Lima and Machu Picchu
By Dory Benami
Of the approximately 3.5 million visitors to Peru each year, nearly one third include Machu Picchu in their itinerary. Many others make the main emphasis of their Peruvian voyage the Amazon, but nearly all paths to Peru begin and end in the capital city of Lima.
Since Lima’s major airport, Jorge Chavez International, is located approximately 40 minutes from the major tourist areas of Lima, most visitors to all parts of Peru are likely to spend at least a night in Lima before heading elsewhere. It is best to arrange ground transportation prior to your trip, but otherwise, the Easy-Taxi and Uber apps on mobile devices have significantly improved professionalism of transport in Lima.
Where to Stay
Lima’s tourist districts of Miraflores, San Isidro and Barranco are filled with tourist amenities. Of the three districts, many prefer Barranco because of its colonial Spanish charm. Budget hotels and Airbnb apartments are available.
The magnificent Hotel B is a relatively new four-star boutique hotel with restaurant, bar, exquisite décor, and 17 guest rooms.
In Miraflores many frequent visitors love to stay at the JW Marriott because of its proximity to Larcomar, a shopping center built into the cliff of a wall overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Additionally, the JW Marriott has a good lounge for business meetings and the Majestic Casino is located adjacent to the hotel’s entrance — a perfect place to play blackjack and craps. In San Isidro — an upscale suburban district of Lima — the Hotel Atton is highly regarded amongst business and vacation travelers, and the hotel features a nice breakfast buffet.
Lima’s Food Scene
As you may have heard, the foodie scene in Lima is on fire! Recently, Lima made waves across the globe when three local restaurants were featured on the The World’s Best Restaurants 2016 list — a list based on polls of international chefs, restaurateurs, gourmands and restaurant critics. If you are a fan of ceviche you may want to plan lunch at a different cevicheria everyday, throughout the city.
Ceviche is a Peruvian staple normally eaten mid-day because that is when the fish is most fresh. The dish comes in many different forms and styles. Ceviche is not cooked by heat but rather by the acid of the highly acidic Peruvian limes. Very few cevicherias are open for dinner service. Here are a few favorites:
Located in a gritty neighborhood called La Victoria, this restaurant is a favorite of intrepid food critics Eric Ripert and Anthony Bourdain, and can only be visited by reservation. Seating is limited and there is no signage outside so if you seek a challenge, this is a can’t-miss place. Pictures with Chef Wong and a large pre-chopped fish are certainly Instagram-worthy.
A mainstay for business lunches due to the upscale décor and location in the business district, this modern restaurant serves excellent seafood and also a mushroom risotto to pair with ceviche.
Owned by a soccer mad Argentinian ex-pat named Vicente Furgiuele, this restaurant is located along a side street called Genova in the heart of Barranco. The showpiece dish here is called ‘El Guardia Imperial’ and is comprised of sole and octopus. Apparently, this is what the owner would serve the Queen of England if she were to ever enter his restaurant. She hasn’t yet, but there’s still time.
Gaston Acurio is the most important personality in Peruvian gastronomy. He is also one of the most important names in South American gastronomy because his restaurant empire stretches throughout Latin America. His cevicheria is known for its innovative ceviche selections that are delicately prepared, and served in a delightful atmosphere.
Aside from cevicherias, there are several other restaurants that can’t be missed in Lima. First and foremost is Central, the fourth best restaurant in the world according to the latest rankings from British magazine, Restaurant, The World’s Best Restaurants 2016 (third last year). What is most remarkable is that Central’s Chef Virgilio Martinez has surpassed Gaston Acurio who also makes The World’s Best Restaurants 2016 ranking at number 30 with his flagship Astrid y Gaston. Another highlight of Peruvian cuisine is Nikkei, the fusion food which combines classic Japanese with a Peruvian twist. The best exemplification of Nikkei cuisine in Peru is found at number 13 of The World’s Best Restaurants 2016, Maido in Miraflores.
For more casual fare in Lima, try some of the best ‘pollo a la brasa’ (blackened rotisserie chicken) in the world. Pardos Chicken has built its acclaimed reputation as one of the best purveyors of pollo a la brasa, with several locations in Lima including one at Larcomar, along with Don Bellisario, located near Parque Kennedy. However, what may be the ultimate best pollo a la brasa in Lima can be found at Don Tito in the San Borja district. The secret to Don Tito’s taste is the additional spices and herbs.
Another mainstay dish in Peruvian cuisine is “lomo saltado” (stir fry sirloin with onions, tomatoes and french fries) — the origins of lomo saltado come from the fusion of Cantonese cuisine. Try this dish at Panchita, which is also owned by Gaston Acurio. Other popular dishes worth sampling here are “Anticucho” (beef heart) and “Picarones”(sweet potato doughnuts) both of which are popular street-food offerings, but at a place like Panchita, are elevated to an even more delicious level than what can be found on the street.
What to Do in Lima
Now that our stomachs are full, the question becomes how to fill up the time in between meals. The answer is just as diverse as the dining options. Shoppers will want to visit Dedalo in Barranco to find moderately priced artisanal gifts and jewelry by Peruvian artists. You can visit one of the many traditional Inca market stalls near Parque Kennedy to find what would be considered more typical Peruvian souvenirs, ranging from brightly colored blankets called “mantas” to baby alpaca sweaters and scarves. At Inca markets, bargaining is acceptable, and if you’re comfortable, hone your Spanish speaking skills negotiating prices en Español.
If shopping isn’t your thing, you can check out ancient pre-Incan sites called Huacas, like the one that can be accessed adjacent to Restaurant Huaca Pucllana near Miraflores. Alternatively, a trip to Barranco’s Museo MATE which is the permanent home of Peruvian fashion photographer Mario Testino’s most significant works, is a good way to spend a couple of hours.
As night approaches head to Ayahuasca, a large house in Barranco, named after the psychedelic tea that many come to Peru to experience. This lounge and restaurant is visually stimulating due to its unique décor. While there, take a tour in the courtyard and private rooms to see how they’ve ingeniously incorporated traditional crafts of Peru into furniture and art. It is mesmerizing.
The national drink is a pisco sour but many enjoy the national beer, Cusqueña. A good place to enjoy either is El Dragon only a few streets away from Ayauhasca, where international DJs and entertainers perform regularly. As the night approaches 1 or 2 a.m., head to Bizarro in Miraflores. There you can party until the sun comes up. Bizarro features two main rooms; one with house and techno music and one with top-40.
When you wake up the next morning, you may want to relax at Cala, a lounge and restaurant located on Barancillo beach adjacent to Miraflores and overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The vibe is relaxing and the views of the water are the best in Lima.
Whatever you end up eating, drinking, seeing, doing or buying in Lima, you will find yourself becoming an advocate for this vibrant, modern, historical, beautiful and fun city when you return home. I certainly have.
LATAM Airlines offers direct flights from LAX to Jorge Chavez International.
Machu Picchu is a stunning archaeological wonder of an ancient Inca citadel located deep in the Andes Mountains of Peru. It has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage site status. Surrounded by huge mountains and valleys, Machu Picchu was built and used by the Incan Empire until the Spanish invasion of the sixteenth century. The impressive development includes walls, ramps and terraces held together without mortar and designed to interplay with incredible views and astrological alignments. While there are no official records, it is generally assumed that Machu Picchu was an urban hub of commerce, religion, agriculture and community for the ancient Incans. While this is a bucket list destination, expect lots of crowds and it is now required to purchase a ticket for admission in advance. There are physical challenges to the exploration of Machu Picchu as it is in the middle of a huge mountain range. Visitors can either hike or take the bus but there is no escaping high elevation, which can lead to lightheadedness.
Getting to Machu Picchu from Lima
The first leg of the journey is Lima to Cusco by air. The flight is less than 90 minutes and there are several flights offered daily. From Cusco take a train to Aguas Calientes which is the base of Machu Picchu. This trip takes three and a half hours and trains depart early each day so it is impossible to fly in from Lima and catch a train on the same day. It is required to spend a night in Cusco. There are hotels, restaurants and plenty of tour guides available in Cusco.