Downtime in downtown Lima

I’m sitting in Plaza San Martin, my head protected from the beating sun. The plaza is framed by high, off-white neo-colonial and baroque buildings with fat pillars and stone balconies, Father Christmas in red, garish plastic hangs from one of the wide windows on the corner of the plaza. To one side of the square, a statue of Saint Martin sits astride a horse. Friends gather for a lunchtime chat, munching on choclo (corn on the cob). A couple sit arguing on one of the curved, stone benches whilst children chase pigeons, jumping and shrieking when they come close to catching the birds. Horns honk continuously. The traffic is busy and people are impatient. This is one of a few significant plazas in downtown Lima, reached easily from Estacion Central.

I lunch at Don Quto. Down a little alley off Plaza San Martin, it feels like a temporary restaurant stuck on to the side of a building. The almuerzo menu is the most extensive I’ve seen yet in Peru and I settle for a Sopa de Moron as my entrada, a cereal, stock and parsley based soup with chicken legs and some other meat which I think is liver, settling at the bottom of the bowl. I leave the chicken legs. There’s barely any meat and I don’t fancy chewing on bones. My travel buddy opts for Crema de Rocoto, a cold starter of potatoe slices covered in a creamy, orange, chilli pepper based sauce. We both divert from the Economico menu and go for the Arroz Chaufa con Pollo (Asian style rice with spring onions and chicken), a generous, hot dish. No drinks are included on any of the almuerzo menus, but at S/.8 (£1.89) for central city food, it seems a pretty fair price. I try to get through the pile of rice but it barely seems to shrink and I eventually admit defeat, grease sitting heavily in my stomach.

Wandering the streets of downtown Lima is pleasant enough. There are plenty of shops for those who want to splash out on something new, nice stops for ice-cream, and casinos to duck into if you’re feeling a bit flash. The buildings feel quite imposing, reaching up to a high skyline. Up by Plaza de Armas is the Catedral de Lima and a little further along is the Palacio de Gobierno – the governmental palace – a strong, grand building with guarded entrances. I headed along Junin to the Museo de la Inquisición to learn about the treatment of Peruvian prisoners during the Spanish Inquisition. The entry is free and includes a guided tour of the exhibits; however, on this particular day it was only available in Spanish. Typical. I got a feel for it though, the cramped cells and life size wax works in various states of contortion providing sufficient information to understand the horrors of the time.

Most backpackers stick to Miraflores or close by Barranco because they’re convenient and familiar and full of hostels and places to make merry. The party hostels, such as Loki and Pariwana are in Mirafores where they stack you high and provide and organise everything from food to tours to happy hour and evening entertainment. For many 18-25 year olds travelling through Peru, these chain hostels are the default places to stay. But if you want something a bit more cultural, historic and interesting then try a hostel or hospedaje in the historic centre of Lima.

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