A country whose primary food is the potato, and whose economy is largely based on bird manure has an uphill battle to market itself. Everybody dreams of going to Macchu Picchu, but Lima, a 3-hour flight from Panama City, gets bad reports from just about everyone—ugly, dirty, dangerous, boring. Two Peruvian friends practically begged us not to stay in the old part of town. We spent a week there anyway and loved it. It is both ugly and beautiful, dirty and clean (no trash thrown around like in
Although the streets are bustling with people, there is a graphic simplicity to
But what we look for when traveling, we found here—it feels different. More than the touristic sights, what fascinates me most is what my friend Kathy calls ‘the museum of the streets’—a sense of how people live, what gives a place its sense of identity. In a taxi we heard a radio station where the announcer kept using the work ‘Peruanidad’—‘Peru-ness’ to describe the program. About half the population in
We stayed at the once grand Gran Hotel Bolívar, built in 1924 where I kept expecting to see Maggie Smith coming down the hall with a feathered hat and 16 suitcases. Many stars of the past stayed there: Ava Gardner, Maria Felix, Pedro Infante, and the Rolling Stones. It has been refurbished (not remodeled) and still retains its old world charm. The lobby has a stained glass dome, the rooms are huge, clean and comfortable (if you like hard mattresses as I do). Our $70 suite (there are cheaper rooms) had a big living room with sofa, 2 chairs and a writing desk, the bedroom was just as big, the bathroom tiles and tub had been re-surfaced to look new and clean. A balcony overlooked the side street (avoid the rooms facing the noisy Plaza San Martín). Staying at this hotel was one of the highlights of the trip. I was not happy with their (included) continental breakfast, and went out to El Comino for much better café con leche (it’s under the arcade to the left as you exit the hotel) a couple of mornings.
Another place we looked at, but did not stay in, was the Hostal España ((Azángaro 105), a cheap option for backpacker-types that was very charming, and retains its fabulous mosaic floors. There is a nice rooftop terrace area full of plants.
The Plaza San Martin is completely surrounded by white buildings that look a bit like 19th-century
Within an hour of arrival in
Other noteworthy sights within walking distance of the hotel are the Museo Riva-Aguero (Jiron Camaná 459), a museum of popular arts in a very interesting colonial style house, The Museo de Arte (near Parque de
On weekends at Plaza Italia (a block behind
The huge Metro supermarket (Emancipación at Lampa, near the hotel) was fun for people watching and learning the names of unusual fruits and vegetables. The large cubes of compacted beef lung were curious but not tempting--the inexpensive Argentine and Chilean wines were.
The round Plaza Dos de Mayo (which we only saw from a cab) was striking for its identical 19th-century buildings—all painted blue—and the musical instrument stores that filled each one.
Be sure to get a shoe shine in the centro—bring a book to read as it takes about 20 minutes—your shoes will never be cleaner or shinier. Our neighbor Dolores who flies with Aeromexico to
Do not be tempted to buy one of the
A double-decker tour bus that leaves from Plaza San Martín is another way to get around town and save time—there is even a night tour. The website is www.mirabusperu.com. We discovered this too late to make use of it, but it looked like a good idea, esp. if your time is limited.
A short cab ride from the centro is the Museo Larco (Bolívar
Aside from the centro, the other area of Lima that we enjoyed most was Barranco, the most charming part of town, with a village feel, cafés and restaurants on the cliffs above the ocean, and at least one very good museum, El Museo Pedro de Osma (San Pedro de Osma 423) in a remarkable old private mansion with a good collection of colonial art. We spent an afternoon in Barranco, walking around the main plaza and the more residential area around Plaza San Francisco. If I lived in
The Miraflores area of
Without Macchu Picchu, I wonder if
We stayed at the Casa de Melgar, (www.lared.net.pe/lacasademelgar) a converted old house with lots of charm- our huge room had its original fireplace/stove and rustic old furniture. The woman at the desk explained that mostly foreigners stay there as national tourists tend to prefer modern decor
Highlights here included the central market (of course) where we had some of the best food at a simple stall: the papa rellena and the ceviche were winners. We skipped the jugo de rana being sold—a health drink made by boiling the skin of a frog (the frogs were live). The variety of potatoes available here is staggering, including little white stone-looking dried potatoes.
Curiously, one of our best meals here was in a Turkish-fusion restaurant (on Calle San Francisco, where you will find lots of new up-scale restaurants).
Our taxi driver from the airport ending up giving us a tour of the surrounding area, at half the price of the tour agencies which are all over town. The sights, including the hacienda of the town’s founder and an old mill, are not very interesting.
Seafood is the real highlight of Peruvian cuisine, starting with ceviche, supposedly invented in
We ate twice at
Here are some of the traditional foods we tried in various restaurants, street stalls and markets:
Causa – mashed yellow potato with various additions on top
Tacacho – a mash of platano and corn, usually served with cecina, cured pork.
Juanes - A sort of tamal
Chupe de Camarón - a hearty seafood soup
Chicha Morada - a sweet drink, non-allcoholic, made from purple corn
Chicha de Jora - similar to above but thicker and fermented
Inca Cola - acid yellow soda pop, tasting of Bazooka bubble gum, but beloved by Peruanos
Suspiro Limeño - custard with dulce de leche – Nick’s favorite
Pay de Limón - pretty close to Lemon Meringue – Jim’s favorite
Gaston & Astrid are
T’anta (Pasaje Nicolás de Rivera el Viejo 142, just off the Plaza Mayor in the centro) is a mid-range offshoot of Gaston & Astrid in central
As mentioned above, El Cordano (Ancash 202, just off the Plaza Mayor), has excellent fried calamares, and I also had a tasty tortilla de espinacas, like a frittata with spinach.
Chifa is the name given to the Peruvian-influenced Chinese food that you see everywhere. Simple rice and noodle dishes, and stir-fries, like saltado de res (which, aside from beef, had french fries in it) are cooked to order, sometimes by a chef working frantically out front—a great show. The food is very cheap, filling, and on the couple of occasions we tried it, quite satisfying.
Note: Serving sizes everywhere were enormous, usually big enough to share (and we can eat!)
Overall, we had a successful trip but our short visit to