What’s to Love in Lima?
Leaving the jungle after almost two weeks was a shock to the system. When I stepped off the plane in Lima I felt a sensation that I had pleasantly forgotten for the past twelve days — cold. I arrived in the darkness of night — always a somewhat disorienting experience — and fell asleep soon after, trying to appease my bewildered, frozen toes with three layers of socks.
The next morning, a new chapter of my Peruvian adventures began — Brooklyn bestie Zoe arrived on a red eye from New York! After plenty of pleading, she managed to wrangle three weeks off of her intense job at a publishing house in order to join me for a trip we’ve talked about since meeting at Pratt. Within moments of her arrival we were sitting back and catching up on gossip, as if all our girl talk occurred at 8am in the hostel gardens of South American capital cities.
Logistically, the vast majority of trips to Peru will start in Lima. Yet most travelers evacuate the metropolis as soon as the next plane, train, or bus allows — this is not one of the world’s beloved cities. In fact, I often heard it described as a city impossible to love. Naturally, I took that as a challenge.
Lima was not the first place I’d heard dismissed in such ways. I’ve seen many a backpacker turn their noses up at Phnom Penh — a city I can’t seem to get enough of. Yet many world wanderers loathe Vientiane — a conclusion that, despite my best efforts, I landed at as well. I was determined that Lima land in the Underdogs I Rooted category.
Yet I would’t say Lima was fully cooperating with that plan. As Zoe and I set off to explore that chilly Saturday morning, we couldn’t help but notice there was a certain — how do I put this? — je ne sais quoi about the place, and I mean that in the opposite way that people use to describe places that are indescribably charming. The skies were coated in a think blanket of perma-gray, and as we walked we saw more concrete than people.
Still, we managed to find endearing examples of historical architecture and quirky samples of colorful modern graffiti. And contrary to grave reports of Lima’s notorious crime from locals and visitors alike, I never felt unsafe pulling out my camera.
In our determination to find something to like about the city travelers love to hate, we headed towards the area most will grudgingly admit is the least offensive of the bunch — the coastline of the tony Miraflores district. After meandering through Love Park, where the rainbow-inspired mosaics contrast with the gloomy skies beyond, we cut down the steep cliffs towards the water. We parked ourselves on the rocky beach and watched Saturday surfers brave the frigid waves.
I was starting to think that one of Lima’s biggest problems was timing. The city’s peak months for both actual pleasant weather and general summery attitude are December to March — the exact months that the Andes and the jungle are plagued by rain. Hence, not many international tourists make a point of visiting Peru at the brief window of time when Lima is showing its best colors. There is something undeniably pleasing about a city in which vintage VWs are not an uncommon transportation choice — but doesn’t everything look better beneath a ray of sunshine and in front of bright blue skies?
I felt we needed some insiders’ guiding. By chance, I had ripped a page out of one of the travel magazines I was reading en route from Iquitos about famous photographer Mario Testino’s favorite spots in his hometown of Lima. We hopped in a cab to Barranco to check out Testino’s gallery, MATE, and then try one of his restaurants picks. MATE was fantastic – it was filled with Testino’s own private, very modern collection, including collaborations with Keith Harring and other famed artists. I can’t believe that we would have missed this gem had I not happened to flip past that particular page in that exact magazine.
Without a map or smartphones, we wandered the streets of Barranco fairly aimlessly, hoping intuition would guide us to LA73, the dinner spot that Testino recommended in the same article. We both loved Barranco immediately — it was warm and historic where Miraflores was cold and modern. We stumbled on a colorful hipster night market, where we bought tres leches from a cute girl who used her iPhone to show us where the restaurant was. Amazingly, we had been heading in more or less the correct direction.
LA73 was exactly what we had been hoping for — the Lima equivalent of the kind of place we’d swoon over in Brooklyn. We were the only non-Limeños there, and giggled while trying to decipher the menu, which was entirely in Spanish. Ordering was a success, in spite of the language barrier — everything we ate was fantastic, my favorite being an appetizer called choclo con queso, basically corn and cheese drenched in butter. Yes, please!
Actually, if you do hear an enthusiastic word about Lima, it tends to be about the city’s dining scene — many foodies make pilgrimages here to do little more than eat. Our three days in the capital were more about action (in my next post, you’ll read about the activities that kept us busy, from a bartending lesson to a biking trip.) Yet one of our last meals was again too good not to share. While wandering through our beloved Barranco one last time, we stepped into Twist Burger Bar, and passed a lovely afternoon chatting with the seasoned traveler/manager and noshing on simultaneously delicious and adorable mini burgers.
So, what’s to love in Lima? After three days in the city, our feelings were a bit ambigous. We loved the tours we had taken (stay tuned!) and thoroughly enjoyed several good meals. I swooned at some of the graffiti and the crumbling remnants of colonial buildings. Yet it was hard to get enthusiastic about a place where the sun literally never shone, and where we often felt that we could be on a concrete street corner in literally any major metropolis in the world.
Will I give it another chance? Heck yes. But next time — I’m coming in summer.
Where I stayed: Ekeko Hostel
Where I ate: LA73 (try the choclo con queso!), Twist Burger Bar (try the mini burger flight!), The ChocoMuseo (try the guilt free chocolate tea!) & La Lucha (try the pineapple mozzarella chicken sandwich!)
How I got there: Lima is a gateway to Peru for international flights, and is connected to pretty much everywhere in the country by bus. Cheap flights are available via Star Peru and Peruvian Airlines.
Bonus Tip: If possible, visit during the summer months of December-March!
I’m with you – I generally try to see the best in a place, but sometimes the universe conspires against me! When I went to Agra, India, I heard the horror stories but was determined to enjoy it, but alas, the harsh Indian winter had other ideas! I don’t know about you, but discovering a place is always fun, sometimes even more so when it lacks charm. Sometimes, those journeys become even more memorable!
Weather has such an intense effect on my enjoyment of a place! I actually loved all our activities, meals, etc. in Lima but in the end those gloomy skies do get to me. I don’t know how the entire city doesn’t suffer from Seasonal Affectation Disorder!
Great Post about Lima. I’ll be heading there in December so lets see if my opinion is different.
I didnt think Vientiane was amazing either as a metropolis but I had an amazing experience going to a meditation workshop in a garden temple outside the city there and then heading to the steam bath/ massage parlor within the temple grounds.
I went to the same temple 🙂 It was the highlight of my time in Vientiane. Oh, and you’ll be arriving in Lima in the hight of their best weather, so I think that bodes well for you!
It’s true that I always hear about the food in Lima, but not much else. Glad you were able to see the positives.
We didn’t even go to any of the really famed restaurants, and still our visit seemed to revolve around food 🙂
I definitely want to go back to Lima, because my brief time there was spent in the hospital after I broke my ankle 15 minutes into my trip there. I’ve heard so many people complain about the city, but I think I would really love it there. Your pics are awesome!!! Can’t wait to hear more.
Wow, Andi! You poor thing! You seem to have some serious bad medical luck when it comes to traveling. But I love that you keep going in spite of it — you go girl 🙂
Way to make lemonade outa those lemons! Lima doesn’t have a great rep but I know I would have done the same thing. You always have to check out a place for yourself.
I’m glad I gave it a full four nights, three days, and I’m actually going to do the same when I head back later this month. Lots of people breeze through with less than 24 hours!
I definitely think people about to visit Lima for the first time will be won over by this post! The graffiti really is amazing isn’t it?
I have to say, although I did hate the cold grey skies, Lima holds a special place in my heart as the first place I ever set foot in as an independent traveller!
That’s awesome, Jade! I guess for me that place is Bangkok — also incredibly special and close to my heart.
PS: I just tried to leave a comment on your blog and it wouldn’t let me :/
That’s sad 🙁 I wonder why?! I really need to make the move away from hosted and maybe things will actually work! Thank you for letting me know and for (trying) to comment!
I actually loved Lima, gray skies and all (I guess I really am a Vancouverite through and through). And surprisingly, what I disliked most was the food. Maybe it was our ridiculously low budget, but I barely had any good meals in Lima. Lots of good pisco sours though 🙂 They’re different in all the different regions, make sure you try them all!
Oh, no worries there… we’ve been doing a thorough investigation 🙂
It certainly was! Hoping for clearer skies when I get back in a month.
I had such a short time in Lima, I didn’t get much of a chance to take it in. One thing I really did like was the rich history. We saw some cool museums, and the historic buildings were fantastic! I’m sure that I’ll be back someday (it *is* a hub after all) and I’d like to try to see more of the city. Maybe next time it’ll be blue skies!
Other than an evening tour of the Museo Larco, I didn’t go at all to the historic city center — spent all my time in Miraflores and Barranco! I need to correct that next time.
It’s pretty incredible how much the weather of a place can play into how much people do or don’t enjoy a place.
Can’t wait to read the posts about your tours!
Thanks Sky! Just have to get a video uploaded on Peruvian internet first, argh…
My partner and I spent 6 weeks in Lima this past August/September. I know, like most people we tell this, you’re probably thinking “why?!” Well, we like cities, and we prefer to travel a bit then stop for a while and rent an apartment (in order to get work done), so Lima made sense. But yes, it was grey the whole time, the insulation is terrible and Peru doesn’t do central heating so we were often cold, even indoors. I think we had about one afternoon of sunshine, and then it was still hazy. I know exactly what you mean about this city being hard to love. Actually, I just wrote a post about Barranco, though, which was a much easier place to like immediately. I walked past LA73 a couple of times, but didn’t actually go in – which, of course, I now regret! Looking forward to seeing what tours you did!
I know how you feel, I love cities too! However I think for me it would have to be somewhere sunnier. My mood is greatly effected by the weather and being cold and seeing gray all the time for six weeks would equal one depressed girl! Shame because I love the city’s unique geography and amazing variety of things to do!
this looks great. I’m planning on visiting early next year myself. Will you be going to Cusco and maybe other parts of S.America?
Indeed! I’ve actually been in Cusco already, and am currently in Arequipa — check out my most current Photo of the Week 🙂
I lived in Lima for a few months (August-November), and your description of the city is spot-on! Gray, gray, gray… for sun-lovers, it can be hard to take day after day. That said, it’s not too far some pretty cool spots, which I liked. I also loved that chifa–Peru’s take on Chinese food–was on offer everywhere. Not upscale in the least but oh so good! Glad you discovered highlights of your own! : )
Oooo… I’m going to have to try this chifa when I return! Sounds fantastic!
that’s awesome! Will you be in South America for the World Cup??? I’ll be there and i’m looking to travel a bit around before that.
Brazil is high on my bucket list, but I don’t think I’ll head there for the World Cup. I’m not much of a soccer fan and so I think the increased prices and hassle of traveling during that time wouldn’t really be worth it for me!
I’ll be going to Lima in January, which I think is the coastal summer. So hopefully I will have a bit more sunshine. I do like the look of it even with the clouds out though. I often like cities that other people don’t like though, such as Phnom Penh, Kathmandu or Venice.
I’ll be there in the beginning of December and I’m hoping for the same! Fingers crossed for both of us…
I did a lot of research before my trip to Peru and there were plenty of stories of petty crime and worse, but I have to say I never had a whiff of danger during my five days in Lima. Everyone I approached was helpful and happy to have a little chat. The city is quickly becoming one of those must-visit foodie destinations, even more so if you have a weak spot for seafood like me. La Mar was definitely one of the highlights of my stay! Another thing I loved about Lima is that it´s lot like New York and London in that taxis are everywhere, and they are really inexpensive. And good advice though, you should bargain with the driver BEFORE you get in.
I don’t eat seafood and I still found Lima to be quite the culinary destination! I was able to eat at both bargain and high-end places and they were equally fantastic. This is a must-go city for foodies!