My first trip to Peru was back in 2001, and it marked my final few days of a semester spent living and studying abroad (in Santiago, Chile). I spent nearly all of my time in Cuzco and hiking to Machu Picchu, and am going to offer no advice of that trip here because traveling to Machu Picchu 19 years ago was a MASSIVELY different experience than it is now. At that time, Lima didn’t have much of a reputation as a destination to visit, so other than traveling through its airport en route to Chile, I spent no time in the city. As luck would have it, my buddy Ben moved to Lima in January AND I was going to fly through Lima anyway (en route to Rio de Janiero), so I figured it was the perfect time to revisit this country and finally get to know Lima. The decision was made even easier when I discovered that it cost the same (or, maybe it was less) to build in a week long layover in Lima, than just have a normal 3-8 hour connection. WIN! So I flew from Mexico City to Lima, hung out with Ben for the week (when he wasn’t working), and then hopped on the other leg of my flight to Lima. Note: I flew Avianca, which is about as basic as it gets. Pretty much nothing is included, even in long, international flights. No entertainment screens, so make sure to have your movies or shows downloaded to your device in advance. They do have water and non-alcoholic beverages for free, and they offer some food, but when I say limited I mean it. My flight from CDMX to Lima offered two “entree” choices (in quotes because it was teeny tiny portion size), one vegetarian (but not vegan) and one with meat/seafood. I was thrilled with that. But on my flight from Lima to Rio, they handed out sandwiches with meat, no alternatives, and I was told next time that I had to call the airline in advance to inform them of any dietary restrictions (that’s right, call, nothing online). Given my nightmare in just booking and confirming this flight (over an hour on the phone with them due to some glitch in their system that didn’t correctly process the flight I had purchased online), the thought of having to call them again is not something I would ever look forward to. Plus, I had the awful luck of an exit row seat on my red-eye to Rio. Why is that bad? Because on Avianca flights the exit row seats will not recline all at, so you have a tiny bit more leg room but you have to sit straight up the entire time on an overnight flight. My advice, if you can find comparable (or even slightly more expensive) flights on other airlines, avoid Avianca.
Now the fun part! My actual trip in Lima!
Because my motivation was more to visit my friend and less about sightseeing, I didn’t drive myself crazy doing too much while I was in Lima. But I definitely took advantage of a few free evenings Ben had to check out some great restaurants with him. My thoughts on Lima’s food scene: a lot of hype and REALLY expensive as far as eating in Latin America goes (and quite frankly, in the truly higher end restaurants, on par with expensive restaurants in any US or European city), and while I had lots of yummy food, nothing blew me away. I definitely do NOT think this city lives up to all the food hype. I’ve definitely had more impressive meals in many other LatAm cities (and for MUCH cheaper prices). In other words, this is not a city I would every travel to for food alone. Plus, unlike the majority of major international cities (including those in LatAm), Lima is still rather behind on vegetarian and vegan options across the city. There are a few (and some are wonderful) plant based restaurants, but definitely had trouble more than once of going to restaurants or food courts and realizing that I either had absolutely no options, or my only options were some version of a salad or Italian (pizza, etc). That all said, I will fully admit I didn’t go out for lunch and dinner daily, so the number of restaurants I hit was relatively small, so feel free to take or leave my impressions. Some of my absolute favorite places are highlighted in this video:
amaZ caters to all types of diets, with amazingly yummy veg selections. Highly recommend! Veda was out of control FABULOUS! Yes, it is an all plant based restuarnt, but do NOT let that scare any of you meat eaters away. My buddy Ben is a proud carnivore and this was his first time to a plant based restaurant (ever) and he was blown away by how creative and tasty everything was. If in Lima, JUST GO! We also decided to splurge one evening and headed to the famous Astrid & Gaston, and… I was massively underwhelmed. The restaurant itself is stylish and beautiful and the courtyard out back is amazing! However, they wouldn’t let us sit there because you apparently have to request that when making your reservation online (no, there is absolutely nothing asking if you’d prefer to sit inside or out, you just have to know). The cocktails we ordered were also pricey but wonderfully made! The wine menu is expansive but the in-house sommelier was probably the least knowledgeable and least helpful of any wine “expert” I’ve ever talked to anywhere in the world. Much of the food I thought was beautiful and tasty, though not good enough at all for the prices, with two exceptions: the bread basket was the most tasty and creative bread basket I’ve ever sampled at a restaurant (no, it’s not free, but yes, it’s 100% worth it), and my hot “starter” Louche Squash Ravioli is hands down one of the best dishes I’ve eaten in all of LatAm, and definitely in the top 10 (may top 5?) of things I’ve eaten anywhere in the world during all of my travels. What really affected my opinion of this place most of all: it had the WORST service I’ve gotten at any restaurant anywhere in the world. And I am not exaggerating even a tiny bit. Phenomenally poor service. Given all that, if back in Lima, I might go back if the squash ravioli is still on the menu, it was that good.
I also checked out a creative, plant-based restaurant in Barranco (my favorite neighborhood in all of Lima, btw), Germinando Vida. What I really liked here was that they serve plant-based versions of traditional Peruvian dishes, so it’s one of the few places where you can try and enjoy some of the typically meat or seafood based foods that are such an important part of the culture. Just down the street is a dive Mexican Restaurant, Burrito Bar, that is anything BUT comparable to traditional Mexican food. However, the burritos are huge, super tasty, and cheap! And in a city of expensive food, cheap (for plant-based eaters) is rare, so I would definitely recommend if in the neighborhood. Finally, right in between Germinando Vida and Burrito Bar you’ll find Blu Gelateria. Now, it doesn’t come close to the gelato I had in Buenos Aires (which, at many places, I found to be better than gelato in Italy!), but it is DAMN GOOD gelato with fabulously interesting flavors. There always seems to be a line, but it’s worth it if you’re in the area.
Since I mentioned a couple of neighborhoods above, let me cut straight to it. Neighborhood advice: some of the safer areas (that also have more options in walking distance) for tourists are Miraflores, the even more expensive San Isidro, and the slightly more artsy and casual Barranco. I loved Barranco. LOVED! It reminded me of the things I loved so much about Condesa and Roma in Mexico City (super walkable, tree lined streets and parks, lots of people hanging out, plenty of cafes, bars, and restaurants everywhere), but also with oceanfront! If I was to return for travel or if life ever took me to Lima to live for a stretch, 100% Barranco is where I’d want to be!
The city has a lovely waterfront, which stretches for miles. However, the waterfront you’ll walk on is actually on the cliffs way above the ocean, so it’s not quite like the waterfront walks you find in many cities. But still nice and offers fabulous views, and while there I had one day in particular with a really fantastic sunset.
My final adventure in Lima was actually a super fun day tour I took with Erwin, the father of Dani, one of my BFFs from law school. Dani’s family is Peruvian and I knew they continued to travel back to Peru regularly to visit friends and family, and I totally lucked out that her dad, Erwin, and I just happened to be in Lima the exact same week. So Erwin suggested we do a bus tour to explore the historic part of the city, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself!
I also followed Erwin’s advice to head to the Museo del Oro (Museum of Gold), which was interesting (though if you’re short on time, I wouldn’t say it’s a must do). Also, the cost for a guided tour seems to be somewhat negotiable, but is a bit pricey if you’re traveling solo. However, I lucked out and there was another woman visiting the museum alone, so we were able to partner up and split the cost (I believe we ended up paying 20soles/each); the cost is typically 40-50soles for a group of up to 4 people. On the weapon and war side of the museum, the guide didn’t really add much at all in the way of information, but she added a lot of interesting context, history, and background when we moved onto the gold artifacts half of the museum.
What else to know about Lima? Traffic is awful. I mean awful. The city has less than 1/3 of the number of residents of Mexico City, but commute times seem to be the same. The city just doesn’t seem to have developed infrastructure necessary to match the size of its growth. Plus, unlike almost every other major city in LatAm, there is no metro system!! Meaning the only public transit available is a bus system, which also has to sit in traffic. So be sure to plan ahead and leave lots of extra time for your commutes to avoid any issues. Uber does exist and is reliable in Lima, and while it’s not nearly as cheap as using Uber in Buenos Aires, Mexico City, or Rio, it is an affordable option.
I actually quite enjoyed my week in Lima. It’s an easy city to navigate and adjust to, with a plethora of conveniences and comforts that will keep most Westerners feeling safe and comfortable (including plenty of people who speak English most everywhere you go- restaurants, bars, shops, tour buses, etc.). As with pretty much all of Latin America, the people are so wonderful. Fun to talk to and happy to chat anywhere, anytime. I can see how this would be a very easy city to live in, and it’s definitely worth exploring for a few days, especially if you can do like me and make it a long layover en route to other South American destinations.