For Alex and I, the road to Machu Picchu technically started and ended in Lima, Peru. So, after exploring Machu Picchu and the Cusco Region for a few days, we headed back to Lima for a few days of city exploration and a most welcome return to sea-level.
The first thing that struck me about Lima was the architecture. Everything was very ornate, colorful, and (obviously) very influenced by Lima’s Spanish heritage. Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro founded Lima in 1535, and as you might expect of a city so old, a large mix of styles from colonial to modern make up the landscape.
The Cathedrals may have been our favorite places on the visit to Lima. We couldn’t take pictures inside my favorite, the Iglesia de la Merced, though I could have taken pictures of the outside all day. We were walking through the Jirón de la Unión and came upon it suddenly, standing inconspicuously across from a very modern looking shopping mall.
Somehow we lucked into a personal tour of the Lima Cathedral and were taken through the stunning baroque cathedral and even down into the tombs (including the tomb of Francisco Pizarro). Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and seemed so pleased to be able to share the history of the cathedral and the city of Lima.
After the Lima Cathedral we headed on to the Saint Francis Monastery or the Convento de San Francisco. Once a church and monastery, it now operates as a museum and has two very interesting attractions. The library is in a long room lined with wooden shelves that hold thousands of historical and antique books and documents.
A few floors down lie the catacombs, which have an entirely different claim to fame. At one time, the catacombs were used as a communal burial ground for those in the city that had passed on. That stopped in the early 1800’s when a city cemetery was started, but not before an estimated 70,000 souls were buried under the monastery. The catacombs have low ceilings and small winding passageways, with bones everywhere you look. In fact, people are buried just under the dirt walkways.
Back above ground is the Plaza Mayor or the Plaza de Armas. It’s the historic center of town and the Cathedral, the Municipal Palace and the Government Palace (and more) are all housed in this large square. We arrived in Peru just before a big election, so the city was ‘on guard’ so to speak to keep the peace in what had become a very polarizing election. Guards were posted liberally around the square and swelled as it got closer to the changing of the guard.
There was so much to see in Lima, and Cusco, so for more pictures head over to Flickr! All in all, we loved our time in Peru, it really does have all the makings of a great vacation: great food, friendly people, and amazing things to do and see. Plus, U.S. friends, its a lot closer than you think – just a quick 5 hour flight from New York.