Americas: San Marcos University
- Lima only receives an average of 1mm of rain per month despite being covered in fog for a total of 7 months of the year.
Things to do in Lima
- Plaza de Armas: Lima’s massive Plaza de Armas is a sight in its own. However, if you come here try to visit around noon when the changing of the guard happens in front of the Palacio de Gobierno. Directly in the plaza the top sight is the Cathedral de Lima, which is very impressive and home to the graves of some important people including Francisco Pizarro himself.
- Museum of the Inquisition: Although a bit on the creepy side, the museum of the inquisition in Lima offers great insight into the impact the Spanish inquisition had on the Americas. Personally, as a lover of the history of Latin America, I think this museum is an absolute must.
- Museo de Oro de Peru: Peru’s gold museum holds a special place in my heart as the man who discovered a significant part of the gold presented is from my Alma-matter. The collection of gold dating back beyond Inca times is very impressive. However, only a mere sliver of the amount of gold has been recovered as during the conquest of Peru the Spanish Conquistadores ran away with most of it.
- El Circuto Magico del Agua: Also known by many as the Parque de las Aguas, this is a great place to go in the early evening. The park includes a number of fountains which light up and a really impressive lazer show which presents the history and culture of Peru. The park often closes on Tuesdays so ask before going. The best time to go is about 8pm. The cost of entry is only a dollar or so.
- Larco Mar: Locals love to say that it’s “more than just a mall” but it really is just that. It is home to lots of shops, some good international foods, a cinema, a bowling alley, a couple nightclubs, and some beautiful views of the coast. In Miraflores.
- Paragliding: Of all the places in South America that offer paragliding this is my favourite. The 15-20 minute rides take you high over the coast and give you incredible views of the city and ocean. You will fly over Larco Mar, Parque de Amor, and probably even the swimming pools of some of the top-end hotels. The cost of the paragliding is about 45$ per person, and call ahead to see if they are flying as they need good wind conditions before they can sail.
- Surfing: Along the coast of Miraflores there is some pretty decent surf although be prepared for cold waters that have come up the coast from Antarctica. It used to be possible to rent surf gear at Big Head in Larco Mar although I’ve been told that might soon change.
Where to Eat
The staple diet on the coast of Peru includes a lot of ceviche, and there are more than a few places that offer it on their menu. However, if you’re not into seafood lots of other typical meals are ocean free. Try milanesa (battered chicken or beef), stuffed peppers, lomo saltado (beef strips and stir fried veggies) or my favourite which is an avocado salad with potato and tuna or chicken. In Lima the number of places to eat are overwhelming, and the top places to eat change rapidly. However, below I have listed a few places that I have enjoyed in Lima.
- Rincon Chami: In Miraflores this is one of the top places to get great Peruvian food, and the value is great as you can get some good meals for between 4-10US$.
- Mangos: In Larco Mar, Mangos has really good food and even better views. Head here for the lunch buffet which serves a variety of Peruvian and international dishes. The cost of the buffet is about 12US$. If you want to order from the menu there are also lots of choices from sandwiches and salads starting at 5US$ to bigger meals costing around 10-15US$.
- Sushi: If you’re like me and you constantly crave sushi go to the sushi joint in Larco Mar. It’s not cheap but the sushi is great and the atmosphere is beautiful.
- Calle de las Pizzas: Along the very touristy Calle de las Pizzas in Miraflores you’ll be hounded by people selling their restaurants. The speciality along this pedestrian street is, of course, pizza; however, you can find a number of other types of cuisine as well.
- Azato: If you’re downtown, on a budget and looking for something quick this is my favourite joint. Found on calle Arica you can get a delicious lomo saltado for about 3US$.
- Plaza de Armas: Adjacent to the plaza there is a pedestrian street lined with restaurants. All are fairly reasonably priced and share very similar menus.
Places to Drink/Party in Lima
The party in Lima seems to center around Calle de las Pizzas, and Miraflores in general . If you’re looking for a salsa head to a place on the pedestrian street called Son de Cuba which offers great live salsa music on weekends and always draws a crowd of salsa dancers. If you’re looking for more of a nightclub feel go to Aura in Larco Mar, but be sure to be dressed well or you’ll be denied at the door.
The area of Barranco used to be known as the place to go for a party, but has become slightly more dangerous at night than Miraflores, still if you fancy giving it a shot try Sargento Pimienta which is a fun bar that often has live music.
Where to Sleep in Lima
Quite honestly, I prefer staying in the downtown area as it feels more like Peru to me than Larco Mar. However, most of the youth hostels are located in Miraflores, and most of the backpackers have chosen to stay in this safer district. Below I have listed a couple hostels and hotels that I’ve stayed at during my 12-15 times in Lima.
Downtown doesn’t cater much to the backpacker crowd but there are some deals to be had if you’re looking for a private room close to the plaza.
- Hotel de Espana: This is a favourite of the budget crowd as it is cheap and close to the plaza. A single room costs about 12-15$ a night with a double costing slightly more.
- Hotel Kamana: Probably the favourite among the adventure tour groups, the Hotel Kamana is a little more expensive (35-45US$) but offers very nice rooms, wifi, and included breakfast. It is also just a couple blocks from the plaza.
There seems to be a new hostel popping up every day in Miraflores, but below I have listed some of my favourites.
- The Point: This is maybe the most popular hostel in Miraflores and has dorms for about 10US$ a night
- Hostel Kokopelli: This is famous for being the loudest hostel in Miraflores which is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on what time you need to get up. The dorms are well priced at about 8US$ a night and there are private rooms as well.
- Red Psycho Llama: If you’re looking for a more eco-friendly environment this is the place, but it will cost you a little more at about 11US$ for a dorm bed.
Getting out of Town
From Lima you can basically get anywhere. If you’re flying, the airport is about a 30 soles (10US$) taxi ride from the center and 35-40 soles ride from Miraflores. The airport has all sorts of international connections as well as flights to Arequipa, Iquitos, Trujillo, Cusco, and many other national destinations.
In the majority of Peruvian cities there is no central bus terminals, which is also the case in Lima. Instead, each bus company has their own office and terminal so you’ll have to choose your bus company before heading out. Also, it is wise to buy bus tickets in advance, especially for longer bus trips, as locals buy well in advance and you might be left without a seat or, even worse, next to the smelly bathroom. I have listed some of the popular destinations below.
- Huacachina/Ica: To get to Ica you’ll first need to catch the bus to Ica (4 hours; 10US$) and then catch a tuk tuk or taxi to Huacachina (10min.; 3US$).
- Nazca: A number of comfortable buses go to Nazca (7hrs; 22US$) via Ica.
- Arequipa: Onward through Nazca buses head to Arequipa (14hrs; 25-35US$)
- Huaraz: Up north into the mountain to the town of Huaraz (7-8hrs; 20-25US$) is a bumpy ride for a least a part of the trip.
- Trujillo/Huanchaco: Getting to Trujillo (8-9hrs; 12-25US$) is a simple ride along the coast.
- Cusco: If I were you, I wouldn’t put myself through the trip to Cusco (28-31hrs; 40-50US$) but that’s just me. Many people do this trip daily. Check at local travel agents as you can often find flights with local carriers such as PeruAir as low as 70-80$ if you book in advance.
- International: It is also possible to catch international buses that head to La Paz and Arica, Chile, or even as far as Buenos Aires, Argentina, Santiago, Chile, and Guyaquil or Quito, Ecuador.
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