Over the years we’ve talked about going to South America; even booked a flight, but some how things always came up and the plan was postponed. Of all the places in South America, we dreamed about going to Machu Picchu like many other travelers before us, and after a year and a half of planning, we finally made it to Peru. First stop, Lima.
I have to admit, my pre-impression (is that a thing?) of Lima was not great. I was told that Lima is a stopover city, and not to bother to spend more than a day or two there. So with our limited time in Peru, we decided to only stay for a day. We took the red-eye from Miami and got in early so we could make the most of our day. This was one of those times where we used our status on American Airlines to get an upgrade so that we could try to get some shut eye on the flight.
We were the first off the plane and got through immigration with ease as there was no line. Everything was smooth sailing until we got to the baggage pick up area. Our bags had a priority sticker so we expected them to be one of the first ones out. When after 15 minutes of waiting they still hadn’t come out, we started to get concerned. Losing your luggage when you travel to a foreign country is always scary, but losing your luggage and all your hiking gear before you go on a trek is down right terrifying. Panic started to set in as I had visions of myself hiking in jeans and flats up the mountain. Every time we saw a black bag come out on the carousel, we would have a brief moment of excitement followed by more panic. Finally, after most people had left, our bags lumbered out. We breathed a sigh of relief and headed out through customs. Thank God foreign immigration and customs are so hassle free, I didn’t think I could stand any more excitement so early in the morning.
If you’ve ever needed to find a taxi at the airport in a foreign country, you’ve probably felt our dread. The minute you enter the arrival area, you are assaulted by a deluge of taxi drivers trying to get your attention to offer their transportation service. They will follow you or attempt to help you with your luggage as they steer you in the direction of their car. We didn’t want to deal with that, so when we saw the stall for “official taxi”, we thought why not? We approached and asked how much it would cost to go to Miraflores. The rate we were quoted was 3 times more expensive than what we were told it should cost – that’s literally highway robbery! We decided to forget it and take our chances with the “unofficial” taxis. As we entered the arrivals hall, there were a torrent of cabbies shouting “taxi” at us. One grabbed Fausto and asked where he wanted to go while another solicited me. They were jockeying for the fare, so negotiation for the rates quickly went down until they got to the point where they just asked us what we wanted to pay. We said 50 Sols and an agreement was reached and we followed the guy out as his hard won prize.
At last, we made it out of the airport and the sun was still not up. We scanned the empty city as our cab whizzed through the streets. The quiet city was still deep in its slumber and covered in fog creating an eerie effect. I was trying to absorb the surroundings and let it sink in that we have, for the first time set foot onto South America.
We decided to stay in Miraflores. The area is very different from the rest of Lima, especially catering to the moneyed tourists. On the street at all times were people sweeping, polishing, or doing general upkeep, giving it a nice sheen of newness. The streets were full of stores and restaurants catering to the needs of the visitors. If you venture out to the rest of Lima, you’d see that every where else is grubbier, graffitied, and more lived in.
After a quick nap in the lounge, we were given our room key, took a quick shower, and headed out to explore the city. Our first stop was to find a place to exchange money. We were told to go and find people in blue vests walking around the street since they have the best exchange rate. What we didn’t know was that ALL the public workers also wear a blue vest. We wandered around the park wondering if we should approach someone, but hesitated, thinking that flashing our money to strangers on the street might not be the best idea. Eventually, we saw a bank and found the right people with the blue vests! Important to note: they wear the vest with the money signs on the back and usually stand near a bank. We quickly agreed on an exchange rate and she whipped out a stack of bills and started counting out the Sols. She easily had about 10,000 Dollars on her in mixed currency.
After we got the money situation all sorted out, we decided to head to Larcomar, the shopping center on a cliff overlooking the ocean. We were excited to see the view and possibly find a local café where we could hang out and catch a soccer game. The mall was not what I thought it would be, the view was great but it was very geared towards tourists. The whole place was filled with American fast food restaurants and stores ranging from Aldo to Pinkberry. If you are homesick then this is the place for you. We were not impressed, so after about five minutes, we headed out to go find a local bar.
Heading away from Larcomar, we decided to take a walk on the nice path along the cliffside. As you stroll along the cliff overlooking the Pacific, you’ll see many lovely parks and locals coming out to do their morning exercises. You’ll also see the water dotted with surfers, Lima is known to have some of the best waves around.
Since we had some time, we decided to take a cab to the Plaza de Armas, in the historical center. The Plaza is surrounded by beautiful buildings in vibrant colors. The architecture is reminiscent of the Spanish Colonial style. In the center is a bronze fountain, dating back to the 1500s. The area is busy with locals and tourists who came out on a Saturday afternoon to shop and eat.
We also went to the nearby Church of San Francisco. We took a tour of the world-renowned library, saw the beautiful preserved paintings in the cloister and walked down to see the catacombs. There were rows and rows of bones and skulls stacked in geometric patterns. In terms of size, they are not as big as the catacombs in Paris, but still very impressive nonetheless.
The following are a few interesting things we saw while in Lima:
- Kitties in the Park – Kennedy square near our hotel was filled with friendly cats hanging around waiting for people to come and play with them. This reminds me of the cat cafes in Asia, except it’s free!
- Spontaneous Salsa – We saw two guys roll up to an open area in the park and start playing salsa music. People gravitated towards the music and joined in on the dancing. It was spontaneous, lively and fun. This is what you do in Lima on a Saturday night.
- Inventive Pandering – On our way to the airport the next day, we saw a few guys breakdance in the middle of the street, literally. Usually when you stop at a red light there will be people walking around asking to wash your windows for some change. In Lima, while we waited at a stop light, a few guys came out and put on a little show instead. They started break dancing, spinning on their head. Now that’s an interesting way to pander on the street. I haven’t seen that before.
Just as we thought our experience with cab drivers was relatively hassle-free in Lima, our last cab ride back to the airport left a sour taste in our mouth and provided a lesson for the future. We didn’t want to use the official cab from the hotel which costs 3 times more, so we hailed a cab from the corner. He agreed to take us to the airport for 50 Sols, which seemed reasonable. On the ride there he was making friendly chitchat and gave us his card to call in case we need a cab again. When we got to the destination, we paid the fare with 100 Sols bill. Silly us, we didn’t think to get change at the front desk before we leave. He gave us back 20 Sols in change then hemmed and hawed and gave us another 20. When Fausto pointed out that we still need another 10 back, he said he didn’t have any change. We didn’t want to stand there and argue over 10 Sols, which is probably what he was expecting. I just hate it when I am being forced to “tip”. So lesson of the day, always try to have small change on you when you take a taxi.
Having had low expectations to begin with, I found that Lima was better than I expected. I enjoyed my day and fit in quite a bit of eating (check out my post about eating in Lima) and exploring. If you are pressed for time, I think a day or two is probably long enough to see what Lima has to offer. Overall, my experience in Peru has whet my appetite to see more of South America. If you want to see more pictures from our trip, come check out our facebook page: www.facebook.com/LifeAfter9to5.
Air: American Airlines, $600 round trip
Hotel: Sheraton 4 Points, $150 per night
Length of Stay: 1 day