Lima is one of those cities where you can just picture yourself living. I see my little life in Lima, with a surfboard, some roller blades, and an apartment by the beach, and I like what I see.
Now to be fair, I am specifically referring to a part of Lima which does not paint an accurate picture of the entire city. Lima is huge- with over 10 million residents, it could take 6 hours just to drive from one end to the other. The part that I’m referring to- Miraflores- is one of the higher end neighborhoods which are located at the oceanside. Years ago this used to be where Lima residents came to vacation on the weekends. As Lima grew it eventually linked up with the city, and this is where the wealthier middle and high-class citizens staked their claim.
Miraflores is really nice and nothing like the rest of Peru that I have seen. Security is high and there are workers everywhere you look keeping the streets and public areas clean. There is surfing right on the edge of the city, bike paths, nice parks, and people out and about relaxed and enjoying it all. I basically came to Lima to eat so all of this other stuff was a pleasant surprise for me.
The most striking thing to me about being in Miraflores was the overwhelming security presence. After 5 months of constantly being warned to avoid this or that area and watch my things, I can’t describe the feeling of coming to a place where people aren’t telling you to be careful all the time, and you can walk around relaxed. In fact, I was waiting at the end of every exchange with a local for the “watch your purse” I was so accustomed to from previous experiences, but surprisingly it never came. I will never take for granted that feeling of security again. I also never take for granted the fact that you can always count on the locals for a heads up about where not to go.
For those of you who are wondering why on Earth a person would keep traveling through places where they are constantly being warned to be careful and to watch their things, remember that this is a very good thing. That’s how I’ve managed to travel through South America for five months without anything bad happening to me. For this reason, I think my #1 guideline for traveling in South America would be to listen to the locals. They’ll happily tell you where and what to avoid, and no one knows better than them.
Established in 1535, Lima is the oldest city in the Americas. On a walking tour of the center we were told that the Peruvians who built this city idolized Europeans so much that they designed their capital to resemble a big European city as much as possible. I’d say they got it right; with it’s wide, open plazas, huge stone cathedrals and beautiful colonial architecture one could think themselves in France or Spain (save the prices and the palm trees).
Lima is situated in that same 1500 miles of coastal desert as Paracas and Huacachina, so it never rains here. In fact, after Cairo, Lima is the driest city in the world. I was surprised to learn that all of the green we see in Lima (and there is a lot of nice green space) is artificial.
Lima is a cosmopolitan city. Over the centuries, settlers from every continent have been here, and this mix of cultures and traditions is responsible for one very important and famous part of society today: Peruvian cuisine.
So let’s get to the real high light of Lima: the food. Lima has been considered the gastronomic capital of South America for some time now and in fact, the world, winning the World Travel Award for the World’s Leading Culinary Destination for the last five years in a row. I can say that Peruvian food surpasses all previously tried cuisine in South America by a long shot. They have vegetables and they know how to use them (we were hurting for lack of vegetables in Colombian and Ecuadorian dishes). But we can’t talk about Peruvian cuisine without talking about their all star dish: Ceviche.
I learned a lot about Ceviche the days I spent in Lima. To begin with, I found out that all the Ceviche I had tasted in my life prior to this had nothing to do with the real, Peruvian thing. First of all it’s raw, and the lime juice that it is marinated in actually cooks the fish and kills bacteria in the raw product. It is accompanied by a sweet potato, choclo (jumbo corn) and red onions. You can get top-notch ceviche in any restaurant for around 10 bucks. The best one that I tried was in an alley (go figure) for five sole (less than 2 bucks). I watched the guy assemble the whole thing like a boss. There is even a little bit of milk in the ceviche marinade- which they call “Tiger’s Milk”. The guy served me this ceviche with seaweed on top, which I hadn’t seen yet. I asked him if I was supposed to eat it. His response: “Of course! It cleans your blood”
I would have ended up clearing my plate anyways because its just so damn delicious. The deliciousness goes far beyond just ceviche. Pretty much anywhere you eat in Peru, at any price range, it’s going to be good. I was delighted to see lots of colors again in my food and fresh fruits and vegetables. These people have horticulture nailed down and they know how to use it.
As far as capital cities go this is easily the best one I’ve been to in South America. Lima has it’s rough parts, too: What city of 10 million doesn’t? But as far as I can see it’s a wonderful one for living, I think many people would second that statement as there is a huge ex pat community living here. There are gringos everywhere.
While it is only my 5 day, superficial impression, the Lima I saw was a nice, livable city that I look forward to returning to someday.