The start of Peru adventure, or welcome to Lima

Patrycja and Dawid at Plaza Mayor in Lima.

When the stage of route planning our trip we chose countries that would like to visit, the thought of Peru felt delicate butterflies in their stomachs. It was here, after we see the most beautiful testimony of Inca culture and lines whose exact origin no one is able to explain. Only later it came to think that after Peru is not only Machu Picchu or the Nazca lines on the plateau … our Peruvian adventure will begin in Lima and here for the first time confronted with a culture very different from ours.

The recipe for Peru

Quite frankly, before starting the trip we had so many things on our minds (including vaccinations, visas, insurance, looking for equipment or traveling around Spain), that we managed to prepare the overall visiting plan only for Canada and USA. All other countries had only short list of places to see or the general term like “Visit Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia” or “to dive until we get our fingers wrinkled.”

At the end of our stay in USA we felt anxious because of the approaching date of flight to Peru. Lima, Nazca, Machu Picchu… and what else? Fortunately for us we met Giovanna and Eliana in Miami. Couple years back they did a trip to Eliana’s home country, i.e. Peru. The girls were like a walking repository of knowledge for us. They also were “a source of many (perhaps too many) ideas for further journeys” as mentioned in our post about Miami.

They told us about their adventure, some aspects of traveling around the country, what prices should we expect and what to be especially aware of. They also willingly shared a really thick bookguide to Peru with us. After two days spent reading, we came up with a long list of interesting places and plan for a journey that should last twice as long as we were going there for. We managed to realize the whole plan, but we will post about that later. Today we stop in Lima.

Welcome to Lima

We landed in Lima, got stamps in the passports, we picked up our luggage and we were only missing a low-cost connection to our hostel to be fully happy. Somewhere close to the airport was supposed to be a bus stop, but we couldn’t find it on the map. It’s easy to catch a taxi outside the airport, but we heard stories about tourists being mugged or cheated on fees, so we weren’t too keen on trying our luck.

Traffic on Lima streets.
Traffic on Lima streets.

Finally we decided to take one of the official airport taxis, and with our pidgin Spanish-English we ordered the transfer to our hostel for 50 soles (expensive, but only later we discovered that Uber would be cheaper).

New country, new habits and new culture… of driving. The lane ends? – Doesn’t matter, it will do. Five lanes narrow down to three? – Doesn’t matter, somehow we will all squeeze in. The frequent horn sound makes a person wonder what the driver uses more often – horn or brakes? We’ve seen some strange road behaviours but nothing like this so far.

Crazy taxi ride through Lima.
Crazy taxi ride through Lima.

Finally, we arrived at our place in one piece, but there was another surprise waiting for us. Our room booked via the internet was not available for us, because the hostel didn’t even had this room in the first place! They offered us a different one – somewhere in the back, without windows, with bunk beds and a fungus on the walls, with such humid and smelly air that we could barely breathe. Without thinking we went to look for any other accommodation in the area and two streets away we found a cheaper and much nicer room, where we stayed for the rest of our time in Lima.

Historical center

How to effectively scare a first-timer tourist in Peru (and even in South America)? Almost perfectly, though in good faith, did that the owner of our hostel.

The map of historical centre of Lima.
The map of historical centre of Lima.

She picked up a black pen and a marker, started drawing on the map of the historical Lima center while saying: “The bus will be going this way and you want to get off at Av. Emancipacion. You can go further along this street, but only up to the bridge. Do not pass over the bridge. Here’s Plaza de Armas, the Cathedral, and here the parliament building. The buildings of Congress, Museum and the National Library are also nice. Don’t go here (she crossed out a large part of the map with the black pen) and definitely don’t go over any of the bridges to the other side. There’s prison over there and if someone is going to rob you, it will definitely happen there. Well, that’s it. You can freely explore the rest of the city, because there will be more tourists”. We took a scared look at the map, where among the sinister crossed out parts, we had a an almost perfectly marked route. We thanked for her help and with a ready plan of sightseeing we went to the center.

Military defense by Government Palace.
Military defense by Government Palace.

It’s no secret that the best time to visit Lima is the day (i.e. before dusk). The city’s population approaching 9 million inhabitants consists largely of people who came to the capital looking for work and better prospects for themselves and their families. Unfortunately, not all succeed, so in Lima there are many places, even in the historical center, where you can see real poverty. And that sadly leads to an increase in crime in which victims are often reckless tourists. Fortunately for us we were adequately “prepared”.

Cathedral in Lima.
Cathedral in Lima.

The historic center of Lima is adorable. You will not find here skyscrapers, because this part of the city is definitely not a business district. But you’ll find here many beautiful sights that represent the big piece of the history of this city.

Plaza San Martin in Lima at dusk.
Plaza San Martin.

A mix of styles – from Baroque elements, the neoclassical architecture of the considerable influence of the Spanish colonial period and fascination with Parisian style – all this creates an incredible composition. One of the most characteristic elements of decorating a large part of the buildings are balconies.

Balconies of Lima.
Balconies of Lima.

They were one of the main elements of the architecture of the colonial period. Thanks to them and thanks to such monuments of colonial architecture as the Monastery of San Francisco, the Plaza Mayor and the Cathedral, the historical center of Lima was proclaimed UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.

The charming Miraflores

The historic center is just one of many places in Lima visited by tourists. The second most popular destination is located on the shores of the Pacific Ocean district of Miraflores. Although many years ago, a large part of the business of Lima permanently moved its headquarters to this part of town, at the same time the tourism developed here. In addition to office buildings, many restaurants, shops and shopping centers and hotels can be found here – along with some lovely parks and green spaces.

Dawid with a cat on his lap at Kennedy Park in Miraflores, Lima.
Kennedy Park in Miraflores.

One such place is the Kennedy Park. With a huge count of very friendly cats living in the park, you will find here the best picarones in whole Lima (i.e. Peruvian donuts – a deep-oil fried cake from squash and/or sweet potato dough, glazed with sugar cane syrup).

Patrycja with a plate of picarones at Kennedy Park in Miraflores, Lima.
The best picarones in Miraflores.

You can also buy a lot of nice or funny souvenirs and handicrafts on a small flea market, and in the evening listen to amateur musicians do improvised concerts on a small stage.

Cliffs of Costa Verde.
Cliffs of Costa Verde.

Another enchanting place, which cannot be skipped during a visit to Miraflores, is the entire coastline of Costa Verde. The promenade leads through lovely parks along the cliff (such as Lovers’ Park), where you can stroll and relax –  it’s the perfect place to watch the sunset over the ocean, as well as spend your time more actively, e.g. running or using the outdoor gym.

Lovers' Park in Miraflores.
Lovers’ Park in Miraflores.

There will also be something for adrenaline lovers. Winds from the ocean makes the cliffs of Costa Verde is an ideal place for paragliders and surfers will love catching the high waves here.

Practical tips:

  • Be sure to check your country visa requirements (e.g. Polish tourists don’t need a visa for up to 90 days stays). Also in our case, the immigrant officer asked us for the outward ticket – so be sure to have something to confirm that you’re going to leave Peru.
  • We recommend doing a photocopy of your passport, preferably confirmed with the appropriate officials stamp. It’s often necessary to show or hand over the passport in various places – hotels, buses, sometimes when buying tickets to attractions. It’s more convenient and safer to show the copy and keep the original in dry and secure place.
  • This is probably the most useful information. When going on a budget tour to South America (i.e. without the 5-star hotels, flights between major cities, organized tour, etc.) you should learn at least the basics of Spanish. Knowledge of numbers, the ability to order food or explain where you want to go will be worth gold. Except for typical tourist places such as Machu Picchu or Nazca or when going on an organized guided tours – it’s not easy to find someone speaking English. But if you’re not speaking Spanish – don’t be too scared! We met some tourists who spoke both pidgin Spanish and pidgin English, and yet they managed to visit Peru. Sometimes it’s enough just to want something badly, and the rest will somehow work out 😉
  • Lima city can be reached from the airport in several ways – bus transportation, colectivo minivans or taxis (private ones, the official airport taxi companies or Uber). The first option will be cheaper (we don’t know how much, because we didn’t use it), you only need to get out of the airport, go approximately 1.5 km to the bus stop and get on the right bus (if, of course, you know which one is the right one…). We didn’t feel too confident about looking for the appropriate bus stop and so we chose a taxi. Taxis outside the airport are usually the cheapest ones, but could be risky – we read a little about the scams and muggings of tourists. But if you decide to take one of those taxis, remember to set the price in advance. Official airport taxis have a fixed price for the ride to specific parts of the city, and you pay in advance at the counter at the airport. The last option, which can be especially useful for people who don’t speak Spanish or don’t want to haggle with the taxi driver, is to use the Uber app. (You can get a free first ride if you register using our link: www.uber.com).
  • You should include the purchase of water as your fixed expense in Peru. We strongly advise NOT TO drink tap water, and in some places even rinsing your mouth with it after cleaning your teeth. For us, this “recklessness” caused one of the three food poisoning we had in Peru.
  • We also advise you to think twice before eating some traditional dishes, such as ceviche. It looks very appetizing, it tastes really interesting, but it is a dish which main ingredient is raw fish or seafood. Stomach not used to this type of cuisine can experience a real revolution. Unfortunately, we learned that the hard way…

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