Poor Lima gets used, abused and taken out with the trash. Travelers stop through the city for one or two days on their way to and from Cusco, the entry point to Machu Picchu, and don’t give it the time of day. When we told others that we were visiting Lima for a week, the responses were along the lines of “A whole week, and you’re not going to Machu Picchu? You might want to re-think your itinerary. That is way too much time in Lima.” We are writing this blog post on our last of seven days in Lima, and can now say that we wish we had more time. Why do we love this city? It boils down to nothing more than the diversity of its neighborhoods, the fresh food and the stunning coastline.
Lima is a massive metropolitan area that is home to over 8 million Peruvians. The city itself is actually an amalgamation of 30 distinct barrios, or neighborhoods. Most tourists will only visit the Central Historic district, which includes the Plaza del Toros and many important government buildings and cathedrals, and Miraflores, the sea-front neighborhood that boasts pristine parks, high-rise condos and fancy restaurants. While these are indeed two must-see areas, it would be a shame to miss out on Lima’s other barrios. Granted, we were not able to see them all, which is why we wish we had more time here, but we were able to give Lima pretty good run.
After more than a year of traveling abroad, we can say with a pretty high level of confidence that the best way to see a city is not on an open-top, double-decker, tourist bus. The best way to really get a feel for the pulse of a city is to walk. The staff at our hostel thought we were crazy when we told them that we walked the entire coast from Miraflores to Chorrillos one day. What really threw them for a loop was when we finish the story, and they learned that we walked all the way back as well. As we made our way south along the coast, we witnessed the transformation from well-polished Miraflores to bohemian Barranco to Chorrillos, home to pescadores and the where locals go to have a day at the beach.
We normally don’t plan to set off on these epic treks; we just end up in a sort of Forrest Gump type mindset. We walk around one neighborhood, sit on a bench, then walk some more, grab a snack or drink, and we just keep on walking until we feel tired and turn around. That is exactly what happened when we ended up exploring more of Lima’s coastal neighborhoods on another day. We journey all the way from San Miguel to San Isidro on another day. This section of the coastline was a different experience altogether; it has some rougher areas and has yet to become a tourist hotspot, which may change once the ongoing land reclamation and greening project is complete.
By the end of our week in Lima, we had seen the barrios of Pueblo Libre, San Miguel, Jesús María, Magdelena, San Isidro, Lima, Miraflores, Barranco and Chorrillos all on foot. If there is one item that we both wish we would have brought on this trip, it’s a pedometer. Fortunately, there is MapMyRun. While it is not an exact measurement, our best guess is that we walked about 44km in total while exploring Lima.
By far, the biggest tourism sector in Peru revolves around its ancient Incan ruins, but what many people don’t realize is that the country was home to various different civilizations which pre-date the Incan empire and lasted for greater periods of time. The Inca were great consolidators. They took many smaller civilizations and united them into one society; however, their reign that lasted for less than 70 years. A couple of our days in Lima were dedicated to learning more about ancient Peru and its pre-Incan inhabitants.
As we mentioned at the beginning of this post, most tourists fly into Lima and head to Cusco as soon as possible; little do they know that the ruins of Pachacamac are at their fingertips, and can be reached by bus in less than an hour from the city center of Lima. We will admit that to fully enjoy this enormous temple complex, it takes a bit of imagination because nearly all of the buildings, roads, temples and shrines were covered by hundreds of years’ worth of desert sand are still being excavated and restored, but the sheer size of the site and its location next to the ocean make for a fun few hours of exploring. The first buildings in the area were constructed around 200 CE, (about 1,200 years before the Incan Empire) and beginning in 800 CE the great Wari civilization that controlled much of Peru for almost 500 years expanded the temple complex into a major pilgrimage site for worship of Pacha Kamaq, the god who they revered as the creator Earth.
Within the city of Lima, visiting the Archeological Museum in Pueblo Libre is another great way to learn about the country’s ancient people. The museum walks you chronologically through the various civilizations that inhabited the area, from the first humans to reach the Americas, all the way to the nation’s independence from Spain. It took us a few hours to see all of the exhibits, and we found the museum to be well worthwhile. Tickets run about 10 Soles ($4 USD), but entrance is free on Thursdays.
While we would have loved to spend more time visiting other parts of Peru, we were thrilled to spend an entire week in Lima. The city is such a great place to visit. The people are friendly, the food is fantastic (especially the ceviche!), the architecture and history are there, and with all the improvements being made along the coast, we can see it becoming one of South America’s top tourist destinations in the coming years. Our suggestion: if you’re passing through Lima, ignore the naysayers and stay for a few extra days.