Lima, Perú

When I mapped out my South American travel strategy, I considered Lima a necessary evil: I had to go through it to get to the places I really wanted to visit, namely Nazca and the Cuzco area. I assumed it would be a crowded, noisy and confusing place and the sooner I made my way through it, the better. I had made no plans in advance, however, and I needed to stay in Lima long enough to make travel arrangements for the places I wanted to go.

After spending several days in Lima, primarily Miraflores, and meeting some of the local people, my ideas about the city changed dramatically. The friends I met there took me to restaurants and clubs I never would have known about on my own. The district of Barranco, a beautiful area known for its nightlife, became a particular favorite (and I highly recommend that the visitor find a way to get there – a taxi would be the best bet). Miraflores also turned out to be a pleasant surprise. It offers beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean from its high cliffs. Yes, there is too much traffic – indeed, the most danger I ever felt in Peru was trying to get across the street – but it also offers many places to get away from the tumult and relax

One unexpected surprise in Miraflores was the Parque del Amor, a park on the cliffs overlooking the ocean devoted to romance. The poet Antonio Cilloniz had lamented that "In the cities, they do not build monuments to lovers," a reaction, no doubt, to all the monuments in South America (and everywhere else) devoted to those who had distinguished themselves in battle by either winning or dying. Miraflores decided to prove the exception and built the Parque del Amor, which features a prominent statue of two lovers in a passionate embrace over Cilloniz's words. (Can you imagine such a monument in the U.S.?)

The historic center of Lima (a World Heritage Site) and the cathedral are well worth seeing (though to see the cathedral requires a guided tour that gave me more information than I really wanted to know about the place, including a full history of every archbishop). The most surprising part of the cathedral was seeing the coffin of Francisco Pizarro, the Spanish conqueror of Peru. I knew that people of his era tended to be shorter than people today, but I still found his coffin remarkably short. My guide explained that the small box next to the coffin contained his head, which for some reason has been kept separate from the rest of his body. The photos here give an unfortunate impression of Lima's central Plaza de Armas, which is surrounded by the cathedral and other magnificent Spanish colonial buildings. At the time of my 1996 visit, the Plaza de Armas was under reconstruction and the entire plaza was torn up and filled with construction equipment. I look forward to returning one day and seeing it in its full glory