Karen McRae takes a whirlwind tour around the Peruvian capital
Lima has been populated for over 1,500 years. The Pre-Incan Lima culture birthed it, then the Incans absorbed it, before Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro captured it in 1535. Lima has been one of South America’s most important capital cities for half a millennia.
Today, the city is thriving. Having long cemented its reputation as a cultural destination, Lima has a lot to offer any visitor. In this bustling and enthralling place, attractions and gastronomic delights abound. Luckily, it’s possible to get a good feel of its sabor, or flavour, in just a day.
Enjoy a strong coffee and breakfast of tamal, a type of corn tortilla filled with mildly spiced chicken or pork, or pan con chicharron, deep fried pork with sweet potato in bread, at El Chinito, one of Lima’s most popular breakfast venues, before venturing to the Monastery of San Francisco for a tour.
The pretty yellow Baroque-style Franciscan building dates back to the 18th century and possesses a beautiful lattice dome and Spanish mosaics, while its adjoining monastery protects a library of over 25,000 antique texts. However, the most exciting thing about this holy place is the macabre delight beneath it.
The Catacombs are Lima’s first cemeteries, the final resting place of over 25,000 skeletons (some experts say up to 70,000) of the city’s citizens. Not a coffin in sight, bones and skulls are meticulously arranged in eerie, bewitching formations.
Just around the corner, the Plaza de Armas is the main square and the city’s historic heart, lined with some of the most important buildings in Lima, such as the Governor’s Palace and City Hall.
From the square, take a 45-minute taxi ride to Miraflores district, where thrillseekers can paraglide at the Antonio Raimondi Park, history enthusiasts will relish visiting the 1,800-year-old pyramid ruins of Huaca Pucllana, and animal lovers will enjoy Parque Kennedy, with its proliferation of roaming cats.
The Mercado Indio (Indian Market) is the best spot for well-priced local handcrafts and souvenirs, while contemporary shoppers can splurge at Larcomar Shopping Centre with its mix of international and Peruvian stores. Visitors are sure to enjoy un paseo (walk) on the Malecon, the six-mile stretch of parks, to people watch, picnic or savour the coastal views.
Lima is a gastronomic epicentre with a lively nightlife, and while the city has many Michelin-starred restaurants, an excellent pick for dinner is on the Calle de las Pizzas. Don’t be fooled by its name; it hosts many charming restaurants with authentic Peruvian cuisine. Sample simpler local dishes, such as lomo saltado (beef chopped with onion, tomato, potatoes and rice), or for seafood lovers, ceviche de conchas negras (black conch ceviche) is a must. For the more adventurous, try the delicious Peruvian delicacy cuy – deep-fried guinea pig.
After dinner, head to the bohemian Barranco area with its cobbled streets full of small pubs humming with talented Limeno musicians, and enjoy a pisco sour cocktail or two to top off the evening.