Lima Travel Guide
Lima is a marvel. A sprawling city in a sprawling desert on the edge of the Pacific, this city has ancient roots but it’s all about looking forward, not back. Lima is inarguably the gastronomic capital of South America, but it’s not just the food that’s thrilling. Although they embrace their rich history, Limeños are risk-taking in their creative endeavours. This electrifying mix is palpable in the art, the style, the people – and the gay movement. Latin America’s first gay rights organization was founded in Lima way back in 1982. No small feat in such a macho, conservative and Catholic country. Anti-discrimination laws are on the books and same-sex civil unions are (fingers crossed) on the horizon. While most gays don’t yet publicly identify, there is a sizable openly gay community in Lima. With a World Heritage Site colonial centre and more inhabitants than NYC, the art and fashion scenes are buzzing. Perched on cliffs overlooking the water, Lima offers sweeping ocean views. Pity the travellers who take a cursory pass through this bustling, sophisticated city on their way to Machu Picchu. Their loss. Looking for the ultimate Lima gay guide? Mr Hudson has got you covered.
The best hotels in Lima
Let’s start this gay Lima travel guide with a roundup of the best hotels in Lima. If you prefer your hotel to feel more like the mansion of a wealthy and eclectic art collector, book a room at Hotel B. Set in a French belle époque mansion built in 1914, the luxury hotel houses 200 pieces of carefully curated and arresting art that veers from graphic prints to painting to photography. High atop the dramatic cliffs, the Belmond Hotel’s views of the Pacific and understated elegance are hard to beat. So are the oversized rooms and lavish buffet breakfast. With just nine rooms in a revamped 1940s mansion, Atemporal calls itself a ‘hotelito’ and specializes in a unique combo of old-school service and cosiness. Call for a chauffeured house car or hang out in your unique room furnished with Peruvian artefacts, books, and photos. Villa Barranco has a similar aesthetic with eight bedrooms, a wooden spiral staircase, communal gardens, bountiful views of the ocean and a collection of quirky delightful objects waiting to be discovered inside medicine cabinets and other nooks and crannies where you wouldn’t expect to find them. If you’re looking for the right hotel in the right location at the right price, try Calima Boutique Hotel in the happening Miraflores district. Tasteful rooms, free breakfast, and staff that will go the mile for you make this a standout in the three-star category.
Erotic pre-Colombian pottery, anyone? Museo Larco has a section devoted to ancient carnal works of clay
Things to do in Lima
Peru’s beloved gay celeb photographer, Mario Testino, opened MATE Museum, which houses not just his celebrity portraits but his images from the last photo session ever done with Lady Diana. Less well known but equally enchanting is a series he did Andean locals in full festive regalia. Internationally acclaimed and emerging Peruvian artists also get wall space at MATE. Erotic pre-Colombian pottery, anyone? Museo Larco’s collection of ancient ceramics is second to none, with an entire section devoted to erotic works of clay including our personal favourite, Room E2, which contains an exhibit called “Rituals of non-reproductive sexual union” if you catch our drift. El Circuito Mágico del Agua has managed to make a show of illuminated fountains so insanely cool you will feel like a little kid. The laser light show is set to traditional Peruvian folks songs, ABBA and everything in between. We still don’t understand how something that sounds so cheesy could be so NOT cheesy. Just trust us and go. If that’s not enough water for you, take a day tour out to Palomino Island on a yacht where can don a wet suit and swim with the sea lions. Float on your back, poke your toes out the water and these curious creatures will come gliding over to take a sniff. Another wonderful way to spend a day in one of the world’s leading culinary destinations is to go on a gourmet food tour where you will be taken to restaurants, markets and take a cooking class.
You could easily spend a day ogling Lima’s historic mansions, some restored to their original grandeur and others caving in on themselves
Things to see in Lima
Walk, walk and walk more. Two of the coolest neighbourhoods to tour on foot are Barranco and Miraflores. Barranco is the more bohemian and funky of the two while Miraflores is a posh tourist hub with glass buildings, fancy shopping malls and places where you can eat and drink while overlooking the coast. Barranco, considered to be Lima’s most vibrant section of town, is in the midst of a revival with colonial townhouses being transformed into art galleries and boutique hotels. This is the place Peru’s creative class and alternative crowd call home and where the bar scene is the funkiest. You could easily spend a day ogling Lima’s historic mansions, some restored to their original grandeur and others caving in on themselves. Check out Palacio de Torre Tagle, a pink Spanish baroque palace from 1735 with an ornate portico and breathtakingly carved wooden Moorish-style balconies. Casa di Aliaga from 1535 is the oldest house in the Americas and former home of one of the original Conquistadores. Dating back to 1803, Casa de Osambela is a cornflower blue mansion with five balconies and a watchtower from which the original owner peered through a spyglass to watch the galleons sail into port. Since you obviously plan to read Nobel Prize-winning Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa on the flight to Lima (we recommend Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter) you will want to spend a few hours walking in his footsteps around Miraflores, where he grew up in the 1950s. The local Tourism Information Center offers free walking tours retracing the places he put into his novels. Or you can just grab a map so and do the tour on your own. While you’re walking around Miraflores, stop into Galeria Impakto, a modern art gallery with a stark white interior that showcases a rotating set of works from exciting Peruvian and international artists.
No matter what their income level, Limeños have demanding palates. Bad restaurants will perish here
Where to eat in Lima
Peruvian gastronomy goes back two millennia. The pre-Incan peoples were formidable gourmets and Peru’s biodiversity and vast coastline means the number of possible ingredients is infinite. Today’s cuisine combines indigenous flavours with the cultures that arrived later—Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, French and Italian. No matter what their income level, Limeños have demanding palates. Bad restaurants will perish here. Central placed sixth on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, which describes the place as “a shrine to everything that is Peruvian, including many ingredients that are seldom served elsewhere.” The husband and wife chefs traverse Peru’s air, land, and sea to source produce you have never before even heard of, never mind tasted. Astrid & Gastón is credited with pioneering Peru’s gastronomic Renaissance since opening in 1994. Their kitchen is devoted to mixing the many layers of Peru’s cultural legacy.
They offer a long and a short tasting menu. Starve yourself all day and go long. Never eaten at a restaurant that specializes in recipes and ingredients from the Amazon basin? Now’s your chance. Amaz makes urbane dishes from jungle ingredients. Ranking number 24 on the list of the world’s best eateries, Rafael serves modern Peruvian-Italian with Nikkei (Japanese-Peruvian) influences. Chifa is what Peruvians call Chinese-Peruvian hybrid food and no one does it better than Madam Tusan. Try the dim sum or the duck or both. Lima doesn’t play when it comes to its sandwiches. La Lucha sanguchería is the place to get your sammy on. Try the jamon del pais (Peruvian ham and salsa criolla) with an exotic fruit smoothie. Chez Wong is a room inside of Chef Javier Wong’s house in a sketchy part of town with no sign. You have to email him to try and get one of the eight tables for the best ceviche and stir fry of your life. Buena suerte.
Shopping in Lima
Alpaca is so soft and warm. Kuna sources the finest fibres from the camel-like creatures that roam the Andes. They make extraordinary scarves, sweaters and throws from the home. Uno is a lifestyle store with men’s and women’s clothing and accessories. Their stuff is understated with an edge. You are going to want to come back with an object that screams “Made in Peru!” and Las Pallas Folk Art Store is where you can find it. Part home, part store, part museum, Las Pallas has every kind of native folk art you may be in the market for. A fashion line made by prisoners? Sí. Project Pieta sews together ethics and fashion to produce a fierce collection of anti-establishment T’s, bathing suits and undies for men made by prison inmates. No better place to stock up on your sandals than La Zapateria, a cooperative that crafts handmade leather shoes. Their men’s sandals, loafers and boots are the opposite of trendy yet the very definition of timeless cool.
Lima’s most popular gay club, ValeTodo DownTown, has a little something for everyone: drag shows, Latin pop, techno and pretty boys
And now for Mr Hudson’s Lima gay scene guide. The heart of gay Lima revolves around a cluster of gay clubs in Miraflores with others to be found further afield in Barranco and downtown Lima. Nights out start late, so best to take a catnap before you head out to paint the town red. If you’ve always wanted to visit a gay dive bar frequented by military boys (cachaquitos), there’s La Jarrita. It turns into a dance club later in the night. At the other end of the spectrum, Pica’s Bar in trendy Barranco serves up drinks, food and live jazz in a romantic setting. It’s owned by the first openly gay member of Congress. Lima’s most popular gay club, ValeTodo DownTown, has a little something for everyone: drag shows, Latin pop, techno and pretty boys. Nearby Legendaris is known for the late, late night scene from 3 am until the birds start chirping. This place is lively with drag queens, go-go dancers and leather nights. Lolita Bar is super fun but be aware it’s gay during the day and evenings and turns mostly lesbian later on in the night.
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Photo: Pablo Padilla
Photo: Willian Justen de Vasconcellos
Basílica y Convento de San Francisco de Lima
Plaza de Armas
Mario Vargas Llosa