Destination: Lima

By Deanna Palić

by Deanna Palic

When I arrived in Peru in mid-September 2005 for the Latin America Travel Mart, Lima was in the last throes of winter. Spring was just one week away and temperatures were in the high 60s day, mid-50s evening.

Limeños boast that rainfall there is “less than a tear a year” and that there isn’t an umbrella factory in the city. Except in summer, Dec. 23-March 23, the city is blanketed in a gray pall, a heavy mist that moves in from the sea. The locals call it garua. It is as close as Lima gets to a “drizzle.” When the garua is so heavy that the streets of the city actually glisten, it is front-page headline news!

Lima’s Government Palace, the home of sitting presidents in Peru. Photo: Palic

As an anecdote to the gloominess, Limeños have painted edifices in the most astonishing hues: cobalt, sienna, amber, aquamarine and shades the color of ice cream: pistachio, creamy peach, French vanilla and café au lait.

The central square in every Peruvian town, and Lima’s Plaza Mayor is no exception, is a hive of activity. In years past it overflowed with ambulantes who came in from the shantytowns to hawk their wares. Candy and drinks for purchase were sold from carts on the sidewalks. Money changers, with their calculators and wads of bills, gave the best exchange rates. In recent years, the city government has been quite successful in keeping the ambulantes at bay.

The ambiance today is more subdued and in keeping with the aristocracy of the Government Palace which borders the plaza. A changing-of-the-guard ceremony takes place each day at 11:45 a.m.

A large statue of the Spaniard Francisco Pizarro on horseback once graced the center of the square. Spain, in its lust for gold and empire expansion, was not satisfied with its successful conquests in the more northern Americas. Pizarro was sent to Peru to bring the mighty Incan Empire to its knees — a stroke of history that earned him his position of honor in the Plaza Mayor. Pizarro’s horse’s rear faced the cathedral, and the Church was not amused.

The statue is no longer there, but Pizarro’s remains rest in Lima’s cathedral. The cathedral, the largest in the city, was completed in 1555. It is a copy of Spain’s cathedral in Seville but with only three naves.

The opening reception for the travel Mart was held at the Convento de los Descalzos in Rimac. En route from our hotel to Rimac, our transport passed by Lima’s brightly lit squares and buildings.

The convent, as a setting for an evening event, was stupendous. Founded at the end of the 16th century as a spiritual retreat, the Convent of the Barefoot Friars features four main cloisters and two ornate chapels. The complex has been converted into a fascinating repository of colonial-era religious art dating back to the century of its founding. A highlight is the Chapel of the Virgen Carmen.

English-speaking guides are available at the convent. Located at Alameda de los Descalzos 202 in Rimac (phone 481-0441), the convent is open 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m. and 3-6 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. The entrance fee is $1.75.

Lima in a nutshell

A city tour (three hours) is the best way to experience what Lima has to offer. I like to take this tour whenever I return there. It is the quickest way to see what has changed since a previous visit.

Our knowledgeable Gray Line guide peppered her narration with interesting asides during the course of the excursion. Those that come to mind are as follows:

• Politicians do very well in Peru; there is no parting with fund-raised cash. Voting is mandatory; not voting subjects you to a $100 penalty. Peruvians who are out of the country must go to a Peruvian embassy to vote. Politicians in Peru are very rich and lawyers are very poor; lawyers are driving cabs. Obviously, lawsuits are not very common in Peru.

• Eleven years of education is compulsory.

• The fire department is a volunteer system.

• The city’s most ornate building, the Palace of Justice, is where New Yorker Lori Berenson was sentenced to 20 years in prison for assisting the Sendero Luminoso, a dangerous terrorist group in the 1980s. Her parents were successful in reopening the case. The prosecution established additional evidence against her and her sentence was increased by 10 years.

Our Gray Line tour included what other tours I have taken did not: Barranco. A 5-minute drive from Miraflores, Barranco is fast becoming the new frontier for trendy shops. Spacious colonial homes are being turned into attractive B&Bs, and the artistic community is exhibiting their works in art galleries.

For sightseeing information, contact Gray Line Tours Peru -Viajes Pacifico, Av. La Mar 163, Miraflores, Lima 18, Peru; tel. 51-1-610-1900, fax 51-1-241-3319 or e-mail

The best of 3-star hotels

CASA ANDINA HOTELS is a hotel network formed by Peruvian investors. The Andean touch in decor and hospitality offers comfort at very reasonable prices. The properties are all in southern Peru, in Lima, Nazca, Arequipa, Colca, Puno and Cusco.

In Lima, the 49-room Casa Andina Miraflores is just a few blocks from the heart of Miraflores, the trendiest sector in Lima. In my opinion, Miraflores is the best locale in Lima. Important museums, restaurants, cafés, parks and Andean crafts markets all are there. Rates include a buffet breakfast: $63.80 single, $74.60 double.

Casa Andina’s more upscale 4-star Private Collection properties are currently in the Sacred Valley, between Cusco and Machu Picchu. Opening in July 2006, the 72-room Casa Andina Private Collection Cusco is located four blocks from the city center. Later in the year, a property in Puno, near Lake Titicaca, will be inaugurated.

For more information, contact the Casa Andina Hotels chain directly at Av. 28 de Julio 1088, Miraflores; tel. (511) 241-4050, fax (511) 241-4051 or visit As of Jan. 1, 2006, the U.S. representative is Adusa Corp.; phone 888/470-7378.

Birds on the Web

Peru ranks second worldwide in its diversity of birds, with 1,800 species at last count. In the Lima area there are more than 300 species, making Peru one of the best bird-watchers’ destinations. Complete with the sounds of chirping birds, a webpage has been launched at in both English and Spanish.

New restaurant in Miraflores

The restaurant La Dama Juana has opened its doors at the upscale Larcomar shopping center in Miraflores. The center is across the street from the J.W. Marriott Hotel Lima and within walking distance of the Miraflores Park Hotel (see my March and April ’02 columns for full hotel descriptions).

Serving meals buffet style, La Dama Juana features an array of typical Peruvian creole dishes at about $29.50 per person. You will definitely want to try ceviche, considered the national dish of Peru. Ceviche is a cold dish of marinated fish and seafood accompanied by chilled hunks of corn on the cob and sweet potato. Ceviche is so popular that specialty restaurants, cevicherias, serve varieties of only this particular dish.

In the evening at La Dama Juana, folklorico dances are featured from every region of Peru. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, a special Criollo show follows the dances.

Coming up soon in “Latin America Watch”: Cusco.