Generally when we travel by bus we choose the company based on price and schedule (which bus is leaving within 20 minutes of us arriving at the bus station). Huaraz, however doesn’t have a central bus station so we had to actually walk to the different company headquarters to find a bus that would take us to Lima. After getting suggestions from a few ex-pat locals in a cafe, we decided to splurge and go with one of the upscale bus companies, Cruz del Sol. This is not to say that any of our bus trips have been bad. After Kevin’s 2 1/2 years in Nicaragua with the Peace Corps, any bus that has a full seat for each person, no vegetables, chickens, or small children sitting on your lap, and at least a partially functional suspension system is a luxury. On this trip, we have found that it is much better to set the bar low and be surprised by the plush conditions we find around us. Cruz del Sol exceeded our expectations. Our tickets were a bit on the pricey side at $16 per person, but worth every cent. We got the front seats on the second level of the bus, meaning we had stunning views of the mountain sides as we headed to Lima. Cruz del Sol provided so many extra touches such as blankets, pillows, food and drink service (they even had a vegetarian option), movies in English and Spanish, and a game of BINGO.
Our bus ride took around 8 hours with at least an hour of it just trying to slowly move through Lima traffic from the north side of the city to the center. When we finally made it to central Lima we took a short taxi ride to Miraflores where we would stay for the first couple nights. After weeks of staying in low budget hostals we decided to treat ourselves to a couple nights of comfortable beds, hot water, good water pressure, and speedy wifi. Luckily, since both of us have been in the working world and had jobs that required some traveling we have built up hotel points that we can use to splurge every once in a while. Two nights using Kevin’s Marriott points made us remember what it is like to travel when you aren’t trying to make your budget stretch over 7-8 months.
The Miraflores neighborhood is the tourist center of Lima. You can find every high end hotel, department store, and restaurant. We had a bit of sticker shock after 2 1/2 months of traveling. Luckily one of our favorite activities was walking and it was an economical way to see large areas of the city. We spent quite a bit of time walking up and down the trail along the cliffs above the Pacific Ocean. There were a variety of parks, statues, tennis clubs, and workout equipment along the way. The gentle wind also made it a great place to paraglide. We decided not to try our wings while in Lima because of the high prices and that we knew we would have many more opportunities during our travels. However, it was still fun to watch tourist and locals alike sore over the ocean, beach, and nearby buildings.
Our favorite attraction in Miraflores was the cat park. We realize cat cafes have been popular in Japan for years and are just starting to make an appearance in metropoitan parts of the US, but Lima has a slightly different take on the same theme. Hundreds of cats live in John F. Kennedy park. Volunteers bring them food on a daily basis and provide medical care. As a visitor all you have to do is sit down, provide a lap, and you will have 1 or 2 cats that climb on up for a little love.
After a couple nights in Miraflores we decided it was time to switch neighborhoods. We found an AirB&B apartment in the neighborhood of San Miguel, a short distance north of Miraflores. We prefered the less touristy feel of our new surroundings. Originally we had planned to head to Nazca for a night to see the Nazca lines. After a bit of research we realized that a 6-7 hour bus ride in both direction, just to take a 45 minute plane ride over the lines, combined with Kevin’s propensity to get motion sick in small vehicles that are swooping or rocking side to side, didn’t seem worth it. We will put it on the ever-growing list of things to do when we come back to South America.
Lisa’s sister, Rebecca, has a good friend, Marta, whom she knew from her time at Amnesty International in London. Marta, originally from Sardinia, has been living in Lima for the past couple years working with a couple different non-profit organizations. Marta proved to be an excellent tour guide and took us all around the Miraflores and a bohemian neighborhood called Barranco. When we met up Marta asked us if we were okay walking through the neighborhoods… she had no idea what she was getting herself into. She met us at our apartment around 1 pm and we didn’t end up getting back to our apartment until close to 11 pm.
The next day our friend Caroll arrived from San Francisco to travel with us for a few weeks and hike the Inca Trail. Caroll’s parents were a little bit concerned about her traveling by herself to a distant country where she was not completely fluent in the local language. We promised her (and her family) that we would be at the airport to pick her up as she arrived and take care of her until we put her in a taxi to head back to the airport at the end of her trip. Caroll arrived without incident to Lima, albeit slightly exhausted from her overnight flight.
We discussed what to do on Caroll’s first day in Lima, and not surprisingly decided to spend it walking around town. We wandered through San Miguel to Miraflores, and eventually to the Pre-Incan ruins of Huaca Pucllana which flourished between 200 AD and 700 AD. The ruins were burried under a mountain of dirt and debris in the middle of the Miraflores neighborhood and were only discovered in the mid 20th century and excavation of the site continues to this day. After several hours of walking we decided to take a taxi back to the apartment and let Caroll catch up on some sleep.
Our last day in Lima was spent wandering around central Lima in the morning and in the afternoon we met up with Marta again. We had planned to visit San Francisco church and the catacombs below it, but by the time we got there we only had a few minutes before it closed. We raced to the church and luckily were admitted 5 minutes prior to closing. The ticket vendor rushed us along to catch up with the last tour of the day that was already in progress. The catacombs contain an impressive number of bones (mainly skulls and femurs) from the 25,000 people who were buried there prior to 1808.
The highlight of our last day in Lima was going to the Circuito Magico del Agua (the Magic Water Circuit) which is a collection of fountains shooting water into the air, some choreographed to music and light. We had read a few reviews that it was a fun place to visit, but the reality far exceeded our expectations. The four of us reverted back to our childhood days and delighted in walking under fountains projecting water in large arches, jumping off ledges to pose for photos, and being impressed by the way the light played on the water.
The next stop on our trip is a few days in Cusco to explore the city and hopefully acclimatize to the altitude so that we are not suffering on our upcoming hike to Machu Picchu.