Welcome to Lima – the fascinating capital of Peru and the home of hot-blooded South American passion – where life is lived to the full, family is everything and food is a joy to be savoured. Having said that, Lima needs a little time to work its charms. So don’t be too quick to judge based on first impressions. The drive in from the airport is uninspiring, but trust me, things will improve dramatically.
One thing you won’t need to worry about in Lima is rain on your holiday parade. It virtually never rains here. Well, 5mm a year (but that’s generally recipitation from fog rolling in off the Pacific). So no holiday wash-outs or problems on wash day for the city’s nine million residents. As a big city, Lima has had its share of social issues over the years, but it’s a lot safer than is used to be. Still, be vigilant, especially at night and when taking taxis.
To immerse yourself in the local culture, head for the historic heart of Lima – with its magnificent plazas, colonial buildings and wonderful Andalusian and Moor-inspired architecture. Start in the Plaza de Armas – the centre of life since the city was established in 1535. The central fountain dates back to the 1600’s. For me, the square also turned out to be the perfect spot for some Peruvian people watching. While you’re there, don’t miss the daily changing of the guard at the Presidential Palace around noon. Everyone seemed fairly nonplussed by this, so you could have the grand ceremony pretty much all to yourself. Spectacular!
Peru is the spiritual home of lost civilisations and Pachacamac is the ideal introduction to Inca history. This massive archaeological site is a 40km drive from the city. It’s a harsh and unrelenting environment – bring a hat, good shoes and plenty of water. The site has a number of pyramids and some modern recreations to give you an idea of how things would have looked back in the heyday. There’s a small museum and extremely helpful guides to assist in making sense of it all. In some ways Pachacamac lives on. There are modern-day housing settlements encroaching on all sides (albeit with a few more mod cons than would have been available to the original inhabitants - town water, electricity, satellite TV dishes etc.). However it feels like this is just the latest chapter in the history of this fascinating site.
Prepare to eat late in Lima. Dinner can be served anywhere from 8 until 11, but you can enjoy a reviving lonche or snack around 6pm. Chicken and seafood feature prominently on most menus; red meat less so. For dinner we head for Huaca Pucllana (www.resthuacapucllana.com). Excellent. The restaurant is built around an Inca pyramid, which provides an added level of ambience to this dining experience. You can take a guided stroll around the pyramid to walk off your arroz con leche (traditional rice pudding) with ice cream on top.
We stay in the Miraflores enclave - Lima’s most tourist-friendly area – with a plethora of cafes, restaurants and handicraft markets. Most of the tourist hotels are located here. While it can all seem a little overwhelming at first, don’t be afraid to venture out and explore. It took us almost our whole stay to work out that we had a fabulous historic square and shopping strip just behind our hotel! If you want to shop in the historic centre of town, a taxi will cost around $4USD. Many of the taxis have seen better days (I saw one with absolutely no tread on the tyres whatsoever) so choose carefully. Also, there are no metres. Negotiate your fare prior to setting off. Take a taxi organised by your hotel and don’t travel alone.
Back at the Plaza de Armas – and for a well-earned coffee stop there’s a rooftop café with yellow umbrellas directly opposite the Presidential Palace. The door is to the left. Go up three flights of stairs and veer right. The views over the square and surrounding city are fantastic – and the coffee is good to boot!
Adam Ford is host of Tour the World - Saturdays at 12noon on Network Ten. For more information visit www.tourtheworld.com.au.
Adam travelled as a guest of Evergreen Tours.