Non-stop joys of Lima

| April 20, 2014 | 0 Comments
Lacomar is an open-air shopping mall on the ocean, whose shops feature unique, high-end and expensive goods.

Lacomar is an open-air shopping mall on the ocean, whose shops feature unique, high-end and expensive goods.

Peru, often seen as the swatch of land that surrounds Machu Picchu, has a cosmopolitan and fascinating capital city. Lima, for its diverse history, innovation, arts and lively culture, deserves a standalone visit. Or, at least, it calls for several dedicated days before you move on to the country’s other national treasures.
Much in its favour, too, are the affordable flights available from Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, Calgary, Halifax and Montreal. The best flights are direct, overnight and don’t cause jet lag.
Lima is divided into 30 districts or neighbourhoods. Each has its own mini-culture, look and demographic. For touring Lima, consider Miraflores, Barranco or San Isidro as a home base. Miraflores is touristy and convenient; Barranco is bohemian and gives a better sense of the local culture (and consequently has fewer hotel options); and San Isidro is in the business quarter with more “big box” hotels. All three are convenient hubs filled with restaurants and shops. My home base hotel was the Atton San Isidro — it’s modern, offers delicious meals and maintains an incredible standard of service.

Morro Solar Hill, overlooking downtown Lima, has an observatory, monument to the Unknown Soldier and a statue of Jesus, partly personally paid for by then-Peruvian president Alan Garcia.

Morro Solar Hill, overlooking downtown Lima, has an observatory, monument to the Unknown Soldier and a statue of Jesus, partly personally paid for by then-Peruvian president Alan Garcia.

Day 1
Fuelled with morning coffee and breakfast at the well-appointed hotel, I took a guided tour as a way to plan the remaining days’ excursions. My tour was with Limavision, which nicely balanced looking-out-the-window time with walking, seeing and experiencing. The highlight was the Monastery of San Francisco with its catacombs, in use until the early 19th Century.
We got off the bus in Plaza San Martin. This historic part of Lima, together with the monastery, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Plaza is a central square of the city, surrounded by gorgeous buildings, including the famous Gran Hotel Bolivar, former temporary home to several Hollywood stars, and the supposed birthplace of the famous pisco sour. The development of this frothy, sour alcoholic beverage is proudly and firmly claimed by both Peruvians and Chileans. Either way, make sure to have at least a few rounds while you’re there.

At 37 metres, Cristo del Pacifico, erected in 2011, is thought to be the world’s tallest statue of Christ.

At 37 metres, Cristo del Pacifico, erected in 2011, is thought to be the world’s tallest statue of Christ.

Also facing the Plaza is the ornate and elegant Presidential Palace. From the Plaza, the group walked towards the monastery. The guides, splitting between English- and Spanish-speaking tours, were well-educated on the history, use, architecture and art of San Francisco. Its catacombs are historically fascinating. The small cavern-like rooms — all connected by damp stone passageways — are filled with tidy stacks of skulls and femurs. It leaves you feeling the mystery of the past, the sadness of the anonymity, but also calm and peaceful.
One of the biggest adjustments to daily schedules for North Americans in Lima (and most of South America) is meal times. If you’re used to sitting down before 7 p.m., eating between 8 and 10 p.m. is difficult. The solution is to eat just as restaurants open in late afternoon or early evening.
The ceviche and crayfish soup at the Chabuca, the restaurant in the Hotel Atton, are delicious. Ceviche, much like the pisco sour, is a national dish. The mix of (uncooked) marinated cubed fish, spices, lemon, onions and corn is a winner. One of the major shocks of this local dish — and others that contain corn — is the sheer size of a single kernel. It’s three-to-five times the size of the kernels in Canada. The crayfish soup, meanwhile, is served with a soft egg. The “egg on top” trend seems to be all over South America. In soup or on a steak, it’s a pleasant and homey touch.
Wrap up the night with an evening pisco sour at the hotel bar and prepare for another day.

Love Park, with El Beso, a statue of a couple kissing, features a Valentine’s Day longest-kiss competition.

Love Park, with El Beso, a statue of a couple kissing, features a Valentine’s Day longest-kiss competition.

Day 2
The front desk staff will recommend tours, interesting sites and, in terms of practicalities, will call you an official cab. Take Taxi Metropolitano when you’re there. It’s a trusted company. Fares are pre-set (at the time of writing, one Nuevo Sol exchanged to approximately 0.35 US cents).
If you’re looking for gifts, you can get high-end items from shopping centres or boutique shops. Local crafts and products are found at the artisan market. There is a huge variety of items: clothing, art, jewelry, silver, souvenirs, paper products and sports paraphernalia. When you’re shopping, the standard tourist caution to bring small bills and don’t wear or carry valuable items applies. The prices and finds are tremendous and you can have fun haggling, especially if you are buying several items from one shop or booth.

The artisan market in Lima sells clothes, art, jewelry and souvenirs, some locally crafted and some mass-produced.

The artisan market in Lima sells clothes, art, jewelry and souvenirs, some locally crafted and some mass-produced.

After treasure-hunting, head to JFK Park. There’s a nearby grocery store, a Metro, and it has an impressive prepared food bar. If something appeals to you, buy it (no haggling this time) and enjoy it on a bench under the giant old trees in the park. From there, it’s an interesting and pleasant walk to the ocean along Avenida Jose Larco, or Avenida Larco. The best way to start any walk is with a churro, a Spanish fried pastry. Manolo Churreria, a churro chain, is incredibly popular in Lima. Also, they’re easy to find. Looking for a churro store? Scan for signs that say churreria. A bookstore? Libreria. Hats? Sombreria. And, the most common example: pizzeria.
At the foot of Avenida Larco, you’ll hit the ocean. The city has done a great job making the waterfront an accessible and enjoyable spot to spend an afternoon. A unique feature of this part of the city is Love Park, which features El Beso, a statue of a couple mid-kiss. Each year, a competition is held there for the longest kiss.
Beside Love Park is Larcomar, a high-end, open-air shopping centre fronting on the Pacific Ocean. The shops are unique, lovely and expensive. If you aren’t here to shop, just grab a sandwich from La Lucia Sangucheria Criolla and find a seat overlooking the water.
The other shopping option is a cab ride away at Jockey Plaza. It’s huge, with a maze of stores and better prices than Larcomar. The most unique items seem to come from South American designer boutiques in the local department store.  A local, renowned chef opened Tanta restaurant here and it’s a great spot for an introduction to the local cuisine. The sample platter of traditional Peruvian fare is a great place to start, followed by aguadito, some of the best soup I’ve ever had. It’s green, spicy and delicious.

Day 3
Just outside downtown Lima, there are several things to see and do. Buy tickets to see a Peruvian Paso performance. The Paso is a unique breed of horse with a rare and smooth gait. It walks with both right legs back at the same time while both left legs are forward. Several of the horses I watched also showed a curving movement. Instead of moving the legs in a straight back and forth motion, they actually move outward, away from the horse’s body on their way forward, creating a very unusual sight when they’re trotting. The Lima area is a prime spot to view these graceful creatures as it hosts many Paso competitions, shows and exhibitions.
On your way back into the city, stop at Morro Solar Hill. Overlooking downtown Lima and the Pacific Ocean, it’s home to an observatory, a wartime monument dedicated to the Unknown Soldier and a Brazil-esque massive statue of Jesus. If the attractions on the hill don’t appeal to you, the view certainly will. Sitting on the wall surrounding the Unknown Soldier gives you an awesome view of the city, ocean and distant hills and villages.
What makes this view unique are your neighbours. The homes built up the side of Morro Solar are not what you’d expect to be occupying this kind of real estate; they’re shacks. These very modest, tin-sided, crammed together, untidy homes have doorways that are permanently open to this perfect view.
If you follow the road with your eyes, down towards the ocean, you’ll eventually navigate to the hustle and bustle of people taking advantage of the waves. Despite being cold year-round, the Pacific is never empty of adventurous Peruvians. And that’s where we’ll head tomorrow. But first, dinner.
There are endless restaurants to experience in Lima, and the quality of food and service is of a metropolitan European standard. The city has recently gone through its own mini food, art and design renaissance. Lima hosts renowned fashion shows, draws international chefs and has built new architectural wonders (sometimes for the better, sometimes not).
With this in mind, I dined at a small, local — but very impressive — restaurant: Arúgula in Miraflores. It was comfortable and quiet, but served food that you’d expect to see (and taste) at a Four Seasons Hotel: modern, plated beautifully and unique. The curry scallop penne (penne al curry con conchas) was excellent.

Day 4
The last full day calls for a return to the ocean. Surfing in Lima is common. The fact that only a wetsuit separates the surfer from the cold waters is a testament to how popular it is. Playa Makaja in Miraflores is the place to go. As an experienced surfer, you can rent boards, or lessons are available (either group or one-on-one). I suggest one-on-one lessons. Group lessons tend to consist of a 30-minute on-sand lesson, and then having the instructor holler inaudible tips to the group, across the waves while also chatting with a friend. A one-on-one lesson allows the instructor to watch what you’re doing, correct it and continue to help you improve until you experience that one glorious moment when you actually ride a wave the full distance to shore.
After surfing, walk down the beach to one of the more appealing restaurants in Lima, La Rosa Náutica. It’s fine dining, so you might want to shed the wetsuit for something more formal. Enjoy dining on a pier over the ocean and watching the surfers until dusk. Wherever you dine in Lima, make sure that you — at least once — indulge in conchitas a la Parmesana (Parmesan scallops). It is the first dish you’ll try to replicate when you get home, reminiscing about Lima.
After you’ve said goodbye to culinary Lima, visit the Magic Water Tour at the Parque de la Reserva. It was a construction gamble taken by Lima around six years ago, and it has paid off. The park has 13 fountains, some interactive, that light up strikingly at night, perhaps the most unique among them being a tunnel of water through which visitors can walk.
It’s just one of many more experiences that make Lima a unique, pleasure-filled and surprising city.

Jessie Reynolds lives in Toronto and works as a Sr. Analyst with Barrick Gold Corporation’s Asset Protection and Crisis Management Group. She fits in travel whenever she can. Reach her at
jreynolds.diplomat@gmail.com.

Be Sociable, Share!

Tags: ,

Category: Delights

About the Author ()

Jessie Reynolds O’Neil lives in Toronto, and worked for four years as the senior security analyst for Barrick Gold Corp. She trained employees on security for international travel, and currently provides contract services relating to security, investigations, international industry software systems, data analytics and legal ethics and compliance programs. She travels whenever she can.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *