I didn’t know how many thousands of faces I would meet in the garden of Larco Museum where I entered through the bougainvillea covering the white walls and oddly-shaped cacti. Chosen as one of the world’s 25 most beautiful museums by travelers, the museum displays nearly 45,000 artifacts depicting human faces, musical instruments, and various forms of animals, birds, fruits and vegetables that belonged to the civilizations living in Peru before the arrival of Columbus. Each of these artifacts is like an anthropological monument. Peruvians, who believe in the afterlife, made most of these ancient objects, which are incredible examples of aesthetics, to be used as vessels left at cemeteries. Displaying golden objects, mysterious quipus, and weavings that look brand-new despite dating back 2,000 years, the museum’s public warehouse is also quite impressive.
After a detailed introduction to the history of Peru with a tour at Larco Museum, I visit the main square of Plaza de Armas which immediately beams me into the colonial era! Lima was founded by Spanish Francisco Pizarro in 1535 and remained under the Spanish rule until its independence in 1821 led by José de San Martín. The historical district bears the typical features of the era with its Baroque structures, Rococo ornamentations, and houses with bay windows built in the Arabic-Moroccan architectural style. I stop by Lima Cathedral, which also houses Pizarro’s tomb, and visit the Basilica and Convent of San Francisco. I must confess that I only managed to get over the influence of the nearly 70,000 skeletons in the catacomb of the cathedral by admiring about 25,000 centuries-old books in the library and the Sevilla-made tiles in the courtyard. I take a break from this tunnel of history which began with Ancient Peru and continued with the colonial period with a cup of coffee at Urqu Coffee Shop. After I learn that the beans of this delicious coffee are cultivated in the district of Puno, also housing Lake Titicaca, I become more excited about the unique landscape of Peru.
Although there are many souvenir shops in the historical center, the best place for this is the Indian Market and the surrounding bazaars on Petit Thouars Avenue. These markets have so many objects related to the Peruvian culture that you feel as if you have toured the entire country. Sweaters made with alpaca wools from the Andes, handwoven colorful fabrics, statuettes from the pre-Inca period, T-shirts with Nazca patterns, evil-eye talismans made with huayruro seeds from the Amazon, silver jewelries, and many more! But I set my eye on retablos and mirrors in frames with colorful patterns. Retablo is the name of small boxes filled with naïve miniature figures and two folding frames. After a long stroll around the markets, I plan the perfect ending to a day in Lima by having dinner at the restaurant overlooking the ancient mud-brick pyramid of Huaca Pucllana.
Miraflores is the star of the next morning. This district is the modern face of the city with its modern buildings, parks, eateries, and shopping centers. I go on a pleasant walk along its main street, José Larco Avenue, and arrive at June 7 Park. The nonchalant people of Lima are having a stand-up conversation as their shoes are being polished. Sitting on a bench, my mood lifts by the lyrics to “El Cóndor Pasa,” composed by Daniel Alomía Robles, born in the Andes, and made famous by Simon & Garfunkel - “A man gets tied up to the ground / He gives the world its saddest sound.” I head for Larcomar shopping center overlooking the Pacific Ocean. This is like the eagle’s nest in Miraflores. The Costa Verde coastline below meanders through beaches and the cliffs of Miraflores. As the mosaics of Love Park are specked with the shadows of kite surfers flying above surfers and swimmers in the ocean, I can hear the calling of the bohemian district of Barranco.
Barranco, chosen as a place to live by many authors, poets and intellectuals, is the pupil of Lima’s eye with its murals, houses and folk music clubs called peña, each lovelier than the other. It’s not hard to understand why someone wrote “Time to dream” on the wall that displays the old photographs of the city. You can see the works of Mario Testino, who took the last pictures of Princess Diana, at MATE Museum. His photographs, especially those of the people in traditional clothes, are a visual treasure. You can always see people on Bajada de los Baños, the road that stretches down to the ocean in Barranco, and Puente de los Suspiros (Bridge of Sighs) for which beloved singer Chabuca Granda composed a song. I smile at the people who cross the bridge in one breath so that their wish comes true, and head towards Damajuana for an open buffet feast. I quickly come to realize that I made the right choice by not spending my breath at the bridge because what’s really breathtaking is the eight different dance performances I watch here depicting the culture of Peru, dating back thousands of years!
Another delightful performance in Lima is Circuito Mágico del Agua at the Park of the Reserve. Thousands of people, like me, gather around the pools in the park in the evening to admire the show. A great sense of excitement fills the audience when the fountain waters start to dance in harmony with the music. The laser show takes you on a journey through the history of Peru with countless images from pumas to condors, Machu Picchu to Nazca figures. The park is open every evening except Mondays.
Peruvian cuisine was one of the most mesmerizing things during my visit to Lima. Especially in recent years, local chefs have focused on fusion and filled their plates with brand new delicacies. That’s why it’s not surprising at all that the top two among the 50 best restaurants in Latin America are from Lima. Revived by young chefs, Peruvian cuisine is among the most popular ones in the world. How can it not be! The seafood from the Pacific Ocean, and the fruit and vegetables cultivated in the Amazon Forests and the Andes are cooked with centuries-old traditional methods, and Far Eastern and Spanish cooking techniques. Add to this mix kinoa, only cultivated in Peru and Bolivia; the nearly 3,000 potatoes and about 300 corn varieties of the Andes; fruit such as lúcuma; and seafood. The delicacies and presentations prepared by Peruvian chefs deserve volumes of praise. These chefs cook today’s dishes in the same way their ancestors used soil to make art. ámaZ, which uses the ingredients and cooking techniques of the Amazon Forests, Isolina that cooks the recipes inherited from grandmothers, La Rose Náutica situated above the ocean, or any other restaurant – whichever you pick, it’s guaranteed that you will never forget the taste! However, make sure to try ceviche, the national dish of Lima, before leaving for home!
The Incas did not have writing. What they left behind was not manuscripts, letters, or books, but quipu, knots on dozens of strings hanging from a main thread. Still mysterious to us, these knots are believed to record historic incidents, messages, inventories, or shopping lists. There is only one question in my mind after my trip to Lima. If I had lived during the time of the Incas and were one of the people to put a knot on a quipu, how many years would it have taken me to make millions of knots to record this unique country’s delicious food, hospitable people, potatoes, antiques, and endless landmarks?