A Perfect Day in Lima

The city’s attractions compete with top international destinations By: Eric Rosen
 Museo Larco (c) 2010 Eric Rosen
 Museo Larco (c) 2010 Eric Rosen

The Details

Pre-historic ruins, rugged coastline, cosmopolitan diversions and cutting-edge cuisine — Lima has attractions to compete with the best international destinations. Peru’s capital city also has plenty of congestion, gridlock, pollution and some petty crime. But most of that just makes it more atmospheric, and no trip to the country would be complete without hitting Lima’s main sights and, of course, indulging in fabulous food. Here are some great stops for the perfect day out in Lima.

Breakfast at Miraflores Park Hotel
The Miraflores Park Hotel is a gorgeous Orient-Express property in the heart of Lima’s upscale Miraflores District, right along the coast. The enormous standard guestrooms are the size of suites thanks to large sitting areas and have bathrooms the size of one-bedroom apartments, with huge rainfall showers, soaking tubs and granite sinks. The hotel also contains a gym, a spa and an outdoor pool deck on the 11th floor, plus the popular Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Bar and the new Mesa 18 restaurant in the lobby. Breakfast is served until 10 a.m. in the Observatory Restaurant on the top floor of the hotel, with views of the ocean and the surrounding neighborhoods. Treat yourself to a made-to-order omelet and pile up on the fresh pastries and fruit because you’ve got a big day out and a hearty breakfast is essential.

National Museum of Archeology, Anthropology and History of Peru
The oldest state museum in the country has a comprehensive, if sometimes rambling, collection of artifacts, textiles, decorative arts pieces and even human remains and mummies. Some of the pieces date to prehistoric times. The exhibits are organized geographically and by time period, covering an extensive breadth of time and space. A quick visit will leave visitors with a good understanding of the many cultures that have — and still do — call Peru home.

Museo Larco
Probably Lima’s most charming museum, the Museo Larco, is housed in an 18th-century mansion which was in turn built over a 7th-century pyramid. Lush, verdant gardens surround the white colonial building, and it would be a shame not to take a few minutes to sit in the shade of the bougainvillea bushes while enjoying an espresso from the on-site cafe. The collection, which was started in the early 20th century, contains more than 3,000 years’ worth of arts and artifacts, delivering a powerhouse display of pre-Columbian Peruvian history, including some breathtaking golden jewelry and ceramics used in rituals, as well as everyday items. The real highlight, though, is the slightly naughty erotic art exhibit in a separate ground-floor hall that reveals that romance in pre-Columbian Peru was just as fraught as in modern times.

Plaza Las Armas and the Catacombs
No trip to Lima would be complete without a stop at the historic city center, the Plaza de Armas. It is flanked on one side by the Palacio de Gobierno (the seat of Peru’s president), and on another by the cathedral, which was built in 1625 according to designs overseen by the notorious conquistador Francisco Pizarro. Just around the corner is one of the capital’s most visited sights, the Catacombs in the Convent of San Francisco. The catacombs house a ghoulish display of bones from tens of thousands of poor souls who were originally buried in Lima’s first cemetery. The church itself, though, is also a spectacular Baroque building with beautiful wall frescoes and a fascinating library of rare books.

La Mar
If you haven’t eaten at one of Gaston Acurio’s 32 restaurants, you cannot call yourself a foodie. That might sound harsh, but with a restaurant empire that stretches across North and South America and one of the most popular cookbooks around, Acurio put Peruvian cuisine on the map, so to speak. One of the reasons he is so acclaimed is because of his myriad creative versions of what is basically Peru’s national dish: ceviche, and the place to get it in Lima is Acurio’s La Mar in Miraflores. There are more than nine varieties of it on the menu, including one made with beautifully pink mountain trout and seafood in a rich green pepper cream broth. There are also sushi rolls galore, plus some traditional tiraditos, or potato cakes topped with various meats for those not in the mood for raw fish. Be sure to call ahead because the small al fresco dining room is one of the city’s most popular lunch spots.

Huaca Pucllana
Pre-dating Inca culture by 700 years, this impressive complex of ruins was built by the native Lima culture. Originally, it was built as a ceremonial and political center, and its name comes from the local Quechua dialect meaning “place of ritual games.” From here the political elite and the clergy controlled what is now Central Peru until being subsumed by the Wari culture. Today, you can stroll the reconstructed ruins on a guided tour, admiring the scale of the Great Pyramid and the other secular buildings, as well as petting the animals at a small menagerie in one corner of the complex. The restaurant on the grounds also serves upscale versions of classic Peruvian dishes such as lomo saltado, guinea pig and ceviche.

Larco Mar Mall
No, you don’t need to do much shopping here, but the Larco Mar is just a two-minute stroll from the Miraflores Park, and is built dramatically into the sheer bluffs that overlook the scenic shoreline. It houses 18 restaurants, a movie theater, and shops selling typical Peruvian goods such as alpaca clothing and silver jewelry, as well as a few international chains like L’Occitaine and Aldo. The thrill here, though, is about the views rather than the merchandise.

Joining the cadre of young, innovative Peruvian chefs pushing the envelope of their native cuisine, 32-year-old Virgilio Martinez opened Central eight months ago after stints in famous kitchens in Paris, Madrid, New York, Singapore and Colombia. Now, with a stylish restaurant in tony Mirflores and his own kitchen, he seems determined to prove himself with dishes such as ahi sashimi with yellow chili pepper-avocado dressing and charcoal croutons; lamb cannelloni with artichoke cream, pistachios and capers; and suckling pig confit with Parma ham and native potatoes in a huacatay herb emulsion. Martinez’ cuisine takes the best traditional Peruvian ingredients and reinterprets them with his distinctive gourmet flair. He’s surely a chef to watch and seems destined to make a name for himself not only in Peru, but internationally.

Going Out In Barranco
Every city has its nightlife hub and, if you’re young in Lima, that hub is bohemian Barranco, where students, artists and well-heeled professionals come to meet up and kick back. Grab an early cocktail (around 11 p.m.) at Picas, like their signature pisco sour flavored with the cuyamaca jungle fruit. The hip lounge is right near the charmingly rickety wooden 19th-century Puente de los Suspiros, or Bridge of Sighs, where young couples walk hand-in-hand. Just up the street is another hangout popular with twentysomethings, Ayahuasca. The sprawling lounge has several distinct rooms, including a cozy basement bar, outdoor decks in the front and the back, a bustling front bar and several sitting areas, chock-full of installation-art wall fixtures and shabby-chic furniture, where nightlife-lovers plant themselves to enjoy an evening of alternative pop music and ultra-strong cocktails.

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