The rule so far has seemed to go like this: Each Latin America country will have one truly gorgeous city, and one… less so. You know, more urban. More… gritty, is the polite way of putting it. And, usually, the urban, gritty one is the capital. Having been to Arequipa and Cusco, Peru’s truly beautiful cities, you could be forgiven for assuming that Lima, Peru’s capital, would be a bit… gritty and urban. Not a bit of it: Lima is incredible.
It’s a huge, sprawling expanse of a city, comprising many different areas, but let’s just stick to the two that you’re most likely to visit: the Centre and Miraflores.
Miraflores is, it would seem, the rich district. It’s also the backpacker district – apparently backpackers have good taste these days. But here is where the biggest and best hostels are located, and you get better standards for your money here. Miraflores is shiny, pretty, modern and well-equipped for travellers. Some of the nicest hotels in the city are here. Just to make it clear, this is not the area to go to museums or see anything of the poorer side of Lima. Here is where you shop, eat and stroll. But here are the nice points of Miraflores:
First, the giant shopping centre on the coast. Yeah, okay, still superficial, but the sunset here is really very special, even through the smoggy haze. The shopping centre is built into the cliff face and has many (expensive) restaurants jutting out over the sea. It has a cinema. What can you say? It’s a nice place to see. It’s also nice to know that Peru is not all poverty-stricken and has its own wealth.
Second, the park. In the centre of Miraflores – look on a map for the expanse of green – is a park that comes alive at night. There is a small amphitheatre in the middle which often has free entertainment going on of an evening. Every night there is a craft market – touristy, but who the hell cares? And there is usually some tribute to Peruvian culture, such as a photo exhibition of rural and indigenous life. Oh, and there are also carts of Peruvian popcorn and other sweet stuffs. Fun times.
The big shock of Lima is how lovely the centre is. It is full of beautiful, clean colonial architecture, and some effort has clearly gone into making Lima look and feel nice. There are also quite a lot of tourist police knocking around, presumably not only to be helpful but to increase the feeling of safety. They are properly helpful, too; they will actually stop you in the street to give you a map and tell you what there is to see and do.
The thing about Lima is that it’s still carrying the reputation of being a dodgy, dangerous place that you’re bound to get mugged in. But, like with Columbia, that seems to be out of date: Lima is a pretty, clean, friendly city with good public transport and a great vibe. Schedule in a good few days here.