We woke up early, feeling like a disgruntled employee. We hadn’t slept a wink after our “rough entry” (see preceding post) into Peru. Yet, on the bright side, we had the entire day ahead of us to explore Lovely Lima, my first visit to a South American capital.
Lima is the capital and largest city in Peru. It has approximately 9 million residents in the metro area, making Lima the fifth largest city in Latin America (after Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro). Like her Latin compatriots, Peru has the all to familiar history of an indigenous population taken over by Spanish Colonial rule. On January 18, 1535 “la Ciudad de los Reyes” or the “City of Kings” was founded by Francisco Pizarro, a Spanish conquistador, who earlier defeated the powerful Incan ruler Atahualpa and overtook his empire. The Spanish influence can be seen everywhere—in the lovely architecture of the buildings, cathedrals, and homes, as well as the Spanish language, religion and culture.
A perfect way to see a huge city like Lima quickly is by doing hiring a driver and doing a private tour. After our experience last night, being mugged only forty minutes after being inside the country, we felt like a private tour was an excellent choice. Our hotel, Hotel las Americas (a five-star hotel for a mere $75/night…remember this was ten years ago, but still!), arranged an English-speaking driver and guide named Pablo for our half-day tour of the city.
Note: These photos are incredibly grainy and poor quality. They were taken over ten years ago with my cheap camera and had to be scanned so I could include them in the post. Please ignore the quality and use them only as a reference!
Above is a picture of me and our driver/guide Pablo. We felt honored to be in one of the nicest, cleanest cars in Peru. Yet, we were also constantly aware that we could be seen and viewed as an easy target so we opted to not carry along anything valuable.
We first headed to visit the main square in town, Plaza des Armes/Mayor and then headed over to the beautiful, famous St. Martin Square. The Spanish colonial architecture was stunning.
Photo below of the Plaza Mayor (or Plaza de Armas): Lima’s administrative and political center which contains the Government Palace, City Hall, Cathedral and Palace.
The Government Palace:
A walk around the Plaza revealed the gorgeous, intricate architecture from the Spaniards. This is where we first saw the famous balconies, a major feature of Lima’s architecture during the colonial period.
Photos of the amazing, spectacularly carved balconies:
The Convent of San Fancisco (XVII Century):
The gorgeous gardens outside of the convent:
A perfect view of solitude:
St. Martin Square:
My black shoes were looking rather dirty and dingy as the shoe shiner pointed out. I would normally never get a shoe shine (never have before!) yet for twenty cents, what the heck…when in Rome!
After the tour, we drove over to one of the main artists square where I purchased a lovely painting that is still hanging in my house today. Here is a picture of the square:
The day was finished with dinner and a beer at one of the local restaurants nearby our hotel. Our food was fine yet what wasn’t fine was the beggar woman walking directly outside our window nestling a baby in her arms and nursing, while her hand was out asking for money. Of course, I felt completely awful to see this kind of poverty while we were inside drinking wine and eating a fine meal. However, the restaurant owner was not the least bit sorry about the situation and instead he was furious. Apparently, the woman was poor yet using the baby (who was most likely a borrowed one) to get more money! This is a common trick found in Peru and the owner had seen her before. He shooed her away before we could reach into our pockets and give her money but it still let an unpleasant feeling inside of our hearts.
Overall, my first impressions of Lima were a little bit negative. I am sure that I was tainted by the mugging experience, however, I found Lima to be not what I had imagined it to be. I was a little disappointed by the city because it was nowhere near as beautiful as I would have expected. I had pictured a beautiful, romantic city yet found it to be dirty, poor and chaotic. The architecture was stunning but it was hard to ignore the poverty, the pollution and the dirt. (Now remember this was over ten years ago and it was my first visit to South America. Perhaps I wasn’t using my thirdeye! But these are just the perceptions I had written down in my journal thus I thought they were worth exploring). We had learned during our tour that over 50% of the eight million people of Lima live in poverty (there is huge unemployment) and many live without running water. Our guide had also said that he believes that Lima is almost 35 years behind Chile and probably 50-60 years behind the United States in terms of development. Again, perhaps this has improved over the last ten years, but I am doubtful. After traveling and seeing many places in the world, I’ve come to understand that poverty is real and it takes time to change things. It also makes people desperate because they have to fight to survive.
Another thing that bothered me about Lima was the level of security which gave it a menacing feeling. There were armed guards at every corner and armed security outside and sometimes inside every nice store (even inside the grocery store!). This was a constant reminder that crime and theft are common as the poverty exists and surrounds you. The desperation of the people was upsetting and startling. Beggars were everywhere asking for hand-outs (especially street children) and you constantly had to watch your back for pickpocketers. It was a troubling feeling that made me very uncomfortable. Little did I know at the time, that much of the world is this way. It is a sad reality. Yet, I had not ventured much outside of Europe so for me, it was a very eye-opening experience.
Photo above of Lima taken from our hotel in Miraflores, the upscale district of the city.
We returned to our hotel somewhat dissatisfied about what we had seen. Looking back, it was a good lesson and would help change my outlook on the world and reinforce my ideas that you must give back. We are so spoiled.
Stay tuned…next post is our visit to Cusco, heart of the Incas and launching off point for the world-famous trek along the Inca Trail.