Lima, Peru’s bustling capital and gastronomical hub
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Depending on where you stay in Lima, you’ll either get the impression that it’s incredibly modern or completely crumbling. Lima is a tale of two worlds, with the contrast between rich and poor being one of the most profound we’ve seen in South America so far. Newly built, luxury apartment towers look out over a city of shacks and derelict colonial houses. Thanks to poor opportunities and infrastructure in the rest of the country, Lima has been experiencing what old money residents describe as ‘The Invasion’, whereby millions of poverty-stricken people have moved from the countryside and built houses illegally, pushing the boundaries of the city out ever further.
The history of Lima is a really interesting one, and the colonial influence on architecture and religion still reigns strong. It’s an absolute Mecca for foodies, with a staggering number of world-renowned restaurants in the city – some of which you have to book weeks in advance.
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Safety in Lima differs greatly depending on the barrio. There are 43 districts in Lima, 7 of which are considered safe enough to walk around in, even as a local. We recommend sticking to Miraflores, Barranco and the city centre if without a guide. These are the wealthiest and therefore best police-patrolled areas, but you still need to be on your guard for pickpockets.
If visiting the area of Callao, it’s highly recommended that you drive to and from the barrio’s centre as it’s surrounded by some very rough streets run by gangs (weirdly, almost every family in those neighbourhoods has their own swimming pool out on the street outside their house). Generally speaking, if you see a pair of shoes tied together and strung over a power line, that means you’re in drug dealer or gang territory (the same goes for England, by the way, but it seems to be used more as an advertisement back home than a warning sign).
10 things to do in Lima
1. Take the best city tour in Lima
Most of our Lima experiences were under the wing of Lui Samanez, the bar manager of Kokopelli Hostel, Miraflores. He is an incredible character, and for 20 pesos each he rents a van almost every day to take a small group of his hostel guests around the city for 3, 5 sometimes 7 hours. He does a city centre/old town tour and also a tour that takes you from the top of the hill on the south down to the pier on the north to see all views of the city.
Lui’s tours go via a local restaurant for a reasonably-priced boozy lunch, and everyone has a bloody great time. If you can get to Kokopelli Hostel, we really recommend it just for these tours. He took us places that weren’t in the guidebooks and that we would never have been able to access ourselves.
If you’re not able to get on the Kokopelli tour, fear not, there are plenty of other highly-rated options! Take this half-day Lima tour exploring the colonial and modern aspects of the city, or the 3-hour guided cycle that takes you across several Lima barrios.
2. Watch a coastal sunset
In Miraflores, watching sunset from the cliffs is a must; there are plenty of parks to sit in but not as many coffee or snack outlets as you would expect from somewhere with such a spectacular view, so to catch dinner afterwards head back inland to the main square.
3. Find a furry friend in Cat Park
Miraflores’ Parque John F. Kennedy, also known as ‘Cat Park’, is a great place to chill in the afternoon or early evenings. It’s famed for both its community feel, with group dancing and markets in the centre, and its many cats, who are all strays up for adoption, should one of them take your fancy.
4. Sun yourself on the beach
If it’s a sandy beach you’re after, the only one is at Barranco, the city’s Bohemian district. Head down the Bahada de Baños , stepping over the hippies, and cross the main road via the bridge to get down there. It’s a typical tourist beach, like you would expect from southern Spain, so don’t expect to see the sea through the rows and rows of deckchairs. Still, it’s a nice place to spend a lazy afternoon recouping from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the city.
5. Go hipster at the Bridge of Sighs
Also in Barranco is El Puente de Suspiros, or Bridge of Sighs, which for some reason is a must-see in Lima but, well, it’s just a wooden bridge. It’s poetically called Bridge of Sighs because so many lovers used to meet there. Though we weren’t that taken aback by the landmark itself, around that area you’ll find some super-hip cafés and bars to settle in for an afternoon of people-watching.
6. Be inspired by MATE
If you’re into photography, contemporary art, or ogling famous people, nearby is MATE (the photography exhibition of Mario Testino, a very successful Peruvian photographer). This bloke has snapped photos of Cara Delevingne to Beyonce, and was the last person to do an official shoot with Princess Diana. There are many rooms to explore, including one on traditional Peruvian culture which was fascinating, and the exhibitions are more than just photos on the wall like a gallery. Lozzy came out buzzing with inspiration!
7. Check out the street art of Callao
You’ll see stunning street art everywhere in Lima, but one of the most vibrant (perhaps just because it’s less polished) is in barrio Callao. Please be careful in this area as it’s still a dangerous one, so make sure you’re in a big group, preferably accompanied by a local – even in a group of 11 we had natives stopping us in the street to tell us to be wary. There’s not much to do here other than walk through the beautiful original houses of the colonial times (not much investment here yet so a few are a little crumbling), looking at street art and having a cheap meal or coffee in a typical restaurant, however, at the port, there is the opportunity to go inside a submarine to learn about Peru’s navy.
Peruvian food is the absolute bees knees, and what better way to spend your time in the gastronomical hub of Peru (or even South America) than with an authentic Peruvian cooking class. These experiences will take you through buying your ingredients at the market, to learning local cooking techniques and eventually eating your culinary creations. If you don’t fancy cooking for yourself, there are classic and vegan food tours on offer, too.
9. Step back in time in the Historical Centre of Lima
The heart of Lima (Centro Historico) is a banger, with huge colonial palaces and offices that hit you from every corner. While obviously touristy and therefore more expensive, prices are still reasonable compared to other South American countries like Argentina and Uruguay.
At 11:45am head down to the Plaza de Armas to see the changing of the guard at the Government Palace. For Spanish speakers, the free exhibition at the old Desamparados train station, now called the Casa de la Literatura, is worth a visit. When we went, the main exhibition was about the fight for education for the masses in the 20th century, but that may have since changed.
10. Spook yourself out in the catacombs
A must in Lima is taking a tour of the San Inglesia Convent to visit the catacombs underneath it, which are filled with around 25,000 skeletons and a fascinating history. As with any church, avoid Sunday Fundays to beat the crowds. There are actually night tours of the catacombs available if you want to experience the spookiness to its fullest.
Where to stay in Lima
It goes without saying that Kokopelli is our number one. It made it into our list of favourite hostels & AirBnBs in South America, after all! Whilst the rooms and facilities aren’t outstanding, they’re certainly good enough, and the bar upstairs provides an excellent semi-party vibe. Here’s a terrible photo for you. At this point I’m not sure whether it was taken with a phone or a potato.
Down the road, we also tried Puriwasi Hostel in Miraflores, which was more comfortable and also had a rooftop bar, but the atmosphere wasn’t quite as open. It’s a good place to go if you want to have the occasional night out, but not party every night. Unlike Kokopelli, Puriwasi organise for the group to go to a nightclub together after midnight, so those who want to sleep aren’t kept up by drunk people the entire night.
Where to eat in Lima
If you’re looking for super-foodie options that this city has to offer, absolutely check out blogger Kara’s guide to the best restaurants in Lima. We’re 100% non-foodies, but we still have an appreciation for the slightly less high-end establishments to be found in Lima. We ate really well in the capital, but we’ve narrowed it down to our top three for you here. All happen to be in Miraflores, so, in no particular order, here goes:
Kulcafe, Calle Bellavista. This café has a lovely vibe, and the fruit bowls are incredible. They also do more substantial meals like pasta which Andy loved – not to mention the Nutella latte!
La Lucha, Avenida Santa Cruz. This is a sandwich bar, but the rolls are fresh and the fillings are amazing. A growing boy will probably need/want two to feel full, but that just gives you an opportunity to try more flavours J Andy swears by the Chicharrón but Lozzy is in love with El Preferido!
Chifa Amistad, Avenido Jose Pardo (opposite Mibanco). One thing you’ll learn very quickly in Peru is that they – like us – bloody love chinese food. ‘Chifa’ means chinese restaurant, ‘chaufa’ means a special fried rice dish and ‘aeropuerto’ is a beautiful blend of egg-fried rice and noodles. This particular chifa we visited at least 4 times during our 8 day stay in Lima. Unfortunately our takeaway attempts were scuppered when the box of aeropuerto fell from the overhead shelf on a bus.
Where to watch European football leagues in Lima
Many of the bars in Miraflores will show the football, especially along Calle de las Pizzas (yes, that’s a real street name), as long as they’re open at that time.
Recommended stay to enjoy Lima: 3 days
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