The La Castellana hotel [link] is located in a area of Lima called Miraflores, which is the more posh area of town. After getting a late start on my first day, I walked down to the Central Park of Miraflores and just walked around, stretching my legs after a day on an airplane. I saw a Starbucks, which of course is of no surprise, but right next door was a Pinkberry! Seeing that familer sign was a total shock to me! Do they even have them outside Los Angeles? It seems like such a Los Angeles chain to me! If these two aren’t a sign about how posh the neighborhood is, I don’t know what is. I wondered in and out of a department store at the edge of the park, which I always find interesting, seeing the prices and variety and labels on products.
I then wondered down a main street, towards the beach. The clouds hung very low over the coast and the visibility was very bad. Hanging over the cliffs of the coast was a very new outdoor shopping center called Larcomar where locals, and local and international tourists shopped and ate. It had a wide variety of stores and tourists stands among fast food places that were both local and international. The prices for fast food in Peru is surprisingly expensive, compared to the local restaurants, even the Peruvian fast food.
After eating lunch, back at the park (you need to flag down your server, European-style to get your check), I jumped on a city bus tour that starts and ends in Miraflores, but takes you to the downtown part of the city where lots of churches and older buildings are located. Normally I am not a fan of those double-decker city bus tours, but since this was my only day in a town where I didn’t speak the language and I was by myself and didn’t really want to take a cab alone, I figured this was my best bet to see the most stuff. And experience a side of the city that I hadn’t heard the greatest things about and figure a bus tour would be the best way to experience it.
The tour was surprisingly good! I think it helped that I wasn’t expecting much, but I am a total sucker for seeing new parts of town. After seeing Inca ruins right in the center of town, the bus made its way into central Lima. Since I took the tour on a Sunday, it included admission and a tour of San Francisco which was fantastic. The place is huge and contained any and everything I have ever seen in a church from artwork, tapestry, catacombs, statues and everything in between. Even though it was included on my bus tour, it is well worth the price of admission and extra for a tour. I was surprised on how many locals there, not sure if it was because it was a Sunday or not, but I haven’t seen this many locals at a touristy place in a very long time.
The bus tour also drove us around many of the squares, but we didn’t get to stop and wander around and my pictures didn’t turn out very good as they were taken on a slow moving but and everyone heads were in the shots. Even though Miraflores is known as the “safer” part of town, there were so many people on the streets downtown, that how unsafe could it be for tourists? Because the bus just flew by lots of sites and squares that I wanted to wonder around more, when it came time to book my hotel for the end of my stay, since I didn’t love the place I was staying at in Miraflores, I decide to mix it up and stay at a place in central Lima. I used to be a total planner about everything, but my time in Australia and New Zealand taught me to go with the flow when I can. And since I knew I could book something sort of last-minute in Lima, I held off booking my last few nights accommodation back in Lima until I arrived in the country, just to see what the hotel and town was like. And I was so glad I waited!
After driving around central Lima, the bus zoomed back to Miraflores and it started to rain on the way back, which probably wasn’t good for my health (I started to not feel well at night) but thankfully didn’t let it get too far. I just went back to the hotel for the night, to rest for the start of my Gap tour the next day.
Moral: For newcomers to Lima, I would highly recommend staying in Miraflores. Even though I didn’t go out at night and venture too far except for a run to the supermarket to buy water, I never felt unsafe during the day. Police are everywhere. And you know you are in a safe and touristy area when you see money changers on every corner. But after two weeks in the country, I felt safe enough and confident in myself to stay in central Lima. There is plenty of accommodation in that area and it’s not unsafe, but you venture only a few blocks in the wrong direction and you are easily out of the tourist area and it’s not a place I would go to at night. Miraflores was just more open and touristy, and not in a bad way.