It´s hard to set fair expectations for a place when nearly every guide book write-up or blog post you read beforehand starts along the lines of “It´s never love at first sight with Lima“, each describing the noise and chaos that greet you.
Alternating between lurching over pot holes and grinding to a halt in gridlocked traffic with a constant blare of angry horns, as we drove from the airport to our hostel in Miraflores, we had to agree; Lima had not gotten the memo about good first impressions.
Miraflores is a pretty seafront neighbourhood, filled with cafes and restaurants. It has stunning views from the clifftops. It has surfing and parasailing. It has a park dedicated to love themed art. It even has a park home to dozens of snoozing cats. With crystal clear hindsight, we should obviously have started our day right on our doorstep, exploring all of this.
Instead, we hopped straight on the Metropolitano – the public bus network that runs more like a tram on its own separated lanes – up to Centro Historico. Unsurprisingly, Centro Historico was indeed very historico. We walked from Plaza San Martin up a pedestrianised street passing grand Art Deco buildings and several with ornate wooden balconies that would look more at home in Tudor England than Peru. We reached Plaza Mayor, surrounded with elegant yellow colonial buildings, the cathedral and the Palacio de Gobierno.
We missed the changing of the guard at the palace by seconds, so instead went to check out the museum of Peruvian Literature in a converted train station just behind. Feeling a little underwhelmed and churched-out we decided to skip the rest of the centre and head back to Miraflores.
Things improved a lot with a walk along the Malecon, watching the surfers far below the cliffs and parasailers launch themselves off the edge of the cliffs to swoop along the skyscrapers lining the sea front. Parque de Amore, with its art installations and mosaic benches, reminded us a little of Parque Guell in Barcelona.
Further along, past the bike hire stands and Paddington statue, Larcomar shopping mall is carved right into the cliff-face. We stopped by the Peru Rail office to pick up our Vistadome tickets from Cusco to Machu Picchu before carrying on along the seafront.
Half an hour´s worth of some incredible seafront apartments later, we were in Barranco. We spent the rest of our time between the delicious chicharron sandwiches (roast pork, salsa criolla, onions and slices of sweet potato) from El Chinito and La Lucha in Miraflores and Barranco´s bars; a bar in a converted tram carriage, Canta Rana, every inch covered in football flags (the perfect place to watch Wales beat Belgium in the Europa Cup), Colonia & Co had it´s own gourmet ice cream counter, and Picas had great balcony views of La Ermita church opposite.
Peru is the home of pisco sours, so it seemed rude not to try a few in the nation´s capital. Ayahuasca was the perfect sours spot. Inside the huge old mansion building, the interconnecting rooms each had a different style, each bar with a pisco menu just as varied. If Lima had made its first impression with Miraflores and Barranco it may well have been love at first sight.