Lima, Peru, is the coastal capital of a country famous for its mountains. The first time I traveled to Lima the city was a tough sell for me because, like most tourists, I was eager to travel onward to Cusco and the marvelous architectural ruins of Machu Picchu.
However, in subsequent visits, I spent the majority of my time in Lima, getting to know just a handful of its 43 districts. So far the city has held a few puzzles, as well as many pleasant surprises.
Here are 6 things that surprised me about Lima:
1) Lima’s coolest district is a passing thought in most guidebooks
Central Lima and Miraflores garner the most attention in travel guidebooks, but for me, Barranco remains the most charming of all the Lima districts I’ve visited.
This bohemian district holds many treasures for visitors: independent cafes, art galleries, a Beatles-themed rock bar and night club and a charming walkway that wanders from the central square all the way down to the ocean.
Barranco has a long-standing reputation for inspiring Peruvian artists and musicians, and I think its influence will soon extend to the English-speaking world, too.
Enjoy music, art, nightlife and walks along the beach in Lima’s bohemian Barranco district. Photo by Nicolas Castillo.
2) The weather is only dreadful half the year
Lima often gets unfavorable reviews from tourists for its miserable weather, but that’s because tourists frequently pass through Lima during its winter months (June through August), when Lima looks its worst: a thick gray cloud settles over the city and light garúa falls.
I hail from a town with harsh, snowy winters, but I’ve never experienced a winter as dark and gray as the one I spent in Lima. However, the clouds start to break in October and November, and once they do, Lima enjoys warm weather and uninterrupted sunshine during its summer months.
Tourists finally get the coastal view they’ve always wanted, and locals flock to Asia and the southern beaches of Lima for weekend getaways in the sun.
Para-gliders take advantage of the sunny Lima weather to enjoy the city’s coastal view. Photo by Victor L. Antunez.
3) Menus make it possible to eat well—and cheaply
You can eat well—and cheaply—in Lima thanks to its long-standing lunch-menu tradition. Small and independent restaurant owners open their doors to the lunch crowd around 1 p.m. daily, offering a fixed menu of starters, main courses and, in some cases, even a dessert.
Menus change each day, but among their offerings you’ll often find typical Peruvian dishes like ceviche (fresh fish soaked in lime juice), causa (tuna and mashed potato casserole), lomo saltado (beef stir fry served with French fries on top) and milanesa de pollo (breaded chicken breast).
The best part? The total cost for appetizer, entree and a drink generally costs no more than 10 PEN, which is about $4.
Peruvian menus serve an appetizer and an entree like lomo saltado (above) for about $4. Photo by Ciberdoc.
4) Combis (mini-buses) are the most popular form of transport
In recent years, Lima has improved its public transportation system with a central bus line and an electric rail system, but for most Limeños, taking a combi is still an everyday reality.
These micro-buses only cost about 1 PEN (less than $0.50) and shuttle passengers along a predetermined route, the main streets of which are scrawled on the outside of the combi.
The mystifying thing about combis—and the reason most tourists don’t take them—is that you need to have an idea of the route its taking before you get on one. Unlike most buses and subway systems, there are no route maps at the combi stops or in the combis themselves to give travelers a clear sense of where they’re going.
Combi cobrador advertises bus’ route to passengers. Photo by fokus Lima.
5) Peruvians love to practice their English—and help you with your Spanish
Especially in well-trafficked districts, you’ll encounter more than just hotel receptionists and tour guides who know English.
A surprisingly large number of Limeños have achieved a fluency in the language that will put your high school Spanish to shame.
If a barista, waitress or sales clerk notices you speaking English, there’s a fair shot he or she will start speaking in English, too. But even if they don’t speak to you in Spanish, Limeños are generally patient with gringo-style Spanish. Most are more than willing to slow down their speech or repeat portions of the conversation for clarification.
You’ll find most Limeños to be very friendly and helpful to tourists—if they know English, they won’t be shy about speaking it. Photo by Jackson Lee.
6) Every hour is happy hour
No need to worry about getting that last drink order in before happy hour discounts and specials end.
In Lima, it’s more of a rule than an exception for bars to offer a 2-for-1 special on mixed drinks all day, every day.
The drink list typically includes rum-based beverages such as Cuba libres, pina coladas and distinctly Peruvian pisco-based beverages such as pisco sours, chilcancos (pisco and ginger ale) and Perú libres (pisco and Coca-Cola).
Two drinks will cost you no more than 20 PEN, or $8.
In Lima, enjoy two pisco sours for the price of one all day, every day. Photo by hspray.
My experiences in Lima have led me to believe that the city is often underrated.
What were your impressions of Lima? Let me know in the comments below.
If you liked this, you might also like: 7 Paris Myths Debunked.
Main photo: Postcard of Barranco, Lima by wallygrom.