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Holiday Guides for South America - Peru

Lima Holiday

The swarming streets of Lima are not for those who like their cities clean and groomed but the more adventurous holiday souls who brave the smog and noise will find...

The swarming streets of Lima are not for those who like their cities clean and groomed but the more adventurous holiday souls who brave the smog and noise will find first class museums to appease the inquisitive and a thriving café culture scene for those who just want to laze.

The city started off life in the mid 1500s as the 'City of the Kings', serving as the capital of a Spanish viceroyalty which included Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile. During its heyday, it was renowned as a place for trade with elegant mansions lining spacious boulevards. But sadly the city went downhill and the gap between rich and poor now too obvious as the well-off swan round in Cadillacs whilst the majority of limeños scrape by in squalid conditions.

But despite the omnipresent signs of poverty, the city is as vibrant as any in South America and the people have lost none of their characteristic friendliness.

In the colonial centre, the Plaza San Martín is packed with buskers and performance artists as well as those determined to share their political beliefs with anyone who cares to listen. The square has been a site for political rallies for over a century and even today can still attract crowds of angry workers and riot police.

But when the bustle of street life gets too much, head to the Museo de Oro del Peru. Those with a penchant for all things bling can head to the massive Gold museum where thousands of gold items from ear plugs to decorative jewellery are on proud display. But if military history is more your thing then head upstairs to the renowned Arms Museum to admire one of the best firearms collections in the world.

As a Catholic country, Lima is awash with churches but the most impressive is the Iglesia de La Merced with its colonial façade. Stand and marvel at as hundreds of people kiss the silver staff of the Cross of the Venerable Padre Urraca every hour.

For a taste of cloistered life, head to the San Francisco Monastery with its impressive collection of books and paintings by Rubens, Jordaens and Van Dyck. A forty minute tour will whisk you through its interior and down into the catacombs containing the bones of some seventy thousand people.

And if that's whetted your appetite for the macabre then a visit to the Museo de La Inquisición should go down nicely. The building served as the headquarters for the Inquisition from 1570 to 1820 and still contains the original tribunal rooms as well as the dungeons and torture chambers.

If you want to splash out on a memorable meal, head to the Las Brujas de Cachiche and feast your tastebuds on a range of pre-Colombian meals made using traditional ingredients in recipes dating from 1,000 years ago.

And if the cravings for a Chinese takeaway prove too much then head to Chinatown in the centre of the city - it's normally packed with local doing a bit of shopping in the colourful central market but just make sure the pickpockets don't make off with your passport. Bargain-hunters can also browse the market around Plaza Dos de Mayo.

At night, attune your ears to the musical melodies salsa and Peruvian black music. For a clear pick of the best on offer, head out on a Friday or Saturday night to catch a folk group peñas or test your endurance at the salsadromos - clubs dedicated to all night salsa and other Latin beat dancing. Most of the best clubs are out towards San Isidro and Miraflores but pick up a copy of El Comercio for the latest information about bars and events.

Lima may not have the immediate appeal of other capital cities within South America but those prepared to invest a little time and energy in getting to know it will find it a real eye-opener into all things Peruvian.