Our Cruz del Sur bus rolled into Lima shortly after dawn where we were going to be meeting up with Bryan’s parents for a three-week family vacation. Lima was once considered one of the most beautiful cities in the Americas. Founded in 1535 by the Spanish conquisador Francisco Pizarro on an area long occupied by indigenous peoples, it became a colonial capital and center for trade. Today, it is still the center for government and industry as the capital of Peru but it has become a bit of a chaotic mess. Due to the Shining Path rebel group in the 1980s who took control of many places in the highlands, refugees flooded into Lima. The rich and established did not want the highland refugees so they passed laws making it very hard for them to rent or buy housing. As a result, people built where ever they can and as time passed, the population of the shanty towns became so substantial that they made or broke elections. Politicans began to campaign in the shanty towns, promising land title if they were voted in.
As a result, the city is huge and a city-planning nightmare, rolling over the surrounding sandy hills and consuming any free space in sight. Lima had a dreary first impression with half finished block-like brick homes sprouting out of every possible space like weeds and everything was clouded with a thick grey fog that constantly hangs over the city between June and December. People were fans of building walls but roofs not so much. If there was a roof, it seemed like it was just a couple sheets of corrugated tin with some rocks on top to hold it down. The bus seemed to drive through its congested streets for hours until finally reaching the Javier Prado Cruz del Sur station. We put our front wheels back on the bike, which we had taken off to fit in the bus, and rode down the busy Ave Javier Prado to Ave Arequipa into the Miraflores district. After riding for two weeks and a bit in the remote northern highlands, cycling in Lima and Ave Javier Prado with its five lines of traffic – in each direction!- and highway style exit ramps was a completely different world. Luckily for our sleep-deprived selves, the traffic was basically a gridlock so the cars were not moving fast. Ave Arequipa has a tree lined walking and biking path in the center between the two lanes of traffic making it much easier to ride.
However, in contrast to the dreary first impression, Lima grows on you and reveals its cuddly core. We decided to stay in Miraflores for our time in Lima, an upscale neighbourhood that is considered one of the safest and prettiest areas in the vast city. Known for its green parks, shopping and dramatic surfing beaches, we thought it would be a great place to meet up with Bryan’s parents who were flying in from Canada. Pedro, the owner of the House Project Hostel, told us, “We, locals, never used to recommend for tourists to stay in Lima. Now, we do because there is so much to do.” Gallery openings, live music in bar nightly, great restaurants in international and Peruvian cuisine and even surfing and paragliding along the cliffs dropping to the long, sandy beach was just some of the things Pedro mentioned. Miraflores is a very walkable metropolis that feels a cross between the streets of New York with all of the boutique shops lining the busy wide avenues – little cafes and stores everywhere – and the beaches of LA by the ocean. There were surfers in the water, long piers and great views.
Miraflores is well connected to the historical centro of Lima, which can be easily assessible by a free bus (blue coloured, from Kennedy Park). However, both Bryan’s parents and us had just arrived in the city after long journeys so we decided to just explore around Miraflores doing a wide walking loop. We walked down the shop and restaurant lined bouvelard of Larco street down to the upscale Larcomar open air mall on the egde of the cliff overlooking the beach below. The views here are stunning and I was struck by how this corner of Peru is such a different world from our remote riding in the northern highlands and even from the morning entering Lima. However, the views here are stunning and there are restaurants here that appease even the most fear-mongering travel doctor. It is a little piece of luxury but that’s nice every now and then. We walked along the malecon full of strolling locals and tourists to the Love Park where there are all these cute quotes about love built into decorative mosiacs and a huge statue of two lovers.
We continued walking past all of the parasailers leaping off the high cliffs above the ocean to the lighthouse where one has stood since 1900 but the current one since 1973. We then walked back into the center marked by the green Kennedy Park filled with cats. They are not really stray cats but rather public park cats that sleep in the flowerbeds, play stalk each other in the green grass and jump in your lap for a cuddle when you sit on a park bench. There must have been about 30-50 cats in the park and people leave out food and water for them.
From Kennedy Park, we walked along the palm lined Ave Ricardo Palma to the market. It was a bit more tame than some of the markets we’ve been to but has some of the cheapest food restaurants in the area including a set meal for 6 sols at a busy cafe on the main street on the way to the market. It also is the best place in the area to get fruit. We got peaches, bananas, mangos, a custard apple (think pineapple avacado with a hint of pear and the texture of fish flesh…it’s good!) and a pitaya cactus fruit (expensive but a delicious treat).
Variety is the spice of life and it was great to have wild riverside camps with only stars and fireflys to keep us company at night up in the north but it has also been fun to live the city life for a bit here in Miraflores, Lima as well. In the middle of a big city, Miraflores has been friendly, safe and approachable from bike lanes to little cafes to cuddly cats in the park. From our dreary first impressions of the city, I unexpectedly had a really fun time in Lima.
A great base to explore Miraflores was the House Project Hostel (http://www.thehouseproject.pe/).
It is right thick in the middle of everything, just around the corner from “Pizza Street”. True to its name, it is a pedesterian lane lined with pizza restaurant right off from the center Kennedy Park area. The rooms are clean and not fancy but has the simple touches of matching sheets and a towel rolled up on it that gives it a classy style for a hostel. The beds are comfortable and the showers are hot. There was one of the best stocked (in terms of equipment) kitchens I’ve been in, which serves a delicious breakfast of eggs, bread, tea or coffee and fresh fruit juice in the morning. My favorite part was the outdoor living room in the back courtyard with couches, bean-bag chairs and hammocks. It is an “adventure” hostel rather than a party hostel so much more chilled with great people to meet. Pedro, the owner who actually lives in the hostel, was so excited about our trip and hung out with us one evening chatting about everything from things to see in Peru to life in Lima. The only thing that Pedro actually warned us before we arrived is that it can be a little noisy since it is right in the middle of Miraflores and close to bar filled Pizza Street. However, I found it was not as bad as Pedro warned us at all and the most annoying thing was car alarms going off which you would probably find anywhere in the city.