The gastronomical capital of the world, a city high up on cliffs overlooking the sea boasting a population greater than New York City, the city of Lima has something for everyone. I spent the last month in Lima, Peru diving into the country’s diverse cuisine and even more diverse landscape. There are two things that initially come to mind when one usually thinks of Peru – Machu Pichu and Lima, the capital. Many people, myself included, don’t know much about Lima as they simply associate it with the country where Machu Pichu is. I quickly learned that while Machu Pichu is a must visit for any traveler, there is so much more to Peru than initially meets the eye. Over the course of the month, I paraglided high above skyscrapers, rode a dune buggy through a desert oasis, saw sea lions and penguins up close, mountain biked down 9,000 feet of a mountain, had some of the best food of my life and was greeted with an unbelievable sunset each night outside my apartment window. Peru has it all from the ocean to the big city to the desert to ancient Incan culture to the Amazon and because of this it was one of my favorite countries I have visited so far.
I stayed in the Miraflores neighborhood in Lima for the month which was surprisingly more modern than I expected. I thought Peru would be less developed but Lima boasted the best supermarkets and outdoor malls I have seen so far this year. There were hundreds of dining options from some of the top rated restaurants in the world to little hole in the wall restaurants boasting Peru-Chinese fusion food called Chifa. Lima also had some of the worst traffic I have ever seen as it seems like the infrastructure hasn’t quite kept up with the increase in population over the years. Miraflores is one of over forty districts in Lima, each with their own Mayor. It is a neighborhood where many expats live as there are familiar brands of restaurants and hotels everywhere. The neighborhood itself stretches out to the sea, high up on the cliffs. Lima is interesting in the fact that there is the ocean and a rocky beach but less than 100 yards away are huge cliffs at least 100 feet high. This makes accessing the ocean a bit difficult and I wouldn’t really call it a beach town because of this. It does however provide amazing views of the coastline.
For the last few years Lima’s calling card has been its food. Recently, a few restaurants here have been named in the top 10 in the entire world for their innovative techniques on dishes inspired by Peru’s amazingly diverse landscape. The two most common things in Peru are ceviche and Pisco. Ceviche is a dish composed of raw fish or seafood “cooked” by the acidic lime juice it is doused in. Atop lie purple onions, chiles and cilantro along with a sweet potato on the side. Pisco is a spirit distilled from grapes that almost tastes like brandy but isn’t aged in barrels so it is clear rather than dark in color. Pisco is synonymous with the national drink, the Pisco Sour, which is pisco mixed with lime juice and an egg white. Ceviche with a Pisco Sour is a very acceptable local Peruvian dish and a delicious one at that. Lima also has many many Asian-Peruvian fusion restaurants. They are everyone and they are very good. I had some of the best fried rice, sushi and fish dishes I have ever had, all with a Peruvian twist to these asian classics. Eating out each night was always an adventure and you never had to settle for something that wasn’t amazing. The Peruvians pride themselves on their “super foods” of Cuy (guinea pig) and Alpaca. These meats have zero cholesterol and while I was not a huge fan of the Cuy, the alpaca was delicious and I had it several times. Last but not least, I stumbled upon maybe the best sandwich I have ever had in my life and ate four of them in three days. The chicharron sandwich from El Chinito is something I will always remember. It is simply deep friend chicharron (pork belly) on top of a sweet potato with ceviche style onions and the famous yellow aji sauce on top. A fresh baked bun rounds out a sandwich I am already missing just a few days since my last. The Peruvian food made this a very vibrant and exciting month as everyone was sharing restaurant recommendations and trying to find their hidden gems to share with the group.
As diverse and unique as the food was in Lima, the landscape might be more. I have never really seen a country that has a beautiful ocean coastline, a desert, a huge oasis in that desert, huge mountain and jungle areas secretly hiding ancient civilizations, the highest lake in the world and the beginning of the great Amazon basin. Machu Pichu is the touristic crown jewel of all of this but I have another post for that. I’d like to dive into some of the lesser known natural areas of Peru. Starting from Lima, it has an amazing coastline with perfect waves for surfing. Although the beaches are a bit rocky, the water is beautiful to look at from high above in the city. Not far south of the city is where the landscape begins to change. As you drive down the coast, you have the ocean on your right side and the desert and rolling hills on your left. Little islands poke out around the coast that are home to hundreds of sea lions, thousands of birds, and the first penguins I’ve seen outside a zoo. Not far from here is the oldest winery in South America which is just a short drive from the Huacachina oasis in the middle of the Nazca desert. You’ve heard the name Nazca before from the Nazca lines just a few hours south of the oasis. The Nazca lines still bewilder scientists as to how the ancient people drew these huge figures in the sand over 1,000 years ago. If we continue south we reach Lake Titicaca, the highest altitude lake in the world, with its floating islands. A bit to the NorthEast of the oasis is Cusco, Peru’s second biggest city, where you find Rainbow Moutain, salt flats, the sacred valley and of course Machu Pichu. Still further east is the beginning of the Amazon rainforest basin. All of this and I didn’t even go north of Lima. The landscape is truly incredible and I really enjoyed visiting all of these different spots in our short month in Peru.
Peru is a place that many people do not know about and that is a shame. There is so much to do and eat here that you could spend months here and not see and eat everything on your list. A good friend of mine from high school came to visit me this month and said it was the best vacation he’s ever been on. It is just really hard to beat a countless euphoric state from the amazing food and views that surround you. Every person that loves the outdoors should come and stay in Peru for a while as it is truly seems like a dream walking around in some of its parts.