Wanderlust Series Part Two: Lima, Peru

In an effort to be more helpful with my travel posts, I wanted to discuss more of the specifics of our recent trip to Peru & Colombia. We were there for two weeks, so I’ll need to break this post up in order to make everything a bit easier to digest.

Please understand that this is totally my biased opinion of our particular trip. I will say that I had certain expectations and shortcomings in the planning phase, so make note of the following:
  1. This was my first international vacation with a significant other. This was both exciting to think about, while also terrifying. 384 hours of being with ONE other English-speaking person – I don’t care how much you adore each other – is enough to make you panic a little bit.
  2. I have traveled a fair amount, and this was by far the most rural trip I’ve ever been on. This was made even more challenging because I speak very limited Spanish.
  3. I don’t generally stay in 5-star hotels, but I don't usually stay in 2-star hotels either (not that there's anything wrong with either end of that spectrum!!). I think I had pretty realistic expectations as far as knowing that I wasn't going to get "the royal treatment" when staying at a 3-star hotel or an AirBNB. 
  4. I am, more and more, getting an idea of what kind of travel I enjoy. I’ve really loved some of the bigger cities that I’ve been to, but I honestly just prefer small towns, beaches, and countryside trips. This is relevant in that I will almost always prefer the parts of a trip that are more laid back, as opposed to some people who love the rush and excitement of a big city.
  5. In retrospect, I didn’t do nearly enough research into where we should stay in Lima. I was overwhelmed by how huge the city is, and prioritized staying as close to the airport as possible without considering the actual location outside our hotel doors.

With all of that said, welcome to Peru...

Getting There.

We bought a flight from LAX to Lima by way of a 10-hour layover at San Salvador Airport in El Salvador. This airport was pretty small, with hardly anything to do, and we were told to absolutely NOT leave the airport for safety reasons. Our saving grace was that we discovered you could go into the Avianca Airlines VIP Lounge for only $25 USD per person. Not only were we much more comfortable, but we felt safer leaving our stuff fairly unsupervised while we took naps. There were also really nice bathrooms, showers, free snacks, and an open bar. It was well worth the $25, in my book. 
How to Sleep in the San Salvador Airport - VIP Style.
We got to Lima at about 9pm, exhausted but excited for our trip. Unfortunately, our driver was NOT at the airport when we arrived. This was obviously frustrating, especially because I never pay for international phone service. I know, I'm an idiot. Let me officially say: just buy the international phone card if you’re going to Peru. It’s a lot harder to get around on WIFI than in countries like France or Germany.

You NEVER hire a taxi driver outside of the airport (even just outside the doors, as it turns out. It’s really dangerous), so after about 45 minutes of standing there, one of the official airport taxi drivers asked us if we needed a ride. We told him the address, and got the reaction that NO ONE wants, which is to say that he shook his head and said “Oh no. Are you sure you want to go there?? Tourists shouldn’t go there.” Panic set in as we discovered that the area we had booked our AirBNB in was pretty much the worst part of the city. More on that in a moment.

The best thing about our first night in Lima.
We were devastated. We tried using the taxi driver’s phone to call our AirBNB driver, whose phone was disconnected. We had already paid for the room, and were basically determining if we wanted to just pay a few hundred bucks for a NEW driver and a NEW hotel, when our AirBNB driver showed up with a sign that had our names on it. And even though it may not have been the best move, we just took our chances and went with him. If I weren’t with my boyfriend, I would never have taken a risk like that and don’t recommend it to anyone else.

So we got to our AirBNB in Callao, which was secure behind a locked gate, but pretty clearly in a bad area. Oliver went to buy water from a liquor store (escorted by the AirBNB host), and had to exchange the money for the bottled water through a barred gate. It was pretty unnerving, although apparently common. On top of that, the apartment was very clearly not cleaned prior to our arrival, based on the toothpaste and hair in the sink. Our experience wasn’t the worst possible scenario, but it put a damper on the first night of our vacation in a new country. Live and learn, I suppose.

This is a typical street scene from what we saw of  Callao, although there
seemed to be a lot of random nightclubs and people hanging out at night.

A Word on Lima.

Lima is a HUGE city, and a lot of it isn’t particularly safe. As we discovered, the closer you are to the airport the more dangerous it is. You really want to stay more toward Miraflores or Barranco if you’re going to Lima. Barranco has cute colonial style buildings, and you really don’t save a ton of time or money by staying super close to the airport. As a matter of fact, during the 3 layovers we had in Lima, Oliver and I agreed that one thing we wish we’d done differently was to stay in the same AirBNB for each layover. Our host’s name was Juan Carlos, and you can find his awesome & affordable apartment here.

Miraflores & Barranco Trip Details.

Our flight details were to go Lima -> Cusco -> Lima -> Huaraz -> Lima -> Colombia. To avoid bouncing around, I’m going to discuss other parts of Peru in later posts and focus now on our various stints in Lima.

Once we got back to Lima from our stay in Cusco, we had a driver from our San Miguel/Miraflores hotel pick us up at the airport. Generally, whoever you’ve arranged to pick you up will have a sign with your name on it, and it’s no big deal to find them once you land. Our driver was a really nice woman who drove like an absolute maniac. It was pretty fun, but definitely an adventure. I will say that getting around in most of Peru can be pretty wild, so just be prepared for that and you’ll be fine. Our hotel was a bit south of the airport this time, in the San Miguel neighborhood. While it felt safer than Callao, and our hotel was really nice, I still would have enjoyed someplace else. However, we had to be at the airport once again at 5:30am, so we stayed as close as possible for a reasonable price.

Food in San Miguel/Miraflores.

The details of our hotel in San Miguel are a little confusing, even now, since the area is sometimes listed as being in San Miguel, but sometimes says it’s Miraflores. The reason I mention this is to reiterate how carefully you should plan out where to stay in the various parts of Lima. Downtown Miraflores is really nice and pretty urban, while San Miguel felt pretty gritty. You really want to stay closer to the areas near Parque Kennedy in Miraflores if you’re trying to find a nicer spot. And now- on to food!!

The uber-friendly guy at the front desk of our hotel recommended that we walk across the street to a considerably shady-looking Chinese restaurant. We passed on that idea and walked a few blocks inland to the busy Av. La Marina, which has a lot more options. There was a place called Norky’s a few blocks up, which looked “okay,” but we pushed on to find something that looked a little less fast food-ish. Long story short- we ended up at a place called El Autentico Rodizio, located at Av. La Marina 3151. It was an amazing Brazillian steakhouse-type place that seemed to be pretty popular with locals. It seems a bit hard to find online, but I assure you that it was really nice inside and the food and drinks were great!!

Barranco: Our Final Stop in Lima.

With one final evening in Lima at the end of our Peru trip, we finally got it right by staying in Barranco. Our afore-mentioned AirBNB was perfect, and very safe. We wandered around Barranco feeling very at-ease, although admittedly exhausted from planes, trains, and taxis. The beach was close to the place we stayed, but Barranco sits on the edge of a cliff looking down to a relatively rocky shoreline, so we gave up on trying to wander down to it. There are plenty of delicious places to eat in the area, so I won’t get too much into the food we ate, but I will mention that we made reservations to eat dinner at Maido in Miraflores, which is currently listed as the #13 best restaurant in the world. Needless to say, we were pretty excited about it.

Nikkei Experience Menu from Maido in Peru.
Sadly, the food fell pretty short of our expectations. I admit that there were some pretty good dishes, but for a $300+ price tag (including relatively inexpensive sake), we both felt that the Nikkei Experience tasting menu was subpar. The dishes were beautifully presented, though, including a dish with ground chili powder served on a frozen boulder, which completely changed the texture of the powder into an amazing a paste as soon as you scooped it up. 
A really yummy ice cream dessert from Maido called "Cacao"
**It bears mentioning that the #4 restaurant in the world (Central) is just down the street from here. We also met a couple in Huaraz who were in Peru working for the U.S. embassy, and they recommended a great restaurant called Rafael just one block from Maido on Calle San Martin.

I hope this guide comes in handy for anyone looking to visit Lima. If it does, or if you have questions, feel free to leave your feedback in the comments section below!! I’ll be back soon with more posts about our travels to Machu Picchu, along with what to do with 48 hours in Aguas Calientes. Also look for my upcoming post about our journey to 15,000 feet in Huascaran National Park, as well as our trip to Isla Grande in Colombia.

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