My surface perception of what must be one of the most interesting and inspiring cities in the world.
Two bohemian Peruvian young adults stand on a grassy section of the long cliffs which line the edge of Lima. Beneath them is a long drop to the sea which stretches on uninterrupted for miles, framing the city. They clutch each other passionately, drawing each other in and dramatically silhouetting the landscape.
Their group of friends sit in a line facing the sea amongst the other scattered onlookers, barely paying attention to the couple. This passion encapsulates the vibes the booming Peruvian capital gives off. A busy city where time seems to be of the essence, yet now and again remains caught in an infinite moment. Lima’s intense level of static energy is reflected in the eyes of the many kind of street dwellers who pass through, or find their place amongst the turmoil. Movement in the city never seems to cease. Taxis zoom around and families wander through the various gardens, whilst the ‘calles’ remain congested in a haze of frustrated traffic, sun and laziness.
The colourful but poor district of Lima: La Victoria
Whilst you will not find respect for traffic lights in Lima, one thing the busy Limonians do have time for is love. Walking through Barranco Plaza I witness the tenderness of elderly couples expressed through dance. On the steps of the central plaza they waltz romantically to smooth jazz booming through gravelly speakers as tourists look on admiringly. It’s scrawled on the walls of the city itself; graffiti hearts and heart-felt dedications, the words ‘LIMA LOVE’ in a distinct style bright against building edges, high and in clear sight of onlookers. It’s inherent in the sunsets which colour the sky in a rainbow of affection. Perhaps the most striking evidence of romance are the dozens of young couples who sit looking out onto the expansive Pacific Ocean, along the Malecon, an extended stone esplanade. It is almost as if they are positioned there intentionally, to decorate the city’s coast, like lego figures. The romance is inescapable, remaining in the background as a suitable backdrop to a city of colour and beauty.
A typical bustling crowd on the Barranco bridge at night
It’s easy to fall in love with this city, if one can call it a city. Lima is almost a country in itself, comprised of several districts almost as culturally and geographically separate from one another as countries are. From the traditional South American Jesus statue which stands upon one of the many dusty hills which encase Lima, the provinces of the city are visible, as aesthetically impressive as they are unequal. There is a jarring juxtaposition between the rich districts lined with carefully planted palm trees and the hills of shanty towns characterised by tin roofs and clothes racks. Standing within this diversity, one sees many different lifestyles co-existing side by side within the Lima bubble. I am reminded of the uniqueness of the individual, as well as the pressing socio-economic issues which rage within Lima everyday. Above all, it’s admirable to see the way life is valued here, despite the countries very recent violent past.
Plaza Maya in central Lima is perhaps the most culturally vibrant part of the city: comprised of brick yellow plazas, grand buildings, busy backstreets, fountains and museums. It’s the most obvious hotspot for tourists, yet far outnumbering the tourists are the traditionally dressed Inca descendants who have journeyed down from the mountains to find work in the bustling city. It is easy to imagine the shocking transformation in lifestyle they must experience; from the peace and tranquility of the Andes mountains to the dirty modern city. A long metro lines runs between here and the richer districts of Miraflores and Barranco, which could easily be mistaken for New York as smoothed over pavements and glassy buildings divide the district into US-style blocks of flats and apartments. Miraflores’ development obscures traditional Peruvian culture to an extent, but Barranco’s bohemian style parks and long open staircases act as a blank canvas for the many artists living in Lima.
A Peruvian couple admiring the view from the malecon
After visiting this diverse city four times, and falling in love with it in more than four different ways, I find my home in Barranco. On almost every corner of Barranco is a work of art; expressions of life, the sea, ancient Incan philosophy or, of course, romance, sparking intrigue and emotion. If the ambling surfers and hippies aren’t enough to make Barranco a hotspot of life in the day time, the humid nights draw in an even greater crowd. Frequent street dancers emerge and find their spot, turning the dusty plaza into a dance floor of salsa, reggaeton and hip hop whilst the vacant onlookers become their audience. Like the rest of Lima, within all the chaos and uncertainty, there occasionally emerges a unique and very special kind of harmony.
Barranco’s magical and legendary bridge, ‘El Puente de Suspiros’, the Bridge of Sighs, gives this neighbourhood its rep as the spot for adventure. The bridge crosses over a green, tree-lined valley surrounded by softly lit lanterns which give off a homely glow. Whilst the surroundings have gone through dramatic development, the dark wood of the bridge is the same as when it was built in 1876. Here you will almost always find tourists who come to take selfies and admire the view. The path underneath takes you down steps lined with artisans and creative jewellery, beneath the cliffs and down towards the sea.
The district Chorrillos, in the south of Lima, captured from across a swamp
For those wanting an overnight stay in Barranco, ‘Barranco Backpackers’ is a wonderful option. A small, cosy, pink house on Malecon Ramon Castilla, it has a magnificent view out over the Pacific Ocean. Barranco has it’s name as Lima’s party destination, for a good reason. A night out in the town might take you to ‘Barranco Beer Company’, a stylish modern bar on Miguel Grau which offers an extensive collection of craft beers. ‘Ayahuasca’ is even fancier. Set in one of Lima’s old colonial buildings, it contains a well lit, stylish courtyard and flawless Pisco Sour’s of various flavours (at a price that matches the grandeur). If you are looking for a more traditional experience, try ‘Juanito’s’, one of Lima’s oldest bars, know for it’s timeless 1930s style. Juanito’s is a small white house across from the plaza, and serves the classics ‘Cusquena’ and ‘Pilsen’ on tap at affordable, local prices. If you want to see live music on a stage, the best venues are all in Barranco and include the English pub ‘Wicks’, ‘HELP!’ and ‘El Noche de Barranco’ which are all close to the plaza.
The skyline of Lima from the apartment balcony where I live
To relax in the daytime, both Miraflores and Barranco offer a wide range of cafes and restaurants, from traditional Peruvian style to upperclass cuisines run by top chefs. Peru has won awards throughout history for it’s gastronomy, and celebrates this with the food festival ‘Mistura’. Every year around October- November along the Malecon the famous festival is set up, and you can try staple foods from different areas of Peru and countries around the world.
If you are looking to taste of Lima’s cuisine but are more of a home-cooker, there are great markets to visit all over the city. Most visited are the Saturday market in Parque Reducto (Miraflores), and the ‘Feria Ecological de Barranco’ on Calle San Martin on Sunday’s. At both parks a long row of independent stalls are set up, offering home-made goods. You can find bee pollen, natural skin creams, the pro-biotic drink kombucha, freshly baked cakes, various types of bread, chocolate and nutty spreads and of course Peru’s huge range of fresh fruit and vegetables. Also in Miraflores, down from Parque Kennedy, is an Inca Market, where you can buy traditional Peruvian clothes, jewellery, bags and other items made from Alpaca (real and fake). The markets are a good place to meet other travellers, taste the best of Peru’s produce and fill up on groceries for the week.
The sunset above an independent art store
There are many places in Lima where you can combine experiences without having to travel through the noisy traffic. One of my favourite spots is the Bodega Verde cafe, which rests at the edge of Barranco, actually inside the Museum of Contemporary Art. The cafe itself is one of two Bodega Verde’s in Lima, the other being just across from El Puente de Suspiros. It is beautifully decorated, serving all types of fresh tea leaves in pastel coloured tea pots with small matching round cups. If you get bored of working in the cafe, you can visit the art gallery, or vice versa. Lima has an abundance of interesting museums displaying the country’s history. ‘Museo Larco’ in Pueblo Libre is perhaps the most famous. 40 minute’s drive from the centre, Larco displays an impressive collection of pre-Columbian art and an educational overview of 5,000 years of Peruvian history. Close by is the ‘National Museum of Archeology, Anthropology and History’, where you will find an ancient stone tablet depicting the Andean god Viracocha, possibly the first to be made of its kind. If you are interested in artwork, there is the MATE Museum in Barranco, where just 12 soles will give you a panoramic experience of the artwork of Peruvian fashion photographer Mario Testino.
Lima has so much to offer when it comes to public spaces, the choices are endless. This will hopefully guide you towards some of the most beautiful spots in this coastal city, so you can fall in love with Peru’s capital the same way I did.