TRAVEL The Peruvian capital of Lima promises cutting-edge cuisine, fascinating museums and a wealth of architectural interest to boot
Once harshly dubbed ‘Lima the Ugly’, Peru’s capital hasn’t had an easy time shaking its cruel nickname, but cities don’t need a particular kind of beauty when they have massively rich culture, food and history to offer
Landing in Lima, you mightn’t be impressed at first. A sprawling coastal megalopolis often shrouded in fog, the city doesn’t have the magnificent beauty of other Peruvian postcard places, such as Machu Picchu or Cusco. This is likely the reason why Lima was always seen as a gateway into Peru’s other treasures, rather than as a destination itself.
Fortunately, I had done enough research on the city to know this beforehand. I knew that Lima would be sprawling and foggy. I also knew that it would burst my taste buds with good food, as it’s one of South America’s most prominent foodie capitals. Three of the city’s eateries – Maido, Astrid y Gastón and Central Restaurante – have been ranked consistently on the S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants. And these three establishments are just a partial taste of Lima’s rich culinary domain.
When it comes to Peruvian cuisine, there’s only one place to start: ceviche, a flavour-packed raw seafood dish that’s the country’s national food. Don’t hesitate to order a plate of uncooked fish at a pavement joint: Peruvians have been preparing ceviche since the Inca empire, which means wherever you land up, the fish will be as fresh as the waves that lap the city’s shores. Street food aside, there are many restaurants cranking out killer ceviche, too: chef Javier Wong’s Chez Wong and chef Rafael Osterling’s El Mercado are two of the fiercest ceviche competitors in town.
While Peru’s national dish has always been available in Lima, fine dining hasn’t. Recently though, Peruvian chefs have been pushing boundaries and elevating local gastronomy. At Maido, chef Mitsuharu ‘Micha’ Tsumura sends guests on a Japanese-Peruvian food adventure. At Central Restaurante, Virgilio Martínez Véliz – one of the country’s most talented chefs – uses indigenous ingredients as the focal point. And influential chef Gastón Acurio continues to elevate local traditional cuisine at the trailblazing stalwart Astrid y Gastón. There are also those
that offer a dose of Peruvian history alongside a delicious meal, such as Huaca Pucllana, where diners can gorge on plates of ceviche and quinoa while looking onto a 1 500-year-old adobe pyramid.
Essentially ‘founded’ in 1535 by the conquistador Francisco Pizarro, Lima is dominated by Spanish-style architecture (unlike the rest of Peru, which is punctuated with citadels), especially in the historic part of the city. This isn’t because citadels or people didn’t exist here before Pizarro, but because the Spanish made it their mission to eliminate all indigenous religious sites. Sometimes they’d build Catholic churches in their place, as is the case with the Basilica Cathedral of Lima, a towering Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque structure that looms over Plaza Mayor in downtown Lima. It is in this district that most historical sites can be found, such as the Government Palace, the Church of San Agustín and the Monastery of San Francisco.
Although pre-conquest sites aren’t plentiful, archaeological elements still have their place in the city. The privately owned Museo Larco, an archaeological museum set in a stark, white 18th century building strewn with bougainvillea, has a staggering amount of pre-conquest art, including an ‘ erotic room’ that gives insight into ancient Peruvian sexuality. As for modern art, Lima’s cultural scene wouldn’t be the same without works by one of the country’s biggest – and currently, most controversial – exports, photographer Mario Testino. In 2012, Testino opened MATE (Museo Mario
Testino), which houses some of his collection, including the iconic portrait he snapped of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997.
Considered to be Lima’s most artsy neighbourhood, the bohemian seaside district of Barranco is an area that will easily entice you to stay. And with two of the city’s most historic and glamorous hotels located here, you should. The boutique Hotel B, which occupies a restored belle époque mansion, has a glossy interior with marble fixtures, antique chandeliers and claw-footed bathtubs. Casa República, another boutique hotel set in a 1920s mansion, has beautifully restored old tiles, windows and columns that serve as a reminder of the district’s heyday, when it was a coastal resort for the wealthy in the early 20th century. Museums aren’t hard to come by in this area and, other than MATE, it’s here you’ll find Museo Pedro de Osma and Galería Lucía de la Puente.
You’ll also discover Lima’s epochal coastline: the sharp, rocky cliffs that drop off into the Pacific Ocean. On a good, non-foggy day, you can almost see as far as Papua New Guinea. On a day like that, you’ll be left feeling the opposite of how you felt when you landed: impressed.
(astridygaston.com) (maido.pe/en) (centralrestaurante.com.pe/en).
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T HIS PAGE, CLOCKWISE F ROM TOP Martínez Véliz makes use of native fruits and vegetables to create his tastebudtantalising courses; cutting-edge cuisine from Central includes edible clay, the boiled bark of local trees and wafers made from tunta, a dried tuber; geometric lines and citrus shades merge in architectural accord at a Lima apartment block; the capital provides a springboard for scenic, high-altitude treks in the nearby Andes Mountains.