While not technically considered part of northern Peru, it is highly likely that any visit will necessitate spending some time in Lima, because almost every international flight stops here. It is also the birthplace of Peru North, as it was while living in Lima that the concept for the business was born. So, it has a special place in our hearts!
Moreover, to have an understanding of Peru, one has to factor in its huge, dynamic capital. Almost a third of Peru’s inhabitants live here and it is the undisputed centre of the country's political, economic and cultural life.
As a result, it is a historical and vibrant city, home to superb Colonial architecture, a world-class cuisine, scintillating nightlife, exceptional museums, good surfing, and even some pre-Inca archaeological sites. If you fancy watching a horse race, football match, bullfight - or even a cock fight - Lima can deliver.
With a population of about nine million, it is also undeniably overcrowded, dirty, and full of poverty. Because the humblest and least attractive areas tend to be on the outskirts, where people live in slums, though, most visitors do not see the worst of the deprivation and hardship.
Millions of people crowd into the pueblos jóvenes (shanty towns) which just barely house migrants from the highlands looking for a better life. Roofs of reed mats, water delivered by tanker trucks, and a lack of electricity is the way these shanty towns begin their lives, slowly improving over decades.
Travellers, however, haunt the favoured areas of downtown Lima, Miraflores, San Isidro, and Barranco which are well-policed, have benefited from a decade of cleaning and refurbishing, and have many pedestrian areas where you can get away from the frenetic traffic.
Each area has a distinctively different vibe. Historic Downtown Lima is home to Colonial buildings and the Presidential Palace – Peru’s political heart. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988, it is easy to see the main highlights on foot.
San Isidro is an upscale residential area and also the most exclusive business centre of the country, with posh modern hotels and restaurants aimed at corporate travelers and first class tour groups.
Chic Miraflores also has many fine hotels, as well as some mid and budget-priced accommodation options, a plethora of fine restaurants, bars and several parks, some by the ocean. It has become the hub for Lima's tourism industry.
In the 1930s, Miraflores was still mainly a beach resort and rural getaway for affluent Limeños; today the bustling, modern, and trendy suburb is hardly rural, but it does have some attractive parks.
Foremost among these is Parque Kennedy - so-called on account of the bust of John F Kennedy in the middle - a triangular-shaped plot of greenery south of El Ovalo (the traffic circle at the south end of Avenida Arequipa).
Highlights include crafts and local artists’ outdoor markets, held most evenings and at weekends; frequent, changing outdoor cultural exhibits; a children’s playground; an amphitheatre with evening performances of varied Peruvian music (traditional to salsa to rock); and the Municipalidad (Town Hall), on the southeast side of the park, which has an art gallery with free changing exhibits.
Moreover, the Church of the Miraculous Virgin, which borders the park, has become an impromptu sanctuary for stray cats. Locals have taken to leaving food out for them, and their numbers have multiplied exponentially. The presence of so many cats can be smelt, as well as seen!
Less than a mile south from Parque Kennedy, along Avenida Larco, is Parque Salazar with lovely clifftop overlooks of the Pacific Ocean. Much of this park has been developed into the upscale Larcomar, a popular, modern shopping mall with restaurants and shops overlooking the ocean, and a multi-screen cinema.
Northwest along the coast from Larcomar is Parque del Amor, (Park of Love) with a famed statue (El Beso) of a couple kissing. Colorful mosaic walls overlook the ocean, and this seems to be the perfect place for a romantic date, a proposal, or a marriage photo.
Next to Parque del Amor is Parque Raimondi, from where paragliders launch for their adrenaline-fueled flights. Walking between these parks is facilitated by a paved, clifftop Malecon (beach walk), although the beach is several hundred feet below.
Rising incongruously from the modern surroundings, Huaca Pucllana belongs to the Lima culture (AD 200 – 700). Research and excavation is ongoing at this site, which has a small museum and is located in front of an up-market restaurant of the same name.
South of Miraflores, along the coast, is Barranco, a seaside village popular with Limeños as far back as 300 years ago. In the 19th century it developed a reputation as an artisans’ and writers’ district, and then became a fashionable place for the rich to build vacation homes, many of which still can be seen.
The centre of Barranco, especially the area around the Plaza de Barranco, has become a well known area for bars, restaurants and nightclubs; it is fairly sleepy during the day.
With its history as a rural coastal village, Barranco does not have a clear checkerboard layout; indeed every map seems to have different names for the same streets. The centre is small and tight; if you get lost, you are only a few minutes walk away from the Plaza.
The most famous sight is the Puente de Suspiros (Bridge of Sighs), a wooden footbridge a couple of blocks west of the plaza. Various legends about love and sighs are related by enterprising tour guides. It is a pretty area in the metropolis.
Between the Plaza and the bridge is an area of food stalls which comes alive on weekends, especially in the evenings, to feed hungry bar-hoppers.
More interesting, and just off the southwest corner of the plaza, is Museo de la Electricidad. As its name suggests, the museum has a small exhibition of the history of the development of electricity in Lima.
Across the street is a restored tram which used to join Barranco with Miraflores and Lima. Its former route is now reduced to just a few blocks, but train enthusiasts can go for a ride by buying tickets at the museum.
Also worth a look is the Museo Pedro de Osma, housed in a well-preserved 19th-Century mansion, with a superb collection of Colonial art, furniture, sculpture, and silverware.
Lying at sea level - just 12 degrees south of the equator - tropical Lima rarely feels tropical. In fact, from April to December, the cold Humboldt Current flows up from Antarctic waters bringing with it a lingering, cool, grey mist known as garúa.
For most of the year, high temperatures often stay around 18 – 25 ºC (60 - 70ºF) and jackets are needed in the evenings. It is only from late December to March that a warmer central Pacific current pushes the cool waters southwards, the garúa disappears, the sun emerges, temperatures rise, and Limeños hit the beaches for a few short weeks.
For some time, Lima had a poor reputation as a dreary, grey city which should be passed over as soon as possible. This has gradually given way to the realization that culture, cuisine and nightlife here are second to none in Peru, and Lima is well worth a visit.
With our first-hand experience of the city, PeruNorth can offer suggestions of where to stay and how best to enjoy this dynamic city of contrasts.