I know, what am I talking about, right? Who doesn’t know about Lima? Everyone flies to Lima. Most even stay in Lima for a day or two. Some even dare to go out and eat at Larcomar in their ocean-side neighborhood of Miraflores. What amateur could possibly say that Lima is off the beaten path?
Well, I could. The Cambridge dictionary describes off the beaten path as “not known or popular with many people,” and while everyone knows where Lima is, it certainly isn’t a popular destination. Yes, people do go to Lima in hordes, but most wouldn’t if they didn’t have to. To many, Lima is just a stepping stone to Machu Picchu, to Lake Titicaca, or to their Amazon adventure. People rarely take the time to really experience what Lima has to offer, as they are too focused on their ultimate destination. There is a reason for that, of course. Rio de Janeiro it isn’t. The ocean views are stunning, but there are no swimming beaches within the city limits. Neither can you compare it to Buenos Aires with BA’s general ambiance and mind-blowing array of entertainment venues and nightlife. Then, there is the really bad pollution in the central parts of Lima; at times it can be almost overbearing. Still, this city should not be overlooked. It has a lot going for it. At least enough to warrant a short stay. Or not-so-short if you are a foodie.
Lima gastronomy is legendary. They say it’s impossible to find bad food in Lima, and in my experience it’s 90% true. The tastes I have savored in Lima are some of the best I have ever had the luxury of experiencing. If you are a foodie, then you have no idea what you’re missing by rushing to the airport to leave Lima behind and catch that flight to magical Machu Picchu. The food in Aguas Calientes (the village closest to MP where you will likely be staying) is outright yucky compared to Lima (food in Cuzco is better, but I still didn’t find it inspiring or inspired). Lima food will seriously spoil you by quality, presentation, inventiveness, and yes, affordability. If you’re the kind of guy or gal who loves good food but wouldn’t pay $200 a plate at an upscale New York restaurant, then you will find yourself in paradise, because in Lima you don’t have to. Every time I visit, I look forward to the variety of foods I will happily devour, while not having to empty my wallet. And no, I’m not a foodie, so imagine the treat if you are!
Great food aside, there are things to see and do in Lima. A lot of folks never venture outside of Miraflores, with an exception of a short city bus tour, but you should! In the morning, go to the Centro (UNESCO World Heritage Historic Centre, by the way), walk the main square called Plaza Mayor and its local markets in search of tacky but necessary souvenirs and alpaca stuff. Watch the change of guards at the Presidential Palace. There is much history to experience and beautiful architecture to witness. Tour the marvelous Basílica Cathedral, and visit Saint Francis Monastery and its famous catacombs to see how the rich of Lima used to be buried. Fascinating, albeit not a pretty sight.
Even after experiencing all of this, there is more to discover. What’s next? Go to Convento de Los Descalzos in Rimas district (I promise myself to visit this place every time I’m in Lima, but something always comes up). Spend a few hours walking along the cliffs overlooking the ocean in Miraflores. Here you can witness beautiful views, and even some paragliders floating through the sky. Take a stroll in the Parque de Amores, a very romantic place with a gorgeous view. In the evening there is an amazing light’n’water show at the Circuito Mágico Del Agua—worth every minute of it and a few bucks for an entrance fee. And I haven’t even touched on a single museum yet, and yes, there are so many great museums in Lima! Word to the wise: spend a few days. Don’t try to fit it into two. Five, I think, would be perfect.
I love taking side trips, and I did take one to the Ballestas Islands—and regretted it deeply. The bus trip to Paracas alone takes about four tedious hours. When I finally arrived expecting to be treated to a jewel in the rough, all I could think was, my goodness, all that time wasted for what? This is not a poor man’s Galapagos, as some tourists have billed it, not even! It’s a poor man’s crap hole. I kid you not, the stench as you get near those rocks after a long, rough, and bumpy boat ride becomes overbearing, and you just find yourself praying to the saint of your choice that it ends sooner rather than later. Of course, it wasn’t helping my mood that I was sick during that journey, but I doubt I would’ve enjoyed it under any circumstances. I am all for off the beaten path exploration, but this is one place that everyone should be warned about. Trust me and don’t spare a minute of your precious vacation time for this!
Alright, this article has gotten too long. As bad as that side trip was, this one fiasco couldn’t spoil my overall experience. Since there’s too much to fit in one article, I’m splitting it into two. In Part II of my rediscovery of Lima, you will find a few tips about food and places to stay. In the meantime, I am already putting together the itinerary for my next visit, so if you know or come across something I’ve missed, please let me know!
Stay tuned for the Part II