x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

My kind of place: Lima, Peru

A rich culinary heritage has put Peru's capital on the map. The city is a treasure trove for archaelological fans and foodies alike.

Children run past the Simon Bolivar monument in Piazza Bolivar, Lima.
Children run past the Simon Bolivar monument in Piazza Bolivar, Lima.

Why Lima?

It's all about the food. Yes, Peru is an archaeological treasure trove, home to the mighty Andes mountain range, vast tracts of Amazon jungle and the world's longest left-breaking wave but, until recently, Lima was just a pit stop on the route to Machu Picchu for most tourists.

Today, thanks to an imaginative, ambitious crop of young chefs and the old-school magic of stalwarts such as Teresa Izquierdo, Lima is the hottest dining destination in Latin America. Long-haul tourists are adding a few more days in the dusty desert city to sample ceviche (raw fish tossed in fresh lime, chilli and red onion), tiradito (more raw fish dressed in Asian or Peruvian-inspired sauces) and causa, a yellow potato mash dish served with seafood or chicken.

Limeños are justly proud of their culinary heritage, the product of hundreds of years of migration - from the Spaniards and their Arabian cooks, African slaves and Chinese and Japanese labourers - and being able to list a few of your favourite dishes in halting Spanish will win you some new friends.


A comfortable bed

The best address currently is Miraflores Park Hotel (www.miraflorespark.com; 00 511 610 4000) overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the city's fantastic pink-hued sunsets. Kate Moss scandalised the city when she sunbathed topless by the rooftop pool while waiting to help her Peruvian fashion photographer friend Mario Testino launch his "Portraits" exhibition. Double rooms including breakfast cost from about US$335 (Dh1,230) per night, including taxes and breakfast. For those on a tighter budget, the Casa Andina chain (www.casa-andina.com) has three hotels in the same district with a good standard of decoration and service, with double rooms from about $97 (Dh356), including taxes.


Find your feet

Barranco is Lima's bohemian district, a seaside suburb of gently fading mansions that once served as holiday homes for the city's elite. In the main square you can often find a handicraft fair or festival. Depending on the time of day, pop into Juanito's, a tiny place at the top of the square, where many local artists come for a sandwich washed down with pisco (a distilled drink) mixed with ginger ale. If you're lucky, you might spot the Grammy award-winning singer Susana Baca, a local.

Crossing the main street, head towards the spindly wooden "Bridge of Sighs", made famous by another great Peruvian singer, Lucha Reyes, and a favourite spot for young lovers to take photos.

Crossing over, follow Malecón Pazos de Barranco past some lovely old houses until you see the sea to your left. Hug the clifftops until you come to Paseo Saenz Peña on your right, where you can find a decent espresso and some great traditional crafts at Dedalo, a gallery-shop housed in a renovated old mansion (00 511 477 0562).

Heading back to the Malecón, keep hugging the coastline, passing the home of the Nobel Prize winning author Mario Vargas Llosa, then crossing a bridge. Stay to the left to follow the Malecón past parks and Larco Mar, a modern shopping centre built into the clifftops. Soon you'll come to an enormous Victor Delfin sculpture of a kissing couple that marks Lima's "Love Park". Just beyond, for about 141 Peru nuevos soles (Dh184) for 20 minutes, you can take a ride on a parapente and paraglide across the clifftops looking down on the surfers below.

From the Love Park, walk up Malecón 28 de Julio until you hit Parque Kennedy, a smallish triangle of green surrounded by cafes, a cathedral and shops. Some of the city's best restaurants are nearby, including the landmark Astrid y Gaston and more casual T'anta bistro run by Gastón Acurio, Peru's answer to Jamie Oliver.

The Mirabus (www.mirabusperu.com), a bright red double-decker, runs daily tours from here into the centre of Lima, and for those with limited time it's the best way to take in the city's grand old palaces, cathedrals and plazas. A four-hour night tour, which includes a visit to a fountain park, costs 55 soles (about Dh71) per person.

Meet the locals

If you're a chess player, a small pedestrian strip off Parque Kennedy in Miraflores is a great place to find a game and enjoy a sandwich or chicha morada (purple corn juice) from La Lucha. Juanito's bar in Barranco and Quierolo's in Pueblo Libre (Av San Martin 1090, two blocks from the National Archaeology, Anthropology and History Museum) are atmospheric traditional places where locals are always happy to chat. If you're a surfer, or even if you're not, the regulars on the beaches along Lima's costa verde are very friendly. Olas Peru (www.olasperu.com) rents boards and wetsuits and has friendly professional teachers.


Book a table

Limeños are so exacting in their seafood standards that eating ceviche after lunchtime is just not done. Many of the city's restaurants do not open for dinner - a peculiarity that has been the downfall of many a gourmet traveller. Planning is essential to make the most of a few short days.

Among the top picks are: Mercado and Rafael (www.rafaelosterling.com; 00 511 242 4149), the brasserie and more formal offerings from the excellent Rafael Osterling; La Mar (Av La Mar 770; 00 511 421 3365), the original Gastón Acurio cevicheria which has now spun off to the US, Spain and Mexico; Malabar (Av Camino Real 101, San Isidro, 00 511 440-5200) for innovative Amazonian cuisine from Pedro Miguel Schiaffino (it's open at night), and ceviche and polished imaginative seafood dishes inside a renovated old mansion at Amoramar in Barranco (www.amoramar.com; 00511 651 1111). Any Limeño worth his salt should be able to add to that list a myriad of hole-in-the-wall restaurants around the city where you can eat well for less than 14 soles (Dh18) - winkling their culinary recommendations from them could enhance your stay.


Shopper's paradise

The "Inca markets" in Miraflores near the top of Parque Kennedy sell an amazing array of tat, but also many lovely textiles and handicrafts from all over the country, including colourful floral woven rugs and pillowcases from Ayacucho and ceramics from the jungle. Peruvians are much gentler touts than you will find in Asia, so you won't feel too harassed to buy.

Peru is home to the alpaca and the even finer fleeced vicuña, and designers such as Giuliana Testino (www.giulianatestino.com) and Kuna (www.alpaca111.com) offer beautiful modern ponchos, scarves, dresses, gloves and coats for much lower prices than you would ever find in the northern hemisphere.


What to avoid

Lima traffic is hideous so avoid travelling during peak hours. "Combi" vans (minibuses) will get you about the city for one sol (about Dh1.3) per ride, but if you don't speak Spanish it's practically impossible to figure out where they are going.


Don't miss

Lima's biggest pyramid, the Huaca Pucllana, in Miraflores, may be a lot smaller than what Egypt has to offer, but the anti-seismic construction is fascinating, and there's a very good restaurant overlooking the site.

The privately run Larco Museo (Av Bolívar 1515; Pueblo Libre; 00 511 461 1312) is a joy. Not too big, not too small, this old mansion with its bougainvillea-strung garden houses a fantastic collection of gold and silver pre-Columbian jewellery and Moche, Nazca, Chimu and Inca ceramics, with two rooms of erotic pottery at the finish to provide some conversation pointers over coffee in a sweet little cafe.