Monday, 22 March 2010

The other Centre-Ville

According to the authorities in Lima - and to most people and to guide books - the touristic part of the city is Miraflores. It has a big mall, international shopping brands, McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut, western looking bars and clubs. It is a very beautiful place and it has everything that we, as foreigners, want.  However I don't think the term "touristic"applies to this neighborhood - it barely has any historical sites. Being in Miraflores is like being in a bubble far from representing the real Lima.

So being the adventurous guy that I am, I decided to go to the...City Center! I know, I'm such an explorer. It's weird that central Lima isn't necessarily what people visit first, everybody seems to rush to Miraflores, as if we had never seen a Burger King before. 

Lima's center is known to be dangerous, dodgy and a no-go area. Not only the Rough Guide or Lonely Planet say so, but people from Miraflores told me to be careful, not to take my camera, sunglasses, money and especially to go only in the morning and leave by 14h maximum.

Plaza de Armas, Main Square

As usual, I didn't listen to people - I took my bag, my camera, my cash, sunglasses and got there at 18h - I have a blog to keep up, things have to happen to me so that I can write about them.

And it worked, things did happen to me. As I was waiting for my friend to arrive, I guy approached me asking for money rather aggressively. I kindly refused but didn't notice that he wasn't asking, he was ordering me. So he took out his knife and stabbed me in the stomach in the middle of the main square, took my wallet and ran away. As I was lying down on the floor severely bleeding, other scumbags came and stole the rest of my stuff. Nobody bothered to stop to help me, not even the police. Other people came closer to see how I was but as soon as they saw I was a tourist, they started kicking me on my wound, some even through stones at me. And I died, and then I went through a tunnel, and...oh wait, I went too far - I got confused in the many possible scenarios I have been told could happen to me if I went there by night. 

So of course NOTHING happened to me. Central Lima is safe and has been so for the past few years, but nobody knows about this and people still think it's dangerous. Sure one shouldn't walk with jewelry or other explicit expensive items, but it's the same in many European cities. 

It turns out that the only danger that exists in central Lima is that it is: ppp...pp...oo....ppoooor. Yes, it is the first city center I see being cheap, local, big brand-less, not fancy and unglamorous. No Gucci, no Zara, no Apple store, nothing. Just street shops and local average people living normally. 

When I saw that wave of hideous shirts walking towards me, I realised why the sophisticated people of Miraflores don't go there. It's not really dangerous, it is just painful for their eyes. The difference between the two neighborhoods, the two populations and the two ways of life is so obvious that Mirafloressians have yet to invent a poor-people-repelent.

So to get back to Lima's city center. It is a lovely and colourful neighborhood.

It is there that you will see the real Lima and the real people from Lima. No show-off or western-wannabies - in the center even the dogs are proud of their cultural heritage.

As every other central area, the most corrupt buildings in the country have set their offices in the most beautiful buildings.

The Presidential palace

The Congress

There are many museums, art galleries and beautiful wooden balconies on most buildings. Many theories exist as to why these balconies got more success in Lima than other Latin American cities. My favourite story is because people LOVED to gossip, so they built more of these balconies so they could sit "outside" and see what the neighbors were doing without being spotted. 

Overall, it may not be the nicest center in the world, but for once it is a place that illustrates the real atmosphere and spirit of the city it represents. It is not a place where only exclusive people can afford meals, shops or homes - unlike Beirut's Solidère - it is the historical center and the actual heart of Lima.

Oh my God what happened to me? I became one of them, I had fun in a non-chic environment. I need to go spend some money recklessly and show off!  


  1. I highly recommend you visit the Constitution Museum, which is in an Annex to the Congress. It helps you understand what when wrong in Peru (and many other Latin American countries). Starting with a simple, slim, easy to understand constitution in the early 1800's, the constitution has been amended and expanded over the year, as new laws are added. Now, it is thicker than the Old and New Testament combined, and equally impossible to understand.

  2. I saw some ppp...pp...oo....ppoooor people in an area of Frankfurt today... with no teeth as they had rotted, fabulous outfits is many shades of colourlessness and would you believe idly gossiping.... well of course poor or rich canb do that... I just wished I would have had my camera, you would have been so proud of me.... and I could have shared with your many fans... Hugs from Germany....

  3. For a moment I beleived your story :) I didn't know you could still blog from the other side!

  4. But you know this could be compared to Lebanon too... Same thing you got those dirty and poor places, and on the other hand you got the fancy places, but both of them are kind of safe.

    But you know, after looking at the pics, Lima's center is still cleaner than Beirut :P