Lima, Peru

Note: This entry is part of a series about our 2014 trip to Bolivia and Peru.

First, I must apologize for not writing in so long! I had hoped to finish this series before a year had passed but alas, that was not to be. Often when momentum is lost it is REALLY lost. So now I offer my final and belated installment from this trip.

Where We Stayed

Gran Bolivar Hotel in San Martin Plaza

Gran Bolivar Hotel in San Martin Plaza

For our final leg of the journey we flew from Cusco to Lima, arriving to yet another scary cab ride to our hotel. In Cusco, we had used TripAdvisor to book a room at Gran Hotel Bolivar through one of their partner sites. What we didn’t notice was that after we clicked to follow the partner link site, the reservation was actually being made for a Gran Hotel Bolivar in Trujillo, Peru–an 8 hour drive north of Lima! We didn’t find this out until we arrived at the hotel and they could not locate our reservation. At this point the desk clerk at the hotel was not very friendly to us and I felt like he was amused by our situation. They did have full-price rooms available for not nearly the deal we were expecting–so we took what we could get and left the headache of figuring out whether or not we were going to be charged for a night at a hotel in Trujillo for later. (We weren’t charged; and it appears TripAdvisor has fixed their links but beware!)

I’m not sure exactly what to say about this hotel. It is a grand, old place that has changed little. The lobby features a beautiful stained glass dome and you can feel the history around you–guests have included Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Ava Gardner, Clark Gable, Yul Brynner, Mick Jagger, and Keith Richards. However it felt empty, just a shell of what it once was. Only the first three floors appeared used today, with the upper two stories empty.

Our room was the most “grand” of any place we stayed in Peru; it had an entryway, a huge walk-in closet, and tiled bath just oozing with history. But the bed was about the hardest mattress I had ever slept on. And our view, being an interior room, was to look at the outside of the lobby’s beautiful dome. One night the fire alarm sounded after we had already gone to bed. I had to go downstairs to confirm it was just a false alarm but no staff ever came around door-to-door to check on guests. That was also a bit weird. WiFi was spotty in our room but decent in the lobby. We had unmemorable breakfasts in the morning. It is noisy, both from the corridors inside and outside (even with our interior room) If you love historic buildings, it is worth the stay if you don’t mind giving up other comforts–and don’t try to take a hot shower if you hear your neighbor running a bath.

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Plaza San Martin

The Gran Hotel Bolivar is located on Plaza San Martin, a bustling square full of people and automobiles. Named after Peru’s liberator, Jose de San Martin, a statue of him sitting astride a horse is the square’s centerpiece. Our guidebook suggested visiting Pasteleria San Martin, a bakery famous for their Turron de Dona Pepa, and it was one of the more interesting (and colorful!) desserts we encountered. We didn’t have to go far to experience El Bolivarcito, located directly beneath our hotel. This drinking establishment is known for purveying some of the first pisco sours in Peru and even this teetotaler ordered one to try. I made it through about one-quarter before passing it off to my hubby to finish.

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Plaza de Armas

Plaza San Martin is linked to Plaza de Armas via a Pedestrian-only street lined with retail shopping and fast food called Jiron de la Union. We enjoyed browsing a discount store’s stock of FIFA jerseys, fully taking advantage of the popularity of the 2014 World Cup that had just begun in Brazil.

The Plaza de Armas is the center of Lima, and the heart of Francisco Pizarro’s 16th-century settlement. The bronze fountain at the center of the Plaza was erected in 1650 and is still used today. Several times when we walked by the Plaza was closed to pedestrians, we assumed for some sort of official business.

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Surrounding the Plaza are a number of sights of interest to tourists. The impressive Palacio de Gobierno serves as Peru’s president’s residence. Each day at about noon, tourists flock to watch the changing of the guard. We captured the ceremony as the band played Carmina Burana.

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La Catedral de Lima is next door to the Archbishop’s Residence on a plot of land designated by Pizarro for the city’s first church in 1535. The existing building has been rebuilt many times, including after earthquakes in 1687 and 1746, with the last major restoration finished in 1940. Its interior was stripped of elaborate baroque decor in the late 1700s when neo-classical style was all the rage. It is still a very impressive space with an ornate wood choir, carved by Pedro de Noguera in the early 1600s. The final resting place of Pizarro’s remains are located in a chapel near the entrance. We enjoyed our visit and it is well worth the 10 soles entry fee.

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Within two blocks of Plaza de Armas, there are two other beautiful churches to visit. First, the Monasterio de San Francisco is a bright yellow church with a plaza full of pigeons. It is perhaps best known for its bone-line catacombs with an estimated 70,000 burials but it also features a remarkable library with spiral staircases and over 25,000 antique volumes. The 10 soles entry fee included a tour guide in English. The nearly two years since our visit has made me hazy on details but interior photographs must have been prohibited as we only have these exterior views (many more photos are available on their website linked above).

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We did have an interesting encounter in the plaza. A very nice couple approached us and engaged us in conversation. After several minutes of chit-chat, they invited us back to their home for a meal but we had plans to tour inside and were just resting before we did so. It finally dawned on us that the couple were members of the Latter Day Saints church and were hoping to share their faith with us. We explained that we were quite content Christ-followers and thanked them for their hospitality before they left us to watch the pigeons.

The second church within two blocks of Plaza de Armas is Iglesia de Santo Domingo. It was completed in the 1500s and is the final resting place of three Peruvian saints: San Juan Macias, Santa Rosa de Lima, and San Martin de Porres (South America’s first black saint). It is free to visit the church but it is worth the 5 soles fee to also visit the sprawling convent with a guide who will take you to the rooftop bell tower for a panoramic view of Lima.

View from roof of La Iglesia de Santo Domingo Monastery

View from roof of La Iglesia de Santo Domingo Monastery

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In addition to all the sights, we also discovered some good eats near the Plaza de Armas. Our favorite was probably El Cordano, located a block away from Plaza de Armas since 1905. We loved the character of the building and the food was pretty good, too. It is across from the old Desamparados Train Station, itself a beautiful building.

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Old Desamparados Train Station

Old Desamparados Train Station

Another wonderful find from our guidebook was Domus, located about three blocks from Plaza de Armas. This restaurant serves a fixed lunch offering each day for a super-cheap price. This was hands-down our favorite meal in Lima.

Delicious lunch at Domus

Delicious lunch at Domus

Another favorite was La Merced, located about halfway between Plaza de Armas and Plaza San Martin. The interior features a beautiful baroque wood ceiling. I forgot a scarf here that was very sentimental to me. When we returned the next day to retrieve it the friendly staff had set it aside and there it was! I wish we had better photos but we only had my phone with us for this meal, so you’ll have to go see the beautiful ceiling for yourself!

Barranco and Miraflores

One day we decided to get away from central Lima and explore some of the outlying areas. We asked at our hotel about using public transportation and were directed to the Metropolitano–Lima’s newish (inaugurated in 2010) bus line. There are platform stops with vending machines that sell tarjetas–reloadable electronic cards–for S/4.50 (be sure you have exact change). Our hotel staff had given us a card to use, so we just needed to load it up for the number of trips we were making, four total for the two of us. Each ride is S/1.50. We returned the card when we were done so some other tourists could use it next.

We took the bus to Barranco, an area known for its artsy residents. After reaching our stop, we walked to the Parque Municipal de Barranco, a pretty plaza with trees and benches and home to a pretty library building and La Iglesia La Santísima Cruz. We noticed a Starbucks nearby and stopped in to pick up a Peru mug for our accidental collection. We then walked to the Puente de los Suspiros (Bridge of Sighs–yep, like in Venice!), which is a narrow, wooden bridge dating to 1876 over an old stone stairway leading to the beach. According to tradition, those who see the bridge for the first time and cross it without breathing are granted one wish. The bridge also served as the inspiration for a famous song by Barranco native Chabuca Granda in 1960. Sadly, our wishes went unfulfilled because it was closed to pedestrians when we were there. Instead, we were enthralled by the sight of Iglesia la Ermita–a beautiful old church in desperate need of major roof repair.

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We walked to La Posada Del Mirador, which looked to be a nearby public viewpoint on the map. It offered our first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean. However, pushy musicians tried guilting us into giving them money, as if it was NOT a public lookout (there is a restaurant/bar nearby so perhaps it is their property?). Anyhow, we quickly left the area, following the path toward the ocean since we were not interested in food/drink/troubadours. The fog that hangs over Lima was heavy that day and a large four-lane highway cuts off the beach from the mainland, making it less enjoyable for pedestrians. We thought we would walk along the beach to Miraflores but found the walk to be noisy and unsafe due to the traffic speeding by. We felt relieved when we reached Playa Redondo II, which had a nice park-like setting along the beach and clean porta-potties!

A friend had recommend La Rosa Náutica Restaurant on the pier but by this point we were worn out and haggard looking–and didn’t think we could pull off fine dining in our condition. So instead we headed up stairs to a bridge that would take us across the highway and to Miraflores, perched on the cliff side overlooking the ocean. We found a more casual dining option at Haiti Restaurant. We sat outside with a nice view of Kennedy Park across the street and enjoyed another stuffed avocado. After admiring feral cats in the park, we headed to the nearby artisan markets, before catching the bus back to central Lima. Some of our favorite purchases were made here–a couple of necklaces and a small nativity–made their way home in our backpacks.

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With that, our South American adventure to Bolivia and Peru came to a close. One final, scary cab ride delivered us back to Lima’s Jorge Chávez International Airport and we came home to plan our next adventure to…?

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition! At the Museo de la Inquisicion.

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition! At the Museo de la Inquisicion.

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One response to “Lima, Peru

  1. Pingback: Bolivia and Peru – Summer 2014 | my ahas·

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