Six years ago, Lonely Planet Local Agnes Rivera traveled south along the Pacific Coast and landed in Lima, Peru. Quickly charmed by the capital city’s malecón, a coastal pathway that dips in and out of vastly diverse districts, her interest has remained piqued by the juxtaposition of Lima: at once the metropolitan center of Peru and the melting pot of the country’s numerous traditional cultures.
When I have friends in town... I book a table at Isolina, a popular tavern in the charming Barranco district. Recipes passed down generations are served up in portions so large they demand to be shared among friends. Dare yourself to try out some traditional criollo ingredients like boiled chicken blood (sangrecita) and calf’s brain (sesos). The colorful tiled flooring and shelves lined with pickled produce and pisco bottles are intriguing decor, and once inside the steady buzz from the conversations taking place at every one of the heavy wooden tables will make you feel warm and welcomed.
I have a baby... so on Saturdays we usually go to the farmer’s market in Parque Reducto in Miraflores to keep us both happily distracted. Here you can stock up on fresh produce and tantalizing treats offered by the local vendors before entering the green area. A jolly band offers an hour-long jam session for the little ones, and nearby, numerous toy and game stations have been set up for various young age groups. If we manage to get out of the house early, I take advantage of the free yoga session offered to adults that takes place just a few paces away.
The best place to go on a date is... somewhere that keeps things interesting. Tucked on a small side street in Barranco, one of Lima’s trendiest districts, Microteatro invites you to catch a series of live performances that are just 15 minutes each. Grab a drink at the garage-turned-bar in between shows, a surprisingly intimate space lit by candles with a stroke of the wild thanks to the hanging plants. The little theater is within walking distance to some of the best bars and restaurants in the neighborhood, which means there’s an escape route if the date is going stale.
For cheap eats... skip the bodega and find a food cart on just about any street corner to satisfy your cravings, be they salty, sweet, fried or fresh. If I’m on the verge of getting ‘hangry’ and have some cash in my pocket, I opt for the large-kernel corn on the cob served with a salty hunk of cheese (choclo con queso).
When I want to get out of the city... I’ll head north to Lomas de Lachay, a national reserve which is technically in the Lima region. These desert hills receive just enough mist to sustain a thriving ecosystem from July to September. A welcome center can give you more information about the surrounding flora and fauna before you set off on a walk along the paths. As an Oregon native I really miss being surrounded by greenery, and this unique national reserve really quenches my thirst to see lush vegetation. It’s only an hour or so from Lima by car.
To break a sweat... I’ll bike the length of the malecón, a paved promenade along the cliffside overlooking the Pacific Ocean. On the weekends it can seem that everyone in Lima and their dog is on the path, so I try to head out early. Cafes with ocean views, great parks for picnics, and a gorgeous cliffside shopping center are some of the highlights. If I really want to get my heart racing then I’ll hop off my bike and watch the adventurous souls who’ve opted to do some paragliding.
Public transportation is... something everyone complains about but is used by all. The infamous kombis in Lima are crowded, loud, and a real kick for just about every foreigner that’s never seen something so unorganized. Since I’ve lived here public transportation has vastly improved, and has remained dirt cheap compared to taxis. The more tourist-friendly districts can be commuted by city bus, though there’s no posted schedule nor description of what buses will take you where, so you’ll need a local to point you in the right direction and onto the right bus.
For a great view... I take an urban hike up the Morro Solar headland in the district of Chorrillos. Barren of fauna, this hill is visible from nearly all sections of Lima’s extensive malecón and stands out thanks to a large Christ statue that overlooks the fishing community. The ascent begins with a stark contrast of neighborhoods: lopsided shacks on your left and the athletic and leisure club for Lima’s elite on your right. You'll reach the lookout point in about 15 minutes, and you'll feel like you’re floating over the hustle and bustle of the city.
Satisfying my need for caffeine... isn’t a hard thing to accomplish in Lima. The rich soil of Peru, reaching various altitudes, extends from the Amazon to fields in Cusco and produces spectacular coffee beans. For a quick espresso I’ll stop by the Neira Cafe Lab in Miraflores, where coffee is more than part of the morning routine. If I’m feeling experimental I’ll pull up a seat at Barranco’s Colonia and Co. to sip on an iced brew infused with seasonal fruits as I peruse local art or books in the neighboring gift shop.
For one stop shopping... you can go to just about any district market but my favorite is in Magdalena del Mar. Stock up on produce or sundries, get your pants hemmed, some copies of keys made – whatever you need, there's a vendor who can service you. Just get ready to barter. This abundance of diverse businesses, often run and operated by families, in such close proximity really made an impression on me when I first came to Peru, and I love the relationship that quickly develops between the seller and a loyal customer.
When I’d rather be indoors... I’ll do a tour of museums and galleries in Barranco. I’ll usually start or end it at the Museum of Contemporary Art since they have a cute little cafe with outdoor seating, a perfect space to indulge in a tasty breakfast or lunch. I’ll do a route that takes me to MATE, Mario Testino’s museum, just on the other side of Barranco’s main square. There are numerous galleries and small museums in between, some of which have a charm that is more special than any art on exhibit.