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Lima: Grey, Strange, and Way Too Big

Getting to Lima was slightly easier for our two little Monkeys than getting to Madrid had been. Luckily they did not need to hitchhike as they’d found a cheap open-jaw flight over the Atlantic.
Overly excited, they left Europe with just a vague idea of what would await them in South America. This had nothing to do with ignorance or stupidity; the Monkeys just like being surprised and therefore don't have any big expectations about the new places they visit. Expectations tend to leave you disappointed. If you don't have expectations you are more likely to be surprised.
The transatlantic journey went smoothly and had everything you wouldn't expect from a low budget flight. Only the flight was cheap, not the airline. They had a huge collection of music, movies and TV-shows. At some point during the flight the Monkeys started watching a show that would change the whole first month of their trip. You will have to wait for that story though! First, the Monkeys had to reach Lima.
Bimbino and Bambina like collecting border stamps. They had a layover in São Paulo for a few hours, and decided to visit Brazil. They weren’t able to see a lot as the airport was in the middle of nowhere, so they just got their stamps, took a picture with a huge Brazilian flag, and left the country again.
Five hours later and after a total time of roughly 16 hours in the air the Travelling Monkeys landed at Lima International Airport.
Welcome to America!
America welcomed the Monkeys with the grey skies of Lima. It was very warm compared to European winter, but misty and dank. While not a single drop of water fell from the clouds, it was definitely not very inspiring.
To meet up with their host Bimbino and Bambina had to travel to Miraflores. As the International Airport is actually located in Callao, Lima’s twin city, that journey took quite a while. In particular, finding transportation to take them in the right direction was no easy task. Callao Airport is not connected to the Metro or Metropolitano system and finding the right local bus took quite some time.
If the Monkeys had arrived a couple of hours later a taxi would have been their only option as the bus lines connecting the city and the airport are considered highly dangerous at night.
The bus ride was something you could certain call an “experience”. It was like a sightseeing tour without seeing any sights. Instead, the Monkeys got a first impression of the New World they had just entered. One thing was immediately clear: the resemblance to the northern part of the American double continent was much greater than to Europe. The cars, the shopping malls and the endless number of various fast food chains showed that this was definitely America.
Public Transport - Public Chaos
Lima is huge. It is uncontrollable, chaotic, and absolutely enormous. If you don't have a car and live far from a Metro or a Metropolitano station, your life is miserable. The city has been growing too fast in the last few decades, and its infrastructure is not suitable for nine million people.
At this point we might have to explain the Metropolitano system: imagine a network of roads reserved for buses only. The bus stops are similar to those of a metro station. Such a system is fast, effective and very cheap to construct – at least cheaper than tram or metro lines.
As advanced as this system seems, that’s how bad the normal bus system is. Real buses are rare. The standard vehicles are vans that are usually so crowded that it is hard to breathe or move. These vans and buses have numbers and street names written on them indicating the route they will take. Regardless, this is not much help to travellers. Especially as a foreigner you have no idea where these streets are located. There are no maps available anywhere that show bus lines or bus stops. Without the help of a local it is literally impossible to find your way. If you don’t speak Spanish you are basically lost.
Unfortunately, the Metropolitano lines only connect the North with the South of the city.
If you don't know a local who can explain which bus to take, you have hardly any chance to find it yourself. The woman on the stairs of the bus on the photo above is screaming out the names of the stops the bus is passing by. The stops do not always correspond to what is written on the bus itself. But the most amazing thing is the speed at which she screams those words out. It is absolutely impossible to separate one word from another.
La Molina
Bimbino and Bambina stayed in the outskirts of Lima, in the La Molina district. They had been lucky to find Jorge, a wonderful Peruvian Couchsurfer, who offered the Monkeys a room of their own in his flat for as long as they wanted, as long as they would take part in the daily household routine.
La Molina is located behind the mountains, around 20 km east of the Pacific shore. It is a nice residential district with all necessary infrastructure.
LimaWorkers A park in La Molina.
A park in La Molina: one of the weirdest things the Monkeys saw not only in Lima, but almost all around South America, was the amount of workers they employ for some simple tasks like trimming a small park.
Most people in Jorge's neighborhood belong to the upper middle-class. These people have a certain degree of wealth, which they like to see protected. This results in a need for security, with checkpoints everywhere. Whole blocks of houses are simply blocked to public access. Streets are closed with fences, so everybody has to pass security controls if they want to enter.
Another characteristic to la Molina is broken glass. No, not on the streets but cemented into the top of the walls and fences around the houses as protection from trespassing and robbery. But these fragments of glass are only reminders of Peru's past. Especially in the 1980s the whole country was suffering from the attacks of the Shining Path, which was fighting for a communist revolution in Peru. Nowadays this district is probably one of the most secure in Lima.
La Molina's biggest advantage over the coastal districts is that here you can see the sun every day, even in winter. The disadvantage, of course, is transportation. From La Molina you have to travel at least for one hour - sometimes even two! - to reach the city center, all while changing buses several times.
If one considers a city center to be a place in a city where something is going on, Lima has three: the Historic Center of Lima, Miraflores and Barranco. Most travellers prefer to stay in Miraflores or Barranco and to visit the Historic Center only as a part of a sightseeing tour.
For the Monkeys, a visit to each of the districts was a sightseeing tour, or better said a full-day holiday trip.
The Historic Center of Lima
Lima was founded in 1535 by the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro and is located on the shores of the Rimac River, a couple of kilometers away from the Pacific Ocean. Like throughout coastal Peru, the river valley is like an oasis in the middle of the desert, the only place in the surrounding area where the foundation of a city could promise a sustainable future.
Centuries after its founding, having survived several catastrophic earthquakes, the remains of these colonial times can still be found within the historic center. Especially the churches and monasteries of the old town are of historical significance; UNESCO declared the Historic Center of Lima to be a World Heritage Site in 1988.
LimaMainSquare Bambina, Musya and Bimbino on the the Plaza Mayor in front of the Lima Cathedral.
LimaCenter If a house is painted then its colour is often very vivid.
Aside from the clerical buildings the most outstanding characteristic of the historic center are the colonial balconies, an architectural feature that is unique to Lima and adds to its special atmosphere.
LimaBalcony Typical colonial balconies.
But of course central Lima had more to offer than just balconies and churches.
LimaGallery The gaps the earthquakes left behind needed to be reclaimed - in this example quite successfully with some nice Art Nouveau architecture.
LimaSpace Sometimes the space is not built-up tightly with concrete houses.
The Historic Center wouldn't be one of the main tourist attractions of the country without its countless number of artisanal tourist shops.
LimaDolls Bimbino and his friend Musya in an artisanal shops with expensive souvenirs for tourists.
Sometimes Bimbino and Bambina got lost for hours just wandering around. On one of those occasions they ran into their friends Akio and Yooko who invited them to a stroll through the central street market.
LimaFriends Akio and Yooko.
LimaFun The best invention for drying socks monkeys.
LimaHat Fits well!
They felt like they were in a different world. And in fact they were. Still it was hard to explain what exactly was different. They needed quite some time to get accustomed to that feeling, and even more time to understand it.
LimaMC Everywhere.
LimaShoes A forgotten profession in Europe, but present all over South America: shoeshiners.
Please, have a look at this "Inca Kola" booth. A traffic police officer goes inside to make some signs with his arms and whistle. No one ever cares what he (actually, usually she) tries to indicate.

As mentioned before, many travellers prefer staying in Miraflores if they happen to spend time in Lima. It is indeed the best choice. It has a good standard of life, as it is one of the upscale districts of the metropolitan area. Some of the best entertainment of Lima is located in Miraflores: shops, restaurants, bars and all kind of nightlife. Miraflores is famous for its parks and beaches and also for the possibilities of outdoor sports like surfing and paragliding. The only thing Miraflores really lacks is some decent architecture.
And before we forget to mention it: the prices are barely lower than those in Europe.
Living in La Molina and getting to Miraflores was not easy. It took sometimes up to two hours by bus. After such a trip Bimbino and Bambina didn't even have any desire to take photos. Usually, they were just happy to meet people, and spend time with them in a café or a park. In fact this was the far better choice.
LimaPalms A park in Miraflores.
LimaLomo Lomography exists even in Peru!
Barranco is a very special place in Lima. Bambina fell in love with this district. Unfortunately the Monkeys only visited Barranco the day before they planned to leave Lima. They didn't yet know that they would have to come back there half a year later.
Barranco has everything that Miraflores has except the shopping malls. But additionally in Barranco you can find beautiful historical architecture. It is nearly as touristy as Miraflores. Nevertheless the two districts are not really comparable. Barranco appears much more authentic. As a home to artisans, artists, photographers, designers, and musicians it is considered to be the most bohemian part of Lima.
Townhall The Plaza de Armas of Barranco.
BikeParking A bycicle rack.
Bimbino and Bambina where nearly overwhelmed by Barranco as it was so different from the Lima they had experienced so far. One thing was obvious to them after their visit: if they were ever to come back to Lima, Barranco was the place they would like to stay.
Architecture Barranco is full of cute houses.
StreetArt It is full of street art as well.
ModernMuseum It has even some nice modern architecture.
Additionally, Barranco's location high on a cliff above the Pacific coast inspires the visitor with its very romantic atmosphere.
LimaNight A breathtaking view on the night Lima.
...And So Much More
After so much talking about the well known districts of Lima it is about time to mention that the city is so much more.
fountains The Magic Water Circuit in the Parque de la Reserva is definitely worth a visit.
On one hand side there is the modern Lima with sometimes outstanding architecture.
LimeOpera< This is a theater.
On the other, there are all these districts nobody outside of Peru has ever heard of. Most of these places are never visited by travellers, many of them not even by locals. The “real Lima” is found not only far away from the trails of the usual traveller, but also worlds apart from the life of a rich Limeño.
Visiting those places and getting to know them can be said to be the real Lima experience. Crowded street markets, authentic local neighborhoods, ancient pre-Columbian ruins and little museums, but also some classy modern architecture. All these are little gems worth exploring. But keep in mind. If you want to see those things you need a lot of time. And time is what most travellers don't bring with them to Lima.
Advice from Bimbino and Bambina
Get from the airport to the city:
It is mandatory to visit the iPeru shelter at the airport, and enquire about the prices for the taxi and the bus. They should be able to tell you which bus to take to get to your final destination in Lima, as well as the fair price.
Where to stay:
Stay somewhere close to a Metropolitano stop. Probably the options are Miraflores or Barranco. If you use Couchsurfing, be ready to write a lot of requests.

If you don't mind staying far away from the main city, try to contact our host Jorge He lives in a nice and very safe area called La Molina.
What to do:
Have a walk in the Historic Center of Lima and visit the various churches, monasteries and museums.
Visit the Magic Water Circuit in the Parque de la Reserva.
Go to the central market. You can buy a lot of things very cheaply, but it is useful to have a local with you. Otherwise, you'll pay the tourist price.
Explore the nightlife in Miraflores and Barranco.
Walk around Barranco.
Visit Barranco Beer Company.
There are better places around Peru to surf and paraglide, but you can do it in Lima as well.
P.S. Lima in winter and Lima in summer are two different cities. The summer edition will follow...
Follow the adventures of the Travelling Monkeys! More stories to come soon...
Find all photos appeared in this post on Flickr.
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