Lima´s old town, or Centro Lima, is home to the majority of the city´s major sites. I was staying at the excellent 1900 Backpackers Hostel which is within walking distance of the centre.
To begin my day in Old Lima I set out to Museo Andrés del Castillo, housed in the beautifully renovated Casa Belén.
My university was kind enough to send me an alumni card when I graduated, with an expiry date in 2018, so I flashed that and got a student ticket for 5 soles. The museum is known for it´s mineral collection, including some crazy fluorescent rocks that are illuminated with U.V lamps. I went to see the display of pre-Hispanic textiles. Textile making is like an art form in Peru and the collection was fantastic, but sadly I was not permitted to take photos.
I walked back out into the sunshine and across Plaza San Martin, ignoring multiple taxi offers. If I want a taxi, I will ask for one! I went up pedestrianised shopping street Jiron de la Union, admiring some beautiful facades
above the less attractive shop fronts. It is a very commercial street and would be quite anonymous if it weren´t for the odd grand building. I was heading towards Plaza Mayor, Lima´s main square.
Traffic in Lima is pretty awful, drivers seem to be very impatient and you can always here horns honking, so it is a shame that cars circulate this square. Some grand buildings,
including the seat of the government and the cathedral are situated here. I did not get far into the cathedral, because you cannot go past the ticket desk without a ticket, and I do not agree with having to pay to enter places of worship! But it looked beautiful.
I crossed the square and walked along Calle Jiron Conde de Superunda, towards Iglesia Santo Domingo – a church which you are not required to pay to enter. The interior was breathtaking
I love looking inside churches, and although I couldn´t tell you the architectural style or when it was built, I can tell you that you should go here if you are in Lima.
I paused for lunch and bought a small dish of octopus ceviche (ceviche de pulpo) from a stand in the street for 2 soles, less than 50p.
It was served with strips of fried fish and a sort of crunchy sweetcorn. Delicious!
The next stop on my non-tour (read how I feel about tours in my post Spending as Little as Possible) was the Monasterio San Francisco. I went along the river, which marks the border between Centro Lima and Rimac. I had been warned by the staff at my hostel that Rimac is a rough part of the city. I considered crossing the bridge to take look, but decided against as I saw what looked like a shanty-town sprawling up the hill beyond.
Monasterio San Francisco is a baroque church
and a monastery, built above catacombs. The catacombs are part of Lima´s original cemeteries, and are the resting place of thousands. They are a network of low tunnels, containing piles and piles of bones and skulls displayed in odd circular patterns. You have to visit with a guide, and the entrance fee was 7 soles.
It was quite spooky; the visit is not for the claustrophobic. Sadly photos were not allowed but you can see some here.
On my way back, I went via the nearby Mercado Central. It is totally unlike the grand plazas and tidy streets that I had seen so far that day. It is a complete mess, with litter everywhere, and I got lost more than once. The market is a big building, divided into sections, for example butchers, juice bars, hair product stands, and each section contains a row of little stalls, each with a Peruvian person inside, barely visible above the stock that was piled high.
The market has spread into the streets surrounding the main building, so that everywhere you look you see a small business. There is a shop for everything – you can buy anything from selotape to counterfeit DVDs to nappies here, and lots of mobile traders walk up and down, selling clothes hangers, umbrellas, Tupperware boxes, sunglasses, and anything else you could possibly think of. I found that I was the only tourist, and I advise you to watch your valuables here (which is why I do not have a photo).
I loved the hustle and bustle, I loved the people watching, and loved that I was not treated like a tourist. People were too busy going about their daily business to be interested in me.
I had seen some different sides to Lima, I had visited a few of the ´must see´ sites, and I had spent 14 soles, about £3.