For those with just a couple days in Lima, Peru, a host of activities can entertain those who favor the arts. It is possible to get a whole perspective of Peru’s diverse culture through its museums in San Borja, Pueblo Libre, and El Centro, the neighborhood of Barranco is the most artistic. It is the bohemian center of the city of eight million.
As Peruvian legend goes, in the mid-18th century, a luminescent cross appearing from high up on Lima’s shores guided a group of fogged-in fishermen to land. Word about the miraculous cross spread among the newly-turned Catholic population, and on the infamous spot, they constructed the La Ermita cathedral and founded Barranco in 1750. More than a century later, Chilean troops would destroy the neighborhood during the War of the Pacific. Wealthy Peruvians and Europeans forged its next incarnation as their summer-home community around 1900. This storied village of three-and-a-third square kilometers is the bohemian center of Lima today, the epicenter of the city’s artistic and architectural heritage. Nationally reputed surfers, musicians, artists, and architects mill about the pastiche of mansions and mansionettes in a range of architectural flavors: Republican, Colonial, Mid-Century Modernist, Gothic, Art Deco, and Victorian. Art and handcrafted home décor galleries demonstrate Peru’s contemporary artistic culture, but go just half a block off the major roads to find its rich artistic history.
Explore art and furniture design stores alongside restored century-old homes on Paseo Sáentz Peña, named after General Roque Sáenz Peña, who fought in the 1880s war between Peru, Chile, and Bolivia— the very war that would all but destroy Barranco— and later became president of Argentina. At one end of the short block are Yvonne Sanguineti’s gallery, a small space featuring a monthly rotation of contemporary Peruvian artists (Ave. Grau 810; 51-1-257-2999; www.yvonnesanguinetigaleria.com), and PPPPDesign, a multi-room space showcasing furniture and art by an Italian and Peruvian art-and-architect couple (Av. Grau 810; 51-1-247-7976; www.ppppdesign.com). A two-minute walk down the median parkway, past the retirees reading newspapers or sparring in avuncular banter, a doorman unlocks the decorative wrought iron gate into Wu Gallery. Owner Frances Wu displays talented contemporary artists in her two-story minimalist space and is available for a chat (Paseo Sáenz Peña 129; 51-1-247-4685; www.wugaleria.com).
Catch Your Breath…and the Sunset
At the end of the block, romantic couples linger on pergola-covered park benches and surfers ascend from their daily wave-rides up a terrace to this smart place for snapping shots of the Pacific. From here the schism of eras becomes apparent. To the back are century-old mansions while, to the side, is the inevitable, yet not overbearing encroachment of current residential development.
Reenergize with a cafe con leche at Dédalo (Sáenz Peña 295; 51-1-652-5400; dedalomarket.com). At the back of this shop of finely crafted, high-quality works by artists from throughout the country, international tunes and humming birds provide a soundtrack amidst a courtyard setting of lush flora. Pesto pasta and other hearty dishes illustrate why Peru is South America’s gastronomic capital. Hot or beverages, about $3.
In case your trip doesn’t extend to the hinterlands of Peru, fret not. Whittle away hours enjoying Mari Solari’s breadth and depth of knowledge on Peruvian arts at her tucked away Las Pallas artisan store (Calle Cajamarca 212; 51-1-477-4629; http://laspallas.com). Her tales about woven languages in clothing, gourd-carving techniques, gender practices among jungle and mountain tribes, and Peru’s pre-Catholic beliefs turn shoppers into friends.
Peru’s jungle and mountain cultures come to life at Ayahuasca, a bustling resto-bar in a restored casona, or mansion, that reveals the Moorish architecture influence brought by the Spanish. Interiors featuring Ayacucho folkdance costumes and bibulously colored tribal arts stimulate conversation. With small dishes or entrees and pisco infusions from the seemingly endless menu, even a finicky eater will be satiated. Dinner and cocktails, are a bit more expensive in this upscale scene for the in-crowd, around $75. (San Martín 130)
Start with breakfast at the Café Cultural on El Expreso Virgen de Guadalupe, a restaurant and live music venue on an antique trolley (San Martín 15; 51-1-247-252-8907). A train, which runs only six blocks today to the Museo Pedro de Osma (Av. Pedro de Osma 423; 51-1-467-0063; www.museopedrodeosma.org), used to travel the few miles between Lima and Barranco until it discontinued service in 1965. It now serves up vegetarian cuisine infused with creole and international flavors. Breakfast, $2.50 to $5.
Angelo Colombo, a missionary with the Italian NGO Artesanos Don Bosco, recently gutted and reconstructed this two-story 1900 house (San Martín 135; www.artesanosdonbosco.pe) that functions as a store/showroom for products made through the NGO. Don Bosco trains Andean villagers in carpentry and carving skills, and sells their works, sturdy wall hangings, desks, bed suites and other items, in this multi-room space. They designs bear an Art Deco influence– yet not at the expense of their makers’ mountain arts vernacular. Columbo excitedly gives tours of this piece of architectural heritage to those who speak Spanish or Italian.
Take a Walk
Local Dutch ex-patriot Ronald Elward, a former design magazine editor, has proven genius at constructing culinary, historic, and architectural tours in Lima. He offers group or private tours through Barranco’s architectural timeline in his two-and-a-half hour walk that even the locals enjoy (www.limawalks.blogspot.com). Along the way you’ll see homes of famous historic and current Peruvian writers, poets, and sculptors, and discover sometimes war-related reasons behind the district’s many architectural styles. He can also regale you with funny tales of present-day NIMBY activities. $10-15 per person.
Drink It Up and People Watch
Admittedly I have mixed reservations about Santos Café and Espirituosos (Jr. Zapita 203, Puente de los Suspiros; 51-1-247-4609). Of the half dozen times I went before my one bad night, I always went with the company of a man and remained quite safe. The happy hour kind of two-for-one pisco sours rock my world. One expat put them this way: “Pisco sours are like breasts. One is too few; three is too many.” Evidently he doesn’t have the tolerance I do, as I can easily put down four and want more, but these are not American-sized cocktails. They’re, in fact, more like a despertif in size. Beyond the drinking, however, you can smoke from the bar’s terrace. That’s also the perfect vantage point for watching bridal parties, lovers smooching, and tourists lingering on the Puente de los Suspiros, or Bridge of Sighs. The constructed wooden bridge, built in 1906, passes over the Bajada de Baños, a steep, wide walkway leading to the ocean below. The Bajada is flanked by parks, other bars and restaurants, and hidden passageways. This area illustrates the country’s European influence. Cocktails for two, about $15.
Jazz up the Night
Every Limeno, or person native to Lima, is or has been a musician. La Noche, Lima’s premier jazz club, is where they show they chops (Av. Bolognesi 307; 51-1-2471012). Mondays are the club’s official jazz night. The rest of the week features a wide array of musical styles from new and veteran bands. The schedule changes constantly, and some nights feature multiple bands. Entry $3.50 to $18.
Before departing the city, you might tough it out like the locals with a surf session. Peru features some of the longest swells on the planet and breaks remain uncrowded compared to names more commonly associated with surfing (Circuito de Playas; www.wannasurf.com). Experts and neophytes both find fun here. The water does shrink even the heartiest, so a wet suit is mandatory. 2004 female word champ Sofia Mulanovich and Cristobal de Col, the 2010 world junior champ, hail from Peru. Lima claims over than 140 surf spots, so, ask any of the ubiquitous descuidados (disheveled young men) carrying their long boards through Barranco for access spots to your size of wave.