Lima and Caral
By Anita Lum
Posted On October 13, 2018
Hotel Residencial B&B (located in the Miraflores district in Lima) was highly recommended on Trip Advisor. We booked two rooms for our group of seven. Our host, Ana Maria, was super friendly and for those that need to know, she speaks very good English. Chicho, the family dog, was a big hit with my granddaughters. The location was central to many restaurants, parks and stores. Other residents were friendly although one evening apparently we were rowdy enough to be asked several times by Ana’s husband to “keep it down” …. I’ll blame it on the wine. While we were talking, laughing and enjoying the wine, there was some poor fellow that was trying to sleep and unfortunately, the patio we were sitting on was right outside his window. Rooms were clean and the breakfast was excellent.
We started our exploration of Lima downtown at Plaza San Martin. My son-in-law took the lead in guiding us to the Gran Hotel Bolivar – the birthplace of the pisco sour. Of course we stopped long enough to enjoy one and to walk through the beautiful colonial structure. We continued down Jiron de la Union admiring the architecture of many buildings along the way. We made a stop at the Iglesia y Convento La Merced – it is the oldest church in Lima, built in 1535. A little more walking and we were at the Main Square in Lima, the Plaza de Armas.
Next stop was the fascinating Mercado Central. This market is located east of Av. Abancay, two blocks from Plaza Bolivar – you can buy almost anything here. The food market has fresh fruits and vegetables and all types of meats (including rabbit, goat, guinea pig, lamb, fish, seafood). It’s a two-story structure with the meat market on the lower level. One can view, from above, the butchers at work.
Meat is prepared and packaged quite unlike the way we are accustomed to seeing it here at home. We spotted at least one huge cat, perched at the ready – no doubt waiting for the right moment to snatch a bite. Surrounding the main meat and produce area are hundreds of little stores selling clothing, housewares, toys and more.
Our next stop was the Catedral de Lima where a group of school girls asked to take a photo with my granddaughters – that was so sweet and a fun little experience for them. From there, we then made our way to the Palacio de Gobierno del Perú (Government Palace of Peru) and ended our walking tour at Plaza Bolivar.
Most of the time we used Uber to get around Lima. It was really the best bargain in town. I think a trip from Plaza Bolivar to Barranco came out to approximately $3 compared to $20 for taxis. Interestingly, many of the taxi drivers were also Uber drivers (I’m not sure how that works). Driving in Lima is really quite terrifying – seemingly there are no rules. We noticed that the Uber drivers seemed to have the nicer cars and wanted to keep them that way and felt that this translated to a safer ride for us.
Evenings usually found us back in the Miraflores or Barranco districts as those were our favorite areas in Lima. One evening we were fortunate to meet one of the owners of Barranco Beer Company, Sara LeFevre. Sara gave us on a tour of her wonderful brewpub. We especially enjoyed their Pizza Morada (purple corn crust pizza) and of course, their handcrafted beers. Sara also gave us some excellent recommendations including Crem de la Crem – an ice cream shop not too far from her place. When you go, do not miss the lucuma ice cream! Another excellent recommendation for traditional Peruvian fare was Isolina Taberna Peruana, also near the brewery. The Barranco area is situated on a high cliff that overlooks the beach below and we enjoyed walking along that coastline often. It is a popular area for artists, musicians, photographers and surfers.
In Lima we also took my granddaughters to a workshop at Choco Museo in Miraflores. They enjoyed making chocolate candies while we sampled some specialty beverages and learned about the cacao industry in Peru. Another favorite stop was the Inka Market where there are hundreds of little stores, booths really, selling all types of Peruvian textiles, jewelry, alpaca products and more. It’s the sort of place where it is absolutely fine to bargain. I found some nice silver jewelry here.
One evening, we set out on foot to visit Nuevo Mundo Craft Brewery. Along the way we passed a park where residents were out walking, feeding hundreds of stray cats and there was a large gathering in an area where musicians were playing and people were getting up to take turns to sing and dance. What a fun time these folks were having.
Right in Lima we also had the opportunity to visit Huaca Pucllana. This huaca, or “historical ruin” is located in the Miraflores district. There are several huacas situated in several spots spread out throughout the city. Most are rather small and just surrounded by a fence but Huaca Pucllana is larger and features an adobe and clay pyramid. At this location they have discovered artifacts from the Lima culture dating between 200AD and 700AD, the Wari culture artifacts dating from 500AD-900AD and the Ichma culture dating from 1000AD-1450AD. The complex includes an area for workshops, a souvenir shop, a restaurant overlooking the ruins and a museum that exhibits items found on the site. This area was described and studied by travelers and explorers from the 19th century onward and professional research started in the mid-20th century when the top of the pyramid was exposed. Huaca Pucllana became a historical and cultural park in 1991.
We did want to visit Central (one of the best restaurants in the world) but we just couldn’t find the time and reservations must be made well in advance of a visit. Next time we will at least try to get in for a cocktail! For another foodie treat, it’d be great to plan our next visit to Lima around early September when they hold the annual Mistura – we saw them setting this up on the beach.
Mistura is a 10-day food fest where restaurateurs (as well as brewers, vintners and farmers) from all over Peru come to have attendees sample their products. Large restaurants as well as food truck vendors are all represented here.
My daughter and her family departed Lima a few days before us and, so we had a little more time to continue our exploration of Lima. We visited my mother’s old neighborhood near Plaza Bolognesi in downtown Lima. Sadly, the area did not look the same as in the photographs I had seen growing up. Unfortunately, that part of the city was quite run-down, dirty and crowded. We also visited the Larco Museo which is a private museum that features the best gold and silver from ancient Peru as well as the famous erotic archaeological collection. Arriving at the museum a bit hungry, we were delighted to find that the museum also had a wonderful restaurant. So, we enjoyed some lunch before exploring the museum.
We booked a day trip with Caral Tours so that we could visit the most ancient city in the Americas (although, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m not generally a fan of booking tours; however, sometimes it does make sense logistically). But, my recommendation to always book a tour where the company who you are booking with does not subcontract out the tours still stand.
Caral is a town approximately 125 miles north of Lima, situated in the Supe Valley and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is one of at least 18 settlements in the area dating back 5000 years. Six pyramids have been discovered in the region since 1905 (in comparison, Machu Picchu was discovered in 1911). But, Caral was soon forgotten as there was no gold or ceramics found. The people of Caral were a pre-ceramic culture. Cotton was grown in the Supe Valley and it is thought to have been a very important crop. The cotton was made into fishing nets and seems to have played a big role in trade with people on the central coast.
Enroute to the ruins we saw acres and acres of papaya, asparagus and peppers being grown. The farmers still were using human-drawn plows but we saw many with cell phones – seeing the old and the new, side by side, a very interesting dichotomy.
Our tour guide, Vanessa, and our driver picked us up (in a Toyota diesel SUV that Greg really admired) at Hotel Residencial early in the morning and we drove north for over two hours. We saw areas of Lima that we certainly would not have otherwise seen. A lot of poverty, a much more arid terrain than we were expecting too. We made a stop enroute to get some coffee for the road. Once at the ruins, we had a Caral tour guide but he only spoke Spanish so Vanessa translated for Greg. At one point, our guide surprised us by pulling back a piece of paper to unveil a 5000 yr old fishing net.
Caral may not be for everyone but it certainly was interesting for us. There were only a few other visitors at Caral.
We had worked up quite an appetite and lunch was included on this day trip but there was nowhere to eat near Caral. Our driver headed south and we stopped at the town of Huacho. As we entered the town from the road, it didn’t even seem as if there would be any restaurants to eat here and we expected perhaps just a food stand. We were wrong! As we headed closer to the coast, the town looked more like a town and we soon stopped at the pre-arranged restaurant for lunch. Unfortunately, there was very large group ahead of us and Vanessa made the decision to go to another place nearby, Mar y Tierra. Good choice. The ceviche there was probably the best we had on the entire trip. And it all had been excellent. After our bellies were full, we were back on the road to Miraflores.
Tonight was our last night in Lima so we headed to a restaurant only a few blocks from our hotel that we had been wanting to try, Panchita. This Creole-inspired Peruvian restaurant did not disappoint. We thoroughly enjoyed our last meal on this vacation.
It was early to bed and then early to rise for us the next morning so we walked back to our B&B and did our final packing.
While we were only in coastal Peru for a total of five days, we certainly covered a lot of ground and got a good feel for Lima and Caral. We felt truly blessed to be able to satisfy a bit of our wanderlust with our daughter and her family alongside us on this wonderful journey. We learned so much and saw incredible things. This trip most definitely left me feeling more connected to my Peruvian heritage and wanting to make a return visit to experience more of this wonderful country.