Lima – once a little rough around the edges – has cleaned up its
act recently, and now is a great time to visit an elegant city packed with
colonial relics and 21st century amenities. But don't come with false
expectations, Lima is still a far from exotic destination. Life here is for
real: it's a boisterous, macho city and, especially in Lima Centro, money
rules. As the population has exploded in recent years, shanty towns and
neon-lit suburbs have sprawled across the desert and the rapid growth has
brought traffic problems, pollution and pickpockets. But don't let this put you
off - there's a real energy here and for every bar with pretensions to American
high society style, you'll find a humble cafe where the hospitality is warm and
In Lima Centro, one of the highlights is the Museo de la
Inquisicion, housed in the building that was HQ for the Spanish Inquisition for
two and a half centuries of terror: there are creepy dungeons and even a
torture chamber. If you're still eager for eeriness after this, make for the
San Francisco monastery and its Catacombs Museum. The vast crypts weren't
rediscovered until 1951 and contain the bones of some 70,000 people. If the
thought of so much death is makes you maudlin, admire instead the majestic San
Francisco church, with its Moorish plaster relief decorations. Built in the
17th century, it's withstood several earthquakes, unlike Lima Cathedral which
has had to be rebuilt several times!
The spectacular Torre Tagle Palace is the pride and joy of Old
Lima, a superb eighteenth century mansion, complete with decorative façade and
the traditionally Limeno little and large twin wooden balconies. It's a
glorious fusion of styles: an Andalucian porch and patio is teamed with very
Peruvian carvings on the pillars and ceilings and the painted tiles are a blend
of Spanish and Limeno styles. Among the relics inside are a set of old scales
for weighing merchandise and a carriage complete with mobile toilet - the
wealthy have always traveled in comfort! At one time the mansion was an outlaw
stronghold, and the government authorities need written safe-conducts to enter.
These days it's home to Peru's Ministry for Foreign Affairs - notice the
security guards toting machine guns on the roof and veranda - but open to all.
In Rimac quarter you'll find Casa Aliaga - possibly the oldest
mansion in South America. If you arrange to visit in advance you can see the
sumptuous reception rooms. Stroll up the elegant, tree-lined Alameda de los
Descalzos, where the colonial elite used to take the air. You'll pass twelve
zodiac statues imported from Italy to lend some old world sophistication to the
young city. Take the tempo of the city in the Plaza San Martin, scene of many
political rallies. This is supposedly the symbol of the sophisticated
egalitarian spirit of the country's liberators, but commerce is still the
dominant note: mime artists, shoeshine boys and street photographers compete
with the soapbox politicos. Leading off the square is La Colmana, home to a
vibrant street market that pulses with life all day long.
South of Lima Centro is the suburb of Miraflores, a slick,
ostentatious mini-metropolis with skyscrapers, ultramodern and very exclusive
housing and Lima's ritziest shops. Modern Lima is showcased in the 1990s
clifftop Larco Mar development: an ambitious shopping and dining complex with
great views over the Pacific. If the hustle of the city gets to you, go for
lunch in one of the clifftop restaurants and sit with a cool beer. But
Miraflores is also the place to get a taste of Lima's ancient past. The vast
pre-Inca adobe mound of Huaca Pucllana still dwarfs the surroundings. This
'sacred place', is thought to be constructed in the shape of a frog to
symbolize the rain god, who could speak to his priests via the tube going to
the heart of the cavern.
At night head still further south, to Barranco, one of Lima's
most attractive quarters and home to numerous bars, clubs and cafes that buzz
with energy after nightfall. The music scene in Lima is pretty special. Salsa
and Afro-Peruvian music is the best you'll find in all Peru. The salsa scene is
booming with 'salsadromos' - nightclubs dedicated to salsa - springing up
everywhere. Look no further for a lively night out and unbeatable atmosphere.
If it's folk music you're after, the penas are the place to be. Some specialize
in 'criolla', a unique and vigorous blend of Afro-Peruvian and Spanish
influences. Whatever you choose, if you're going to keep pace with the Limenos
you could be out until dawn.
In Lima, the noisy, crazy frenzy of a city hauling itself by its
bootstraps is mellowed by the influence of the ocean and beaches. This city has
an almost electric energy, but somehow the people remain relaxed and welcoming.