Spurred in part by its world-class restaurant scene, the Peruvian capital has undergone a transformation from stopover to tourism hotspot
Author Chris Wilson Photography Jessica Sample
DAY ONE | You check in early at Hotel B, a restored 1914 mansion that opened last year in the boho-chic Barranco district. You’re handed an oversize iron key and head upstairs to your funky suite, which happens to have a sculpture of an electric chair outside the door. You stow your bags and have an invigorating sweat in the private steam room, after which you’re ready to face the day.
Having deposited your doorstop/key at the desk, you cross the street to Dédalo, a craft shop stocked with painted wooden chickens, stone pigs and cartoon-colorful Andean textiles. You have a quick browse and head toward the beaches along Barranco’s Pacific coast, where wetsuited surfers paddle out to catch long, steady waves while paragliders drift below pillowy clouds.
A stroll along the waterfront brings you to Second Home, local artist Victor Delfín’s workplace and gallery. For 20 sol, or about $7, you’re buzzed into a sculpture garden overrun by metal horses, lions and condors. African orange tulips litter the grass like deflated party balloons. A huge stone puma head spews water into a pool. Delfín murmurs hello as he touches up a canvas in a studio overlooking the ocean.
You continue your dreamy march across the Bridge of Sighs—a wooden walkway where, legend has it, you’re supposed to hold your breath and make a wish before crossing—and stop by Mate, a museum owned by famed Peruvian fashion photographer Mario Testino. A gallery assistant hands you an iPod that guides you through a riotous Pop-Art retrospective featuring Keith Haring, Julian Schnabel, Richard Prince and Nate Lowman. Sipping espresso in the museum cafe’s tranquil sliver of a courtyard, you mull your first important decision of the day: where to eat lunch?
You go with Sonia, a destination for rustic seafood in the nearby suburb of Chorrillos. Sitting under a bamboo canopy, you order wooden spoons heaped with mind-blowingly fresh ceviche, hunks of cured tuna known as “fisherman’s ham,” fat red crab claws crusted with Parmesan, phenomenal flounder in yellow chili sauce, and a dish of salted corn, all washed down with icy Pilsen Callao. As “My Way” plays softly in Spanish, owner Fredy Guardia sews a fishing net at a table under one of his many poems , which adorn the walls.
After this near-perfect meal, you drive to Pueblo Libre to visit Museo Larco, Lima’s most intriguing and important museum. You walk up a path bursting with bougainvillea in red, lavender, orange, yellow and pale blue, while green parrots squawk from the trees and a friendly cat negotiates your ankles. The walkway leads to a sprawling succession of spaces containing 45,000 pieces of pre-Columbian art. It’s one of only a few museums in the world with storage areas that are open to the public.
Among the artifacts on display here are ceremonial blood bowls and cracked human skulls from Incan trephination operations. If that seems a bit macabre, there is ample comic relief in the popular erotic pottery room. Here you find ancient Peruvian burial pots celebrating the art of contortionism. Many pots like these were destroyed by mortified conquistadors, which makes the exhibit as essential as it is entertaining. After a trip back to Hotel B to freshen up—and perhaps cleanse your psyche—it’s time for dinner.
Tonight you’re eating at Maido, Chef Mitsuharu Tsumura’s temple of Nikkei cuisine, in Miraflores. The dishes come in waves: a classic usuzukuri with rock fish, ponzu, crispy garlic and tomatoes; a ceviche of mackerel, scallops, clams, smoked yellow pepper “tiger’s milk” and avocado; foie gras “sushi” in eel sauce; breaded shrimp, avocado, cream cheese and chimichurri, finished tableside with a blowtorch; fried pejesapo sliders with tartar sauce on steamed buns; black cod marinated in miso and aji panca chili; and an impossibly tender Nitsuke braised short rib with fried rice. It’s high-end Peruvian-Japanese comfort food at its finest, downed with plenty of sake and Sapporo beer and finished with an intense trio of chocolates.
You work off a small fraction of the calories consumed during a 10-minute waddle to La Emolienteria, a lively pisco bar in Miraflores. A DJ spins electronic dance music as youngsters nod rhythmically from Day-Glo stools fashioned from wheelbarrows. After a few puckeringly good Pisco Sours made with Pisco Portón, you cab it back to the hotel. A copy of Theodore Roethke’s poem “The Waking” has been laid on your pillow: “I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.” You take that as a cue to knock off..