Lima City Guide

 

When you Arrive

When you arrive at the Lima Airport, there will be hordes of taxi drivers waiting and they will all continue to harass you until you get into a taxi. It is best if you contact your hostel ahead of time and have them arrange for a driver to pick you up. It will cost you the same amount (40 soles) and will make your life so much easier.  If you do end up not prearranging and grabbing one while you are at the airport, you can probably haggle your way down to a price of 30 soles (10 USD).  When you do this, be sure to NOT give them your bag when they offer. If you do, they will start walking to their car with it, then tell you they want 5 soles more “for parking” or some other similar scam.  I actually had to fight and forcefully grab my bag back from a driver at the Lima airport when I told him I wouldn’t give him the 5 extra soles.  After that happened we hopped in a taxi share with some kids from Madrid who were apparently terrified of the traffic in Lima.

Don’t be like me, just get the prearranged car.

5 Sights to See

  1. Cathedral of Lima
    Located in Plaza de Armas, walk around the square and head inside the cathedral for a beautiful sight.  Don’t forget to peep into the other churches in Lima while you are walking by, there is some truly stunning architecture.
  2. Catacombs (Church of San Francisco)
  3. San Martin Square
    One of the main squares of Lima, this beautiful area is a great place to sit and people watch, or hail down a taxi/tell an Uber to come scoop you up!
  4. Jiron de la Unions
    The main shopping street in the historic section of Lima. Fun to walk down and window show while eating a gelato or another treat!
  5. Kennedy Park
    There are so many cats!! And you can adopt one and bring it home if you like! Or just donate to the cause.  There is also a lot of great artwork inside the park and loads of restaurants nearby.

How to get Around

Uber

The best way to get around in Lima is via Uber.  If you’re unfamiliar with the on-demand taxi app, download it before you head to Lima because it will be a lifesaver.  Uber in Lima is much cheaper than it is in the US (and it’s already cheap), and is less expensive than traditional taxis.  Be careful when you do so though, as the drivers aren’t as vetted as they are in the US.  One of the Ubers that picked us up in Lima had to be HOTWIRED to start, and stalled out at every stop light that we hit.  When we got out there was also nasty gunk on my brand-new boots (ew) and the driver either didn’t know how to get into the airport (seriously?) or he just didn’t want to pay the 5 soles to get into the terminal parking area.  Either way, he dropped us off on the side of the road near the airport and we were forced to walk to our terminal.  Needless to say, we reported him!

Keep in mind there is something over 1 million personal cars in Lima with no updated system, so traffic is horrible.  Expect every taxi ride to take longer than what it says it will.

By Foot

Lima isn't reeeeallly walkable from one neighborhood to the next by foot (you could do it but it would be a lot), but within one neighborhood it is doable.

Bus

As a note, there are buses that you can use to get around, and they are probably in certain situations much faster than car since they have their own lane.  We, however, did not brave them because we felt safer taking Uber, as the busses looked a little sketchy and complex to navigate, though I met plenty of people who did so successfully. 

Where to Stay

Miraflores is by far the best neighborhood to stay in Lima.  A bit far from the historic district, it is safer, and quainter than other neighborhoods, with some beachfront, and great dining options.  All three of the hostels I listed below are good options to stay in this area. I stayed at both the Red Psycho Llama and Healing Dog, and both are low key, good vibe hostels.  Pariwana is a bit more of a social hostel, we stayed at the sister hostel in Cusco, and everyone who stayed at both said the one in Cusco was better, but that they were both fantastic places to stay.

  • Red Psycho Llama Eco Hostel
    • Good vibes, good breakfast
    • cute rooftop bar
    • not very social
    • we had the 4 bed dorm to ourselves for 2 nights
  • Kaclla, The Healing Dog Hostel
    • has an awesome dog mascot that is hairless and so ugly he is cute
    • good vibes
    • good music
    • not very social
    • weird breakfast
    • really cute
  • Pariwana
    • social
    • has sister hostel in Cusco of same name
    • more acessibe than the other 2, but not as cute

What to Eat

I could never be a food blogger because I'm terrible at taking photos of food....how do they do it?!?! Either way the cebiche looks delicious even in this terrible photo!
Cebiche

The best way to explain Cebiche (or ceviche) is that it’s like a soupy version of sushi.  It’s delicious and a must try when you are in Lima. A great place to go in Miraflores, Lima for cebiche is La Mar Cebicheria.  The food was incredible, we ordered the mix Cebiche as a starter, then split a seafood pasta for an entrée.  Very reasonable prices for one of the top restaurants in Lima, and they also had an amazing Pisco Punch (see below) and after 2, I was feeling a buzz.

Pisco Sour

The famous drink of Peru!! A must have while you are in the country, and definitely while enjoying some of Lima’s wild nightlife.  Pisco Sours are strong, but don’t taste it, so basically the perfect drink.  Oh, did I mention they are delicious?

Catch of the day

If you’re a seafood fan, be sure to ask the waiter at the restaurant what the catch of the day is!! Fresh seafood is brought into Lima daily, so you never know what you might get on the menu.

What to Do

Parc Malecón

6 miles of boardwalk through the city of Lima is a great way to spend the afternoon.  Inside this park, there are playgrounds, dog parks, and skate parks.  There is also a park dedicated to love, which looks very similar to Gaudi’s Parc Guell in Barcelona.  The art is a must see, and the views of the ocean are stunning.  You’re sure to see a young Peruvian couple or two in love while you’re there!

Larcomar Mall and Watch the Sunset

This multilayer mall is an interesting place in Lima. There is a bunch of shopping (mostly overpriced), but the cool thing about the mall is that it is built into the side of a cliff overlooking the sea.  There are a few restaurants, and if you are here around sunset, you are sure to have an amazing view.

Get a Surfing Lesson

Walking down along the pier you are sure to be hailed down by Peruvians offering to teach you how to surf.  The waves in Lima are mostly gentle and great for beginners, so it’s not something to fear at all if you’ve never tried it before.  As always do a little bit of research on different companies before you go and general prices, then haggle your way down.

Go to the Beach

Don’t feel like spending money?  Slip on your bikini and walk down to the beach with a bag full of drinks and a towel and spend all day soaking in the Peruvian sun.  Even in May at the start of the Peruvian “winter”, the weather was perfect for us to lay out on the beach, even if we weren’t about to go swimming in the cool Pacific.

Huaca Pucllana

These incredible ruins located directly inside of Lima were largely undiscovered and weren't even a historic site until around the 1980s.  Before then they were dunes in the city (they knew the ruins were there but not to what extent), and people would use them for various things such as motocross racing.  The city finally made it into a historic site after there was a desire to build a highway through these ancient ruins even older than Machu Picchu.  The ruins are very cheap to get into (and literally located right in the middle of Lima), and there is a restaurant right at the site that looks out over the ruins.  We didn't eat there, but rumor on the street is the food is good.  However, we did have quite a few cocktails after our tour, and we never felt more like Incan Divas than that moment.

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Rainbow Mountain

 

High in the Andes, at an altitude of 5200 meters (15,600 feet) lies the mysterious and well-hidden Vinicunca Mountain, commonly referred to in the traveler world as Rainbow Mountain.  There is little online about how to get to this amazing natural wonder, except reading that there is little online about it.  How to get there, food, preparation, why you should go, what to expect, are not things that have been covered extensively online about visiting this crazy place just a 3-hour bus ride from Cusco, so I’m going to give you the lowdown- the good, the bad, and the ugly.

If you haven;'t already and want to, check out my blog on Machu Picchu as well, there's plenty of great advice there for you to prepare on seeing one of the 7 modern world wonders!

If you don’t want to read about my experience and just about how to get there/costs/preparation, go ahead and skip to the bottom…. but I promise the story is a good one and involves a bus catching on fire.

My Experience

I’m just going to give you guys the ~shortened~ version of my experience with Rainbow Mountain, and then give you pointers, because I feel like if I share my experience with you then you’ll be even more prepared than if I just gave you a list of ways to prepare- so here goes.

We booked our Rainbow Mountain tour through our hostel, Pariwana, in Cusco.  The hostel is very reputable, and the cost for the trip was only 100 soles (about $35 USD), so we had assumed they had vetted the tour company, considering plenty of people booked through the hostel daily for this excursion.  At the time of booking, we asked if we could go ahead and purchase horses for the trek, and the lady at the desk responded that we could purchase a horse when we got to the trail, and it would cost around 70 soles ($25 USD) per horse.  A little wary, we took her word and assumed it would all be fine.

We were set to be downstairs ready to go on our adventure just before 3:30 AM, as that was when the bus would take off.  This is not how the day started.  The bus took off from our hostel around 3:15 AM leaving us behind- so I walked up to the reception guy to ask why it had left early and what was going on. One of our friends was on the bus, his name had been called and was messaging me the entire time.  The reception man assured me the bus would be back. I still don’t understand why they needed to make two pit stops at our hostel, but alas, I will just blame that on Peru, there’s probably no good reason.  The bus finally picked us up around 3:45 AM, and we then wandered around Cusco for another good hour and a quarter, stopping at several hostels (some of them twice) and picking up more people.

We finally left Cusco around 5 am after picking up the tour guide from a gas station on the outskirts of town (super weird), and we all attempted to fall asleep on the bus with no heat while the driver played “Despacitos” on the stereo.
We eventually arrived at our breakfast point, which also was an opportunity for us to use the restroom (aka holes in the ground, which we expected, but for some reason smelled like horse poop). At this point, we were running about 45 minutes behind schedule from when we were due to arrive at breakfast.  ‘Breakfast’ consisted of 2 pieces of bread, not enough jam, and instant coffee or tea.  Let’s just say it was not enough to sustain anyone for a 16-kilometer trek, and when we later found out that other tour groups got EGGS with their breakfast, we were not happy campers.

Anyhow, we ate our toast, fighting for the scraps of jelly (literally), and hopped back on the bus to drive another 45 minutes to the start of the trail.  We later found out that the location we started was NOT the normal starting point. The location we started at was an extra hour of walking to the normal drop off point, but the road to get to there was closed off that morning. This new point they dropped us off at was a town with a lean-to and two tents (not a joke).

Our gas station guide then gave us our “hiking prep”.  This “hiking prep” was essentially telling us that we had to hike for 20 minutes over a hill, then we would be able to rent our horses.  Cool.  We can make that.  He also explained briefly what Vinicunca means, and that the hike would take 3 hours to the peak and three hours back (still not sure if this was supposed to include the extra hour of walking time from our new location). The English version of our “hike prep” was about 10 minutes shorter than the Spanish version, so I’m not sure we got all the information we needed.  Oh also “chicos, friends, chicos” was this man’s favorite catch phrase.

YAY, WE FINALLY STARTED THE TREK!! 20 minutes of hiking and we could get horses so that our asses could breathe, instead of struggling for 6 the entire hours.  We get over the hill and there were no horses to be seen.  Not a single horse.  We asked our guide where they were.  We were promised horses. 
“Oh…. chicos…. the horses are on strike because of Mother’s Day.”  Excuse me?

My friend, Hezi, who was hiking with us assumed the guide was joking mentioned that Mother’s Day was yesterday.  He then continued to ask where the horses really were because we wanted to get one as soon as possible.

“No amigos, no horses today, they are on strike.”

HOW CAN HORSES EVEN GO ON STRIKE?!?!  We later found out that he told my other friend, Caitlin, who was behind us, the horses weren’t going to be carrying people today because they were mating (!?!?) …. anyways there were no horses for whatever reason, whether it be mating/Mother’s Day/ unforeseen circumstances.  At this point, we were left with one of two choices, carry on, or turn back.  So, we trucked on.

The hike there wasn’t horrible, the worst part is the fact that you can’t breathe because of the altitude.  Had I been at a sea level, it would have been a very easy hike, but when you are that high up in the air, unless you’ve been adjusted to it for WEEKS, you are going to struggle somewhat.

While we were hiking, we learned that Mt. Kilimanjaro is an elevation of 6000 meters, only 800 more than the peak we would be reaching today. People who hike Mt. Kilimanjaro are REQUIRED to do an 8-day trek leading up to the peak to adjust themselves to the altitude.  At Rainbow Mountain, you are given 6 hours.

The entire time we were trekking (especially since we started hiking over an hour later than the other groups), felt rushed.  I can’t recall a time the guides weren’t yelling at people “Vamos chicos! Vamos!” or “groups of friends, vamos!! Vamos chicos!”.  One guide even told my friend Caitlin “You are young and healthy, you should not be walking so slow!  Walk faster!  Vamos chica!”  When it comes to hiking something like this it’s not a matter of how in-shape you are, it’s a matter of how you adapt to the altitude.  Some people can hang, and others cannot.  It’s literally a matter of natural selection, survival of the fittest, whatever you want to call it, but it’s not pretty.

Finally made it to the top!!

The last 50 meters of the hike are the most challenging.  The mountain goes to a 45-degree incline (if not more) and the air is the thinnest it’s been the whole trek.  When you get to the altitude marker, you’re out of breath, and you finally able to catch your first glimpse of the mountain, 7 stunning colors, layer after layer, stacked against one another like a big huge cake- or onion, depending on what kind of mood you’re in.  You then have another 25 meters before you reach the peak with the best views and the spot for your ever-craved Instagram Photo.

When I finally reached the top I immediately fell to the ground, reaching for some water as it started to snow. Lacking breath and composure, I started to cry.  The day had been exhausting, and as I sat there with snow (and hail) flinging at me on the windy mountain top, I realized why it was so important for me to make this pilgrimage. My body was pushed to limits, and while I might be a little sore the next day, the mental exhaustion was enough to wear me out for weeks to come.  Maybe I’m dramatic (I am) but the importance and significance of seeing that mountain after everything that day, that month, that year, hit me like a wrecking ball.

The longer we stood up there the colder it became and the more it started to snow. We snapped a few of our pictures to prove we had made the ascent, I put on 3 more jackets that I had brought and we started the race back down.

Here’s where things got even crazier.

While we were at a higher altitude the snow remained snow, but as we descended, naturally that snow turned into rain.

#Goalzz

Over half the people on the trail were unprepared for this to happen.  The temperature dropped to below freezing.  We were half running back down the mountain to get out of the cold and rain.  When we finally got to the bus loop (the location we should have been dropped off at that morning) we were informed by ~people~ that our bus wasn’t there, that we were going to have to go back the way we originally came and walk that EXTRA HOUR in the rain because our bus wasn’t going to come here.  Frustrated, we made a run for it.

Trucking through snow, rain, and mud, I caught up with a group of Israeli boys who had been in my group the entire day and I had eaten breakfast with, and we discussed our struggles that we had been having that day.  Then one of their friends who was suffering from altitude sickness passed out, and they had to carry him the rest of the way back to the “town”. They gave him some food, and frustrated at the lack of guide around to help us, we all continued to the shanty town.

At points on this way back, the trail was unclear because it had been washed away by the mud, and there was not a soul in sight.  None of our guides were to be seen or heard of, so we just kept walking. At one point, I fell because I didn’t have a walking stick (I thought I was going to be on a horse) and my hands and body got a nice thick coat of mud on them.
Eventually, when we got to the “town” around 2:15 PM there were about 20 other people hiding in the lean-to, trying to stay out of the rain.  Our bus was supposed to depart at 3:00 PM but was nowhere in sight.  People were standing in the below freezing temperatures, exhausted, soaking wet, with nowhere to go, and not a tour guide or bus in sight.

Notice the snow in my hair?

At this time, the Israeli boys and I went and we pieced together their broken Spanish and my Italian to talk to a local to see if they could give us a ride to anywhere.  The local pretended he didn’t really know what we were saying and mentioned that he had to wait for a truck to come, so sorry, but all of the 25 people standing in the rain were pretty much SOL.

Eventually, I found my friend Hezi, who was in a car with a random Peruvian man trying to keep warm, so I hopped in and explained what had happened.  Nobody could make any phone calls because there was zero reception, and we had already confirmed that our bus wasn’t at the first bus loop, so why wasn’t it here?  Where could it be?  Frustrations were growing, and nobody knew what the answer was.

FINALLY, after 45 minutes of everyone standing in the freezing rain, our bus rolled on up.  My friends Caitlin and Trevor still hadn’t shown up at the location and weren’t on the bus. Even after I yelled at the bus driver to not leave, that the bus wasn’t full and that people had been left behind I was told “We will come back for them” and we took off.  I guess the phrase “Never leave a man behind” isn’t a thing in Peru.

They dropped us off at the food place again for lunch and MIRACULOUSLY Caitlin and Trevor were there.  Somehow everyone I had come with was back in the same place, and that was all that was important.  They had managed to sneak their way onto another bus at the first bus loop and get dropped off at the food location, and miraculously we had found each other.  #Fate.

We ate the food, which took forever to come out and wasn't even enough for everyone who was there.  The food then proceeded to give me and Caitlin both food poisoning for the following week.

After the bus picked up the other stragglers (how they found them is a mystery to me), we got back on the no-heat bus to head home, soaking wet. I jokingly said to Caitlin “The only thing that could make this day more exciting is if the bus were to break down.” Apparently, I spoke too soon.

At 4:45 PM, ten minutes down the road from where we just were, we all started to smell a burning noise.  We then heard a pop, and the guide says something about a fire.  The bus stopped.  It appears the bus has caught on fire.  We guess It’s OK though…nobody has to get off.  Two Spanish girls who were on the trek with us get off the bus and hail down a produce truck that is driving by.  They bargain for a minute, then hop in the back and are off.

Finally, after using a plastic bag, a blanket, and a pocket knife to fix whatever the fire problem was, we are back on the road.  At some point, we pick up 3 random Peruvians and they catch rides with us.  The headlight isn’t working and night is descending upon us as we are winding on narrow mountain passes. The headlight breaks again.

The guy fixes it (again) there is a lot of arguing with me and my friends against the tour guide, since we have no idea what is going on and we are supposed to be back in Cusco in an hour, and are still most likely more than 3 hours away.

We dropped off one of the Peruvian women in her village and I hopped out to pee on the side of the road (because who can hold it and these guys aren’t stopping unless there’s a fire) The entire time being yelled at by the guide while peeing.  It seems we are finally able to get a straight path home.

When we finally arrive back in Cusco the driver tells us that he is not going to be dropping us off at our hostels as we had thought, but that they will be dropping us off in Plaza de Armas.  We didn’t know this when we signed up for the tour, and would have been OK had we not returned to Cusco 3 hours late.  It then turns out we aren’t even dropped off in Plaza de Armas, but in the middle of the road a couple of blocks away.

We finally made it back to our hostel, mentally and physically exhausted, took a lukewarm shower and passed out within 15 minutes.

The following day, a woman from the hostel knocked on our door around 9 am…” Yes…uhm, Ms. Julia….we have a refund for you and Ms. Caitlin downstairs for your troubles yesterday.”

And like that, I have a great story, and was reimbursed for the struggles, but also given the view of a lifetime.  I’ll take it as a win.

There were loads of Alpacas and Llamas on the trail when we went.

What You Will Need

  • Water Bladder Backpack
  • Extra Bottle of Water
    • There are no trashcans on the trail (unless you count the ones in the Port-a-Potties) so bring your reusable water bottle so you aren’t just carrying trash.
  • A bottle of Gatorade
    • Those electrolytes saved my life
  • SNACKS
    • Like I said…breakfast was two pieces of bread
    • Amongst these bring CACAO….I had leaves (which were disgusting) but honestly, the Cacao candy helped my altitude illness so much…I sucked on these babies the entire ascent up.
  • Camera
  • Extra Pair of Socks
    • In case you get caught in the rain/hail/snow like we did
  • Sunglasses
    • You might not need them at certain points, but they came in handy
  • Sunblock
    • As long as it isn’t snowing, you are very high in the thin air and will get sunburnt. Just ask my friend, Felix.
  • Wet Wipes/Tissues
    • Because toilets are sparse, and if they do exist they are a hole in the ground. You’re going to want to wipe somehow.
  • Hand Sanitizer/Wet Wipes
    • Again, for said bodily functions above.
    • I also fell and slipped in the mud, and my hands and jacket were coated with muck and who knows what else. I was able to use the wet wipes to get it mostly off my hands and jacket and was so grateful I had this on me!! Seriously invaluable!
  • Small Plastic Bag
    • For wet wipe trash, snack trash, other trash…ya never know
I have a ski jacket and backpack attached to my backpack here.

What to Wear

It’s cold in the morning, hot on the hike up, and in my case, snowing on the way back down.

  • Waterproof pants/leggings
    • I actually wore 2 pairs of leggings, and I’m glad I did, but that’s just me.
  • Dry Fit Long Sleeve Shirt
  • Dry Fit Pullover
  • Some Sort of Sweater
    • (I chose my new alpaca sweater and felt blessed for this decision)
  • Waterproof/Snowproof Jacket
    • You are going to want a hood, in case you get caught in the rain!
  • Long Socks
  • Hiking Boots
  • Headband/Hat
    • Not necessary, but my ears were very grateful
  • Scarf
    • Again, not necessary, but when that rain started coming down it kept my neck and face so warm, and honestly would have probably gotten sick without it.

 

What to Expect & Key Tips and Takeaways

Okay so here is pretty much the shortened condensed version of my tale, if everything had gone according to plan.  Here you can find the main takeaways for an excursion to Rainbow Mountain.

  • Wait to book your tour until you are in Cusco, as with the case with Machu Picchu, often times you can haggle your way down from a listed price.  Do your research on what company you will be traveling with first!! Then go around town and bargain with people.  It helps if you know Spanish, if not, English will work fine.
  • Be prepared to leave Cusco around 3:30 AM and arrive at the Rainbow Mountain trail around 8 AM.
  • There will not be enough food, so you will need to bring snacks to sustain yourselves
  • You will feel the altitude- even if you live in a higher elevation. Unless you are consistently at 1500 ft (5200 meters) you WILL feel the effects of the altitude…be prepared for this and plan wisely!! Make sure you are pacing yourself, taking slow, steady steps, drinking lots of water, and using whatever means of Cacao you have.
  • The trek is long, but not particularly cumbersome except for the very beginning and the very end. The rest is steady and winding, though still a challenge due to the altitude.
  • The last 25 meters or so are pretty terrifying, especially if you aren’t the biggest fan of heights. You need to climb the to the peak of the next mountain to be able to properly see the colors and display of Rainbow Mountain, and when it is windy (and snowing), it can be a bit offsetting. Focus on the task at hand and push through to the top, because that view is so worth it.
  • Speaking of making it to the top, they will rush you to get to the top by or before noon because by 12:30 they start sweeping people from the top of the mountain to start walking back. If you feel yourself falling behind, try and pick up the pace, or stand your ground and tell the guides yelling “Vamos, chicos” to suck it.
  • The walk back will feel amazingly more easy than the way there, and the views are just as stunning. Make sure to take loads of photos!
  • Even though you feel miserable, remember to enjoy your time.
  • Reapply Sunblock!
  • THERE WILL BE LOADS OF LLAMAS AND ALPACAS- or at least there were when I went!
  • There are horses (as long as they aren’t on strike) to rent in case you don’t want to walk the trail. Let me tell you THIS TRAIL IS NOT EASY.  At a normal altitude, sure, it’s fine…but at this high of an elevation, it is rough.  If you are hesitant at all on the hiking, I would recommend a horse.  You can also continue to purchase them (for dwindling prices) as the trail goes on.  If the horses are on strike that day and you planned on riding one, you’re pretty much SOL and are making the pilgrimage on foot, or turning back and waiting six hours in a lean-to.
  • Make sure your entrance ticket is included in your Tour Price when you book. If it isn’t, you will need to have 18 soles ($9 USD) ready to pay at the gate, which is halfway down the trail.

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