Probably the biggest city in the world not to have a subterranean public transport system, Lima’s traffic can get very heavy indeed. The peak-time commute is as bad as any modern city; the typical driving style is aggressive and the infrastructure varies from bizarre to crumbling. One of the talking points for all Limeños are the combis – the public buses that vary from lumbering, ancient monsters to the thousands of swifter vans. Many residents can’t wait to get rid and replace them with modern mass transit style buses but we think they are the saving grace of Lima’s public transport system. As privileged guests of the city, it is at first an interesting challenge to figure out their routes but, if you’re standing in the right place, you won’t have to wait long before you get to enjoy being squashed into a metal box that will hurtle down the streets, weaving through the traffic at speeds that are only safe because everyone else is doing the same thing.
During the winter months, Lima suffers from a coastal fog that sits over the first few kilometers of land, graying out the sky and making everything damp in the mornings with a fine drizzle called garúa. If you don’t move much, this humidity will get into your bones and no amount of clothes will stop you from feeling cold. But the minute you start exercising – a brisk walk or cycle ride, say, or even just getting active in the kitchen, you’ll feel warm again. It’s a strange environment which, in many ways, is perfect, however. You’ll never need an umbrella or sun block and pretty much none of the accommodation – even the modern apartment blocks – require heating or cooling.
Like any world city, Lima has a wide range of entertainment for its citizens of many different classes, cultures and interests. There are the uber-posh nightclubs in Miraflores, the more accessible events in Barranca and dingy disco-bars all over the city. But away from the hype and mainstream, you’ll find plenty of things happening, suited to the more alternative minded and rooted in a more genuine creativity. On a Saturday night, heading for Plaza Francisco Bolognesi would be our advice. The best events we attended were all located a few blocks around that area – a drums and dreadlocks all-dayer at the Casa de la Maestro; electro at the beautiful
Asociacion Guadalupana; and the rough and ready hardcore parties hosted in the Socialist Party HQ. Cheap drinks, no need for heavy-handed security and pretty much gringo-free.
Peruvian cuisine is seldom held in as high regard as that of other nations. I feel they have missed out on the Western appetite for quick, tasty finger food like what the Mexican’s offer with their tacos and the Italians with their pizzas. Maybe, too, it is not as exotic as Indian or Chinese – nor as established among foodies as French or Japanese. But a Peruvian menu is as iconic as any of those, a fantastic blend of criole and chifa recipes stocked with all the ingredients unique to the Andes and the fruits of the Pacific Ocean. And, of course, in Lima, you have the chance to enjoy the full range that Peru offers. Keep an eye out for places where the office workers go – avocado and ceviche starters, chicken soaked in milk and biscuit, alpaca steaks or shredded beef – a typical menu for $3.
If you confine your stay to Miraflores, you’ll only get to see anonymous apartment blocks crowding out the sky. You might venture into the Historical Centre and be rewarded with fine examples of colonial architecture or, visiting Barranca, you might glimpse the few remaining traditional, art-deco buildings that are famous for that area. But the true gems of Limeño architecture are to be found all over the city where the residents are well-off enough to build their own homes. Each home is unique – I imagine their blue prints are torn up after the thing has been built so that its creative individualism is preserved. Windows are rarely square. Lack of rain means no one has to worry too much which way the roofs slope – and cheap materials, cheap labor and lax building regulations mean that there is opportunity for balconies, turrets, twisting staircases and random rooms and terraces. After the uniformity of some of the world’s housing stock, it is a pleasure to wander the residential streets of areas like San Miguel and Surco.