Lima, one of the oldest cities in the Americas, is having a moment. Over the past decade, political and economic instability have been replaced by trade and foreign investment, while national pride — due at least in part to Peruvian chefs successfully championing the country’s biodiverse, multicultural cuisine, both at home and abroad — is at an all-time high.
Everywhere, hip cafes, clubs, bars and electronic music festivals are springing up to cater to the city’s increasingly style-conscious youth. And as each of the city’s districts continues to develop, juxtaposing new developments against pre-Colombian and colonial properties, each is forging its own distinct identity. Upscale oceanfront Miraflores is the city’s most coveted postcode, home to striking modern apartments and shopping hubs such as the design award-winning Larcomar entertainment complex, sensitively etched into the cliffs. Artsy bohemian enclave Barranco comes with cool bars, concept stores and myriad museums and galleries — at Peruvian photographer Mario Testino’s museum, MATE, set within a renovated 18th-century townhouse, you can peruse iconic portraits of Kate Moss, Princess Diana and Madonna. Finally, San Isidrio is the domain of gated villas, embassy buildings, and chic boutiques.
Art & shopping
Alpaca and vicuna wool rank among Peru’s most famous exports, and Ayni — named after a Quechua concept, meaning ‘today is for you, tomorrow is for me’ — is Lima’s most fashionable knitwear brand. With its growing army of international fans, it has seen the recent opening of a store in Tokyo. Juanita (Juana Burga), Peru’s most famous model, is the brand ambassador for the latest collection. Visitors can visit the Ayni showroom in Miraflores — on the upper floor of a former government building — to pick out stylish knitted pieces.
Local designers are increasingly turning to Peruvian fabrics and handicrafts for influence. Micaela Llosa, one of Lima’s best-loved TV show fashion presenters and bloggers, travels the country, working with local artisans to integrate traditional Peruvian textiles and emblems — such as coins engraved with Peru’s coat of arms — into pieces for her boutique, Philomena. Elsewhere, in Barranco, store-cum-gallery Dedalo brims with furniture, fashion, crafts and homeware — much of it featuring Peruvian motifs.
Where to eat
Also top of the foodie list is Central, where chef Virgilio Martinez showcases the diversity of Peru’s ingredients via tasting menus; while at Pedro Miguel Schiaffino’s relaxed restaurant Amaz, the Amazon’s bounty is centre stage.
Elsewhere, Rafael Osterling’s outlets rank among the city’s finest eateries. Light, bright El Mercado is a celebration of the freshest produce and represents years of close-knit relationships with farmers and fisherman; while at Rafael the cuisine remains true to Osterling’s interpretation of fresh ingredients — ceviche, carpaccio and tiradito dominate the starters list — but also including pasta, fish and beef dishes.
Elsewhere, Tragaluz, set behind the gleaming glass facade of the oceanfront Belmond Miraflores Park hotel, oozes cosmopolitan chic and trades on a menu that juggles Peruvian, Mediterranean and Asian influences. The shrimp with brulee pineapple is unforgettable, while Maido’s Peruvian-Japanese chef Mitsuharu Tsumura leads the field when it comes to Nikkei and Japanese fusion cuisine. Don’t miss his 20-piece nigiri experience and 16-course Nikkei Tribute degustation menu, a roller coaster of Peruvian home-grown favourites, from lapas (mussel) ceviche to cuy san (guinea pig confit, salted and deep fried served with cold yuca cream and sprouts).
Lima’s hotels are also a late-night go-to for the city’s elite. At Belle Epoque mansion Hotel B — built as a summer seaside retreat in the 1920s and lavishly appointed with vintage furnishings, art pieces and prints — the bar and restaurant rank among the city’s hippest destinations.
Ayahuasca is another feast for the senses. The 19th-century Berninzon Mansion makes for a striking setting; inside artistic director, Maricruz Arribas has combined prints, herbs, bottles and Chancay textiles to create cosy spaces; the cocktail list is focused on Peru’s iconic grape brandy, pisco.
For a chic day-into-night beachclub vibe, try visually arresting Cala, on Barranco’s rocky waterfront. From the terrace, you can see the sun set over surfers catching the last waves; inside, private nooks piled with cushions offer a cosy escape on cooler evenings.
And for a more energetic night out, drinking-and-dancing den Sukha, and Bizarro, are both good bets. The latter, located at the junction of Bellavista and Paula Road in Miraflores, serves cocktails, fizz and high-end whiskeys and rums while DJs and musicians play hits from the past three decades.
Top 10 local tips
02 Walk, run or bike the coastline-hugging Malecón during sunset.
03 Drink a pisco sour at the 1927 Hotel Country Club.
04 Explore the first-century AD adobe Pucllana Temple (Huaca Pucllana), one of Lima’s few historical ruins still open to the public.
05 Visit the Magic Water Circuit, a set of water fountains located in a park on the edge of town that create a spectacular choreographed display featuring light and music.
06 During the December to April summer, temperatures soar to 35C, while for four months every winter, a thick fog blankets the city, blocking out the sun. You’ll need to layer up!
07 Eat the iconic raw seafood salad, ceviche. As often and in as large a quantity as possible.
08 Rub shoulders with the city’s burgeoning hipster class at coffee shops like Bisetti, just behind Barranco’s famous Puente de los Suspiros (‘Bridge of Sighs’).
09 Visit Larco Museum and take a journey through 5,000 years of pre-Columbian Peruvian history.
10 Download Uber to order a legit cab. Many unofficial taxis will rip tourists off.
Conversation in the Cathedral, by 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature-winning writer Mario Vargas Llosa. The book offers a portrait of power and politics in Peru under the dictatorship of General Manuel Odría in the 1950s.
RRP: £8.99 (Faber & Faber)
The Conquest of the Incas, by John Hemming, a narrative history that delves into the minds and experiences of 16th-century Spaniards and Incas. RRP: £7.99 (Pan)
Published in the South America guide, distributed with the October 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)