We ended up staying 5 and a half days…and we quite liked it.
Sure it’s big (>10 million!) and somewhat dirty, but there are plenty of parks and squares to explore and with the current ‘recuperacion’ of the city occurring, there is renewal everywhere. It is much cleaner than I expected. In both Miraflores (the tourist district) and Barranco (it’s more bohemian neighbor) there are roving bands of cleaners, street sweepers and gardeners, all in uniform, generally spiffing the place up.
As for dangerous and menacing, I’m sure there are areas that one should not visit and I know we stayed in well populated, popular places (Miraflores, Barranco, and the downtown) but we never felt unsafe or uncomfortable even.
The traffic is crazy!! I have never seen anything like it. The roads are filled to capacity with cars, truck, buses, motorcycles…anything that can move. And, although there may be lane markings, they are never used. Drivers must know every inch of their vehicle because the cars next to them are within inches whether moving or stopped at a light. And yet I did not see even one accident, not even a bumper touch – the taxis we took amazed us at their ability – we always felt we would arrive safely.
Another thing we notices was the level of security. Armed guards and National Police were everywhere and, during the changing of the guard at the Presidential Palace downtown, there were police in riot gear even. Buildings all have secure entrances, usually they are walled (complete with barbed wire and electric fencing) and have a gate with a guard behind.
I wondered if this level of security was needed for historical reasons or if it really was that dangerous here. We had been feeling completely safe and had not seen any roving bands of hooligans and such. Was it a case of ‘we’ve always done it this way’ and so this level of security was just the norm?
Our visit to the National Museum provided a few clues. There was a photography exhibit there showing the extent and brutality of the attempted cultural revolution by the Shining Path guerrilla group in the 1980’s and 1990’s. This group was extremely violent and wide spread, extending themselves from the villages in the highlands to the city of Lima itself. Although the main activity was curtailed by 2000, there have been incidences as recently as 2004 in Lima.
Historically, too, security has been paramount and so the gates, and locks, and barbed wire and guards didn’t seem so extreme. Our homes in Canada may have looked the same had we been subject to such terrorism.
There was plenty to see and do in Lima….
We walked a lot to see the neighborhoods of Miraflores and Barranco.
We visited the San Francisco Cathedral and saw the catacombs with all the bones.
After 5 days though I was ready to go, and so we set out to our next destination…Cusco.