Everyone I know who has been to Peru’s capital advised me against spending any longer than a necessary stopover there. Words including ‘grey’, ‘dangerous’, ‘polluted’, ‘ugly’, ‘watch out for the earthquakes’ were thrown around from different sources describing Lima.
I’m happy to report that I found the city colourful, elegant, vibrant, and I ended up spending six days there at the very beginning of a South American trip.
Staying at HQ Villa Hostel in the suburban district of Miraflores undoubtedly helped my experience. There are many technical faults I could complain about with this hostel, but the fact that these could be overlooked was unquestionably due to the warmth of the staff who made it a chilled-out and homely haven.
Miraflores is an amiable neighbourhood to wander round, with blocks of avenues lined with neatly kept 1970s apartments or Spanish-style villas. Following the avenues brings you dramatically to the clifftop with the Pacific Ocean crashing into a stony beach below. Lining the clifftop here is a park dedicated to lovers, with a meandering mosaic wall mimicking that in Gaudi’s Park Guell in Barcelona.
The ocean here is dotted with surfers taking advantage of the waves, while above, parasailers twist and bump over the cliffs. I ventured out along a rocky breakwater to sit with nothing but the waves to hear. It wasn’t long before all sorts of interesting marine birds appeared on their daily business. At one point, three stalks swooped steadily over my head; then an oystercatcher waddled nibbling over the rocks.
On another day, I went further along the coast to explore the district of Barranco. Formerly the capital’s seaside resort and now an artists’ corner of the city, with narrow lanes and a beautiful plaza all lined with crumbly Spanish buildings in yellows, oranges and royal blues, draped with oleanders. There’s not much to do here apart from wander over the Puente de Suspiros to a small selection of cliffside restaurants and bars. I avoided the most tastefully decorated Starbucks I’ve seen and instead stopped for a hot chocolate in a cafe that was inside an old tram carriage, just by a museum of electrical trains in Lima.
It was getting towards the end of my stay in Lima, and I had avoided the city centre - the warnings of others still lingering in my mind. I decided I had to judge it for myself and so hopped on the collectivo (mini public bus) to the centre of Lima proper, which not only contrasted to the suburbs with its future-facing high-rise buildings and dual lanes of traffic, but also with itself, as from one bustling, frenetic street of traditional vendors, I would turn into an elegant Spanish plaza or step into a peaceful church.
Shops ranged from dingy holes-in-the-wall to vast, brightly lit designer stores, and food options were just as vast. I stopped for lunch in one of the bare-basics vegetarian restaurants on Jiron Camana, where a two-course dinner with tea cost 6 sols (less than £1.50); while later, in a different area of the city, I stopped in a stylish middle-class juice bar where a cactus-fruit juice cost 9 sols.
Further contrasts came when I went from a department store with everything a consumer could desire, to - directly opposite - the ancient church of La Merced, where a constantly changing congregation of everyone from beggars to families, and from elderly men to women on shopping trips popped in for prayers and to kiss the silver cross of Padre Urraca.
On the collectivo home to Miraflores, an old local man who told me he worked in government chatted to me the whole way. Before I got off at my stop, he asked me, “You like my city?” I was quick to reply to his smiling face, “Yes, I like it very much.”
And maybe I was just lucky, but I didn’t experience one richter of an earthquake.
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Author: Rachel Ricks
Read more about Rachel's travels at www.rtravels.wordpress.com