Lima Travel Guide

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In line waiting for the bus in Lima. 2006.05.05

In line waiting for the bus in Lima. 2006.05.05

Jeffrey Maxwell

Lima, City of Kings, was founded by Francisco Pizarro in 1535 on 6 January, the Feast of the Kings (Epiphany).It was made the capital of Peru after the Peruvian war of Independence. It is a vibrant city, where nearly 10million people live. It is a continuous urban area. The architecture is quite eclectic, and is characterized by its mixed style. You can find really impressive and colourful colonial houses with those typical colonial balconies as well as Art Nouveau styles, glass skyscrapers and very poor areas. Generally the city is not free from the danger of earthquakes, which prevents the construction of very high buildings.

It is a really humid and polluted city and most of the time, it is surrounded by a thick fog, called "garua", typical from Lima. Yet, recent laws have been enforced and the quality of the air has drastically improved. Lima´s seaside consists in flowery cliffs overlooking pebble beaches, where people always go paragliding.

Traffic is crazy, with buses competing with each other and the millions of taxis for passengers. The main public transportation is the "combi", a kind of van. But there is a project to create a decent public transportation system.

The city consists of a collection of distinct neighborhoods with their own look, feel and history. Downtown Lima has some of the most impressive colonial architecture, as this used to be the whole city in its early years. Even within the historic center many old houses are being rundown. Travelers shouldn�t miss the market area and Chinatown (have some Chifa!), that is if they don't mind surfing in a sea of people. Don`t attempt to do this with a big dollar sign above your head. A couple of kilometers south of the old town is the area where most buses arrive and leave. This is not the part of town in which you want to wander around when you`re packed and tired. But it is entertaining to wander around here if you haven`t got valuables on you.

Miraflores is a residential and commercial district and it is where tourists usually find suitable accomodations. It is a nice neighborhood with shopping opportunities at all prices. The pebbled beach is attractive here.  Nightlife in Miraflores also offers all kinds of opportunities, from the locally famous Calle de las Pizzas, to very exclusive restaurants and bars.

However, if you are looking for action you are better off cruising through Barranco -- the more tasteful rich area.  Before it got swallowed by the growing city, Barranco used to be a charming bathing town where the rich of far away Lima had their summer houses. It still has a cute Plaza Central and many tasteful old houses. The bars at the seaside are ideal for a seductive date, or a night of steaming dancefloor action.

The Larco Museum is also one of the most visited museums in Lima. It was founded in 1926 by a famous archaeologist, Rafael Larco Hoyle, and provides an excellent overview on 4.000 years of development of Peruvian pre-Columbian history. The museum is located in an 18th century vice-royal mansion built over the rests of a 7th century pyramid and is surrounded by a beautiful garden. The museum provides an important and very rich collection of gold and silver from Ancient Peru, precious textiles, ceramics,  jewelry decorated with semi-precious stones... The erotic gallery has become one of the best tourist attractions. The Larco museum is also one of the few museums in the world where visitors can enter the storage area with its 45.000 classified archaeological objects.

In the Museo de Oro del Peru or Peruvian Gold Museum (upstairs is the Arms Museum) there is an incredible collection of weapons ranging from spears to a Gatling gun. As extensive as the gold collection is, it is sobering to realize that these are merely crumbs.  The Spanish melted down or looted the best pieces. The collection is not very well organized though and there is still a suspicion of fake objects.

Also visit the Museo de la Nacion (National Museum -- tours available in English) one of the largest museums in South America. Divided into exhibits looking at the past present and (imagined) future of Peru, it includes a model of the gold-laden tombs recently excavated at Sipan and reproductions of some of Per�'s best archaeological sites.

Lima has 20 more museums including the Museum of the Inquisition (torture instruments, university library, and carved ceiling) the National Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (pottery, textiles, and stone figures from all of Per�'s past cultures).

Churches to see include the Cathedral on the Plaza de Armas (it holds the remains of Pizarro), the Baroque Church of San Francisco (beautiful hand-carved ceilings and catacombs containing 70 000 skeletons -- guided tour available), and La Merced (site of the first mass in Lima -- it has a lovely cloister and chancel).

Other sights include the Palacio Torre Tagle (the marvelous example of colonial architecture -- now serves as the Foreign Ministry), Casa de Aliaga (built in 1535 and still occupied by the same family!), and Casa de Oquendo (where General San Martin stayed after proclaiming Peru's independence).

On the Plaza de Armas (government center since 1535) is the Palacio de Gobierno (Presidential Palace where a changing of the guard takes place daily at 12:45 pm) the Archbishop's Palace (notice the ornate balconies) and the central bronze fountain. Barrio Chino (Chinatown) merits a visit at dinnertime. Should time allow include the Puente de Piedra, a 530-ft/162-m stone bridge built 200 years ago.

A visit to the Rimac district should include the Convento de los Descalzos (amazing colonial convent with paintings and other art). 

Nearby is the town of Pachacamac which has some of the best pre-Incan ruins (allow at least a half day for this excursion). The Temple of the Virgins, the Temple of the Sun, and the excellent preserved irrigation systems are among its attractions. Be sure to include the seaside suburbs of Miraflores (a youthful place, away from the hubbub and smog of the central district) and Barranco (nightlife and the center for performing arts in Peru) in your itinerary.

Travelers flying from outside of South America to visit Peru must come through Lima to go anywhere in the country, so it might be best to pick up Lima a couple of days at a time on the way in and out.  Visitors who are on their first trip to Peru should plan only a couple of nights in Lima.  Lima is not the only highlight in a beautiful country like Peru, unless one simply prefers visiting an urban center. Some travelers find their time best spent in the high sierra to visit Cusco and Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu) or in the selva for a jungle adventure in Iquitos.  

Part or or all of this text stems from the original article at: http://www.museolarco.org/

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September 06, 2005 change by oscartrelles (6 points)

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