A short but pleasant stopover

Trip Start Feb 19, 2014
Trip End Oct 16, 2014

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Where I stayed
Puriwasi Hostel

Flag of Peru  ,
Thursday, May 29, 2014

We arrived in Lima in the morning of the 29th of May, and took a taxi to our new hostel in time for free breakfast (yay!). The hostel seemed great; it was pretty well organised, had some of the best dorms we had slept in (great beds, huge underbed lockers on wheels), and had plenty of extra offers including 2 pisco sours for 10 soles, a free pisco for liking their facebook page, and a half price night for writing a review online. The issue with this last one, however, was that they would only give the discount once the review had appeared on the website - most hostel booking sites (we generally use hostelworld) will only allow you to post a review the day after you check out, and other sites take days for the review to appear. They were extremely difficult about providing a discount, even when provided with the email confirmation, and not only this - if they are only providing discounts when they see the review (and not simply an email confirmation), it will influence a lot of people to write better things for the hostel than they would otherwise.

We dumped our bags at the hostel, before heading out to pick up the free walking tour of Lima (our first one in some time - we missed the one in Quito, and prior to that hadn't done one since Medellin, Colombia). Unfortunately, this walking tour was only ok, not great like most of them are, as it felt rushed and it seemed that only half of the information was provided on each location because of this; hence after the tour we doubled back to see a number of the sites again. The tour was great in one respect however - it provided us with the opportunity to try some local cuisine, including the amazing churros (these were stuffed with a conserve); empanadas (some of the best we'd tried); chicha morada (a sweet Peruvian beverage made of purple corn); and of course...the famed pisco and pisco sour!

Over the course of the day we saw a number of Lima's points of interest with Etienne, who tagged along. We saw the changing of the guard at the government palace, an impressive daily ritual consisting of a brass band and plenty of slow marching with high kicks; the beautiful Plaza de Armas including the central bronze fountain from 1650; the huge Mercado Central (central market); the stunning old post office (and original train station), converted into many small shops and cafes; the Museo de Sitio where an old colonial building's foundations and arches had been uncovered; and the Monasterio de San Francisco

We returned to the Monasterio to do the tour of the catacombs - these were incredibly interesting, containing an estimated 70,000 remains of which many are in plain sight in the catacombs; in addition the incredible library contains around 25,000 antique books, many of which apparently pre-date the conquest. Unfortunately we were unable to leaf through these! The tour however was unfortunately awful, conducted by a woman with a grating voice and often unintelligible Spanglish in a rushed manner clearly intended to get as many tourists through the catacombs as possible in a day. There were dozens of plaques in Spanish and English throughout the monastery, however we were too rushed to be permitted to read more than a few of these.

We had similarly frustrating experiences elsewhere - the Museo de la Inquisicion (Inquisition Museum) was not running their 'daily' tour this day, and the museum was otherwise unremarkable (although thankfully free) despite being where prisoners of the Spanish Inquisition were tortured. There were some lifesize wax figures though in various forms of torture, which improved the visit a little. La Catedral de Lima, despite being beautiful, was unfortunately mostly off-limits on this day due to it being a Thursday, unfortunately meaning that we were unable to visit the coffin of Conquistador Francisco Pizarro in the chapel.

We then returned to the suburb of our hostel (Miraflores - probably the nicest suburb in the city), where we went to a small chocolate museum for a (yet another) rushed tour, although it was more informative than the others for the day and included plenty of tastings of chocolate, cacao husk tea, chocolate preserves (with banana, peanuts, and plenty of other delicious blends), and chocolate piscos (with additional flavours such as chili!).

We went to the nearby, massive Wong supermarket for dinner supplies, and happened upon their 2nd anniversary celebrations. This consisted of a plethora of tastings (cheeses, meats, chocolate cake, juices, soft drinks and more), as well as Chinese dragon dancing to drums and gongs throughout the supermarket, mascots and finally - signing a birthday card and being treated to chocolate cake! Interesting experience to say the least! That night we enjoyed our first (but certainly not last!) pisco sours - these consist of Pisco (a local grape brandy), lime juice, sugar syrup, ice, egg white, and Angostura bitters. Absolutely delicious, they brought back memories of Brazil and our many (similar tasting) Caipirinhas during Carnaval!

The following day we visited the museum and impressive ruins of Pachacamac. Most of the site was constructed around 800-1450AD prior to the conquest of the Incas (quite the empire these guys had!). The city was constructed by the Huari culture, probably as an administrative centre, but continued to grow as a religious centre following their collapse and received pilgrims from far and wide. By the time the Incas arrived, the area was occupied by the Ichma people, who joined the Incan empire and were allowed to continue to use the site in conjunction with the Incas. We saw a number of buildings, including pyramids and temples along with common buildings. The original culture (like many ancient cultures in the area) were masters of irrigation, allowing them to live and grow what they needed in the desert - pretty incredible. A kind of constructed oasis was evident still in the ruins. The massive sun temple (constructed by the Incas) was particularly impressive, constructed on a hill overlooking the sea and still with areas of painted adobe evident in the walls.

On our return to Lima, I walked out to Huaca Pucllana - an unbelievable large pyramid, in the middle of the city in Miraflores! It just blew my mind that this existed here, and there was another one closer to central Lima. It's not hard to imagine how many ancient ruins would have been destroyed and covered over by the expanding city, which is pretty sad. It had been evident in Pachacamac too, which is still only partly excavated, and the walls around the town of Pachacamac had been built to stop further encroachment on the ancient site but still you could see where structures had been built over. Evident too is where ancient adobe bricks had been pilfered from the ruins in order to help build houses, walls and other new structures. Hard to believe but evident all over Peru, and from what I hear many other countries.
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