3 Days in Lima’s Most Artsy, Imaginative Neighborhoods

I’m writing this update from the common area of our hostel in Cusco, looking at a wall that’s brightly painted with birds, flowers and leaves – an accurate portrayal of the colors and sights of Peru. Cusco is our second stop, and also the base for our trek up to Machu Picchu, the famous Incan city that was one of our main reasons for coming to Peru. But more about Machu Picchu later. Our time in Lima, despite being the first location on our itinerary, was plenty eventful and definitely worth blogging about.

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We arrived in Lima at 5:30 a.m. after about 20 hours in airports and planes, and we were excited to check into our hostel, shower off and get some breakfast. After picking up our luggage, we booked an Uber to Barranco’s Backpackers Inn, and enjoyed the sights of sounds of early morning Lima along the way. I wasn’t really expecting Lima to be an exciting place to stay. I figured it’d be like any other big city, but that we should try to spend a couple of days there just to say we had. Besides, my dad had warned me that Lima would be dirty and relatively uninteresting, based on his experience when he traveled to Peru back in the early 70s.

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But it appears that a lot has changed in the past 50 years. For one thing, while I do realize that the majority of Lima isn’t represented by the area where we stayed, the city definitely has a bustling (and very clean) scene in the neighborhoods of Barranco and Miraflores. During our Uber ride, we drove along the coastline, where there were miles and miles of beaches and surfing spots. As we entered the Barranco neighborhood, I was blown away by the beautiful street art, colorful historic buildings and gorgeous landscaping around the neighborhood. When we finally arrived at our hostel, I was excited to see that it overlooked the ocean.

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Please excuse the squinting – the sun was SUPER bright that day.

Like I said, we couldn’t wait to shower and clean up after an entire day of air travel – but it wasn’t to be. We got to the hostel at 6:30 a.m. only to learn that we wouldn’t be able to check in until 1 p.m. We were exhausted, dirty, smelly and without a place to stay (even the breakfast restaurants weren’t open yet). But hey, at least I was able to negotiate a private room and learn about the check-in policies using only Spanish.

For the next six hours, we literally walked and walked and walked. We walked along the coast (beautiful ocean, but not so beautiful playa – in our area at least). We walked around the gorgeously green and quaintly historic Barranco neighborhood (basically Lima’s well-off hipster neighborhood). I taught Logan some Spanish basics. We learned that agua con gas (seltzer water) is available pretty much everywhere. And then we did all of that about four more times until it was FINALLY time to check in to our hostel.

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The next two days were spent doing much of the same. We ate at a few cevicherias and were really impressed by the freshness of the fish and the flavors that accompanied it. Ceviche is fresh fish served with corn, sweet potatoes (cold sweet potatoes, by the way), onions and sometimes other veggies, all drizzled in a light and lemony sauce.

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Logan continues to impress me with his willingness to jump right in and speak Spanish. I have more knowledge of the language, but I’m also more scared to use it. On one occasion, Logan spotted some interesting-looking fruits at a little vegetable stand and proceeded to run up to the woman manning the stand, pointing at a fruit and asking “Que es?” The minute she started answering his question, of course, he called me over to translate. But it was pretty admirable nonetheless. (By the way, that fruit was a South American pomegranate, in case you were wondering.)

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So that’s how we spent our days in Lima. Trying new food, practicing Spanish, walking around the neighborhood looking at cool buildings, ordering agua con gas and learning about exotic fruits. Oh, and we also spent a good deal of time in my new favorite place in the entire world: this park.

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This park was so incredibly lush and beautiful. One of the most impressive things about Barranco is its landscaped greenery and gorgeous public spaces, and this park is the pinnacle of these achievements. Colorful street art dominates the walls of the many businesses that have sprung up along the park, and hundreds of birds sing from the tall trees that dot the landscape. We spent more than a few hours lying in the park, admiring the unique art on display and listening to the sounds of Barranco’s residents strolling through and going about their days.

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Check out that sweet ant art. I named him Bernie.

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On our second night in Lima, we met two super cool girls at a bar. Both were close to our age, and one was a writer and the other a graphic designer. We immediately hit it off, and they asked us if we’d like to go to a party with them the following night. Of course, we were SUPER excited to accept. These two ladies were from Lima, born and raised. We were excited to get a more authentic look at Barranco’s nightlife.

And boy, it did not disappoint. The next night, after getting all dolled up for a night on the town, we met the girls at the same spot where we’d been the night before. Then, they took us to a more locally loved bar that was just a 10-minute walk from our hostel. The place was amazing – a beautiful courtyard outside of an old, historic building with European detailing. The scene was pretty impressive. Our new friends were very nice, and all of the people in their circle seemed worldly and interesting. On one occasion, after talking to one guy for about ten minutes, I was informed by our new friends that he was actually a well-known news anchor in Lima. Apparently I’d met a famous person without even knowing it. I would also venture to guess that there were a fair few members of Lima’s social elite there – there were A LOT of beautiful people.

We did hit one minor snag during our stay in Lima. After two nights in Barranco, we packed up our things and took an Uber to the bus station to catch our ride to Cusco. To our dismay, the bus we had planned to take was already full – which meant that we had to stay another night in Lima before we could leave for Cusco. So, we quickly reserved two beds in a different hostel in the neighborhood of Miraflores.

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If Barranco is Lima’s version of Wicker Park, Miraflores is its Lincoln Park. More urban but equally hip and upscale, Miraflores has tons of restaurants and shops. After checking into our hostel, we ventured out to find food and happened upon the best meal of our trip so far: anticuchos. Anticuchos are basically skewered meats, and the place where we got ours was clearly a beloved, family-owned joint. The meal was less than $3 USD, and seriously top-notch.

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After that last night in Miraflores, we were finally able to secure a seat on the next bus to Cusco, where we are now. But like I said, more about Cusco later. We really loved Lima and are so glad we got a chance to explore Peru’s biggest city, which is arguably the best reflection of its modern culture. You’re beautiful, Lima. Stay you.

And now, one shameless self-promotion: Be sure to follow me on Instagram and Snapchat for more pics and live updates from our South America adventure! 

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