To Spend Time in Lima or Not?
Peru is a fascinating country with a jaw-dropping landscape of cultural and natural richness that draws visitors by the millions. Vast swaths of Amazon Rainforest host a biological riot of species, towering Andean peaks hide Machu Picchu among other Incan ruins and bone dry Atacama coastal deserts offer world class surf alongside the mysterious Nazca lines. But unless you own a private jet, international and domestic flight connections dictate that you'll pass through and likely spend some time in Lima, Peru's gigantic, sprawling capital city. So, travelers are faced with a decision - to devote time to exploring Lima or not? I'm very much pro-Lima and am here to make the case for why you should be too.
The Lima of today is not your parent's Lima. A less savory and unsafe international reputation plagued Peru's capital in the 1980s and early 1990s but this is long gone. Experiencing Lima today, is in a word, delicious. A culinary revolution, driven by energetic young chef's bent on showcasing Peru's wealth of culinary ingredients, has catapulted the city to one of the top foodie destinations in the world. From the freshest ceviche to creative takes on Pisco sours, eating your way through Lima is a treat, as is walking the streets through many of the city's neighborhoods. Visually, the city has undergone a complete makeover during the past ten years, creating an economic boom as well as a thriving center for the arts. Visitors to Lima can soak up Lima's colonial past with a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage historic center, take in the sea views during a run or stroll along El Malecón (the clifftop promenade in the Miraflores neighborhood) then skip over to Barranco for a gallery-hopping art walk.
Speaking of neighborhoods, the 'it' place to be in Lima has shifted as well. The wealthy neighborhoods of San Isidro and Miraflores have long been the preferred stomping grounds of international visitors with scores of large international hotel chains. But appealing to the international crowd has its downfalls as well and these districts now seem somewhat manufactured, with giant malls and a plethora of brand name stores and restaurants found anywhere in the world. For authentic Lima charm, venture down the cobbled streets of Barranco. Just south of the city center, this seaside district was a summer-home retreat for Lima's wealthy families in the 1920s. These restored mansions are now home to dozens of unique galleries and museums, excellent bars and restaurants, boutiques highlighting distinctively Peruvian fashion, intimate music venues and a handful of hotel options, including the sophisticated and eclectic Hotel B.
I personally recommend that Lima be visited on the tail end of a trip rather than as an introduction. It's mesmerizing to return to such an international, sophisticated and cosmopolitan city after having roamed beneath the Amazon’s canopy, watched Condors soar over Machu Picchu and listened to the ancient language of Quechua being spoken in terraced traditional villages high in the Andes. To realize that the nation of Peru contains all of this - from the ancient to the modern - is really sobering and gives visitors a much more well-rounded understanding of the complexities involved in modern day Peru. Consider international visitors coming to the USA and only spending time in New York City and Disneyland. Their perception of life in the United States would be very incomplete without also visiting spending time in a few National Parks or driving a rural road through the interior and stopping into a local cafe.