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A lot of people told us not to go to Lima. They told us it was polluted, dirty, dry, ugly, and not much to do. That didn’t sound like a place we’d want to visit, but flights from Medellin to Lima were a lot cheaper than other places we wanted to see in Peru, and we thought a few days of laying low might help us adjust to walking away from our life in Colombia. We booked an AirBnB that looked really comfortable, made plans for ongoing travel to the desert Oasis and Cusco (which we were really excited about) and prepared for a few quiet days of “boring”.
Well, Lima was to be anything but boring, beginning with our flight in.
That’s right- a simple travel day of just one 2.5 hour flight was one of the most stressful, complicated travel days we’ve had so far!
Things started off just fine by finishing our packing that morning before heading out at a reasonable hour for the airport. Once at the airport, though, we had to navigate the complicated sytem of applying for our 19% VAT refund on some big purchases we’d made (who can refuse those amazing emeralds?) all in Spanish, I had to track down someone to confirm a large bottle of OTC liquids was approved because I had a doctor’s note advising me to buy it, and we had to step away from the immigration desk to boot up my computer once the officer asked to see proof we’d extended our 90-day tourist visas.
It was pretty stressful to handle all of these at one time (poorly), but once we got to the airport lounge we breathed a sigh of relief that we still had an hour or so to enjoy a comfortable chair and some food before our flight.
Then we heard our names being faintly called over the sound system.
Turns out that Peru requires proof of onward travel before arriving in the country, a formality which had gone unnoticed in all our ticket checks to get through the airport. We aren’t unfamiliar with this requirement, which is usually reserved for first-world countries in danger of tourist intentionally overstaying their welcome and becoming a burden on society. In these cases we purchase a refundable plane ticket (thanks, Chase Sapphire!) for our incoming plane tickets to be approved at the check-in counter.
We had no issues getting past security with our one-way tickets into Lima, but were called out with 30 minutes prior to boarding. We weren’t totally sure what the issue was we were being called for, so we ran through the airport in case we were in danger of missing our boarding window. When we found out it was for us to buy onward travel Ben was pretty mad and needed nearly the entire remaining time before boarding to find something we could later return.
We were the last on the plane, but at least we made it. Problems over.
Or so we hoped!
Once in Lima we found out our credit card couldn’t be used to take out local currency at the ATMs, which meant we couldn’t purchase a SIM card for our phones or pay in cash for a taxi to our AirBnB. Whit and I hung out with our bags at the airport while Ben wandered around to find a way to get us to our AirBnB which wouldn’t require cash or internet. While waiting we saw Santa and his elves approach, which I thought would be the perfect distraction for us. It took a few minutes to convince Whit to approach for a picture, and by the time he did someone else stepped in front of him every time he tried to get close. Soon the group was finished and Santa started to walk away, with my little guy feeling really left out. I encouraged him to follow Santa, which one of the elves noticed, and convinced him to stop for a picture.
That’s why not the entire group is happy in this photo. It turns out this was the only time we saw Santa for the month of December, though, so I’m glad I pushed for the picture! It’ll be our Santa pic for 2019!
Once finally in a taxi on our way to the AirBnB we, again, started to relax. Our guard was immediately put back up when we arrived at our designated apartment building, though!
We actually rented this apartment through Booking.com, not AirBnB, and were unused to their system of sending check-in information. Usually we use Booking.com for hotel rooms, who have your name prepared when you check in. The security guard over this apartment building claimed to have no record of our stay, however, and we had no internet to try and figure out our check-in instructions. Ben and I were suddenly at each other, not sure who or when the ball had dropped. I had made the reservation online, but Ben had received the confirmation, so who was at fault for not knowing how to check in? We were tired and cranky from the many battles we’d had to fight that day, and just wanted to get into bed.
After about 30 minutes of struggling in Spanish to explain to the security guard that we had no way of getting the confirmation he required he mentioned that his coworker, the day guard, had passed on information that a “Susannah” would be checking in at night.
“She’s Susannah! This is Susannah!” Ben excited shouted while pulling out my passport to prove my name.
The security guard tried calling his friend, who didn’t answer, and told us he had 3 units which are regularly rented out and needed to know which was ours.
“But we have no idea what the room number is supposed to be!” Ben is getting frustrated. We were so close.
“Can we look in the units? I’ll remember the pictures I saw.” I try pleading with the guard.
“What did it look like?” He countered.
“Um… pink. And yellow. With three bedrooms and a glass table in the dining room.”
I couldn’t believe it, but that was good enough to get us a key. We checked into apartment 201, confirmed that the couch and all three bedrooms were covered with gold, yellow, and pink decor, and told the security guard we were in the right place.
It was another disaster to get the internet running, but eventually Ben was able to log into our Booking.com account and contact the managing company of this unit- in New York- who had never sent the check-in instruction email.
We went to bed hungry and frustrated that night, but woke with a renewed interest in making our time in Lima worth it. Ben found a breakfast cafe nearby, and we enjoyed a walk through the neighborhood to a delicious breakfast. After a good meal we were encouraged to keep walking, and found a Claro store to buy SIM cards, a public park full of tame, wild cats, beautiful street art, electric scooters to ride around town, and a really beautiful seaside park.
Honestly, Lima is better than we expected!
We loved wandering around the Park of Love, Ben was fascinated by the Larcomar mall built into the cliffside, we ate tons of delicious Lomo Saltado and ceviche, Whit was scared but brave during a tour of the San Fransisco monastery’s catacombs (which I don’t blame him for. Those neatly-arranged bones were super creepy.), we talked to guards at the president’s palace, took the Magic Water Tour of colorfully lighted fountains in the Parque de Reserva, bought a kilo of fresh strawberries for $1 on the street, went to the photography museum of one of the most famous hollywood photographers (which included reprints of Lady Di’s final photo shoot 2 months before her death. I cried.), made wishes as we walked across the Bridge of Sighs for the first time, found some ancient ruins in the middle of the city preserved by the dry, desert climate, and enjoyed endless cups of hot chocolate while wandering cobble stone streets.
What were people talking about when they said there isn’t much to do in Lima?!
People be crazy.
To be honest, we left Lima after three unexpectedly awesome days feeling as if it could be a contender for future living. I know it helps that we had low expectations to begin with, but it really is a nice place.