Lima, Peru – the beginning of a journey across South America

After two years away, I finally made it back to South America. The trip began early in the morning at Detroit Wayne Metropolitan Airport, where the first of three flights departed. The flight route was convoluted, Detroit -> Boston -> Fort Lauderdale -> Lima, but flying with JetBlue made the ordeal much less painful than it could have been. We arrived in Lima after 11 PM local time and cleared passport control and customs relatively quickly along with a fellow bioarchaeology student who happened to be sitting next to me on the last leg of the flight. We found our hostel pick up in the arrival halls and had a butchered conversation in Spanish with the driver on the way to our hostel.

Flying out of Fort Lauderdale

The hostel, 1900 Backpackers, was a lovely old hostel located in a colonial mansion designed by Gustav Eiffel. It was definitely one of the nicest hostels I’ve stayed in and I would highly recommend it to anyone heading to Lima. The hostel offered two free walking tours the morning after we arrived, and being the cheap person that I am, we decided to take both tours that day.

The first tour took us to Miraflores, the wealthy and very Western part of the city. This district was very much like any city in the U.S., complete with TGI Fridays and Starbucks on seemingly every corner. The first order of business was eating lunch, and since there were only three of us and the guide, we were able to have a nice conversation with him over plates of wonderful Peruvian food. I had Aji de Gallina (one of the best Peruvian dishes, hands down) and Kirsten had Lomo Saltado (the first of many). Once we finished with lunch we walked down to Parque Kennedy, a small park named after JFK which was teeming with hundreds of stray cats (it did not smell pretty). From here we walked down to the coastline and El Parque del Amor (Love Park), which had spectacular views of the Pacific coast and the cliffs of Lima. We left Miraflores from here as the guide had to get back to the hostel to prepare for the second tour.

Aji de Gallina
Cliffs of Miraflores

The second walking tour went to the Historic Centre of Lima, about a 15 minute walk from the hostel. The architecture in this area could have been in any old European city. We walked along the pedestrian only shopping street to Plaza San Martin, where there was a festival for Indigenous Languages of Peru taking place. We stopped to watch a dance performance from the Amazon region of Peru and check out some of the displays (and I got a really great free poster of the languages of Peru). From here we continued up toward the Plaza de Armas and the river, our guide discussing the history of the buildings along the way. The walking tours gave us some grounding as to the orientation of the city, which we needed for the following day of site seeing. On the way back to the hostel we stopped at every churro stand along the street (it’s a disgrace to visit Lima and not eat at least 5).

One of the many churros eaten in Lima
Amazonian dance during the Language Festival

Our second and last day in Lima was packed with all the sites the walking tours didn’t hit. We started by heading to the Cathedral of Lima, which housed the grave of Francisco Pizarro and some really cool crypts with glass flooring which allowed you to see the skeletons under the floor. The Pizarro tomb was quite ornate, but the most interesting part was an analysis of his skeleton which was displayed next to the tomb (how often is bioarchaeology so prominent in an exhibit?!). The rest of the cathedral was beautiful, but very similar to other Catholic churches in Europe. From here we continued to another church a few blocks away. The Monastery and Church of San Francisco is the second most important church in Lima. The visit to the monastery required a tour, and no photos were allowed inside (though I managed to get a few that semi-turned out). The monastery houses a large and beautiful old library of antique Spanish books from the 16-18th centuries. In addition, below the monastery and church are an extensive network of catacombs, including a circular pit which holds concentric circles of skulls and long bones (best part of the tour). When the tour ended, we went back to the Plaza de Armas to watch the changing of the guard at the presidential palace. A marching band comes out and plays every day at 12:45 PM to signal the guard change. Once this ended we found a cab and headed to Miraflores for lunch.

Francisco Pizarro’s Tomb
San Francisco Church and Monastery

We were dropped off in the cat park and headed straight to find ceviche. Ceviche is probably the best Peruvian dish there is. It consists of seafood cooked only by the acidity of lemon juice and served with a side of sweet potato. When combined with the purple corn drink Chicha Morada, you have a perfect Peruvian meal (which is exactly what we did). Following the delectable meal, we walked the streets of Miraflores to find Huaca Pucllana, a mud brick pyramid located in the city. Huaca Pucllana was built by the Lima Culture, between 200-700 CE, as a religious and administrative center. Because of the lack of rain and the construction patterns, the site was remained largely intact over the centuries. The bricks are not stacked in the traditional way, but rather stacked upright to allow for movement during the frequent seismic events of the region. The site is overall pretty well preserved and restored, and the associated museum houses a few interesting objects from the excavations at the site. When our tour of the site finished, we walked back to the coast and visited a mall built into the side of a cliff. We caught a cab back to our hostel and ran across the street to the Lima Art Museum to visit before it closed. It houses an impressive collection of archaeological specimens and some not-so-impressive modern art pieces. It’s not a very big museum, and can be visited in well under an hour. When we finished touring the museum, we went back to the hostel to pack and get ready for our early morning pick up by the PeruHop bus, a hop-on hop-off bus that we booked to take us to Cuzco for the next week. 

Fresh ceviche in Miraflores
Huaca Pucllana ruins

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David Hansen

Bioarchaeologist in training with an incurable travel bug. I write about my travel experiences and archaeological sites/research from around the globe.

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