By Lucien O. Chauvin
Photos by Omar Lucas
Lima stretches out along the Pacific Ocean, which sets it apart from the rest of the region. Pre-Columbian temples built to honor the ocean still dot the city today, and it is the only capital in the hemisphere where you can surf before hurrying off to a meeting. And you never have to worry about weather, because Lima is in the middle of Peru’s long coastal desert: It never rains.
The city has a love affair with food, and rightfully so. Two of its restaurants landed on the World’s 50 Best list for 2019, but you don’t have to shell out a lot to eat the exceptional (case in point: the street fare, anywhere, at any time). It is an informal city, making it easy to meet people and leisurely get on with your plans — Peruvians are not known as sticklers to the watch. Take your time, and it’s easy to fall in love with Lima.
Meet your local:
Lima was the perfect match for Lucien when he first saw it 30 years ago. He’s a beach bum at heart, having grown up in Rhode Island. Lima, a huge, chaotic city with beaches, got him from the start.
This coastal district offers everything, with Limeños going to its beaches during the day and its clubs and restaurants at night. It’s a walkable area, where people stroll along the ocean cliffs and, in the case of couples, take selfies in front of the “Kiss” statue as the sun sets over the Pacific. It has boutique hotels, like the Quinta Miraflores, and most international chains, including Belmond, whose elegant Miraflores Park hotel is set on a quiet green space overlooking the ocean. Find this neighborhood.
The center of San Isidro, Lima’s wealthiest district, is one of the city’s natural reserves, El Olivar (the Olive Grove), which has rows of trees planted by the Spaniards when they arrived in the 1500s. The area offers easy access to neighboring districts with more nightlife, but its hotels provide a respite from the bustle. The Sonesta El Olivar sits right on the grove and is surrounded by top restaurants. The Country Club Lima Hotel, built in the 1920s and retaining its Old World charm, borders the golf course; the park in front is home to flocks of green parrots.
Swiss efficiency combines with Peruvian delicacies in this quiet restaurant founded in the 1920s by a Swiss baker. It prides itself on well-prepared meals and impeccable service. There is no dress code, but this is the breakfast option of Peru’s power brokers and upper crust, so do not be surprised to see older women in white gloves seated next to a younger crowd planning the next big acquisition and merger.
BTW: Sit on the patio and people-watch.
Peruvians looking for a good, quick breakfast choose one of San Antonio’s six locations. It has a huge number of fresh juices, including many made from Peruvian fruits. Breads and pastries are baked on-site. The most convenient of the locations is in Miraflores, close to the jumping-off point for other sites in the city.
BTW: A winning combination is a basket of fresh-baked rolls and a fruit salad with homemade granola, fresh yogurt and local honey.
La Mar is a great place to eat Peruvian seafood, including the ever-popular ceviche. This restaurant, started by famed Peruvian chef Gastón Acurio, maintains a fading tradition of seafood restaurants in this country, opening at noon and closing at 5 p.m. to ensure that the fish used is fresh. Try leche de tigre, which translates to tiger’s milk, but is really the base of lime juice and hot peppers used to make ceviche. Enjoy the relaxed environment and attentive staff members, who speak English.
BTW: La Mar does not take reservations, so be there early. If it’s packed, ask to eat at the bar.
Peru’s five-star restaurants all have versions of the hearty traditional Peruvian food served here, albeit in minuscule portions and transformed, sometimes even as foam. Here, the portions are big and the price is good. The customers are mainly Peruvian, which is a good sign. The decor is diner-ish and the service ho-hum, but don’t let that distract you from the food.
BTW: Try the chicken and rice, a Peruvian staple and one of the best in the city.
A sampling of northern Peruvian food that includes duck, goat and fish, sourced from the Lambayeque state and prepared in an open kitchen so diners can watch. It has a huge wine selection and a stocked bar offering pisco-inspired drinks. It is fine dining, but not stuffy, and with unusually large portions. Be prepared to eat.
BTW: Begin with warm ceviche that is cooked lightly in corn husks over an open fire, giving it a smoky, one-of-a-kind taste. Drink a pisco sour flavored with goldenberry.
This Peruvian sandwich chain has many locations, including its flagship, on the busy Ovalo Gutierrez, and three other spots also in Miraflores. Its wide array of choices include international and local samplings, including fries made with a great Peruvian potato variety: the pink-hued huayro. It also has a long list of juices and shakes. The hours are late — weekdays until 1 a.m. and weekends until 3 a.m.
BTW: Try a fried-pork-and-sweet-potato sandwich and wash it down with a smoothie made with lucuma, a Peruvian fruit.
Live performances, good conversation and drinks in an old mansion is what you’ll get here. Opened in 1991, La Noche, a venue for bands and other performers from Peru and the region, is relaxed, with open spaces, smaller rooms to sit and talk, and an enchanting patio with centuries-old trees. It opens early, but it’ll remain empty until about 10 p.m. Acts normally go onstage at 11.
BTW: Snag a seat on the second-floor balcony. This lets you hear the music and be outdoors (well, partially).
Mounds of cow hearts might sound straight out of a horror film, but they’re spectacular when cut into thin strips, cooked the right way over an open flame, and served with potatoes and hot sauce. This small restaurant began as a street cart run by Grimanesa Vargas. Now, it’s packed from its opening at 5 p.m. through the rest of the night, serving up cow-heart kebabs. Vargas’s special seasoning is so popular that it inspired anticucho-flavored potato chips.
BTW: For the real experience, pair a kebab of cow heart with Peru’s iconic beverage, the sweet and bright yellow Inca Kola.
- Lima is a desert. It doesn’t rain, but it is blanketed by mist and moisture from June to October. It is not too hot or too cold, which is good, because heating and air conditioning are rare.
- The currency is the sol, but you can pay for most things with U.S. dollars. You’ll see curbside money-changers, although using them for exchanges is not advised.
- The rainbow flag you’ll see being flown with pride isn’t necessarily LGBT-related: It’s considered the Inca flag.
Watch the sea lions
Hop on a boat and set off for the Islas Palomino, a group of small islands that are home to a colony of sea lions. Tours, such as the established operator Mar Adentro, let you look at the animals and, if you are willing to brave this patch of cold Pacific water, swim with them. The jumping-off point, the La Punta neighborhood in the Callao region, is a 19th-century gem, with well-preserved manors and terrific restaurants.
BTW: Ask the boat captain to get as close as permitted to El Frontón, a larger island that housed a prison. It is Peru’s version of Alcatraz, but closed to the public.
An olive grove with thousands of trees sprawls over acres of manicured lawns in this oasis in the middle of San Isidro. The grove was planted by the Spaniards in the 1500s. It’s also home to 30 species of birds, including the saffron finch and different species of hummingbirds and hawks. This is a great place to relax and then hit one of the many restaurants or shops lining nearby streets.
BTW: The best starting point is El Olivar Cultural Center, which offers details about the grove.
Barranco street art
Street art is prevalent throughout Peru, but Lima’s Barranco district is king. Murals, commissioned street art and graffiti add a great touch to this former seaside resort that is now the city’s premier place to be at night and, increasingly, during the day. There’s no street or alleyway here without some sort of outdoor art.
BTW: The best option to make sure you spot the hidden gems is a tour. Tailored Tours Peru offers a nice one-hour walking one.
Shop the Inca Market
Crafts, from alpaca sweaters to all sorts of tchotchkes, are available at the Inca or Indian Market, a catchall name for stalls in shopping galleries along Avenida Petit Thouars in the Miraflores district. The range of stalls represent the breadth and length of Peru, so if you forgot to buy something in Cusco or in the jungle, you’ll find it here. Even if you don’t want to buy anything, some of the crafts are true works of art, including Chulucanas pottery from the northern coast and carved gourds and Sarhua painted panels from the central highlands.
BTW: Barter, but be reasonable. No one expects you to pay the asking price, but they don’t want to be insulted.
Casa de Aliaga
Step back in time as soon as you pass through the enormous wooden doors that separate the Casa de Aliaga from the busy Jiron de la Union, a pedestrian walkway that runs through downtown Lima. This is more than a museum: It’s the de Aliaga family home and has been for 17 generations. It is the oldest continuously inhabited dwelling in the Americas, built for Jerónimo de Aliaga after Lima’s founding, in 1535, and a de Aliaga still lives there. It’s right across the street from where his boss and Peru’s conqueror, Francisco Pizarro, set up shop. Peru’s presidential palace now sits on that spot.
BTW: A guided tour is required to see the place. Ask the guide about Jerónimo de Aliaga’s role in the conquest and whether his ghost or the spirits of other de Aliagas are still around.
Brisas del Titicaca show
Typical Peruvian music, from the foot-stomping huaynos of the Andes to hip-moving Afro-Peruvian rhythms, is played at this raucous traditional venue that is off the beaten track but worth it. For trekking to the outskirts of downtown, you’ll be rewarded with a big show for lunch, with dancers and live music, during a buffet that includes classic Peruvian food. Nighttime shows vary, sometimes including a buffet and often with a theme.
BTW: Performers are quick to spot first-timers and pull them onstage, the audience erupting at each clumsy move.