WHEN PEOPLE HEAR OF Lima, the next word to cross their minds is most likely ‘beans’ and not ‘Peru’. And while lima beans are one of the more famous things to have originated from this city, there is more to this capital beyond ancient Mesoamerican produce that continues to be cultivated. For those who have heard of Lima, however, many still think that Lima’s history began in 1535, after the founding of the colonial city by Francisco Pizarro, the conquistador who toppled the Inca Empire.
But many forget that the first inhabitants of Lima settled in the area as early as 10,000 years ago. A pre-Inca civilisation had thrived in this coastal city for a thousand years before the Spanish arrived, leaving behind impressive huacas and beautiful ceramics. Huacas are just a smidgen of the attractions to be found in Lima. As the seat of the Spanish rule for 300 years, Lima also has wonderful churches and cloisters of monasteries that are worth a visit.
That isn’t to say Lima is just a ruin and relic-filled desert. The largest city of Peru is also the second largest capital located in a desert, after Cairo in Egypt. Lima is every bit a sophisticated cosmopolitan mega-capital. Peru is a multiethnic nation formed by the combination of a variety of cultures and races over five centuries. Indigenous ethnicities here include tribes from the Andes and Amazon, and colonial rule brought along European ethnicities like the Spanish. British and Croatian. Two of the largest groups of immigrants, however, are the Chinese and Japanese, who arrived as miners and railroad workers in the late 19th century. There are generations of Peruvian-born Chinese and Japanese that have had a large influence on Peruvian culture, especially in the country’s cuisine.
Then there are also the markings of a modern civilisation that continues to expand its global reach. High-rise condos are built right next to pre-Columbian temples, and ultramodern seaside neighbourhoods butt up against gritty shantytowns that cling to barren hillsides. In the museum-saturated city are also collections upon collections of sublime ancient pottery left behind by civilisations that have long gone extinct, as well as galleries debuting edgy art from local Peruvian artists that are beginning to catch the eyes of art collectors everywhere. Lima is right on the other side of the globe from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. Unfortunately, flying into the city’s Jorge Chavez International Airport is a minimum 30-hour affair. Routes with minimal transits will include stopovers at Amsterdam or Paris first, where there are daily flights into Lima.
Navigating Lima is neither an easy task. The chaotic network of confusing buses and unregulated taxis in heavy traffic make getting around complicated, time-consuming and quite frankly, daunting. However, your best option is still to take a taxi, as they are generally inexpensive. It would be wise to negotiate a price before boarding if flagging a cab off the side of the road, as many do not have meters. It is easier and safer to book a taxi by phone, otherwise, get concierge to set up a driver for the day. Don’t let the complications of travel stop you from visiting Lima, however. This city of contrasts that sees high-rise buildings right next to pre-Columbian temple ruins presents a multi-faceted city that readily introduces the rest of Peru.
Plaza de Armas of Lima – First timers to Lima must visit the birthplace of the city at the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Plaza de Armas of Lima (Plaza Mayor). It is from the plaza’s square that the city grew outward and the centre is where many historic moments have taken place. A charming water fountain marks the middle of the plaza and surrounding it are historically important and iconic colonial-style buildings: the Government Palace, Cathedral of Lima, Archbishop’s Palace of Lima, the Municipal Palace, and the Palace of the Union.
Huaca Pucllana – There’s no need to trek into the Andes to see vestiges of Peru’s ancient civilisations. Dotted around urban Lima neighbourhoods are a large number of historical ruins, known locally as huacas. Most are generally fenced off (the extent of the preservation done by Peru) but one of the more tourist friendly huacas is the Pucllana Temple, or Huaca Pucllana, in the upscale Miraflores district. Huaca Pucllana is said to have been built around the height of Lima’s cultural history, around 500AD. Seven staggered platforms form this great adobe and clay pyramid that served as an important ceremonial and administrative centre. Much of the site has been restored but excavations are an on-going activity that still uncovers ancient artefacts. For a romantic evening out, there’s an on-site restaurant where dinner comes with beautiful views of the 1,500-year-old ruins. Restaurant Huaca Pucllana stays open long after visiting hours are over.
La Herradura – Surfing is a popular sport in Peru, thanks to the long Pacific coastline in Lima. For beginners to the sport, Waikiki and Makaha beaches off Miraflores have a number of surf schools in the area. However, the best place to catch surfing action is at La Herradura in the district of Chorrillos. The swells here are much bigger and last longer. La Herradura is also a favourite spot for scuba diving with its diverse marine flora and fauna.
Mercado de Surquillo No.1 – Start your day like a local Peruvian by first heading out to the markets. The Mercado de Surquillo No. 1 (Surquillo Market) is a favourite with local chefs thanks to the sheer variety of fresh produce available. Locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables, herbs, and of course, cuts of meat, and even offal, fish and other seafood are just the tip of the iceberg of what can be found. Take the time to peruse and be amazed at other rare finds, like unpolished grains, cheeses and spices on display. Elsewhere in the market, find whatever you need for a well-stocked kitchen and pantry, such as kitchen and tableware from small businesses.
Maido – Peru’s diverse culture is best experienced at Maido by Mitsuharu. Mitsuharu Tsumaru is the Lima-born chef that heads operations here. Peru has the second largest ethnic Japanese population in South America (Brazil has the largest) and Maido serves up Nikkei cuisine, an amalgamation of Japanese-influenced Peruvian food (or vice versa, depending on whom you ask) that comes from more than 100 years of Japanese immigration into Peru. Tsumaru is a professionally trained chef who honed his skills in the nuances of Japanese cuisine back in sushi restaurants across Japan. Expect Japanese delicacies and techniques paired with Peruvian ingredients for artful creations like grilled octopus, botija olives, tofu and crispy black quinoa; guinea pig confit with molle pepper, chilled harusame noodles with sanbaizu (Japanese vinegar) and rocoto (a type of South American chilli).
The Arts Boutique Hotel B – The stark white stately mansion stands out in the romantic and bohemian district of Barranco. The historic manor was built in 1914 and restored just two years ago. It retains its charming Belle Epoque style of glamorous interiors with high ceilings, Italian marble fixtures, and grand living room illuminated by antique candelabras. Works of surrealist-style art hung in corridors adds a touch of modernity to the grand hotel. Each of the 17 guestrooms, spread between the mansion and three-storey annex, have been individually designed, making return trips here a necessity to fully appreciate the work put into The Arts Boutique Hotel B. In the afternoons, indulge in tea and finger sandwiches in the library, then make your way to the rooftop Sundowner Deck for a pour of traditional pisco sour.