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.

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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.

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