This fascinating city is located halfway down the coast of Peru in what is essentially a desert. When I arrived, travelling by bus from the south, I was very surprised to see a capital city built in such a location. The coastal regions of Peru are almost completely free of vegetation, in what I assumed must be a very dry climate. So to enter a city of around 9 million people in such a place, to me was pretty surprising.
My initial impression was dramatic and impressive although somewhat shocking. The sky was overcast and the rocky rolling rocky hills were completely covered in what looked like half-built and very rudimentary concrete and brick houses, really stretching to the horizon and down toward the pacific ocean, which the motorway closely followed. What was shocking was that the entire area appeared to be completely free of real tarmac covered roads or any vegetation at all. An impressive but somewhat shocking sight!
Arriving in the centre of the city, I was presented with a completely different spectacle: majestic squares and colonial architecture, including the impressive Plaza de Armas. This city had apparently been the most important city in South America in colonial times, and it showed.
As I got to know the city I discovered it was a place of extreme contrasts. Extreme poverty, as I had witnessed on my way in, extreme wealth and everything in between. I saw neighbourhoods with barely enough money to afford running water and other areas of incredible opulence, with spectacular gated houses and tower blocks of the highest possible luxurious standards. The old centre was fascinating for the fact that it featured restaurants and hotels of the highest possible standards imaginable, government buildings including the parliament and presidential palace, alongside poverty and crime ridden districts. In fact the two appeared to be completely mixed together.
I then discovered that the city really had an entirely separate ‘centre’ in another part of town, which may as well have been another city as it was so different to the old sector. This area is known as Miraflores and its neighboring district of San Isidro, home to a large middle class that apparently was doing very well for itself. With beautiful parks, broad tree-lined boulevards, trendy boutiques and cafes all over the place and towering glass buildings, this part of Lima represented a very different reality to those other sectors I had seen.
Being an avid student of history I was fascinated to discover the ‘huacas’ in this part of town, which are a series of very large pyramid-like structures made from adobe bricks. These mysterious edifices have stood for thousands of years, before the city of Lima later grew up around them. I was told that they had been used as parks for off-road motorbikes until someone saw sense and put a stop to it! They are now fenced off museums and very well-maintained.
In Miraflores you can also get some great views of the bay and really get a feel for the place and the stunning location. It is a wide crescent-shaped bay, built along the cliff tops with beaches all along the base. Lima, and Peru in general, is famous for its delicious sea food and you’ll find plenty of restaurants in this part of town, many with great views of the ocean. Further on down the coast is the bohemian district of Barranco with its romantic Puente de Suspiros (Bridge of Sighs), a small town that has been gradually absorbed into the growing conurbation of Lima itself.
Getting from A to B in Lima can be a bit of a chore, something which is thankfully improving with a modern metro system, so the place should be a lot more manageable for visitors over the next few years as the network encompasses more and more of the city.