Maybe we should go to Lima….
You too may have that thought if you make a beeline to Barranco when you land in Lima. Barranco is in Lima, actually. It feels a world apart and immediately recognizable to global travelers, and especially snowbirds from the North, as a worthy addition to the “places we could live for a while” list.
Though the Peruvians we met and chatted up who had logged significant time in the USA or still live there were concerned that we looked like Gringo targets, it was difficult to muster the same high anxieties about crime that travel in many Latin American cities warrants. “Don’t show your expensive camera”, a Peruvian New Yorker warned, and also showed how she made a point of carrying plastic luggage, i.e. a shopping bag in lieu of a purse. Another, a one-time Californian and Peru returnee, was eager to give his tips on the best prepared foods in the Metro supermarket for a self-catered dinner, but similarly lamented that we had to watch out for his countrymen.
Perhaps “famous last words”, but our eyes told us otherwise.
As we walked along the road overlooking the Pacific Ocean that rings the west side of the district, smiles came easily and often from the many joggers with whom we shared the walkways. It seemed to be one long dog park, with neighbors chatting up neighbors while their pooches sniffed the news of their canine equivalents.
Not threatening men, but young handsome fathers tending to their little children with great care seemed to be everywhere.
Meandering from this high rent district towards the town center (Parque Municipal) and radiating beyond in several directions, the charm of colonial mansions mixed with colorful murals gives a cheeriness that breaks the grey skies reminding of Bay Area winters. Urbanites who suffer graffiti in their home turf might also find the graffiti here more on a continuum with the mural art, somehow feeling less antisocial.
True, there is that “other side of town” because there is one everywhere – but it takes some serious long walking to run into it.
On your Barranco meander you feel its history as the font of its charm. First, there are the colonial mansions lining blocks on main streets and peppering others. These were what drew the wealthy of Lima here for their summer getaways. In the mid-20th century though, a new dynamic took over when poets and artists made Barranco their home and gave it the Bohemian stamp that is obviously nurtured by private and public sectors to this day. Peek into restaurants and you see more than the usual share of sculpture and paintings. You’ll find many art and artisan galleries too, which may be more apparent if your visit similarly coincides with La Noche De Los Museos, a bi-yearly Barranco-wide festival when its three major art museums give free night time admission and an assortment of entertainment on their grounds. Meanwhile nearby galleries open their doors wide for arts-oriented visitors who come to Barranco for the festivities. At the same time, garage bands leaning towards blues rhythms take the stage in the town square park, with cotton candy sellers and other hawkers adding to the town party feel.
The three art museums that are the center of this museum celebration—Museo Pedro de Osma, MATE/Museo de Mario Testino, and Museo de Arte Contemporáneo – Lima—felt right-sized for a foreigner trying to take a slow drink of Peruvian culture, easing into a tour rather than taking it on like a speed dating event. You can buy a discount ticket to all three and easily take them in during one day without getting museum feet or other feelings of museum overload. (Click names of museums in prior sentence to read the full reviews.) You walk away from Museo Pedro de Osma with a tidbit of Inka vs. Colonial history made more vivid by art. When you speak to the many of Barranco who tout MATE with hometown boy pride you look at Testino’s photography with new eyes. If you know the uneven quality of most city’s contemporary art museums, you’ll find this one familiar, but with the decisions on what made it into the collections especially intriguing. (E.G. When we visited, Native Americans in Rapid City, South Dakota were an exhibit focus.)
Feeling the Barranco vibe may be easier on weekends. When you go to Canta Rana, the most popular ceviche restaurant of Barranca, on a Saturday, you see more locals than tourists. It doesn’t feel like a place to see and be seen. Rather, it seems like a place where old friends are catching up over good food, while some just walk in with intent to give the friends they spot a warm kiss and then go about their day. And if you too know the joys of being a wedding crasher while traveling, the Church of San Francisco de Asis by Barranca’s municipal center doesn’t disappoint. A Saturday night wedding begins with the bride and her family posing with each of the guests for a photo portrait, making your camera and gawking at the great variety of local visages less obtrusive.
People watching really gets lucky when you catch a religious parade on an early Sunday morning. No, it’s not gunfire. Fireworks announce the start of the festivities, which gathered the faithful, most purple clad, taking turns carrying a massive heavy seeming altar at the center of the procession. In its center were elaborately framed portraits of Jesus on one side and Mary on the other, flanked by tall candles. Flower bouquets were rotated on and off the floating altar as were the float bearers.
Meanwhile musicians – tuba, clarinet, sax, trumpet drums, cymbals, more, and some with music clipped to their back for their fellow band member marching behind them- had a long playlist. Women with white lace head shawls carrying incense burners and men solemnly chanted prayers in unison. Hawkers were selling holy goods and trinkets that included the tagline “Cuadrillo del Paleo”, but at the time of this writing it was still unclear what the specific focus was for the celebration. A car horn blasted throughout the festivities but nobody paid mind. Some were weeping and collapsing with emotion, others were wide-smiling as if at a party. That there is no shortage of deeply faithful in Barranco is abundantly clear, though by 10 a.m. all had scattered, the purple banners from the front of the cathedral removed.
If Peruvian cuisine is one of the things that put a Peru tour towards the top of your bucket list know that you will find many restaurants and bars that will sate your appetites. You’ll see signs and menus aplenty for places specializing in both sushi and ceviche, for example. At “73”, a recommended restaurant that finds a spot on the free hotel maps, you realize that you have hit the artsy and yuppie watering hole, though they may be more fond of juice while you are nursing your first Pisco Sour.
You’ll notice trendy bars that seem to have standing only crowds as soon as their doors open, serving pisco variants and more. THE restaurants that have put Lima on the international gourmet map are more prevalent in other parts of the city—a taxi cab ride away.
Food-wise, the cheap eats scene is a bit of a surprise. First, for any American cheap eats diva or divo, it will strike you that their cheap eats aren’t necessarily that cheap. A Chicagoan, for example, can get the family an entire roasted chicken, yucca, fries and other sides for under US$12 or find Chicken Biryani at a Pakistani-owned take-out place for US$4+ in serving sizes that last several days. The ubiquitous Chinese take-out places in Barranco and beyond seem to be the equivalent of America’s cheap falafel joints, but with price tags that are double or triple the size and likely a LOT more msg. Here a roasted chicken with no sides seemed to cost S50 in many places, or about $16 US at the time of this writing. On the other hand, there are a lot of tantalizing street food options that Americans usually don’t stumble upon – from quinoa/sweet potato and nut wraps, to overstuffed arepe stands, homemade tamales from a basket, and lomo saltido (a sort of pepper steak) and other traditional fare served in no décor fast food stands. Fusion Italian/Peruvian and Vietnamese dishes at the Chifa joints seems popular, but not with magnet appeal to this writer/photographer team.
The biggest caution about Barranco is to get there sooner than later. Everywhere you look, in every corner of town, you will see new construction. The sidewalks are being re-done near MATE and Museo Pedro de Osma in decorative patterns. You’ll walk past more barely there dilapidated mansions than you can keep track of, almost all of which are getting serious re-hab work done. There are already hotels and restaurants at every price point. Many of the apartments overlooking the ocean seemed to be relatively new construction and with lots of for lease signs. Barranco seems poised to cash in on its charm.
Some websites you might want to check when planning a Barranco stay –