Peru’s capital city has a reputation among travellers like many metropolises of the so-called Third World as a jungle of houses and asphalt, which has to be accepted as a necessary stop within the travel route.
Nevertheless, the country’s political and cultural centre of power has some attributes that are not found elsewhere in the country. Today, Lima enjoys the status of the culinary capital of Latin America, while the buildings of the historic center and some outstanding museums preserve the cultural heritage of the Spanish colonial empire in South America.
Among the most important sights, which are a must even for short visits, around the Plaza Mayor as the most beautiful place of the capital, are the Palacio de Arzobispo reconstructed in 1924 as well as the Palacio de Gobierno, which stands in the same place as once Pizarro’s palace and the cathedral. In their first side chapel the founder of the city Pizarro is buried. Every day (except Sundays) at 12 noon a colourful and pompous changing of the guards takes place here. Among Lima’s sacred buildings, the Iglesia de San Francisco is considered a prime example of the Lima Baroque. Its crypt and underground tunnels were once the capital’s first cemetery, as testified by the bones of an estimated 75,000 people buried here and piled up into geometric patterns. Among Lima’s museums, the private Museo Arqueológico Rafael Larco Herrera, in short Museo Larco, is particularly recommendable. The founder and archaeologist Herrera has collected more than 45,000 artifacts in a colonial building in the Pueblo Libre district to create the world’s largest private collection of pre-Columbian art. A curiosity within the collection are the erotic Mochica ceramics. Another unusual museum is the Museo de la Inquisición y del Congreso in the Congress building. During an hour-long guided tour, macabre wax figures are shown here in reconstructed torture scenes. Among the colonial city palaces, the Casa de Aliaga occupies a prominent position. The house of Jerónimo de Aliaga, one of the 13 followers of Pizarro, is still family-owned, furnished in colonial style down to the last detail and can be visited on guided tours.
A popular vantage point, at least on clear days, is the Cerro de San Cristóbal, which can be recognized from afar by its summit cross (a replica of the San Cristóbal church once erected by Pizarro in the same place). From its summit you can overlook the sea of houses in Lima as far as the districts of Miraflores and Barranco on the shores of the Pacific.
The fact that the Peruvian cuisine has been attracting international attention for some years now is not least due to the capital’s excellent range of restaurants. It combines prehispanic and colonial cooking traditions with European and Asian influences. A typical dish of Lima’s cuisine, for example, is “tiradito”, raw marinated fish in thin slices in a creamy sauce of yellow pepper, whose origin is attributed to both Japanese and Italian influences.
The long list of desserts is led by “suspiros” (sighs), meringue in a sweet vanilla sauce, followed by “mazamorra morada”, a pudding made from violet maize.
Typical drinks are “chicha morada”, an unfermented juice made from purple maize, beer and Inca Kola, a yellowish lemonade with a taste reminiscent of chewing gum.
Much more refined are the flavours of the new Peruvian cuisine, which refers to ingredients and preparations of the prehispanic tradition. The flagship restaurant of “cocina novoandina” in Lima is the top restaurant “Astrid y Gaston”, whose German-Peruvian owners not only offer constant quality, but also have a distinct business sense.