Our last night in South America was spent in Lima, a huge city of over 10 million people. We had heard conflicting reports, from “Don’t go there”, to “You will love it”. Certainly, it is a troubled city. Like Rio and B.A, it has large shanty towns which are trouble hotspots, exacerbated by Peru opening it’s doors to Venezuelan refugees, and admitting over a million, with, apparently, no background checks at all, so most people we spoke to, feel that a large criminal element have entered as well.
I had found a small B&B in Barranco, a safe coastal part of Lima, famed for it’s architecture, and artistic background.
The B&B was called Second Home, and was exactly that, the second home and studio of artist Victor Delfin. He had sadly died a few years ago, but his wife still lives there. The building is full of his very distinctive artwork, and we were also to find some in Lima the following day.
Our room was lovely, with a view of the Pacific Ocean. Looking along the coast, we decided Lima is very like Bournemouth! Both set on cliffs, with deep Chines cutting down to the sea at intervals, and even a pier!!
Next day we had booked a 1 day tour of Lima before our transfer to the airport, with Peruvian Local friend, Cindy. She was remarkable. So enthusiastic and knowledgeable about her city. We saw Miraflores, full of early 20th century, European summer houses,
and the famous Garden of Love, with Gaudi style walls, and a Victor Delfin statue.
A festival of Love is held each year, with a competition for the longest kiss. 45 minutes is the record! Then onto the Olive park, planted as an oil crop by the Spanish, where some trees are over 300 years old.
Most remarkably, in the heart of the city, are the remains of some huge pyramids, Huaca Pucllana and Huallamarca, built by the Wari people around 500 AD. Built wholly in mud (adobe) bricks, they were solid inside, with a flat top, and were not burial chambers, but probably for meetings, rituals and sacrifices.
The largest would have covered 15 acres! They could be made of mud because they hardly ever get rain here. Also, mud is flexible if earthquakes strike. Lima is the second driest capital in the world, after Cairo. Water shortages are common, and over 10% of the city is not connected to running water. 20% of the city is classed as shanty town.
Then we headed downtown to the old heart of Lima, which was a wonderful surprise of elegant plazas and beautiful colonial buildings.
Founded by Spanish Conquistador, Pisarro in 1535, This city was the most important in South America for many years, controlling trade and Government in all the other conquered countries.
One week previously, the Government had made the central square, Plaza des Armas, pedestrianised, so it was even quite peaceful.
The fountain is very famous. Throughout the trip we have drunk many Pisco sours, based on the grape brandy Pisco. In July, peruvians celebrate Pisco day, when the fountain runs, not with water, but Pisco, and people queue for a free drink!
Government house reminded us of Buckingham Palace… and then we were told they have Changing of the guard each day!
The other main square is Plaza San Martin, named after Jose San Martin, who liberated them from Spanish rule in 1824.
Many of the old houses in Lima were famous for their beautiful wooden balconies.
We also visited the ornate church of Las Nazarenas,
and the Santo Domingo convent, which is where this first University of Lima was founded.
The convents all had beautiful ancient libraries.
This dais is where students had to read out 3 hour, prepared dissertations to their examiners!
The cloisters were beautiful, with original Spanish tiles dating from 1606.
Our next visit was to a the oldest private house in Lima, which has been lived in by the Aliaga family since 1535. It is a living museum, and was beautiful.
Much of the wall covering, and chair backs, was tooled leather.
We visited the old railway station,
and an old hotel bar, with Spanish wall paintings, photos of old Lima, and a barman who has worked there for over 70 years!
The final highlight was the church and monastery San Francisco, with it’s moorish influenced architecture.
It is most famous for the catacombs. Their construction is so strong, that they are a designated earthquake shelter. Tens of thousands of people are buried here, and the bones are all grouped in rather weird ways!! This intricate pattern is in a huge well, and is composed of femurs and skulls!
Despite this rather macabre spot, we loved Lima, and our guide Cindy said she has seen many improvements here during her lifetime.
We knew that in the 70s 80s and 90s Peru was in the dark period of attacks from its rebel Shining Path terrorist, communist party. However we didn’t realise that tourism in Peru did not really get going again until 2007, so is relatively new.
Sadly, now it was time to head to the airport for our flight home, ending this amazing trip.
We know we are so lucky to have been able to explore this captivating and diverse continent. On the flight home we discussed our overall impressions.
Everyone we met was friendly, helpful, proud of their country, and interested in us. We never felt unsafe.
No upset tummies or nasty insect bites!
We met very few other British people, suggesting it is not a mainstream destination for us, which is a shame.
Most countries were similar in price to home for food, accommodation etc.
Travelling was easier than we expected, and food was great however there is immense poverty, and a huge divide in living conditions etc.
Corruption seems to be rife at all levels in society, from Governments downwards.
Women often seemed to work ridiculously hard, but are a long way from having equality in financial remuneration or status.
Despite the vast size and diversity of the continent, we felt we witnessed more similarities than differences between countries!
We covered 29,358 miles and enjoyed everywhere we visited.
We have tried to pick some favourites because that it what everyone asks us, but it is so difficult.
Chris: Chile, Ecuador
Anne: Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Cuba, Bolivia… all of them really!
Best overall moments?
Chris: Cape Horn; Under Iguasu Falls in a rib; Machu Pichu; Cloud forest rare birds; Perito Moreno glacier;
Anne: Seeing Machu Pichu from above; Cape Horn in Force 10; Snorkelling with sea lions and sea turtles; The colour, noise and vivacity of Cuba; The remoteness and solitude of Tierra del Fuego/Patagonia.
Favourite Wildlife experience?
Chris: Swimming with sea turtles, Galapagos
Anne: Frigate birds, Galapagos
Favourite scenery experience?
Chris: Iguasu falls, Glacier Alley
Anne: Perito Moreno Glacier,
Where would you most like to go back to?
Anne: Argentina and Bolivia
Thank you for reading our diary, and we hope you have enjoyed coming along with us on our trip.
We would recommend any of these countries for a visit, just use common sense, and please, use local tour companies, guides, accommodation and transport whenever you can, so the local community benefit from your visit. See you next time! XX