Lima: In a Nutshell

Ever since I was young I had wanted to visit Peru. To the untrained eye, Peru may not have the sex appeal of Brazil or Mexico, or perhaps even Argentina or Chile, yet upon closer inspection you will find an indigenous society in the country – nowhere magnified more than in the capital, Lima – that deserves to be taken more seriously.

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Peruvian shanty towns up the mountains

Lima is the capital city of Peru and by far its biggest and busiest city. It also contains the only major international airport, so wherever you fly to Peru from, chances are you will be landing at Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima. The city seems to be one of the more laid-back capital cities in central and south America – certainly when compared to the likes of Mexico City or Rio de Janeiro (I know Rio isn’t a capital…).

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Consider the unequal distribution of wealth in Lima (a mixture of affluent neighbourhoods like Miraflores and shanty towns like those seen in Rimac district), the people here are surprisingly happy soles, and it was a joy to see so many of them wearing their traditional hat known as a ‘Chullo’. This has it now more common around the world than before, but it originated in Andean Peru and is said to be keep people warm in the harsh climate. Maybe that’s why Peruvians who wear them always appear so friendly?! I didn’t find Peruvian people to be curious with my presence, so I guess they are used to tourists coming to their country. Most people responded to me with a smile, which was great to see, and it made feel even more at home in this charming city.

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The Monastery of San Francisco, Lima (and is that a condor in the sky?)
Part of the Historic Centre of Lima
Part of the Historic Centre of Lima

Now, as far as tourist attractions are concerned, there is not much to wow the visitor here. Instead, you should principally use Lima as a landing point after an international flight, before your onwards journeys to Cusco (and then on to Machu Picchu) and Arequipa (for the Colca Canyon). When in Lima, however, there is a lot of Peruvian culture in which to immerse yourself, although I found much of this to be in the form of museums and exhibitions, rather than anything too exciting.

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There are plenty of retail opportunities in Lima, so even if the city is a bit light on tourist attractions, there are still more than enough shops to keep you entertained. Of course, the international brands are here, but you should look out for the local markets that pop up many times in the week and seek out some traditional Peruvian handicraft or porcelain. Taxis are too expensive in Lima, so you will probably be travelling everywhere on foot, or for longer distances the public bus network. These buses are cheap and generally safe – but I have seen cleaner buses in India, so don’t expect luxury!

Street food in Lima can be pretty simple...
Street food in Lima can be pretty simple…
...or even quite exotic, like this guinea pig!
…or even quite exotic, like this guinea pig!

Finally, how we have a city guide without talking about the local food? Well, here in Lima you can remind yourself of Spanish cuisine, what with empanadas and churros being sold so commonly around the city (and very cheaply if you avoid the upmarket Miraflores district). There is also the national drink of Peru, which is Pisco. This is a very sour cocktail but it has such a Peruvian identity that you’d be a fool not to try it once when in the country! Other Peruvian dishes of note are ceviche (raw fish marinated in citrus juice), causa (potato and avocado casserole), and cuy – which is the local name for guinea pig! Yes, they really do eat guinea pig in Peru, and they are not ashamed of it!

For some daytrip ideas, perhaps consider checking out some of the important Incan – and pre-Incan – ruins around Lima.

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