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Before my first visit to Lima, in the Fall of 2015, I always thought that it was like ‘all the other’ South American cities – full of glorious architecture, surrounded by breathtaking nature, and eternal sunshine. Little did I know that actually none of these things applied to Lima. It is truly one of a kind city, and it is not like ANY other places on Earth.
My first glimpse of Lima, through a window pane of a landing airplane, was of a white, sick fog which surrounded us and I couldn’t really understand if we were really landing or still flying high above. When I finally saw it – we were about one minute close to the ground, and before I knew it we were at the gate. But I did manage to get a good overview of the surrounding area, and what I did see was too sad for words.
Not to sound offensive, but to tell you the truth – Lima is a one big slum. Of course, it has some beautiful, expensive areas where the rich and privileged live, but the majority of people live in unspeakable conditions, literally out of a cartoon box. It is a very sad sight. And to top it all off – there is no sunlight, that is for nine months out of a year.
We spent a week in Lima and we only saw the sun come out once – for twenty minutes total. The white sky is hanging very low on top of the city, and for those not accustomed to this type of climate – a single week is more than enough time to drive one crazy. I don’t think I ever wanted to get out quicker from any city, other than Lima.
On Lima’s History
Peruvians are amazing people – kind, humble, hard-working, and friendly, they represent South America well. So how could such a great nation have such an unremarkable city as their capital? Well, it can all be explained through a quick look back in history – when a couple hundred years ago a small bunch of brutal, murderous, and greedy Spaniards entered the shores of Peru, cheated and killed a popular Inca ruler, and completely destroyed a beautiful and ancient civilization.
At that time, the majestic city of Cusco was the official capital of Peru, and most of it was demolished during that barbaric time. The guy, who was the chief initiator of this bloody destruction, responsible for the loss of many innocent lives, then founded a new capital on the banks of the modern Lima and that is where it still resides today.
Since the time Peru was conquered, a great number of Spaniards started slowly moving in, colonizing the native people, taking away their rights and their land, and making them work for pennies, just to have enough to eat. And it became an unwritten law that the”superior” whites dominated over any other skin color, and being a native Incan or other, became ‘uncool’, and sadly it is still often the case today.
On Lima’s Present
So what has become of Lima today? Lima is a very large city, and it is growing every day. The growth is due to the migration of people from various corners of Peru – people without work, looking for a means to survival. People so desperate that a cartoon box in Lima is a better option than whatever beautiful place they came from.
The general lack of growth and opportunity for the past hundreds of years, created a huge division between the rich and poor, and in Lima, in particular, you can see it in its extreme form. And, the sad reality is that the poor in Lima are poorer than most other poor people from other nations on Earth. One look at their living conditions has enough shock value to last for a lifetime of comparison to other unfortunate places in this World.
On Things to Do
One of the few ‘livable’, expensive, and therefore – touristy, areas in Lima is called Miraflores, and it’s where we stayed with my boyfriend. Miraflores is a walking distance from one of the most scenic views in Lima – the panoramic view of the coast, where there are lots of activities and places of interest. In fact, one of the best things you can do in Lima – is actually take a walk along the coast, all the way from the Larcomar mall to the beautiful El Parque del Amor.
For those who like to feel the rush of adrenaline in their bones – you can try some paragliding, taking off from the open park area, not far from El Parque del Amor. It is not a cheap activity, I must add, but the views from your flight must be breathtaking. There are several providers offering this service – you can find them here.
Another fun place in Miraflores – is Parque Kennedy, which is filled with friendly and laid-back… homeless cats, of all colors imaginable.
One of the awesome things that I noticed about Limans is that they like to dress up their pets. Almost every dog that we saw on a street taking a stroll with their owner, was dressed up in some kind of an outfit.
Other famous places of interest in Lima – are the Museo Larco, which became famous for its erotic collection of the ancient pottery works, Huaca Pucllana – an ancient burial site, right in the middle of a modern city, Museo del Convento de San Francisco which holds a large underground collection of… human bones, and it is located in the heart of the city next to other major sightseeing spots, such as Plaza de Armas, Cathedral of Lima, Palacio de la Union, and others.
Nightlife in Lima is very much alive and vibrating. It is probably the best time in a day to explore this city. Once the dusk falls and the night starts approaching quickly – you can head to the magnificent Parque de la Reserva, where for a small entrance fee you can watch one of the greatest fountain shows in the whole-wide Universe. After the show, you can head over straight to the nearby Plaza San Martin, where you can enjoy the city lights at its most glorious, and then catch a taxi to the Miraflores area, with its many bars and restaurants, for a tasty dinner and drink.
If there’s one thing that really made our stay if not cheerful then truly enjoyable – it is the Peruvian cuisine. They do know how to cook their seafood, and they know it well, so well in fact, that my Colombian boyfriend and I quickly agreed that it was the best seafood in the whole of South America, and probably even the entire World. If you don’t believe me – then come and try it for yourself!
Another menu item that’s not to miss – is the famous local drink called Pisco Sour. You can try it in a variety of different flavors, however the original one is hard to beat.
When we arrived in Lima we were warned about one thing only – the un-safety of taxis. From what we heard there were many incidents of robberies, rapes, and even murders. The “safest” taxis, we were told, are the black-colored official radio taxis. To be completely honest – if I were traveling alone, as a female, I would have definitely felt scared, but since I was traveling with my Spanish-speaking Colombian boyfriend it was much easier.
Though we did encounter a lot of unscrupulous taxi drivers, demanding a pay three to four times the rate of the fare, we managed to avoid them by asking the price of the ride before accepting the trip. If a driver asked for a highly inflated price – we simply walked away. But other than the danger of the taxi drivers, there are incidents of pickpocketing, like in all other cities of Latin America, and the rest of the World! Therefore, you absolutely need to take all the normal precautions (not wearing jewelry, expensive clothes and accessories, carrying too much cash, etc.) and you will be fine.
It was an American writer, Herman Melville, who called Lima “the saddest city on Earth”, and not without a good reason. To deny this statement, would be to take away hundreds of years of miserable existence of local inhabitants, still apparent to this day. Lima, as well as the rest of Peru, needs to see better times, and the change better be coming to it soon. But to miss a visit to Lima, for these reasons alone, would be a great loss of opportunity; an opportunity that is unique to Lima, and it does not represent “what’s good, or what’s bad” in the World, but what is utterly real.
I will leave you with another quote by Melville, this time a more upbeat one:
“It is not down in any map; true places never are”.
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Have you been to Lima before? If yes, what were your impressions of this city? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below, or even submit your own story about Lima here.