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The well-established cliché is to call Lima a city of contradictions, but it’s difficult to get beyond that description. Here you’ll encounter grinding poverty and conspicuous wealth in abundance. The hardships of the poor in this sprawling metropolis of 8.2 million inhabitants are all too evident in the lives of those struggling to get by in the crowded streets and frantic bus lanes.
The rubbish-strewn districts between airport and city and, even more so, the shanty towns on the outskirts emphasize the vast divisions within society. Most visitors, though, have the option of heading for Miraflores, San Isidro or Barranco, where smart restaurants and elegant hotels rub shoulders with pre-Inca pyramids, and neat parks and the cliff-top Larcomar shopping centre overlook the ocean.
Lima’s image as a place to avoid or quickly pass through is enhanced by the thick grey blanket of cloud that descends in May and hangs around for the next seven months. Wait until the blanket is pulled aside in November to reveal bright blue skies and suddenly all Limeños descend on the city’s popular coastal resorts. Weekends then become a raucous mix of sun, sea, salsa and ceviche. Lima can also entertain, excite and inform. It boasts some of the finest historical monuments and museums in the country.
The colonial centre, with its grand Plaza de Armas, fine churches and beautiful wooden balconies, is one of Peru’s 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and strenuous efforts are being made to refurbish the historical districts. The city’s cuisine has earned it the title ‘Gastronomic Capital of the Americas’ and the bars, discos and peñas of Barranco and Miraflores ring to the sounds of everything from techno to traditional music. Scratch beneath that coating of grime and decay and you’ll find one of the most vibrant and hospitable cities anywhere.