I am often surprised by how many people have been to Machu Picchu, but didn’t go to Lima. Lima may not be on must peoples must see list, but it probably should be a place you go if you are in Peru. I once heard it described, as “just another city.” First off you have to fly into it anyway on the way to Cusco and the Sacred Valley and also it is a really cool city, with a vibrant art scene, excellent food, beautiful museums, and over a thousands of years of history.
The city is home to just shy of 10 million residents and is the second largest city in South America. Skipping out on Lima means your missing a chance to gain a real cultural understanding of the Peruvian people. A culture which draws on a mix of pre-Columbian culture, Spanish colonial past and its current cultural and artistic boom. It is a melting pot of European, Andean, African, and Asian cultures. The city is considered the Gastronomical Capital of the Americas, as its food culture blends Spanish, Andean, and Asian culinary cultures. Three of the top fifty restaurants on San Pellegrino’s list are in Lima. To put that in perspective France is home to three also.
Why go to Lima?
We went to Lima after our trip to Cusco. Almost all flights into Cusco connect in Lima, with the only other option being to connect through Bogotá, Columbia or La Paz, Bolivia. Given this fact, the decision to stop in Lima seems pretty easy. We flew into Lima on LAN via Los Angeles (13 hours) and then on to Cusco (adding 5 more hours to our travel time.) If you are looking for a luxury airline experience, LAN isn’t it (even in Business Class).
Despite the fact that I didn’t do this I would highly stopping in Lima first prior to Cusco. Arriving in Cusco on little sleep and then adjusting to the altitude, which makes sleeping difficult, is brutal. Nick and I were unable to do much hiking in the area because he had a nasty cold and I was delirious with lack of oxygen and exhaustion. If it hadn’t been for my Coca tea I think I wouldn’t have made it!
We spent 4 days in Lima, two of those were eaten up by a bout of food poisoning, but I would recommend at least 48 hours in the city. There is a mecca of amazing museums, restaurants, and shopping.
Lima serves as a foundation for better understanding the Incan ruins. It puts Machu Picchu and the ancient ruins of the Incas into a context. The plethora of museums gives you a real idea of how Incan society worked, their art, and the result of Spanish colonization. After all Peruvian history isn’t just Incan ruins. The Incans only ruled the area for a very brief 300 years. Prior to them the Moche Civilization ruled the country from 100 to 800 AD, and after them the Incas came, finally the Spanish arrived and ruled for 300+ years. The Moche, an agriculture based society, which in truth I had never heard of prior to my trip to Lima, was sophisticated, with elaborate ceramics, gold work, textiles, and most importantly irrigation. What I found most fascinating was the Moche culture’s fascinating ceramics, varying in themes from replications of everyday life to the rather odd sexual ceramics. All of this is prominently on display at the Larco Museum.
Getting Around Lima
Lima reminded me in some ways of Los Angeles, as it is a sprawling system of linked neighborhoods. We stayed in Miraflores, which my husband repeatedly referred to as “Beverly hills” of Lima. Lima like many developing cities has a serious lack of five star hotels. The most famous is the Belmond Miraflores Park, but there are also a variety of small boutique hotels. The area was lovely, coastal, and had a large selection of both dining and shopping. It was also easy to navigate to other parts of the city. We navigated from area to area almost exclusively via taxi.
What to do in Lima
My favorite thing in Lima was the Museo Larco. The collection of Pre Columbian art is housed in a breathtaking former 18th century vice-royal building. As is usually the case with colonial architecture it was built over the site of a 7th century pyramid. While the museum is best know for its Moche erotic ceramics, it also houses an extensive collection of gold work. The museum and the grounds are gorgeous. With walls draped with bougainvillea and cactuses. After perusing erotic ceramics, we ate lunch at the beautiful Museo café (one of the possible causes of the above mentioned food poisoning.
We also visited the MATE (Mario Testino Photography Foundation). Besides stunning pictures by Mario Testino of Peruvian locals in traditional garments and Mario Testino’s photographs of Super Models, there is also a selection of photographs of Princess Diana. These photos were taken for Vanity Fair and were here last portraits ever taken.
The historic center of Lima is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Notable sites include The Plaza Mayor, Plaze del Armas, and the Cathedral, and the Monetary of San Francisco.
We also spent an afternoon exploring the Branco Neighborhood, a center for galleries, street art and boutiques.
I have heard it suggested that Peru is the next Scandinavia for food, with its crop of new exciting chefs dedicated to local food traditions. I am not sure they are quite at the culinary scene I enjoyed in Copenhagen, but regardless the chefs have a plethora of ingredients and culinary cultures to draw from making for varied and exciting eating experiences. The country famously has over 3000 varieties of potatoes. Culinary traditions draw on Incan, Spanish, and Moorish cooking. The country is famous for its ceviche, quinoa, and mix of asian elements. Due to the food poisoning we didn’t get to eat at that many places, but below is the list of where I planned to eat.
Al Toke Pez, Av. Angamos 886; entrées from $5.
Astrid y Gastón Casa Moreyra, Av. Paz Soldan 290; 511-442-2775; tasting menu, $215, including wine pairings.
Canta Rana, Genova 101; 511-247-7274; entrées from $10.
Central, Calle Santa Isabel 376; 511-242-8515; entrées from $21.
Chez Wong, Calle Enrique León García 114; 511-470-6217.
El Mercado, Hipólito Unanue 203; 511-221-1322; entrées from $10.
Fiesta, Av. Reducto 1278; 511-242-9009; entrées from $30.
Maido, Calle San Martín 399; 511-444-2568; entrées from $35.
Malabar, Camino Real 101; 511-440-5200; tasting menu, $145, including wine pairings.
Osso, Calle Tahiti 175; 511-368-1046.