I heard that Lima wasn’t a very nice city. Actually, I liked it. Every city has it’s dirty, industrial, and sketchy areas, but if you steer clear of those you’ll find yourself in the nicer areas. Lima has a more “touristy” area called Miraflores, which is full of restaurants, internet cafes, pubs, hotels, hostels, etc. It’s also got a main landmark/square that is within walking distance to the ocean. Its a nice place to hang out, there were markets and such, a good place to buy souvenirs.
From the ocean there are great views of surfers and what feels like miles of sea-side walking paths through parks. When we were in Lima the later-part of this park route was under construction, indicating these guys were spending big bucks on making it even better and extending it even further. Another cool part about this Miraflores area is that there is a shopping mall built into the side of a cliff. The stores are decent, and there’s lots of different food to crush.
One thing I will say is that the Miraflores area of Lima doesn’t have much in the way of sightseeing old buildings and historical landmarks, which is probably one of the cooler things to do/see in Central and South America. Most of these sights are located in the center or heart of the city – which brings me back to the dirty/shady part. Downtown Lima IS very dirty, and very shady. By “shady”, I mean you’re likely to get into some sort of trouble regardless of how low-key you think you’re being. To give you an example, one of the first stops through the center of Lima in our taxi ride from the airport, we looked out the window and saw two drunken guys step out of a bar and go toe to toe with each other. A flury of haymakers and one of the weirdest, unorthodox punches I’ve ever seen in my life left one of the combatants KO’d on the street about 10 feet from our taxi. Not that Lima deserves to have a single bar fight tarnish it’s reputation, I just thought I’d mention it because the downtown Lima area seemed like the wild west, and that sort of thing is probably a common occurrence. I sure as heck wouldn’t want to be walking in the neighborhood of those places at night and have those two step out in front of me. There was also a lot of trash, stray dogs, and “rough” looking people lurking around. My last day in Lima, I gave a taxi driver US$50 to drive me downtown, show me the sights, and basically babysit me. He was awesome, actually parked his taxi for a couple hours and walked around with me all evening, providing translation and brief history lessons here & there. He knew where and where not to go, and made me feel a little less like a tourist with a big target on my back.