When I visited Lima as a child from my hometown of Tacna, located just to the south, it was my first encounter with a true metropolis—an energetic cityscape whose rich history could be felt on almost every corner. I’m a New Yorker now, but every year I make the 10-hour flight back to the city where I spent most of my youth. And each time I return, I’m surprised by how this urban landscape continues to change, while at the same time remaining committed to its past. There are classic centuries-old hotels still standing and new ones sprouting up in stately buildings, innovative restaurants with cutting-edge chefs, and jewelry and clothing boutiques merging traditional materials with modern techniques. I keep a list of my favorite spots in the city, which you’ll find on the following pages—they’ll lead you from the posh San Isidro neighborhood to bohemian Barranco.
My father used to take me to the 1927 Country Club, where France’s former president Charles de Gaulle once spent the night. The colonial-style building has been converted into the 83-room Country Club Lima Hotel (doubles from $440, including breakfast), filled with Peruvian art from Lima’s Museo Pedro de Osma, brocade-covered chairs, gilt mirrors, and mahogany armoires. Along the nearby malecón (boardwalk), the oceanside Miraflores Park Hotel (doubles from $544) has one of the city’s best rooftop infinity pools and panoramic views of the Pacific from the private in-room balconies. The 33-year-old Miraflores Cesar’s Hotel was the place to stay in its heyday, but a much-needed makeover transformed it into the more modern Casa Andina Private Collection Miraflores (doubles from $219). Despite its new look—bold artwork; a palm-fringed indoor pool—the hotel hasn’t completely done away with tradition: Wood-beam ceilngs and Peruvian ceramics decorate the rooms, and you can still hear boleros in the lobby lounge.
Over the years I’ve had my most memorable meals at the intimate, 15-table Rafael Restaurant (dinner for two $55), housed in a 1940’s mansion. Don’t let the traditional atmosphere here fool you: The Asian- and Mediterranean-inflected Peruvian dishes, such as lomo saltado made with rice vinegar and pisco, are exquisitely prepared by the chef-owner Rafael Osterling Letts.When I want to taste Lima’s most daring culinary offerings, I head to Astrid y Gastón (dinner for two $75), in a rambling villa in Miraflores. Lima-born chef Gastón Acurio’s menu is full of surprises: a “shot” of sea urchin emulsion mixed with cappuccino; spicy rabbit spring rolls. Plus, it has the city’s best selection of Latin American wines (try the Uruguayan Pisano Tannat). You can’t come to Lima without sampling Peru’s most famous dish—ceviche. And La Mar Cebichería (dinner for two $35) is the best place to try it. The bamboo-roof restaurant is a hot spot for Lima’s beautiful people and doesn’t take reservations. But it’s worth the wait for the house specialties, such as tuna, sesame, and tamarind, or sea bass and octopus with chile.
When I’m in town, I always swing by All Alpaca to stock up on colorful and reasonably-priced sweaters, knee-length coats, and scarves, all made from downy-soft Peruvian alpaca wool sourced in the Andes. One of my favorite new jewelry designers is Anna Dannon, who creates the imaginative silver baubles sold at Ara Joyas, on the lively Álvarez Calderón. You’ll find everything from sculptural cube-shaped necklaces to thick, gold-dipped arm cuffs. Mario Testino’s sister, Giuliana, is one of the most talked-about designers in town. I love her hand-crocheted clothes at Giuliana Testino. If you don’t like your dress hems short (and these are short), there are also plenty of delicate cardigans, shawls, and capes. In southern Lima’s up-and-coming Barranco neighborhood, Las Pallas carries traditional Peruvian crafts collected by British-born owner Mari Solari. The intricately designed Ayacucho pottery and Andean retablos are the perfect gifts to bring back.