Our flights were round trip from Fort Lauderdale to Lima. Thus, our time in South America officially started and ended in Lima. Lima is the capital of Peru and a huge city with a population around 9 million (potentially more populated than NYC, depending on city proper vs metro area as defined and measured). So while Lima is indeed very South American, it is not the small-town South American countryside that probably pops into many minds when thinking of Peru or South America. [Note: For some great deals for flights, I always like to check Kayak – they have an option called “Explore” and I highly recommend playing around with that. SkyScanner may also be a helpful site. Do be aware that these don’t catch all airlines, including some discount airlines like Southwest.]
The city is divided into many many barrios, or neighborhoods. A few of the most popular barrios to visit in Lima are the Centro Historico, Miraflores, and Barranco. [Note: The airport itself is in “Callao,” which is actually a dangerous area of the city, so be sure to get a trusted taxi.] We were very lucky that Marita and Ruy – our fantastic hosts – had a very cool departamento (apartment) right in the heart of Barranco. Just across the street were several restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. And just a block away was a lovely parque with some greenery, benches, a neat church, and a biblioteca (library) for Em.
So our first night, Marita had a taxi ready to pick us up and get us to her departamento. It was a Saturday night and it also happened to be the night that she was celebrating her cumpleanos with an asado with several of her friends. The apartment was perfect for this as it had a rooftop terrace with a parilla (grill), and we celebrated with a symphony of meats – pork, pork belly, chicken, steak, sausage, morcilla (blood sausage), and duck. In Peru, and South America in general, the nights start much later and last much longer. So when we arrived from the airport close to 11pm, we were the first people to arrive and they had not started any of the food. People began showing up shortly after us, the chelas (beers) began to flow, and the food got started…and the festivities lasted until 6 in the morning. Truth be told, we only made it until 3:30 – but I was actually very proud of Honey, especially after a long travel day.
Everyone that we met and hung out with was incredibly nice. And most were pretty darn good with their English – a very good thing because Em speaks very little Spanish, and I was a little rusty at that point. They were all interested to hear about our trip, give little tips and things to do and see along the way, and give recommendations of foods to try. We couldn’t have asked for a better group. Interestingly enough, there were a handful of them who were musicians, and so after the eating had slowed, the music started up. Overall, a very fun night with lots of fun people and great food!
Because we went to bed early (3:30am), we were up early as well – around 8:30am. We got a little hand-drawn map from Ruy and wandered out to explore a bit. We found out that on a Sunday morning, nothing is open before 11am. Actually, there was one Starbucks that was open, but we both refused to stop there. So we wandered just a block further from the square where the library was (pictured above), crossed over a neat little picturesque walking bridge, and after just a couple of minutes, we came to the most incredible vista that literally took Em’s breath away and nearly knocked her over. We had arrived at the Pacific Ocean atop a sort of cliff, and just several hundred yards out was San Lorenzo – an island mountain rising out of the mist. It was one of the prettiest views you could imagine and was a great example of the many more to come…
Because Peru is in South America, their seasons are exactly opposite of ours. So when we arrived in late August, it was still winter there. It does get chilly in Peru, but not too bad. We were comfortable in a sweater or pullover for the most part throughout the trip, though as we went furthest south to Puno it was quite chilly! [Note: We knew this ahead of time and tried to pack in things that were easy to layer and it ended up working out well!] The one thing about the winter in Lima is that it is nearly always gray and a bit misty – for almost an entire 6 months! They call this the “panza de burro” or belly of the donkey (underside of the donkey belly is gray). It’s an interesting phenomenon in that when you go just a couple of hours outside of Lima, you will get sunshine and blue skies…but nothing while actually in Lima. It must have something to do with the latitude, altitude, and proximity to the Pacific. I’ve never been, but I imagine it’s similar to what people say about Seattle. Either way, it makes me grateful to have so much sun so much of the time at home in Florida!
We did a little more walking and ended up at the Bodequita Verde – a very quaint little cafe. We enjoyed a breakfast of eggs, toast, coffee, and juice. But most of all, we enjoyed the atmosphere of the little cafe and our first breakfast in Peru. Em was also convinced that we ran into a blogger while there – some girl with a guy right behind taking glamour photos while she was posing ever so naturally at the cafe and also getting the low down on the history of the place. #celebsighting
When we got back to the apartment around 1pm, there were signs of life. Marita was up, and cut up some papaya for us to eat – she says that it’s good after a night of drinking. This was also our first foray into the fruit while there – of which we had a lot! We ended up trying all kinds of fruits that I had never had – star fruit, cactus fruit (prickly pear?), and the best – cherimoya! So many fruits, and very delicious. There are so many small markets, shops, and vendors that it’s really difficult to go very far at all without running into some fresh fruit.
Then we took a drive through several parts of the city. The original plan was to stop in the Centro Historico, but there was some type of festival/event going on that just didn’t allow for any kind of parking. That actually turned out fine because we got a driving tour that covered more of the city. [Note: The rules of the road in Lima and most of South America are absolutely insane. There is no way I would ever attempt to drive through that chaos…when riding as a passenger, your best bet is to just trust in your driver and hope it all works out!] During our little driving tour we also checked out La Punta – which is just about as close as you can get to the incredible San Lorenzo isla. But take note, La Punta is basically in Callao, which is a rough part of the city…so pay attention. Regardless, we felt really lucky to watch the sunset over the Pacific at La Punta, when just about 24 hours earlier, we woke up to the sunrise over the Atlantic at our place. On our way back, we had a coffee at Cafe Bisetti, and did a very abbreviated bar crawl of just a couple stops to down our first pisco sours of the trip.
The following day we were scheduled to hop on the bus to our first destination – Ica, which is much closer to that small town South American town type of image that you may have in your head. However, before taking off, we had another breakfast of fruit, lots of walking around the neighborhood of Barranco to see the architecture, enjoy some antique shops, and see the Pacific – all absolutely beautiful – and then a stop for lunch. This lunch may have been one of the biggest I’ve ever had, and one of the tastiest lunches I’ve ever had as well. The restaurant was Isolina, and it served family style meals – we had a ceviche and a piece of roasted meat in a delightful sauce – wayyyyy too much for lunch, yet so good! The first – and best! – ceviche we had of the trip.
When we returned to Lima on the back end of our trip, we were seasoned pros. We enjoyed our final afternoon with an impressive late lunch featuring some delightful stuffed mushrooms at Arlotia – just across the street from our hosts. A small and unassuming place from the outside, but incredible food that is a Spanish/French/Basque/Peruvian fusion. We then had a very good meal later that evening at Sibaris, which is a trendy little tapas restaurant featuring great food and a menu that shifts from week to week with what’s in season. I may say this in every post, and every other sentence within every post, but this meal was absolutely phenomenal with all of the flavors and combinations of meats, sauces, potatoes, rice, and beans! (Did I mention that we ate a lot and really enjoyed all of the food while traveling?!) They also had an impressive cocktail menu to choose from, that probably only a hipster mixologist could truly appreciate. We ended our time in Lima with a trip to a very cool mansion that had been converted into several different bars all segmented off and decorated very distinctly. Ayahuasca is on all kinds of “best bar” and “trendy bar” lists to visit while in Lima, and I would have to agree. This one mansion is like visiting five different bars at once because of the different ambiance in each section as you move throughout the rooms, and the cocktail list is incredibly extensive with all kinds of options with lots of fresh fruits incorporated into many of their drinks. Truly a unique and cool place to enjoy our last drinks in South America.
There you have it – our start and finish – in South America. We absolutely had a fantastic time in Lima and really loved our hosts showing us around. But again, don’t be fooled – Lima is a big city. Of course it does still have a South American feel, but it’s not that small-town, indigenous type of feel that may come to mind. There are really nice and upscale parts of the city, and there are more run-down and dangerous parts of the city – just like any big city anywhere in the world. The “in-between” stops on our trip are much more reminiscent of the small-town South American towns as you will see.