I didn’t want to be that tourist and walk into KFC for wifi. A few doors down, some drunk guys stumbled into my path, fell onto a homeless man, and shouted at the sky in slurred Spanish. I needed an Uber back to my hostel, and I had no idea where I was. I went into the next restaurant I saw – Rokys – and ordered a piece of chocolate cake. After I logged onto the wifi, my phone died.
- Altitude: 5,080 feet, according to Google
- Reference Point Used in this City Guide: Parque Kennedy, Miraflores
- The dollar is strong in Peru (S/1 is $0.31 as of October 2017).
- Most meals in the city center cost between S/15 and S/30. Fancier restaurants in Lima can be very costly, depending on where you go. Meals in the outskirts of town are less expensive.
- Hotels will run you around S/300 per night, and hostels are about S/65 per night in the outskirts of the city center.
- Lima is more unsafe than most places in Peru, but it is still safe to travel there. Like anywhere else you go, be aware of your surroundings and keep valuables close.
- Some locals are fine speaking to tourists; however, if you can travel with a local or someone fluent in Spanish, Lima will be easier to navigate.
- You should have a working Spanish proficiency to visit Lima.
- People in Lima oftentimes speak very quickly, so you may have to ask them to repeat some of the information they tell you.
- Compared to other Spanish-speaking countries, the dialects and accents are a little tricky, but comprehension is more manageable as you become more proficient in the language.
You’ll have to fly through Lima if Cusco is your final destination. For my trip, I spent about 13 days in Cusco, then stayed in Lima for 2 days. I recommend flipping that order. Stay for a few days in Lima before heading to Cusco. When you plan your trip to Cusco, check out my two-part guide: How to Spend 24 Hours in Cusco, Part 1 and How to Spend 24 Hours in Cusco, Part 2. You’ll be able to navigate Cusco like a pro if you can conquer Lima first. Start your day in Lima as close to 9 a.m. as possible.
To get most places in Lima, you have to take taxis. Although local transportation is available, the bus system is complex and unreliable, as most locals will tell you. If you choose to take the bus, make sure you’re with at least one other traveler in case you get lost. Regardless of transportation method, traffic in Lima is worse than the worst traffic in Boston or New York.
First Stop: Huaca Pucllana
How to Get There: Taxi (~10 minutes from Parque Kennedy), Foot (~18 minutes from Parque Kennedy)
Where I Stayed: TUPAC – Lima Airport Hostel (Close to the airport, but far from everything else. Not worth it, in my opinion.)
Start your day with a dose of history at Huaca Pucllana. Some locals told me it wasn’t worth a trip whereas others were excited to talk about the archaeological site. It depends on your travel style. I tend not to like museum-hopping, but our tour guide (which comes with your S/12 ticket price) explained everything thoroughly and in Spanish terms I could understand.
Most tour guides, especially in Lima, speak English, so if you need them to translate something for you, you shouldn’t run into any problems. You can check out the small museum either before or after your tour; every description within it has an English translation. You’ll spend about 2 hours at Huaca Pucllana, but you can also stick around until the Huaca Pucllana Restaurant opens for lunch.
Second Stop: Parque Kennedy
How to Get There: Taxi, Foot
Where I Should Have Stayed: The Llama Brothers Hostel (~12 minutes by foot to Parque Kennedy)
At 2 p.m., you’ll be heading on a tour with Haku Tours, so plan your time in Parque Kennedy accordingly. There are a bunch of restaurants, bars, and shops, but if you’re planning on buying a bunch of souvenirs, bring a backpack with you, or make a trip back to your hotel after the tour.
Librería Ibero offers a wide selection of Peruvian books if you want to read some César Vallejo or grab a Spanish cookbook. Relax with a cup of coffee at Ágora Café y Arte while you wait for your tour to begin.
I chose to go on the Shanty Town Tour with Haku Tours, but they also have a bunch of other tour options if that doesn’t align with your interests. Someone from Haku Tours will be in contact to arrange a pickup; if you want to be picked up from your hotel, there might be an extra charge depending on your hotel’s location. You also have the option to meet your driver at a designated hotel, which will just cost you the cab ride.
Third Stop: Belo Horizonte, Villa El Salvador District
How to Get There: Tour Bus (~35 minutes from Parque Kennedy)
Tour Company: Haku Tours
Two girls stood hip-to-hip on the baby gate in the entryway of the daycare center, waiting for their parents to pick them up. Next door, a man waved to me from his packed-to-the-brims Peruvian goods shop, beaming. Tuanana explained each portion of her town, checking in with me to make sure I understood; my tour guide, Jhonny, facilitated. We stopped at a small store to pick up bread and coffee where we ran into three precocious kids playing up and down the steps. The tour culminated with a trip to Tuanana’s house.
Although I won’t give the entire tour away, one of the major advantages of the Haku Tours Shanty Town Tour is your trip cost is essentially a donation. Since Haku Tours is a nonprofit, the proceeds go back into the communities you visit. You’ll even get to see the impact firsthand.
My main concern was feeling like an intruder in Belo Horizonte; however, Jhonny, our driver, Jorge, and Tuanana made sure that wasn’t the case. Haku Tours does an incredible job at being respectful to the people within the shanty towns, and it was one of my favorite experiences in Peru. It’s the perfect non-touristy tour to take if you only have a short time in Lima, and will be about 3 ½ hours, including transportation. Belo Horizonte is just one of the towns, so your guide may take you to a different location.
Fourth Stop: Parque Kennedy, Mercado de Pulgas
FYI: Haku Tours should be able to drop you off in Parque Kennedy, but make sure you ask if that’s okay before your tour begins.
How to Get There: Tour Bus (~35 minutes to Parque Kennedy)
Check out the Mercado de Pulgas (flea market) to pick up last-minute souvenirs. Some travel guides will tell you this market is more expensive than other places in Peru, but I didn’t have that experience. Like anywhere else in Peru, haggle if you’re not satisfied with the price of something. This market specifically has a bunch of unique Peruvian crafts. You’ll certainly find the typical alpaca and llama keychains if that’s what you’re looking for, but you’ll also find gem pyramids and handmade notebooks.
Although I didn’t make it there, I certainly heard it. The Stage Karaoke Bar offers live band, multi-language karaoke.
If you want something sweet, there are street vendors throughout Parque Kennedy where you can find churros, picarónes, and more. The typical recommendation is not to eat street vendor food, so I didn’t try any of these; I found out afterwards that these vendors specifically are fine to purchase sweets from. (So, let me know what you think and tell me if I need to go back and try them!) There are plenty of places to sit around the park, and it’s a relaxing, well-lit nighttime walk.
Learn From My Mistakes
I asked the waitress at Rokys how much it would be for a cab back to Los Olivos. “30 soles, mas o menos.” I only had 20. She helped me flag down four taxis until we found one for 27 soles. She knew my flight was later that night and I had no way of paying her back, but she paid the extra 7 soles for me.
When you travel, you meet some horrible people, but those bad experiences are always canceled out by genuinely wonderful people and their endless hospitality.
My trip to Peru was filled with weather-related surprises and transportation hiccups, but I’m an even more resilient traveler because of it.
The only word I remember from Hebrew school is “fish” ( דג) because you pronounce it “dahg.”
I apologize to my Israeli and Hebrew-speaking friends if I butchered that, but in theory עוף גוזל means “fly away, little bird.” My 23rd country will be Israel with Birthright in late December. I’m so excited for this opportunity, and can’t wait to share my adventures with you when I return in 2018!