Peru has it all — modern cities, rich history, ancient ruins, beautiful topography, geographic wonders, diverse ecosystems, and renown gastronomy. It boasts ocean beaches, desert, mountains, lush valleys, and a piece of the Amazon jungle. My first visit in 2008 was for a business conference and much too brief. This time I stayed an entire month, able fully enjoy the city and go on some awe-inspiring excursions.
The local scene
Our Pangea196 group was housed in a very nice apartment building in Miraflores, one of the more upscale and affluent districts of Lima, the proud capital city. The bad news first. This tony, urban address comes with a price. Miraflores is also one of the most traffic-snarled and noisy districts in the country. There is no subway system and the busy intersections are continuously clogged with local buses, taxis, cars, and motorcycles. The drivers honk their horns incessantly. Car alarms screech so often that we suspected people set them off intentionally. Our building was, most unfortunately, next to a high-rise construction project and we had the additional cacophony of jack hammers, electric tools, and random loud banging.
Now for the good news. Walking was a great option. The area is relatively flat, easy to navigate, and was remarkably clean. City workers sweep the streets every morning and most establishments have people polish the sidewalks in front of their buildings — I mean polish with the big machines like they use here in supermarkets. Many establishments also had security people at the gate or door. Compared to Buenos Aires and Valparaíso, everything seemed so well-managed. I happily hoofed to co-working, yoga classes, grocery stores, and coffee shops, passing interesting buildings and lush gardens. Ubers were readily available and I used them for longer hikes, especially after dark.
The historic center of Lima, founded in 1535 by the Spanish conqueror Francisco Pizarro, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. It has many beautiful examples of Spanish Colonial architecture — grand buildings, lavish palaces, Catholic churches, monuments, and plazas We spent over 3 hours on a walking tour on a hot day trying to take it all in. We took a bus from Miraflores to meet the group at La Merced Church and proceeded to Plaza Mayor, where groups were gathering for a parade. We visited many of the main attractions, both secular and religious, including the Presidential Palace, Santo Domingo Church, San Francisco Church, the Congress Building, Palacio de José Bernardo Torre Tagle, and the Rimac River.
Of note, numerous Chinese immigrants came to help build the railroads, brought their cuisine with them, and stayed. The result is a Chinese-Peruvian cusine called chifa that includes many stir-fried dishes. Also of note, our guide repeatedly referred to the Spaniards as the conquerers; the implication was not lost on us. We ended the tour, exhausted, at a restaurant in the city center to enjoy a traditional Peruvian meal of cebiche (raw fish “cooked” in lemon juice) and lomo saltado (stir-fried beef and vegetables).
Peru: Hanging in Lima, Part 2 is up next.