Lima’s taxi drivers tend to be educated, perceptive, and opinionated. When asked what they think about Lima, they will tick off a litany of complaints:
The highways are congested with buses.
The air is full of exhaust and noise.
Slums have sprawled across all the desert hills around Lima and residents there lack regular plumbing, water, and sometimes even electricity.
The city’s politicians and business leaders create a daily circus of corruption, and there is a huge, and growing, separation between the rich and the poor.
Then, as if that weren’t enough, there’s the garúa. The blanket of fog that rolls in from the ocean and covers everything May–November, depositing a patina of grime that lends the city its gray, dismal appearance.
But, in the same breath, the taxi driver will extol the virtues of this once-opulent capital of the Spanish viceroyalty that stretched from present-day Ecuador to Chile.
Limeños are an exotic cocktail, a bit of coast, sierra, and jungle blended with African, Chinese, and European to create an eclectic, never-before-seen blend.
Heaps of tangy ceviche and succulent shellfish can be had for a few dollars, along with shredded chicken served in a creamy concoction of milk, mountain cheese, nuts, and ají pepper.
Bars, clubs, and local music venues, called peñas, explode most nights with dance and the rhythms of cumbia, salsa, Afro-Peruvian pop, and a dozen forms of creole music.
There are sandy beaches just a half hour south of the city.
And despite all its griminess, the center of Lima shines forth with a wealth of colonial art and architecture, rivaled perhaps only by Mexico City, the other great center of Spanish power in the New World.
The bottom line: Lima is an extraordinary city, but it takes a little getting used to. The country’s leading museums, churches, and restaurants are here, along with nearly eight million people, almost a third of Peru’s population. It is the maximum expression of Peru’s cultural diversity (and chaos).
Whether you like it or not, you will come to Lima, because nearly all international flights land at this gateway. But do yourself a favor and see Lima at the end of your trip, not at the beginning. That way you have a better chance of understanding what you see and not becoming overwhelmed in the process.
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition