“Es difícil hacer el amor pero se aprende.”
It means, “It is difficult to make love, but you learn.” You know what they say about those sexy Latin Americans, they are always so charming, full of passion and always so much love to give. This quote above is only one of the many love notes that had been permanently scripted in mosaic tiles at the Parque del Amor, a famous “Love Park” overlooking the Pacific Ocean in the Miraflores district in Lima, Peru. A park solely dedicated to love. Everywhere I look, there are couples holding hands, embracing, kissing like nobody’s business. I think I have caught the love bug as well because I am falling in love with Peru.
Our short layover in Santiago was only just a teaser of what South America has to offer. Peru is where we were heading, and it was only a short flight away via LAN Airlines to Lima, the capital and the largest city of Peru.
Well, do you know Peru is actually a desert? Despite Lima being the world’s second largest desert city after Cairo, it is actually a lot greener than you’d have expected. Because of its geographic location, this forever foggy coastal desert is full of moisture captured from the fog that turns this city into oasis-like pocket of vegetation. Hence Lima is also known as the garden city in Peru. The only way to understand how this city was formed is by visiting its coastline overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and the Love Park is a good place to start.
“My memory is stronger than your forgetfulness.”
The Love Park
Opened to public in 1993 on Valentine’s Day, the love park is designed by Peruvian artist Victor Delfín with colourful mosaic tiles park bench which was inspired by Antoni Gaudí’s Parque Güell in Barcelona, Spain. This park is devoted entirely to romance, love quotes written along the mosaic walls. Our tour guide pointed out a few quotes that are rather on the humour side – “Loving you is like peeling fruit”, for instance. Well, I think you need to use your imagination here.
“When I open my eyes your heart opens.”
“You are on one side and I am on the other like two oars.”
If that’s not romantic enough for you, there is a large sculpture depicts Victor himself and his wife in a lover’s embrace kissing, hence the title of the sculpture – El Beso (the kiss). Every Valentine’s Day, the mayor of the district holds a competition at the park for the couple who could hold the longest kiss. Love is definitely in the air here.
Lima is considered the doorway to the modern world for Peru, but many history still remains. There is almost 8.5 million people living in this city,so you will find the downtown area is pretty crowded on a normal day and traffic jam is inevitable especially during peak hours. Our first tourist stop in the city was Plaza de Armas of Lima or The Plaza Mayor. This plaza is the birthplace of the city of Lima, located in the Historic Centre of Lima, it is surrounded by the Government Palace, Cathedral of Lima, Archbishop’s Palace of Lima, the Municipal Palace and the Palace of the Union.
Lima is always overcast or foggy, that’s why there is a local saying – ‘panza de burro’, means Lima’s sky is grey like donkey’s belly. So you will some houses in the city are painted in bright colours in contrast of the dull sky. And the colour theme here at the Plaza Mayor is yellow – like the sun.
We’ve been told that the government has been trying to encourage more young female to join the police force. So what they’ve been doing is by ‘glamourising’ the job by hiring a lot of good looking female, hoping that it will encourage the others to join the police force. Our tour guide insisted I should take a photo with the police officers, I don’t think the guy was too happy about it.
I think that’s enough history and facts for one day, let’s go into what I was looking forward the most – FOOD! If you haven’t heard about it already, Peru is the new gastronomic destination. Last year, Peru has taken the title of “Best Culinary Destination in South America” for the third consecutive year in the World Travel Awards. So for food lovers, it is a very exciting time to visit Peru right now.
Not far from Plaza Mayor is the Plaza San Martin, another most representative public spaces of the city of Lima which was declared as UNESCO world heritage site in 1988. Here you will find Hotel Bolivar, the first large, modern hotel built in Lima in 1924. This hotel is famous for its Pisco Sour, they have been serving this national cocktail drink of Peru since the 1920s. In the 1940s and 50s, Hollywood movie stars such as Ava Gardner, Orson Welles and John Wayne came to stay at this hotel and also discovered this popular local cocktail. Hotel Bolivar is famous for “The Citadel”, a double portion of pisco sour served in a daiquiri glass that will get you legless in no time.
Jirón de La Unión 958, Lima Lima 1, Peru
Phone: +51 1 6191717
El Pan de la Chola
We made a quick stop to check out this popular bakery in Miraflores called El Pan de la Chola. The man who responsible for the bakery is Jonathan Day. Once an industrial engineer and part time actor while living in England, Jonathan has turned his love of food into reality and came back to Peru to open this bakery which is the very first bakery in Peru that specialises in fresh sourdough. Everything is made on site with natural yeast starter and they even grind their own whole wheat flour with a stone mill to go into the dough. Even though most locals are used to the commercial sliced soft white bread, artisan bread like this is definitely become more popular as the food trend here is fast catching up.
El Pan de la Chola
Avenida Mariscal La Mar 918,
Miraflores 15073, Peru
Opening Hours: Mon – Sat 8:00 am – 10:00 pm, Closed Sunday
San Isidro Farmers’ Market
Visiting the local farmers’ market is definitely one of my favourite things to do when travelling. There are many farmers’ market in Lima and our tour guide took us to the one at San Isidro district. It is not a big market, but it is clean and not as crowded which gave us more opportunity to explore the local produce without interfering the daily activities. I was like a kid in a candy store, touching and smelling all the exotic fruit and vegetables from the Andes that I’ve never seen before. The variety on each type of fruit and vegetable is simply mind boggling. We were given a few different type of chillies to try, from the not so hot ones like Aji Amarillo (yellow pepper) to the the extremely hot Aji Limo that set our tongues on fire.
We noticed a few vendors had flowers hanging at their stalls. These tiny yellow flowers are called Ruda (or commonly known as Rue), they believe to brush the flowers on the body will ward off evil and bring fortune to the business. We’ve been told it also has medicinal benefits.
Caihua (or caigua, also known as lady’s slipper) is a fruit that grows on the herbaceous vine, it can be eaten fresh when young and tasted like cucumber. The hollow cavity can be stuffed with fillings to make a caihua dish.
The fruit here in Peru is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!!! The fruit stalls was quite a sight to behold with all kinds of colourful fruit neatly stacked on display. I am not a big fruit eater but I found myself eating lots of local fruit on this trip. Most of the tropical fruits from the Amazon was super juicy and intensely sweet. It was the first time I saw and tasted a yellow dragonfruit called Pitaya (pitahaya) which is actually a plant of the cactus family. It tasted like a mixture of melon and kiwi fruit.
I loved granadillas, a species from the passionfruit family, it is native to the Andes Mountains. It is sweet with a sour sherbet flavour. Then there was also maracuya, a more common yellow passionfruit the size of an orange, the flavour is less intense but sweeter, locals love making fruit punch with this fruit.
A rare variety of banana that we tried. It was long with a pointy tip, and the flesh inside had a red tinge to it. It was very firm, full of starch, almost like plantain.
Cherimoya or more commonly known as the custard apple.
Purple corn and white corn in comparison. White corn or Choclo, is a large kernel corn from the Andes. It is a staple in Peruvian diet, the oversized kernels are chewy and starchy, it fills you up quite easily. The purple corn (maize morado) is a variety that they use to make Chicha, a local fermented beverage.
CHEESE! Andean cheeses aplenty here in Peru. I think my next trip to Peru will solely focus on (and eating) cheese.
Chamomile for sale at the market.
If you think you know your potatoes, think again. There are more than 4,000 varieties of potatoes in Peru. There are around 800 types of potatoes available at any season. Papas mariva is one of the more common potatoes in Peru. Ollucos is a colourful tuber from yellow, orange to pink. It has high water content and crisp texture like the jicama.
Pacae, also known as ice-cream bean, the long podded legume has edible white pulp inside. A favourite snack of Central and South Americans.
Maca root, also dubbed as the Peru’s natural viagra, a legendary sex-enhancing root passed down from the Inca. It looks similar to a radish, maca roots are grown high in the Andes mountain ranges 14,000ft above sea level and has been cultivated for the last 3,000 years. According to scientific research, maca root is high in amino acids, phytonutrients, fatty acids, vitamin and minerals. This humble root tuber has many healthy benefits and it has been used for enhancing energy, stamina, athletic performance, memory, impotence, fertility, menopause, just to name a few.
Don’t know what it’s called, but this edible root looks like a big caterpillar!
Tuna, not the fish but a prickly pear cactus. There are many varieties and they can be ranged from sweet and chewy which is good for making drinks and jam to watery and refreshing which is a great summer snack.
This grandmother was hilarious! She quickly put her grandson next to the big pumpkin for us to take photos of them. Ahh you gotta love the friendly locals. We only explored the fruit and vegetable sections of the market, there were also meat and seafood sections where locals were you can have ceviche right outside of the stalls, it couldn’t get any fresher than that. But we had our lunch planned elsewhere, so it was time to hop back into the car and headed to our next destination.
La Barra Casa Moreyra – Astrid y Gastón
Everybody knows who Gaston Acurio is, he is possibly the most celebrated Peruvian chef of all time. He is also indeed one of the most important chefs in the world who put Peruvian cuisine on the map. Together with his wife Astrid, they opened their first restaurant, Astrid y Gastón, in 1994. Since then, they have expanded their restaurant franchise all over Peru including cevicheria (restaurant specialises in Peruvian seafood), bakery, chifa (chinese-peruvian fusion cuisine), italian, gastrobar, chocolate restaurant, hamburger joint and a whole lot more. Last year, Astrid y Gastón has been migrated to a new location and now it is housed inside Casa Moreyra in San Isidro, alongside with La Barra, the sister restaurant in the same ground which offers a casual fare, and that’s where we would be having lunch.
It was quite exciting as our car slowly pulled up to the driveway in front of the historic hacienda-style colonial house. Next to the driveway is El Edén, the kitchen garden where many of the ingredients on the menu are sourced from this garden. They even have a full time horticulturist to look after this garden.
Dubbed as “A Peruvian tavern of our times”, La Barra is a casual dining space with a raw and organic approach to the interior design by using recycled wooden shipping containers as wall panels. Diners also get to catch all the actions from the open plan kitchen. Led by head chef Rubén Escudero, this team of young chefs has designed a modern bistro menu that changes regularly by using seasonal produce.
Like many restaurants around the world, the menu was designed to share. We had no problem with that and the dishes just kept coming, we were definitely well fed and absolutely stuffed by the end of the meal.
A contemporary take on the classic Peruvian potato-layered dish, Causa. This deconstructed version was composed of potato mixed with loche pumpkin, draped with marinated mackerel coated in a spicy aji caper mayonnaise, covered in dried yuyo seaweed.
The smoked trout on toasted bread was a great appetiser, the fresh watercress from their Kitchen Garden worked really work with the smokey fish. The tartar is a creamy version of a ceviche by mixing cured fish, squid, crunchy apple with sour cream, and a soft boiled 65C yolk on top for the extra creaminess.
The octopus was one of my favourite dishes. The grilled tentacles were tender but still had that nice firm chewiness to it, served with stew ollucos potato that still had the crunch, while the rocoto qapchi, a pepper puree sauce offered a subtle spicy kick to the dish. The striking pink dots were airampo, prickly purple pear that grows in rocky terrain, which has medicinal properties, now a favourite ingredient amongst Peruvian chefs.
Peking Duck step aside, how about Peking Guinea Pig?!
I bet they had fun creating this Astrid&Gaston signature dish, replicating Peking Duck but using Cuy, roasted guinea pig with purple corn crepes. Sorry cute little guinea pig, you are just so delicious with that tile of crispy skin. I think this dish was designed “NOT TO SHARE”!
Superfood quinoa doesn’t have to be boring either. The quinoa burger was delicious with a soft pattie made with quinoa, spied up with rocoto chilli pepper cream and some sweetness from the mango chutney.
Lomo Saltado is a classic Peruvian Chinese fusion beef stir fry, one of my favourites and I ate a lot of this dish in Peru. Here at La Barra this dish was totally pimped up with 600 grams of juicy beef sirloin, served with fried yuca that was so crunchy yet so starchy and moreish on the inside. A side of rice with corn and peas just the perfect staple to soak up all the sauce.
Fish of the day is chita, a Peruvian grunt, one of the most commonly caught and eaten fish in coastal Peru since pre-Incan times. The fish served baked whole in lemon and chilli pepper butter, with lots of croutons on top! The white flesh was soft and sweet like a snapper, with the perfect combo of sautéed soft fennel and onion on the side.
Dessert time. The Cachanga was definitely a show stopper. Cachanga is a large disk of crunchy fried dough and usually drizzled with honey, it is a popular street food snack in Peru, but the version here at La Barra is a lot fancier. The dish arrived hidden underneath an ethereal cloud mist of liquid nitrogen, eventually the fog dissipated a little at a time, revealing a bed of local fruit on top of a piece of crunchy cachanga that was so strikingly colourful like a piece of artwork. It was difficult to figure out all the components on the plate, but everything worked exceptionally well together in terms of flavour, texture and also temperature. It was a fun dessert that we couldn’t wait to smash into it.
After our meal, we got to meet executive chef Diego Muñoz who oversees the formal fine dining part of the Astrid & Gaston restaurant. Trained in Paris, his impressive curriculum spans from Mugaritz, El Bulli to The Royal Mail in Daylesford and Bilson’s in Sydney. Since joining Astrid y Gaston,he has created an unique and innovative degustation dining experience that helped placed Astrid y Gaston in the 18th place of San Pellegrino’s 50 best restaurants last year. We had a quick tour of the dining room which was actually quite homely and not intimidating before moving into the kitchen as the chefs just about to finish plating the last dish of the degustation menu, there is 29 dishes in total.
La Barra Casa Moreyra – Astrid y Gaston
Avenida Paz Soldán 290 San Isidro,
Lima 27, Peru
Phone: +51 1242 4422
Opening hours: Tuesdays to Saturdays from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. and from 7:30 to 9:00 p.m.
A trip to Lima is not complete without visiting the Larco Museum. When I read about this museum on internet that it is actually someone’s home that turned into a museum, it actually sounded dodgy and tacky. I was imagining it would just be a cluster of junks lying around in the house everywhere, possibly just an old dark room with musty smell. How wrong was I.
Rafael Larco Hoyle, one of the fathers of Peruvian archaeology has founded this museum in 1926. This so-called house is actually a huge mansion, converted into a world-class museum which contains a fascinating collection of beautifully modeled pottery vessels, unique gold and silver work and erotic ceramics from pre-Inca civilizations. Be prepared to spend a few hours here at the museum.
An impressive display of thousands of ceramic pieces from the Moche culture brings animals, plants, and anthropomorphic deities to life.
The Larco Museum has a permanent exhibition with an impressive archaeological collection where visitors can learn about the history of ancient Peru.
A lot of the relics and artefacts are well preserved, each piece shows an important record of the history of the ancient Peru. I was super impressed by this particular piece of necklace made of alpaca wool, which is not only an accessory but a record of past events. Each strand has different number of knots on different spots and each knot is a record of a past event that had happened to that particular person who wore it.
Too much gold? Never! Beyoncé, eat your heart out!
And then, there was the erotica gallery further back at the museum next to the restaurant.
I don’t believe anyone would be able to walk through this gallery with a straight face and not stealing few sniggers while looking at all these phallic potteries for the after life..
Av. Bolivar 1515, Pueblo Libre,
Lima 21 – Perú
T (00511) 461-5640
Opening hours: From Monday to Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. (including public holidays)
I decided to spend the rest of the afternoon wandering around downtown in Miraflores, marvel at the street arts and also checking out a few of the souvenir shops. And of course, don’t forget the street food.
It is my childhood on this coast,
under the sky so high,
sky as none, sky, fast shade,
clouds of horror, dark whirlwind of wings,
blue houses on the horizon.
– ‘Puerto Supe’ poet by Bianca Varela
If you are looking for souvenirs, the handicraft street is where you need to go. Have fun strolling along Av. Petit Thouars between block 52 and 55 in Miraflores, the whole street is lined with souvenirs and handicrafts shop after shop. All shops are more or less sell the same thing, and they are not necessarily made in Peru, so check before you buy.
Souvenir and Peruvian Handicrafts Street
Av. Petit Thouars block 52 to 55
Miraflores, Lima, Peru
Opening Hours: daily from 10.30am to 9.00pm
I was so excited when I finally spotted a few street food carts parked right in the middle of Central Park of Miraflores. Each vendor is selling different kind of street food, my eyes was fixated at the golden shiny sweets with bees buzzing around them inside the glass cabinet.
Remember that fancy cachanga at La Barra, and here is the street version, a lot simpler with only honey sugar toffee coating on the fried dough. It was a 3.00 Soles (AUD$1.20) of sweet, sweet happiness.
The turrón suave is my favourite, it is like a buttery shortbread coated with the same chewy honey sugar syrup. You simply can’t take one bite without coating yourself in crumbs over all your lips and down your shirt. There is another version of turron which is a lot more colourful by covering the top with all kinds of sugar beads called turrón de Doña Pepa which is usually eaten during the Purple Month – a sacred tradition in the city is the procession of El Señor de los Milagros, or “Lord of Miracles”, and his devotees wear purple robes for the whole month of October. AUD$1 (2.50 Soles) a piece, send me to sugar coma now!
Get your shoe shine while munching down a butifarra perhaps? Butifarra is Peruvian sandwich, you can have it with ham being the most common, asado which is roast beef, chicken or pavo, turkey. But alas, I didn’t get to try it as I was saving stomach space for dinner later
Then we spotted a shop called SYDNEY! This was totally random as we walking down Av Jose Larco on the way back to hotel and past this shop that got my attention, only to find it is actually a shop that sells underwear! Apparently the owner visited Australia many years ago and fell in love with Sydney, he then came back to Lima and decided to change his business name to Sydney. I actually bought three pairs of the underwear, made with 100% cotton for that ultra comfort. Well, we shall see.
At the end of the Av Jose Larco is the coast line again where the Larcomar shopping mall is hidden underground. And the Belmond Miraflores Park Hotel was only a stone throw away from here.
Belmond Miraflores Park Hotel
Formerly known as Miraflores Park Plaza, Belmond Miraflores Park is a 5-star hotel conveniently located in Miraflores district, walking distance to Larcoma shopping centre and downtown area.
I was in a Deluxe Junior Suite which offers stunning views of Lima’s coastline. The room itself was spacious, a luxurious indulgence of comfy king size bed, huge marble bathroom and most importantly – complimentary WiFi, is a must and big tick for me.
After a quick freshen up, it was time to head back out for dinner and this time we didn’t have to go far as we will be dining at Tragaluz restaurant in the hotel this evening.
Usually I am very skeptical about dining in hotel restaurants as the service and food tend to be below par from previous experiences. However, Tragaluz Restaurant in Belmond Miraflores Park surprised me and the food was exceptional. Head chef Jean Paul Barbier impressed us with a delightful fusion meal of Asian, Mediterranean and Peruvian flavours.
Most of the dishes we tried were well prepared and nicely presented, with a few misses. We started off with a refreshing Tiradito of raw salmon and scallops served with a spicy rocoto sauce, a great amuse bouche to whet our appetite. The scallop was grilled to perfection, but the black butter was just to salty and overpowering. Tragaluz also has their own version of Causa, this classic potato dish came with a twist of Spanish escabeche. I loved the crayfish chowder, which was more like an intensified bouillabaisse. And the last savoury course was ravioli filled with slow braised young goat in “nortena style”, it was comfort food with complexity. Dessert was what I am more familiar with, a simple canoli but filled with lucuma, a nutritious fruit high in carotene and all kinds of B Vitamins.
After an eventful day of sightseeing, eating and drinking, plus the jet lag, I was pretty much spent and it was only our first day in Peru! Whilst the others headed to the bar for a nightcap, I could barely keep my eyes open and decided to call it a night.
Until next time.
Belmond Miraflores Park
Av. Malecón de la Reserva, 1035
Miraflores, Lima 18, Peru
Tel: +51 1 610 4000
How to get there – LAN Airlines now operates seven one-stop flights each week from Sydney to Santiago, Chile. LAN also offers non-stop flights between Sydney and Santiago every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday in a codeshare partnership with oneworld partner airline Qantas.
Where to stay – Belmond Miraflores Park Av. Malecón de la Reserva, 1035 Miraflores, Lima 18, Peru
- Make sure you have your vaccination for Hep A & B, Typhoid and Yellow Fever prior to departure.
- Get some US dollars and then exchange it to local currencies when you get to South America.
- Drink Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Camenere, Syrah from Chile; Malbec from Argentina
- Best to get bottled water rather than drink from tap
- To create your own holiday in South America, please visit South America Travel Centre.