How to Survive Lima (Actually)
March 18, 2019
by Abigail Zantingh
It was now or never. After 2 days holed up in my tiny Airbnb apartment reading about how utterly dangerous it was to even take out your phone in public view and fighting with myself over how safe it was to step outside, I decided: go hard or go home.
About 2 hours later, I felt rather naïve for so easily believing the horror stories and being so worried about Peru. Almost 4 months later, I can tell you a bit more about Lima: the good, the bad, and the crazy beautiful. If you were anything like me, have no fear. You can survive and thrive, my friends.
You can hop in a taxi and try out that epic Spanish from your high school days, live the UberBlack life, or take a bus. If all else fails, get in that exercise and walk around. This is by far my favorite option in any city. How else do you find that perfect café or stumble upon the best empanada?
They are everywhere. For street taxis, you will need some Spanish. If you do not know where you are going, or only know the general area, use a landmark. If you need to get to Jose Larco, for example, say “Parque Kennedy” and just walk a few minutes. Or, if you do know, jump in a cab and see where the tires roll.
Never get in the taxi until you have settled on a price, and don’t be afraid to haggle a bit. Street taxis also have a reputation for some robberies, so be cautious, but I’ve never had a problem.
Sign up with a nice profile and start riding! Keep in mind this is the most expensive option, but it is convenient and safe (especially late at night). Sometimes, you can’t beat that.
Buses and Public Transport
Buses in Lima are independently owned. They will show up at bus stops or along certain streets, but they all go to different places and may not take the same routes every day. Using the bus is very cheap (from 1 to 2.5 sol, equivalent to 75 cents US and $1 CAD maximum), but you will need to know the general area you want to go, or even a larger road close to your location. However, the best stories come from hopping on public transport, no?
Caution for buses: Wear your backpack on your front or securely hold your purse in front of you to avoid theft. But have no fear: the buses are a great experience!
The train system has 2 lines that are fairly straight forward. Make sure you buy a card first (typically in a line-up outside the entrance to the trains). The trains are nice and clean and modern. It is 5/ sol for the card and 1.50/sol for any trip, no matter how far you are going. This is a great option for longer distances, however, the districts the train runs to and from may be places you would never go to. I would recommend knowing where you are going before taking a train, as the destinations can be more dangerous.
Peru is known for food. Whether it is one of the 300 varieties of potatoes, ceviche, or aji de gallina, you’re going to eat your way to love.
Lima has an interesting economic situation, but you can eat in between real local style and a total gringo. There are lots of beautiful restaurants, some with pricier menus that have dishes at 50 sol ($15 US or $20 CAD), and sometimes it’s just a Starbucks morning.
Lima Local (Peruvian Set Menus)
This is where you need to find the gems and have a lot of fun with it! This is one of my utmost favorite ways to eat in Lima. In Peru, the locals live with set menus. This means you get an appetizer and a main dish. Lunch is the main meal of the day here. Sometimes these set menus are set in the oddest places and some are on main streets. Some are vegetarian! Some come with a drink as well, and all for a whole 12 sol ($3.60 US or $4.80 CAD).
#1: The salad is not disinfected here, and I have known friends to get sick eating the lettuce at set menus. Ask beforehand if you are concerned.
#2: Bear in mind that some dishes are unique to Peru and the names will not translate. Remember these three words: pollo=chicken, carne=beef, and pescado=fish.
Here are some fun and important facts to help you ease the mind and ease into the glorious Lima life.
Miraflores is your touristy, safe, and English-speaking district. The Malecon, a long stretch of 6 kilometers up on the cliffs overlooking the ocean, showcases the coast. The famous Parque Del Amor and other iconic places make this place seem almost unreal.
Barranco is your bohemian and hip district that borders Miraflores. It has a bigger party scene, but it also has murals, archaic architecture and a huge dollop of charm.
Surco/Surquillo: More family orientated, but once you leave Miraflores/Barranco, the English level goes way down. Be more on guard in these areas, but honestly, if you are not flashing your phone or wealth, I have lived in these areas and loved it.
Districts bordering further outwards (San Borja, San Miguel, La Molina, etc.): Use more caution. I have learned while in Peru that the further you go (even 6 or 8 km) can really increase your transportation fees, but each district has its own charms. La Molina is slightly more upscale and around a mountain, whereas San Borja is a quaint little place with some stellar parks!
Callao: Gangs rule these areas. Be extremely cautious if in this area. The airport is here, but I would not recommend it for any other reason. On the other hand, it gives you a good set of eyes into how the Peruvian people really live, but even my Peruvian friends don’t go to Callao.
My purse was stolen last week 2 days after my friend had her phone stolen, and the next day I ended up running after another Lima traveler as her purse had been taken in a taxi. It happens here. The people who steal are very good at it. Never take your eyes off your things, and if you can, never even take your purse off (I recommend side satchels).
But Lima is not waiting to attack you. Thousands of people live their lives daily in the sunshine; just try to be cautious with your phone and your bag.
For clarity: Lima is not crazy dangerous. Just be cautious! Do not let blogs and videos and TV scare you out of living. Walk with your back straight and head into the sunset!
Go with it!
I was stranded at 3 AM in the street, but I’ve also met people and ended up on awesome adventures that ended with me posing with the military. I’ve gotten free drinks multiple times at Starbucks just for chatting in Spanish, had heart-to-hearts on the street with the Peruvian people, chatted for an hour with my Uber driver about his family, and been to far out of the way places, including orphanages, to see glimpses into Lima.
It’s beautiful, it’s sometimes difficult, and it’s gloriously amazing.
Leave a Comment...
March 22, 2019
This is amazing Abigail! It sounds like you are having a wonderful time and learning so much. Stay safe. We miss you!
April 9, 2019
This article is fantastic!! My beautiful sister is so adventurous and amazing!!! Keep it up lady!