When we first set foot outside the airport in Lima, things felt a bit surreal. Our taxi ride immediately hit Saturday city traffic, passing by brick buildings and packed roads. Buildings further out from the airport were more modern, and many were painted in bright colorful hues. Korean and Japanese sedans dotted the roads and mixed in with old Volkswagen Beetles and Datsun pickups at gigantic traffic circles.The lanes gradually widened out and we found ourselves next to the coast, surrounded by cliffs on one side and the ocean on the other. From just those brief 45 minutes before we arrived at our Airbnb in Miraflores, I got a good sense of the wonderfully diverse metropolis of Lima.
Our Peru trip was almost half a year in the making, with equal parts logistical prep and equal parts physical prep. Machu Picchu (and the Inca Trail trek) was the main motivation for the trip, but as I soon found out during our ride from the airport, we were experiencing a whole lot more than we’d ever imagined. Our group of four guys included college and co-worker friends, and the plan was straightforward – we’d book the Inca Trail trek, a 4-day, 26-mile hike through the Andes that would follow some of the original roads to Machu Picchu. We’d make good use of Thanksgiving week and spend some vacation days for additional visits to Lima and Cusco.
As the capital and largest city, Lima was a wonderful introduction to Peru. Over two-and-a-half days, we explored remarkable neighborhoods, learned more about Lima’s history, and enjoyed amazing Peruvian cuisine.
We visited Old Town our first day in Lima, opting for a free walking tour at the city center. Our group met up with the guide at Plaza de Armas, and along with a British traveler, we explored downtown Lima over the next couple hours, learning more about the various government buildings, cathedrals, and even catacombs. Looking out from the plaza, we were surrounded by buildings on all sides which housed the President, the mayor, and the priests. In a couple of the Roman Catholic cathedrals we visited, we learned more about Lima’s own saints, St. Martin and St. Rose. We walked through an old train station that had since become a huge post office and handicraft market. One of the highlights of the tour was peering into catacombs filled with old bones.
We stayed in Miraflores, a more upscale and tourist-friendly neighborhood filled with parks, malls, and restaurants. The area was basically the Marina of Lima, where we enjoyed ocean views from our apartment building. On the second day, we spent the afternoon walking along the cliffs next to the coast, taking in the beautiful views and catching glimpses of some of the hang gliders that launched from the top of the cliffs. The area had plenty of pedestrian and bike-friendly roads and parks, and as we continued along the coast we spotted surfers and beach goers sitting on rocks and sand.
Miraflores also had some of the best food that we’d tried. We stopped by Gaston Acurio’s world-class restaurants Panchita and La Mar, both within walking distance of our apartment. At Panchita, our group sampled beef heart, a Peruvian delicacy, along with grilled swordfish and pisco sours. La Mar was even better – the ceviche (bass & tuna) was mouthwateringly fresh, and the scallops and lobster & prawn noodle bowl made for another amazing meal.
If Miraflores is the Marina, then Barranco would be the Mission. Located further south of Miraflores, the bohemian neighborhood has a rich history and vibrant community. We enjoyed gelato from Blu while admiring the various murals painted in the alleyway next to the shop. The town square loomed into view and families, performers, and visitors alike were taking part in a clown cha cha line as a drum circle played some beats nearby.
Many of the homes closer to the coast were extremely fancy, and we walked through some wealthy neighborhoods with ocean views and stopped at an art exhibit before looping back to our starting point, walking along the famous Bridge of Sighs, which was immortalized in the 1960 song by Peruvian singer Chabuca Granda. We ordered more pork belly for dinner at Sandwiches Monstruos, a local sandwich shop, before going bar-hopping at a couple of well-known bars, Barranco Beer Company and Juanito Bar.