A few things came to mind when I thought about arriving in Lima, Peru, my first South American city. Things like the fear of being robbed at the airport and heavy pollution. Thankfully these proved unfounded, and what I wasn’t expecting was the delicious food and friendly locals I found instead.
Last year I was one of 57,000 other travellers from the UK making the pilgrimage to Peru to walk the Inca trail, see the Nazca Lines or, let’s face it, just get as far away from the 9-5 back home for as long as possible.
Despite being Peru’s capital city, Lima is so often a stopover en route to the heights of Cusco or perhaps the canyons of Arequipa that it gets overlooked, when the truth is that this sprawling city has just as much to offer as Peru’s better-known stops, and you can see it all in a 24 hour stopover.
Food and Drink
Lima’s gastronomy scene is fast becoming a bigger draw than the ancient Inca sights, so you may spend most of your stopover stuffing your face with Peruvian food, although I prefer to think of it as carb-loading for the Inca Trail.
On my first stopover in Lima my taste buds drew me to Choco Museum and their chocolate making workshops. Peru produces 71,000 tonnes of cocoa a year and I was determined to get my hands on some. The small museum and shop gave an introduction to cocoa farming, and then it was time to get my hands dirty making ganache and delicious truffles to eat on the plane take home. And with museums in the trendy Miraflores and Barranco neighbourhoods you’re bound to be staying somewhere nearby.
Dinner in Lima is something to be savoured, and no place is better for a fully Peruvian feast than the beautifully styled Panchita in Miraflores. Here I travelled the country at my table, with classic dishes like lomo saltado (Peruvian beef stir fry) and anticuchos (grilled meats street food style) alongside local breads, tacu tacu and stews. Washing it down with a glass of local wine may not have helped my jetlag, but I can’t think of a better way to round off a meal, apart from maybe with a cocktail.
Speaking of cocktails, in Lima Pisco Sour rules supreme, and La Emolienteria is home to this and 17 more Pisco-based nips. Ekeko, the moustached face of Tiwanakan, god of abundance, watches from every corner, shelf and bar top to make sure you’re having a jolly time, arms wide as if beckoning you to have another. “Try the Pisco Cholopolitan,” he whispers. “If you insist, Ekeko,” I reply.
A Dip in the Pacific
Before flying out of Lima the following day, make sure you take a dip in the Pacific Ocean. Plunging my toes in its waters was a must whilst in Peru – sometimes the English Channel just doesn’t cut the mustard – and if a surfing session isn’t your style then a boat trip to Palomino Islands might be.
I hopped a boat from the historic port of Callao, about a 30 minute drive from Miraflores, passing on my way aging colonial streets and buildings I swore would topple with the next strong wind. Just a short boat ride away a mini Galapagos and haven for wildlife is waiting, including sea lions, pelicans and penguins (eek!).
The small, rocky islands are inhabited only by the animals that live there, but they’re happy to play tour guide for the morning. Grab your camera and keep an eye out for Inca terns, Sally Lightfoot crabs and cormorants. The sea lions may even invite you for a swim and play if you’re lucky and the conditions are right.
Now believe me when I tell you that nothing, and I mean nothing, will prepare you for the smell of a sea lion bathing spot, but having the chance to get up close and personal with so many wonderful animals in their natural habitat is well worth it – and who really needs to see another Llama selfie when there are blue-footed boobies around?
Before you know it you’re back at the airport, but this time your short stopover has ticked off a few more things from your bucket list, and you’ve got snacks for the plane! If that isn’t cramming as much travel experience into your South American adventure as possible, I don’t know what is.
Claire Gale shares her travel stories at Weigh the Anchor, from quitting her job to travel the world, to making the most of her annual leave and the amazing adventures available on her Dorset doorstep. You can find her Instagram @clairemgale