Welcome to Lima
Peru’s capital, Lima, is a vibrant city whose grandeur may be faded but still lives on. Once the heart of Spain’s South American empire – christened by its founders as the ‘City of Kings’ – modern Lima is a huge metropolis crammed with culture and a history that goes back to the Incas and beyond.
Situated halfway down Peru’s desert coastline, Lima looks out on the Pacific Ocean, with the foothills of the Andes at its back. The main square of its historic centre, with its Spanish colonial mansions graced by latticed wooden balconies, was recently declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site.
Despite lacking the glamour of Rio or Buenos Aires, Lima has much to offer the sightseer – beautiful churches, museums, pretty seaside suburbs and a few remaining Inca ruins – but is also a gateway to the marvels of Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca and the Amazon jungle. However, the primary sense of Lima that visitors get from walking around the city is that much of the population is merely surviving, scraping by in a variety of ingenious ways. Even in the richest districts, signs of poverty are never far away. In the main business district, it is not uncommon to see bailiffs strip a failed business of its belongings, piling unwanted items into a sorry heap on the pavement, while businesspeople, caught in traffic, are entertained by jugglers and fire-eaters or accosted by dozens of street-sellers offering paper napkins, plastic coat hangers and even the odd fake gold Rolex. The hardship of life in Lima may account for the Limeños’ philosophical outlook and their black sense of humour. In a city where political and financial turmoil is the norm, it does not do to take things too seriously. A popular belief in miracles and religious mysteries must also help.
Lima is a capital that has outgrown its boundaries. A town originally designed for tens of thousands now accommodates nearly eight million – one third of the country lives here. As Peru’s economic powerhouse, Lima attracts over one thousand newcomers from the provinces, every week, drawn by the dream of finding work and relative security. Shantytowns continue to grow outside the city and the upper classes have abandoned the city centre for the seaside suburbs of Miraflores or San Isidro. With their skyscrapers and international banks, these are now the main business centres, while the nearby Barranco is a hub of Lima nightlife.