Arriving in Lima was madness.
After our 16hrs of travelling finished off with the wacky races taxi ride through the crowded city streets, we desperately needed a mornings rest before we were ready to get stuck in and discover what this city had to offer.
We had two days in which to explore Lima before we made our way up into the Andes. As our hostel was slap bang in the middle of the city we decided to focus on seeing the old, colonial-style historic centre.
We soon discovered that the majority of Lima’s streets aren’t too pretty – it is a rough and tumble city, with streets of crumbling buildings and not a lot catered to tourists. We worked our way about a mile through the heart of the city, using a slightly distorted map, and trying to negotiate the unbelievably busy roads, to where the narrow streets opened up to two beautiful Plazas.
Plaza San Martin – a beautiful break in the streets with an impressive statue and even more impressive surrounding buildings; here we met some friendly old men just passing the day by who were keen to hear all about the journey we had just started.
Plaza de Armas – sided by the city’s dramatic cathedral and stately government building; this is definitely worth a stop, a sit down and a look around! The epic palms and buildings are supported by a backdrop of Lima’s epic favelas that sweep up the side of the surrounding mountains – a reminder of where you really are.
To our surprise, as the cathedral bells marked 12pm, the uniformed guards came to life outside the government building and began band practice!
After the days musical interlude we wandered back through the city’s streets, which we noticed were now being very heavily guarded, with traffic being diverted all over the place. After a while we were commenting on how busy the streets had become, busier than ever, noisier than ever – were people chanting, why are some people waving banners and flags?
We had suddenly found ourselves in the heart of a protest – an anti-developed nations protest…
Suddenly feeling extraordinarily out of place we darted down a side street away from the heaving crowd… and straight into a row of fully equipped riot police – very politely (in typical English fashion) we apologised left, right and centre, squeezed through the row of confused police, and headed for home!
After a bizarre few days in the big bad city it was time for us to grab a taxi, zoom through the polar opposite, stark business quarter of the city, to the Cruz del Sur bus station ready for our trip up into the heart of the Andes.
Lima left us feeling a little confused – whilst we had spent our days in the heart of the ‘real’ city, the historic centre and surrounding area, we had been disappointed by this city, which with its huge footfall of tourists severely lacked atmosphere.
We understood that the majority of Lima’s citizens are extremely poor, however, neither of us could account for the amount of missed opportunity we saw in our short time here.
I hope, that if I were to return to Lima in the future I would see people enjoying their city, the scenery and the climate – a little service industry in Lima’s centre could transform the feel of the town!
As we travelled on and spoke to others we discovered that a ‘tourist friendly’ area had developed in Miraflores, a suburb of the city, an hour by bus from the centre. Perhaps we would’ve had a more positive, ‘café culture’ experience had we discovered this earlier, but, in hindsight we were happy to have been immersed into the Lima as experienced by the majority of its 8 million inhabitants.
What to see;
To make the most of Lima you have to explore by foot – grab a map and just wander – there are very few shops/cafes/bars so just enjoy exploring the rough-around-the-edges parks, busy central squares and taking in the madness of the town!
Everyday at 12pm a uniformed marching brass band play outside the main government building – it is quite a spectacle and you might even recognise the songs…. (Think tension building X Factor music…)
Where to stay;
1900 Backpackers – yes this in the city centre and not in the ‘more tourist friendly’ Miraflores area and yes it looks a little rough from the outside. But don’t be put off – it is opposite Parque de la Exposition, the colonial building is beautiful and airy once inside, it is within walking distance from all there is to see, they offer a decent, simple brekkie, clean simple rooms, a kitchen and super friendly reception and travel information centre (all for £11/night for a double)!
Where to eat;
If you find a good eating spot then you are on to a winner – the concept of vegetarianism was pretty alien in Peru and their specialty is cremated guinea pig… therefore I would recommend going to the new, huge inside/outside Centro Commercial Plaza mall; here you’ll find a supermarket and every fast food outlet imaginable; plenty of fried chicken, of course and even sushi and frozen yoghurt!
Stay tuned to follow our trip up into the magnificent Andes – that’s all for now!