Land animals hang from ropes while sea creatures are spread out on folding tables. Voices in a language I don’t speak are tossed between booths, and it’s hard to tell in the tight, overpopulated aisles between vendors if I’ve bumped up against a person, or a hoof, or a fin.
We—a friend of a friend who lives here, in Lima, Peru, and I—order coffees from a place she frequents in the bowels of this marketplace. She gets hers spiked for only three more nuevos soles (Peruvian currency); I get mine black, a headache still lingering from the pisco sours we indulged in the night before. Then, we surface from an easy-to-miss passageway and head toward a lookout point some hundred feet above sea level to find a fog over the Pacific Ocean.
Before bumping elbows with uncooked meals, immersed in a market filled with smells I didn’t want to find the owners of, my experience during the day prior was of the opposite.
I ARRIVED ON A RED EYE from Miami International on LATAM airlines. Had I gotten more than two hours of sleep, I would have felt regret when I discovered those walking the streets were wearing jeans and heavy jackets. The driver of my transfer tossed my luggage, which was packed with linen pants and sleeveless dresses, in the back of his car.
The month prior, I had visited Cartagena, Colombia, where such attire was fitting. But if Cartagena is South America’s Miami, Lima is its San Francisco—cool and gray (in part because September, when I arrived, is Peru’s end-of-winter, beginning-of-spring season).
I was dropped off in the prestigious San Isidro neighborhood at the Country Club Lima Hotel, which would be my base for exploring the city. A silvery sky made its yellow-beige exterior pop.
Red-carpeted steps led me through a revolving door to an elegant lobby remodeled in 2017 by an Argentinian designer to celebrate the hotel’s 90th birthday. Iridescent floors reflected light streaming in from tall, arched doorframes. Floral arrangements dressed up side tables set beside classic, claw-feet armchairs. And Peruvian art from the local Pedro de Osma Museum, which rotates in pieces that date back to the 16th and 17th centuries, decorated the walls.
To the right was the Perroquet Restaurant, where I recuperated from my travels with a breakfast buffet of pastries and local fruits. I continued to recover when my room—the governor deluxe suite—was ready. The 700-square-foot accommodations on the second floor offered a panoramic view of the courtyard, and the marble bathroom was equipped with an oversized Jacuzzi, candles and bath salts.
Downstairs was Bar Inglés, famed for its award-winning pisco sour. I sipped the frothy concoction and wondered where Ernest Hemingway sat as he imbibed the beverage when he visited the Country Club.
Other notables who’ve stayed at the hotel include the former Duke of Windsor Edward VIII, writer William Faulkner, actor John Wayne and businessman Nelson Rockefeller. More recently, musician Ed Sheeran stayed in one of the suites—perhaps my room.
It’s a possibility because the staff confirmed he didn’t stay in the ultimate suite: the Dom Pérignon. Its grandiose accommodations include a living space, a master bedroom and bath, and a guest bedroom and bath. Additionally, a private terrace sprawls out above the hotel entrance.
Beyond the Country Club, there were 43 districts of Lima to explore. But with four days in town, I only spent time in eight. The most up-and-coming of them was Barranco, where street art, breweries and small eateries adorned every street.
There is a reason most people travel to Peru, which is to eat. A place to do so in Barranco is at the oceanfront Cala Restaurante. The chef brought out a platter showcasing an uncooked sea bass that could have just been plucked from the ocean in order to get our approval. When we gave the go-ahead on a fish half his height, he created four ceviche dishes in bases like citrus to ají amarillo, with accompaniments such as sweet potatoes (more than 4,000 varieties of potatoes grow in Peru), cancha, onions and peppers.
MY FRIEND OF A FRIEND and I jump in a cab that drops us at another hidden nook tucked inside an archway on a street corner. We order lunch in a starkly more casual setting than Cala—the armchairs swapped out for uneven wooden stools; the folded napkins replaced with paper placemats; the ocean view traded for a tiny shop selling handmade jewelry and gifts. Our order comes at random, and some dishes never make it to the table.
When traveling, there are often two experiences to be had: those in the comfort of excellent service and luxurious accommodations, and those in which we gain perspective into local life. Choose both.