An intriguing city of contrasts, Peru’s capital Lima is well worth spending a couple of days to explore, if probably little more. Coastal but arid, it has wealthy areas like Miraflores, safe and tidy, but around a third of the whole city was or still is shanty town. Though not a patch on the archeological sites found inland, there are a couple of places of interest in or close to the city, and some excellent museums.
I’ve seen quite a lot of pre-Colombian artefacts (in Quito, Santiago, and unexpectedly Los Angeles) but Museo Larco had by far the most impressive and best presented collection. Housed in a beautiful and flower surrounded old villa, the museum is home to so many of these wonderful ceramics.
Which became almost overwhelming when I entered the warehouse part of the museum. It was quite staggering to see the number remaining, and interesting to see the almost mass production approach.
The collection wasn’t limited to just ceramics, there were also textiles and it finished with quite stunning metal pieces, saving the best till last.
About fifteen minutes walk away the National Archaeology Museum has plenty more wonderful ceramics, if not quite as well displayed. It also has some interesting curiosities such as these deliberately deformed skulls, and an impressive scale model of Machu Picchu.
Miraflores is understandably a hub for tourists, a tidy and well policed area with an attractive main park.
The main sight is the surreal Huaca Pucllana, a 1,500 year old pyramid built from eight million mud bricks surrounded by modernity, particularly the shiny glass hospital whose design of vertical panels of glass was inspired by the brick patterns of the pyramid. The bricks are laid vertically to better withstand earthquakes, and originally the walls would have been four metres high.
I learnt that these grey cloudy days are typical of Lima for nine months of the year (blue skies in the summer), with a desert like climate with very little rainfall. The Pacific here is too cold to produce much evaporation, and though it permanently looks like it is about to rain, it very rarely ever does more than a light drizzle.
The historic city centre is a pretty grungy area, but was worth an explore though I probably wouldn’t recommend being there at night by yourself. Plaza San Martin is the second square of the city, usually home to political discussions or where protests start, as happened the afternoon I was there.
The (rather small) protest headed toward the main square Plaza de Armas, which the police were busy clearing when I arrived. A rather ancient looking water cannon mounted vehicle drove by.
The Plaza de Armas is surrounded by attractive yellow buildings, some home to the city mayor, and the La Catedral de Lima and adjoining Archbishop’s Palace.
The clear highlight of the city centre for me was the quite wonderful Monasterio de San Francisco, built in the most part in intricate Moorish style, a spectacular place.
Which had the bonus of a crypt underneath home to the remains of 25,000 people laid out in a variety of ways.
28km south of Lima is the huge site of Pachacamac, used for mainly religious purposes over it’s 1,700 years history by four civilisations, Lima (who also built Huaca Pucllana) through to Inca. The scale of the ruins is impressive, as is the almost surreal location, by the third and only remaining green river fed valley (the other two now covered in concrete as the city has grown), and ocean, though the land itself is arid and desert like. There is also an extensive former shanty town right on the edge of the site.
Almost as interesting as the site itself was the drive south through the city, seeing the huge contrasts in the landscape, natural and man made. The greenery and beaches of Miraflores gave way to large arid cliffs, and instead of water front apartment blocks there were large shanty towns dating from the 1980s when migration from the countryside lead to huge growth in Lima. In the middle of one shanty town was the unexpected sight of extensive wetlands. Lima truely is a city of contrasts.