Three Perfect Days: Lima
Story by Chris Wilson | Photography by Jessica Sample | Hemispheres, May 2014
Once a mere stopover on the way to the majestic Incan ruins of Machu Picchu, Lima has established itself as a fascinating destination in its own right. In part, the revival of this chaotic city of 8.6 million people can be summed up in a single word: food. The Peruvian capital is fast becoming the culinary crown jewel of South America, with world-class restaurants now as commonplace as shops selling alpaca scarves.
Peru's rich biodiversity and plentiful supply of fish, fruits, vegetables and herbs—plus a deep talent pool of local chefs—have made Lima's ascension to the top of the foodie chain inevitable, and have helped spark a significant surge in tourism. Whether it's the trendy bars of Miraflores, the chic galleries and shops of Barranco or the thrum of San Isidro's financial district, Lima has never been livelier.
It wasn't always this way. Peru's Shining Path guerrilla movement in the 1980s and '90s earned Lima an unsavory reputation. But, more recently, the city has been rebranded as a peaceful, accommodating modern metropolis on the rise—deservedly so. Besides its outstanding eats, Lima boasts astounding archaeological sites, top-notch cultural institutions and a vibrant nightlife scene.
That said, it's still just a short plane ride from here to Cuzco, the mountainous region that's home to Machu Picchu—perhaps the most stunning place on Earth and, as such, a required visit if you're nearby.
DAY ONE | You check in early at Hotel B, a restored 1914 mansion that opened last year in the boho-chic Barranco district. You're handed an oversize iron key and head upstairs to your funky suite, which happens to have a sculpture of an electric chair outside the door. You stow your bags and have an invigorating sweat in the private steam room, after which you're ready to face the day.
Having deposited your doorstop/key at the desk, you cross the street to Dédalo, a craft shop stocked with painted wooden chickens, stone pigs and cartoon-colorful Andean textiles. You have a quick browse and head toward the beaches along Barranco's Pacific coast, where wetsuited surfers paddle out to catch long, steady waves while paragliders drift below pillowy clouds.
A street act works the crowd in Plaza Mayor
A stroll along the waterfront brings you to Second Home, local artist Victor Delfín's workplace and gallery. For 20 sol, or about $7, you're buzzed into a sculpture garden overrun by metal horses, lions and condors. African orange tulips litter the grass like deflated party balloons. A huge stone puma head spews water into a pool. Delfín murmurs hello as he touches up a canvas in a studio overlooking the ocean.
You continue your dreamy march across the Bridge of Sighs—a wooden walkway where, legend has it, you're supposed to hold your breath and make a wish before crossing—and stop by Mate, a museum owned by famed Peruvian fashion photographer Mario Testino. A gallery assistant hands you an iPod that guides you through a riotous Pop-Art retrospective featuring Keith Haring, Julian Schnabel, Richard Prince and Nate Lowman. Sipping espresso in the museum cafe's tranquil sliver of a courtyard, you mull your first important decision of the day: where to eat lunch?
You go with Sonia, a destination for rustic seafood in the nearby suburb of Chorrillos. Sitting under a bamboo canopy, you order wooden spoons heaped with mind-blowingly fresh ceviche, hunks of cured tuna known as “fisherman's ham," fat red crab claws crusted with Parmesan, phenomenal flounder in yellow chili sauce, and a dish of salted corn, all washed down with icy Pilsen Callao. As “My Way" plays softly in Spanish, owner Fredy Guardia sews a fishing net at a table under one of his many poems , which adorn the walls.
After this near-perfect meal, you drive to Pueblo Libre to visit Museo Larco, Lima's most intriguing and important museum. You walk up a path bursting with bougainvillea in red, lavender, orange, yellow and pale blue, while green parrots squawk from the trees and a friendly cat negotiates your ankles. The walkway leads to a sprawling succession of spaces containing 45,000 pieces of pre-Columbian art. It's one of only a few museums in the world with storage areas that are open to the public.
Victor Delfín puts the finishing touches on a canvas in his studio at Second Home
Among the artifacts on display here are ceremonial blood bowls and cracked human skulls from Incan trephination operations. If that seems a bit macabre, there is ample comic relief in the popular erotic pottery room. Here you find ancient Peruvian burial pots celebrating the art of contortionism. Many pots like these were destroyed by mortified conquistadors, which makes the exhibit as essential as it is entertaining. After a trip back to Hotel B to freshen up—and perhaps cleanse your psyche—it's time for dinner.
Tonight you're eating at Maido, Chef Mitsuharu Tsumura's temple of Nikkei cuisine, in Miraflores. The dishes come in waves: a classic usuzukuri with rock fish, ponzu, crispy garlic and tomatoes; a ceviche of mackerel, scallops, clams, smoked yellow pepper “tiger's milk" and avocado; foie gras “sushi" in eel sauce; breaded shrimp, avocado, cream cheese and chimichurri, finished tableside with a blowtorch; fried pejesapo sliders with tartar sauce on steamed buns; black cod marinated in miso and aji panca chili; and an impossibly tender Nitsuke braised short rib with fried rice. It's high-end Peruvian-Japanese comfort food at its finest, downed with plenty of sake and Sapporo beer and finished with an intense trio of chocolates.
You work off a small fraction of the calories consumed during a 10-minute waddle to La Emolienteria, a lively pisco bar in Miraflores. A DJ spins electronic dance music as youngsters nod rhythmically from Day-Glo stools fashioned from wheelbarrows. After a few puckeringly good Pisco Sours made with Pisco Portón, you cab it back to the hotel. A copy of Theodore Roethke's poem “The Waking" has been laid on your pillow: “I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow." You take that as a cue to knock off.
Three caballeros at Casa Hacienda Los Ficus
DAY TWO | You wake up feeling a little delicate, your condition accentuated by the knowledge that you're about to drive downtown. Navigating Peru's congested capital is a blend of white-knuckle drama and stop-start purgatory. After an eventful hour or so zipping through a snarl of cars, mopeds, taxis and buses, you arrive at Plaza Mayor, where breakfast awaits at the wonderfully old-timey Bar Cordano, right across the street from the heavily guarded Presidential Palace.
Inside the bar, a counterman makes exquisite butifarra sandwiches, slicing cold ham prepared two ways—glazed with sugary syrup or sprinkled with extra salt—then piled on a roll under salsa criolla (onions and lemon juice). It's as good a ham sandwich as you're likely to have, in Lima or anywhere else. You chase it with a strong coffee from the rickety Gaggia machine and then sample one of Bar Cordano's beautiful causas, classic Peruvian potato dishes displayed under glass like prize tarts in a Parisian bakery.
Revived, you wade through the crowds to tour the Church of San Francisco, a Spanish Baroque complex built in the mid-1500s, flattened by an earthquake a century later and reconsecrated in 1673. Inside, gazing upon Marcos Zapata's “Last Supper"—in which Jesus and his disciples dine on cuy, or roasted guinea pig—you are struck by the sobering thought that 75,000 bodies are interred in the church's cavernous stone catacombs. You hear a clicking noise, which could be someone taking pictures or a skeleton shifting in one of the crypts.
Next, you roll down the Old Pan-American Highway, past dusty roadside chicharrón stalls and flower shops in the Lurín Valley. Your destination is Casa Hacienda Los Ficus, a ranch owned by Fernando and Elsa Puga, who breed Peruvian Pasos—the “dancing" horses renowned for their ability to trot sideways. Luckily, you're in time for a show, which culminates in a steed prancing alongside a woman in traditional garb to the strains of piped-in marinera music. Later, you lounge on the hacienda's vast lawn, Pisco Sour in hand, and tuck into a rustic lunch of mashed white beans, potatoes and roast chicken.
A Victor Delfín statue at El Parque del Amor
On the way back to Lima, you stop at the Pachacamac Ruins, about half an hour south of the city. You spend an unsettling hour looping around 18 pre-Incan pyramids that sit on a patch of earth so parched and unforgiving it could be on another planet. As if the landscape weren't forbidding enough, you learn that archaeologists recently uncovered a massive pre-Incan tomb here, which included 70 skeletons wearing false wooden heads, along with evidence of ritual human sacrifice. You snap a few pictures and beat a shuddering retreat.
After washing away the residue of sand and dread back at the hotel (and, unexpectedly, passing chimp expert Jane Goodall in the lobby), you head out for dinner: a nine-course extravaganza at Central Restaurante, a short drive away in Miraflores. You pull up to an unmarked cedar door flanked by two men in dark suits. You're ushered into the sleek, 80-seat restaurant and seated near the windowed kitchen run by revered chef Virgilio Martínez. The conceit behind the high-concept menu is a culinary voyage across four Peruvian terrains: sea, coast, Andes and Amazon.
The dishes appear rapidly, baffling in their complexity. Highlights include a sublime octopus, purple corn, olive and limón chili plate; a frozen potato puree dotted with cushuro, a fish roe–like bacteria from the Andes; raw river shrimp with Amazonian sacha inchi seeds; arapaima fish with hearts of palm; an 18-hour stewed lamb; and frozen huampo wood extract with Amazonian bahuaja nuts and a shot of maca tree sap. Each course is paired with a well-curated wine. What a trip.
It's late, but you decide to keep the party going with elixirs of questionable provenance at Ayahuasca in Barranco, a rambling, psychedelic-themed villa that is named after a powerful Amazonian hallucinogenic. You have one of their deceptively punchy fruit-infused pisco specials, then another, then maybe one more, then call it a night before those crazy wooden-headed skeletons start dancing again, man.
The Pachacamac ruins
DAY THREE | You have another long day of eating and imbibing ahead, so you refrain from overindulging in the butifarras, empanadas, pies, éclairs and tarts at La Espiga de Oro bakery down the block from Hotel B. Feeling unusually healthful, you swing by Las Delicias, a gem of a juice bar in Miraflores, and sample a fresh-squeezed guanábana and lucúma combo, one of dozens of fruity mixtures available.
Bursting with vigor (and, yes, empanadas) you visit the oceanside El Parque del Amor, where couples come to sit on cuddle-friendly benches and take in the view. Lacking a co-canoodler of your own, you read the whimsical love poems displayed beside the seats with furious concentration before focusing intently on a large sculpture of a smooching couple made by Victor Delfín (he whose garden you previously enjoyed).
Having lingered in the Park of Love for as long as is reasonable, you drive to Mercado Surquillo No. 1, a traditional Peruvian market cluttered with swinging sides of beef, whole pigs, exotic fruits and teetering plastic bags filled with coca leaves and dried hot peppers. As you zigzag among the stalls, your appetite starts to assert itself again.
The freshest fish and crab stew at Sonia
Fittingly, your next stop is Chez Wong, a local institution set in the home of Chinese-Peruvian chef Javier Wong. Pulling up to the reservation-only, eight-table eatery tucked away in gritty La Victoria, you buzz an unmarked door and are led inside. There is no menu. Wong, in trademark flat cap and shades, serves everyone the same two-course meal: a Pacific flounder and octopus ceviche and a fish saltado, or stir-fry.
“Ceviche is the perfection of something simple," Wong says. You consider this bit of wisdom while inhaling a mound of his fresh and flavorful signature dish. The stir-fry consists of more flounder thrown into a sizzling wok with red bell pepper, bok choy and mushrooms in a pisco-spiked brown sauce. The dish may look like gloppy Chinese takeout, but it's astoundingly good. Wong, meanwhile, puffs a cigarette in his tiny kitchen as flames shoot from the pan, but no one seems to mind. It is, after all, his house.
Next, head to Bar Inglés, at the grand Country Club Hotel in San Isidro, where bartender Roberto Meléndez is renowned for mixing outrageously good Pisco Sours—he has been serving Peru's beloved national cocktail here since 1998. A frothy blend of pisco, lime juice, simple syrup and egg whites, the recipe for the Meléndez version was passed down to him by his bartender father, who served it to John Wayne at Lima's fabled Hotel Maury in the 1950s. “It's my responsibility," Meléndez says, “to maintain the drink's reputation."
A Pisco Sour or three later (who's counting?), you clear your head at Parque El Olívar in San Isidro, a rambling grove of more than 1,500 gnarled olive trees, many of which are over a century old. It's a calm, enchanting spot, and you spend a happy hour wandering around enjoying the sensation of having not a single thought in your head.
Chez Wong chef Javier Wong
From here, you prepare to indulge in one of Lima's more decadent dining experiences: the 24-course tasting dinner at Astrid & Gastón, in Miraflores. This four-hour feast is the keynote experience at Michelin-starred chef Gastón Acurio's flagship restaurant. The crystal chandeliers and moleskin-bound menu/historical narrative quickly set the tone. You're even given a CD of schmaltzy music that you can play later to evoke memories of your meal.
Moments after you are seated, a miniature steamer trunk is opened before you, revealing an array of edible morsels that include salted fish with mascarpone and a ham-and-fruit puff. Next comes alpaca tortellini, a guinea pig terrine, scallops in coral broth and Parmesan, yellow potato gnocchi, quail with corn … it goes on like this, over and over, each dish paired with a very good wine, making for one of the more pleasurable evenings you've spent.
Despite the risk of descending into a food-induced coma, you pluck up the energy for a final stop at El Sargento Pimienta, a barnlike club in Barranco where you can catch live shows by scruffy rock bands and jostle with mobs of Cusqueña-beer-swilling Limeños. The guys onstage, you are told, are a local outfit named Libido. They are loud.
Later, at the hotel, you find that an art-show party next door has spilled into the bar. Oh, go on, you think, why not? The bartender pours you a house special, a bracing G&T served in a small fishbowl, as a Spanish version of Nancy Sinatra's “Bang Bang" lulls you into a pleasing stupor.
That was fun, but you're happy to be up in your room, burying your head in a fat pillow. You think of Morrissey, the alt-pop idol who came to Lima last year and, in typical style, described the city as “my heart's lighthouse." Hmm, you think, and then you are gone.
Writer Chris Wilson hasn't had a Pisco Sour since he left Peru, but he's still seeing those dancing wooden-headed skeletons.
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Canada's largest city spreads out along the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario, and it's a dynamic, multicultural and inclusive experience like almost no other place on earth. Not only is Toronto a thriving living city,it's also become one of the world's truly must-visit destinations. Regularly ranked as one of the greatest places to live, Toronto is the cultural center of the country and home to the biggest events, the most pro sports and the greatest concentration of theaters and restaurants.
Recent decades have seen regular multi-million-dollar upgrades to the city's public spaces, with a slew of great museums, iconic architecture and the redevelopment of the now glittering lakefront adding to the city's appeal.
Add in an ever-growing number of world-class hotels, upbeat nightlife that runs from dusk until dawn and a vibrant and diverse culinary scene influenced by the eclectic makeup of the city's people. Bright and bustling, cosmopolitan and cultured, unpredictable and energetic, Toronto has become one of the greatest cities on earth.
What you see and where you go will depend on the length of your stay. A week is good, longer is better. But even a long weekend will give you a taste of 'The Six' — one of the city's many nicknames, reworked recently as 'The 6ix' by one of its most famous sons, Drake.
However long you stay, you can't hope to see it all. So, consider what follows a starting point for your first visit…
City Hall, Toronto
The checklist sites
No visit to The Six can be considered complete without ticking off several of Toronto's true heavyweight sights. All of the following are in or within easy reach of the city's compact, walk-able and very vibrant center.
The CN Tower is unmissable in every sense, a vast freestanding spire that looks down upon the city and takes its place as one of the 'Seven Wonders of the Modern World'. Head up for the city's best 360-degree views, or get your heart racing on the EdgeWalk — a journey around the circumference of the tower's main pod, 116 stories high and tethered by a harness.
Back on solid ground, Ripley's Aquarium is almost right next door to the CN Tower and is home to 16,000 aquatic animals and the Dangerous Lagoon. A moving sidewalk that whisks you through a long tunnel surrounded by sharks and stingrays is guaranteed to make your heart race all over again.
Also close to the CN Tower is the Rogers Center, home to Canada's only baseball team, the Toronto Blue Jays. Visit on game day for the full experience, or take the stadium tour to go behind the scenes and through closed doors.
In a city of so many museums and galleries, the Royal Ontario Museum stands out. Not just because it's home to a world-class collection of 13 million artworks, cultural objects and natural history specimens, but as much because it hosts exciting Friday night events that include dance, drink and top DJs.
Two other must ticks include the Art Gallery of Ontario, which houses 95,000 works of art and is free for visitors under 25, and the Hockey Hall of Fame, which taps into Canada's national obsession in stunning depth.
Art Gallery of Ontario
Casa Loma is a must-visit Gothic castle in the heart of the city. North America's only castle is filled with artworks and treasures from Canada and beyond, but its big pull is the network of hidden tunnels to explore as they stretch out beneath the city.
Toronto's multi-cultural makeup is visible all across the city but reflected best in its remarkable culinary scene (see Where to eat and drink). The city's 'fresh and local' mantra is perfectly showcased at St. Lawrence Market, one of the world's greatest food experiences. Pay it a visit and grab a peameal bacon sandwich — a Canadian staple invented in Toronto and now considered the city's signature dish.
St. Lawrence Market
Afterwards, walk off the calories by wandering the historic cobblestone and car-free Distillery District. Once a vast whiskey distillery and an important spot during prohibition, historians mention that even Al Capone would visit the Distillery to load alcohol destined for the States . This iconic landmark now distils creativity within the 19th century buildings now home to hip restaurants, bars, independent boutique stores, galleries and theaters. Visit in December for the Toronto Christmas Market.
Finally, don't even think about returning home without having had a picture taken with your head poking through an 'O' of the multicolored, 3D Toronto sign at City Hall — the most Insta-worthy location in a city of so many. You'll need to head there early in the morning to avoid the crowds.
If you stay long enough, take a ferry and hop across to Toronto Islands, a chain of 15 small islands in Lake Ontario just south of the mainland. They're home to beaches, a theme park and a breathtaking view of the city's skyline and will very happily fill a full day of your stay.
The bucket list
You absolutely cannot leave Toronto without having witnessed the power of the Niagara Falls and its hypnotic mist up close. Trying to visit the Falls from the States is a trip on its own, but it's almost non-optional when you're less than two hours away in Toronto. Take the trip, buy the T-shirt and tick off one of the world's must-see sights.
Explore like a local
Away from the sleek, gleaming towers of downtown lie many of Toronto's less obvious but no less essential attractions. West Queen West is Toronto's hippest neighborhood and artistic heart, a one-mile strip of very chic galleries, stores, restaurants and boutique hotels. Kensington Market is a fantastically chaotic neighborhood and perhaps the best example of the city's famous multiculturalism. It's not a market as the name implies, but a collection of independent shops, vintage boutiques, art spaces, cafés, bars and restaurants from every corner of the globe.
The Bata Shoe Museum is one of the city's quirkiest collections, an unexpectedly fascinating exhibit that retraces the 4,500-year history of footwear. And as you wander the city, you can't fail to notice that Toronto's walls are alive with graffiti. Take a free 90-minute walking tour through the back alleys of Queen Street West and down Graffiti Alley to gain a better understanding of the city's street art scene. If you visit during the sunnier months, escape the hustle by heading just east of the center to High Park, the green heart of the city where forests, walking trails, picnic spots and even a zoo await you. Ideal to unwind after a long day of urban adventures.
When to go With the sun shining, May through October is a great time to visit, but the city is alive through all four seasons. The Spring and Autumn months are ideal as the humidity and visitor numbers are lighter, while Toronto comes alive through the colder months through a wide array of winter celebrations. One of the most spectacular is the Aurora Winter Festival, a six-week celebration that sees the Ontario Place, West Island transformed into four mystical worlds. Whichever season you choose, plan to stay for at least five nights to get a true flavor of the city.
Toronto skyline view
Where to stay To be at the heart of most of the attractions you'll want to see, aim for downtown. One of the best options is the Marriott City Center, not only because it's located right next to the CN Tower but also because it's attached to the iconic Rogers Center where the Toronto Blue Jays play and countless concerts and popular events are held.
Toronto Blue Jay stadium
Opt for a Stadium room and you'll look out onto the field. If you want to experience Toronto's non-stop nightlife, the Entertainment District is the place to be. If you're looking for a luxury experience, discover Canada's first St. Regis hotel in the heart of downtown.
Where to eat and drink Nowhere is Toronto's incredible diversity more evident than in its food scene — taste Toronto and you're tasting the world. The city is brimming with restaurants and cafés serving everything from high-end fine dining to comfort food from an informal neighborhood joint — plus every option imaginable in between.
For fine dining, consider Alo, Canis and Edulis. Book a table at Canoe, Lavelle, The One Eighty or 360 at the CN Tower and you're guaranteeing a view as spectacular as the food. Or experience the city's remarkable fusion food at DaiLo (French-Cantonese), El Catrin (Mexican-French) and the unexpected mashup of Rasta Pasta (Jamaican-Italian).
The above suggestions don't even scratch the surface of a food scene to rival any city on earth, with options to suit every taste and any budget.
How to get around Toronto is perfect to explore on foot or via a growing network of cycle routes. For a quicker journey, buy a Presto card to use the TTC, Toronto's subway, streetcar and bus system.
How to get there Fly into Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) with United and you're around 15 miles west of the city center. The most comfortable route in is via the Union Pearson Express, which runs every 15 minutes and gets you downtown in 25 minutes ($13).The TTC is a cheaper option at under $5, but it can take an hour and a half and involves a number of transfers, while a taxi will take around 30 minutes and cost $45.
United flies to Toronto from numerous U.S. cities including our Hub city locations. Book your trip via united.com or by downloading the United app.
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Following the devastating wildfires in Australia and powerful earthquakes that shook Puerto Rico last week, we're taking action to make a global impact through our international partnerships as well as nonprofit organizations Afya Foundation and ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency).
Helping Puerto Rico recover from earthquakes
Last week, Puerto Rico was hit with a 5.2 magnitude earthquake, following a 6.4 magnitude earthquake it experienced just days before. The island has been experiencing hundreds of smaller quakes during the past few weeks.
These earthquakes destroyed crucial infrastructure and left 4,000 people sleeping outside or in shelters after losing their homes. We've donated $50,000 to our partner charity organization Airlink and through them, we've helped transport disaster relief experts and medical supplies for residents, as well as tents and blankets for those who have lost their homes. Funding will go towards organizations within Airlink's partner network, which includes Habitat for Humanity, Mercy Corps and Americares, to help with relief efforts and long-term recovery.
Australian wildfire relief efforts
Our efforts to help Australia have inspired others to make their own positive impact. In addition to teaming up with Ellen DeGeneres to donate $250,000 and launching a fundraising campaign with GlobalGiving to benefit those impacted by the devastating wildfires in the country known for its open spaces and wildlife, our cargo team is helping to send more than 600 pounds of medical supplies to treat injured animals in the region.
Helping us send these supplies is the Afya Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit that seeks to improve global health by collecting surplus medical supplies and delivering them to parts of the world where they are most needed. Through Airlink, the Afya Foundation will send more than $18,000 worth of materials that will be used to treat animals injured in the Australian fires.
These medical supplies will fly to Melbourne (MEL) and delivered to The Rescue Collective. This Australian organization is currently focused on treating the massive population of wildlife, such as koalas, kangaroos, and birds, that have had their habitats destroyed by the recent wildfires. The supplies being sent include wound dressings, gloves, catheters, syringes and other items that are unused but would otherwise be disposed of.
By working together, we can continue to make a global impact and help those affected by natural disasters to rebuild and restore their lives
Australia needs our help as wildfires continue to devastate the continent that's beloved by locals and travelers alike. In times like these, the world gets a little smaller and we all have a responsibility to do what we can.
On Monday, The Ellen DeGeneres Show announced a campaign to raise $5 million to aid in relief efforts. When we heard about Ellen's effort, we immediately reached out to see how we could help.
Today, we're committing $250,000 toward Ellen's campaign so we can offer support now and help with rebuilding. For more on The Ellen DeGeneres Show efforts and to donate yourself, you can visit www.gofundme.com/f/ellenaustraliafund
We're also matching donations made to the Australian Wildfire Relief Fund, created by GlobalGiving's Disaster Recovery Network. This fund will support immediate relief efforts for people impacted by the fires in the form of emergency supplies like food, water and medicine. Funds will also go toward long-term recovery assistance, helping residents recover and rebuild. United will match up to $50,000 USD in donations, and MileagePlus® members who donate $50 or more will receive up to 1,000 award miles from United. Donate to GlobalGiving.
Please note: Donations made toward GlobalGiving's fund are only eligible for the MileagePlus miles match.
In addition to helping with fundraising, we're staying in touch with our employees and customers in Australia. Together, we'll help keep Australia a beautiful place to live and visit in the years to come.