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Cathedral of Lima (June 2018).

My family and I spent about a week visiting Chile, exploring its capital and Easter Island. Although we were sad to say goodbye to it, we were still excited about moving forward to check out more of South America during our summer vacation. More specifically, we would be spending a week in Peru, likewise to see its capital and Machu Picchu, considered one of the seven “New Wonders of the World.”

Following another day in Santiago, we caught an afternoon flight to Lima. The journey took about three hours, and we soon arrived at its international airport, which felt much larger and more chaotic than that in Santiago. We would be taking a guided tour in Lima and the rest of the country for our entire stay, so we found our guide upon arrival and were shuttled to our hotel in the city center. Since we’d arrived around 17:30 on a weekday, there was a notable amount of traffic on the road, so it took over 90 minutes to make it over.

Lima is not only the largest city in Peru, but it’s also ridiculously massive as a whole. If I’d thought that the American cities of Los Angeles and New York were huge in population (4 million and 8.5 million, respectively), then I’d underestimate just how much Lima had with its sheer 9.7 million inhabitants throughout its 43 districts. In fact, it’s so gigantic that we only ended up focusing on seeing no more than three of its districts during our brief stay there.

During the ride into the center, I observed how different the environment was compared with that of Santiago’s. Granted, both are large and full of traffic, but I found Lima to appear…poorer. Before I get criticized for that, I want to say that I’m fully-aware that I come from a first-world country, and I’m in no way glorifying other countries’ hardships. The thing is, to come from an affluent nation such as the U.S. and to have limited exposure to poverty, it’s shocking to see socio-economic disparities outside of the bubble you grew up in, as easy and privileged as it was. Although I did see a bit of poverty in Santiago, it was more apparent in Lima as evident from district to district.

One of the most-affluent districts was that of Miraflores, in which our hotel was situated. It’s located right besides the Costa Verde (“green coast”) where there are plenty of beaches, ritzy 5-star hotels, and plenty of bars, restaurants, and nightlife going on. If anything, Miraflores is a touristy hub, along with being a rich place to live and one of the safest districts in the capital. We made it to our hotel in the early evening. After checking in and receiving the keys to our rooms, we got settled inside. While we could’ve gone out exploring a bit after arrival, we were much too tired from our flight and commute over to do much, so we ate in and turned in for the night.

The next day was our first and only day in Lima. Considering that it’s a large city, we knew that there would be no way in visiting all of the highlights in one day. We opted for an afternoon guided-bus tour included in our Peruvian tour package, but we also spent the morning out on our own to explore sites that wouldn’t be included in the tour itself.

Around 10:30, we headed out and walked over to the Indian Market, one of the several local markets in Miraflores that sold Inca textiles, purses, sweaters, and other handmade souvenirs that reflected the country’s indigenous history. Many of the clothing items were vibrant in color and made from alpaca wool, the animal being native to Peru– my mom ended up buying a few lovely scarves as gifts for our relatives before we exited the market and continued our visit of the district on our own.

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Colorful alpaca textiles.

It was towards 11:30 when we got lunch at Al Toke Pez, a small restaurant with an open-kitchen concept to see how your food was being prepared and served. It perhaps seated no more than ten people, and we were the first customer to arrive as it opened for the day. The restaurant is apparently well-known not only for its open kitchen, but also the fresh, but affordable local dishes.

For less than 17 solis (under $6 USD) per person, we got a generous, three-dish plate that contained arroz con mariscos (seafood rice), chicharrón (pork rinds), and Peruvian ceviche, which rivals that of the Chilean version. All was served with a complementary chicha, a cold drink made from purple corn. I greatly enjoyed each one, as the flavors were bold and the portions huge. However (and don’t tell this to the Peruvians), but I still *slightly* prefer the Chilean ceviche to the Peruvian– national dish or not, it’s just my opinion as an outsider!

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From left: arroz con mariscos, chicharrón, and ceviche.

On our way back to our hotel after lunch, we stopped by Miraflores Central Park and, after resting a bit in our hotel rooms, we began our guided tour of Lima at 14:00. Much of the 3-1/2 hour tour was spent driving through the districts before getting off at Plaza Mayor, the main square of Lima that contains several of the city’s notable buildings: the Government Palace, the Cathedral of Lima, and the Palace of the Union.

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Bull statue at Central Park.
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At Plaza Mayor.

We had some time wander the square before we entered the Cathedral of Lima. Inside, we toured each of the chapels before descending downstairs to its crypt where the country’s bishops and cardinals are buried (and with dozens of skulls on display for a catacomb-like ambiance!). Before leaving the cathedral, we entered the chapel where the tomb of Francisco Pizarro, the Spanish conquistador who had found Lima, is buried. The chapel itself also contained an ornate illustration of Pizarro’s expedition to the Americas, which I found colorful and rich in detail.

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Inside the cathedral.
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Skulls inside the crypt.
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Painting next to Francisco Pizarro’s tomb.

Following our visit of Plaza Mayor, we took the coach around and back to Miraflores, catching a glimpse of the coastline along the way– we happened to see paragliders floating in the sky, as Lima’s beaches are known for paragliding. We returned to our hotel half-past 17:00, where we finished for the day.

Our visit in Lima had been very brief, and I admit that I found it rather underwhelming. True, my family and I had a nice meal and saw a few notable sites, but I didn’t feel like I got much out of the city, let alone their culture. Perhaps if I were to stay several more nights in town, I could see more– otherwise, my time in Lima this summer was just a taster for what I could check out otherwise in the potential future.

Next up: Sacred Valley of the Incas & Cusco, Peru!

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