My first stop in my visit to Peru was the capital and largest city, Lima. It is located in the central part of the country, on a desert coast overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Lima is a melting pot of cultures due to colonization and immigration. The native people continue traditions that date back to their predecessors and therefore show the mix of Spanish and Indian cultures. As the capital, largest city, and main point of entry into the country, Lima has developed a tourism industry, characterized by its historic center, archeological ruins, museums, and nightlife.
The Historic Centre of Lima made up of the beautiful buildings, cathedrals, and palaces of the past has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Also notable are the Church and Convent of San Francisco known for its interesting catacombs. The Plaza Mayor is the main square and urban center of the city. Said to be the actual spot that Pizarro founded Lima on January 18, 1535, the plaza is surrounded by buildings dating from the colonial period: the Government Palace, the Cathedral and the Municipality (city hall).
Barranco is a district of Lima full tradition and history, with fine streets and small colonial squares. It is famous for having a bohemian style and popular nightlife with discos, pubs cafes, and live entertainment. It is situated just 5 minutes from Mira Flores: the upscale district known for its shopping areas, gardens, flower-filled parks and beaches.
Just a one-hour flight from Lima is the town of Cusco (elevation: 11,200 ft), most commonly known as the gateway to Machu Picchu. I think this was the scariest landing I have ever had, as you literally land on a strip of land surrounded with mountains. In 2007, the city had a population of 358,935 an increase three times more than just 20 years ago.
The Spanish explorer Pizarro destroyed much of the Inca city in 1535 but remains of the palace of the Incas, the Temple of the Sun, and the Temple of the Virgins of the Sun still stand. Cusco was the site of the historic capital of the Incan Empire and was declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. It is a major tourist destination with about 2 million visitors a year.
The area of Cusco is a terrific location to examine the beautiful colored textiles of Peru. The garments made of dyed Alpaca wool can be seen throughout the country and are an important tradition of the native people. I was able to be part of the process with native women. This is the best place to buy souvenirs in Peru, but make sure you always negotiate. Also, you will be offered a lot of coca leaves or tea as it has been known to cure any altitude sickness you may have. Well, I thought that all of this “warning” was getting to my head a bit, but I will tell you that you should take it easy the first day. Especially if you have plans to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, come a few days to a week early to adjust. I was a little bit stupid and did not take it easy my first day, I literally ran around the city staying busy. The next morning I paid for it as I woke up with a headache that felt like a spear going through my head. When I told the hotel, they brought me a tank of oxygen to my room and I used it for about 10 minutes. Instantly I was cured, so take my advice and take it easy, but if you don’t have the patience to wait a day to explore, then the oxygen tank will be waiting…