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Peru's capital, Lima, lies between the Pacific Ocean and the foothills of the mighty Andes Mountains. Sprawling, chaotic and overcrowded, visitors will note the stark contrast between wealth and poverty as they take in the city's glitzy seaside suburbs and its dusty shantytowns. Even so, Lima remains a vibrant and colourful destination, and a wonderful introduction to this mysterious country. Regarding its history, Lima was once the most important and prosperous city in Spanish America. It has not retained that distinction, though it is still an animated stop, where travellers will encounter an exciting mix of influences and nationalities, and an exceedingly rich cultural heritage.</p> Today, Lima dominates Peru's commercial and political life, and some of the country's best nightlife, museums, and restaurants are located in the city. Its old colonial centre also holds a certain elegance, with its beautiful churches, convents, central plazas and graceful old mansions. The city's outstanding art and archaeology museums provide an excellent introduction to the history and culture visitors will discover in other parts of the country. Travellers who visit Lima in June can see it celebrate the anniversary of Peru's independence from Spain on the 28th. The occasion involves a great deal of dancing, flag flying and folk music in the city's parks and plazas. Also, Lima puts on the Lord of the Miracles Festival in October. It is the most spectacular of Peru's religious festivals and honours the venerated image of a black Christ.
Shoppers, vendors and sightseers crowd the long pedestrian street connecting Plaza Mayor to Plaza de Armas. The heart of the old town is found in these locations, with the latter's bronze fountain and old street lamps providing an old-fashioned feel. Several notable buildings surround the square, such as the Spanish Baroque Cathedral occupying the site of an ancient Inca temple and housing the Museum of Religious Art and Treasures; the Government Palace; the Archbishop's Palace; and the Plaza San Martin, buzzing with street artists and soapbox speakers surrounding its central fountain.
Located in Lima, the anthropological and archaeological museum's exhibits trace the history of Peru's ancient civilisations. All in all, they provide an outstanding overview of the country's archaeological richness. The museum's chronological layout guides visitors through complicated ancient history, highlighting the many conquering cultures and their achievements. Visitors can view the history of the original inhabitants and the Inca Empire, as well as an exhibition on Peru's internal conflict which began in 1980. Visitors can enjoy guided tours for a small fee and will marvel at the size of the collection, which spans a few floors.
Housed in an 18th-century mansion and surrounded by an award-winning garden, the Larco Museum houses a world-class collection of ancient ceramics. Most of the pieces come from the Moche Dynasty, who lived along Peru's northern coast between 100 and 700 AD. They're said to have accomplished the region's most imaginative languages through creative pottery, through which visitors can learn about their dance, music and religion, as well as transport and agriculture. The collection also includes crowns, masks and erotica, as well as statues and jewellery from around 4,000 years of pre-Columbian Peruvian history.
Lima's weather is influenced by the cold, offshore Humboldt Current, and the city's mild desert climate is much cooler than visitors might expect for a desert region. Indeed, temperatures rarely fall below 54°F (12°C) and seldom rise above 84°F (29°C) year-round. Lima is generally a cloudy and foggy city, and doesn't see much sun. Travellers will find more sun as they travel along the coast and away from the city. Rainfall is extremely low, coming mainly via drizzles in winter, or the occasional brief shower in summer. Regarding seasons, Lima has two distinct periods. Summer runs from December through April and is sunny, cloud-free, and foggy. Temperatures range from 64°F (18°C) to 84°F (29°C). Winter lasts from June to October and is a grey season, during which temperatures range from 54°F (12°C) to 66°F (19°C), and conditions are frequently overcast. May and November are transitional months. Otherwise, humidity is high all year and Lima's sunsets are especially colourful. Winter is the most popular time to visit, when visitors can expect clear, sunny weather in the mountains. It's also a good time to see the Amazon Basin, given that there are fewer mosquitoes.
Lima has a fun and varied nightlife, and its locals are known to love a good party. Generally speaking, they're very welcoming of foreigners. Miraflores is the best party district, and has some fantastic bars and salsa clubs. Visitors must be well-dressed to gain entrance to most seaside establishments. The capital is easily the most progressive city in an otherwise conservative country. Many of its nightclubs welcome gay and lesbian patrons, especially in Miraflores. Barranco's after-dark spots are also worth visiting, some of which can be found on the coast, near the Puente de los Suspiros (Bridge of Sighs). Bars tend to open at 8pm or 9pm, but many nightclubs and live music venues only open at 10pm or later. Popular spots usually stay open until about 4am. Drinks are generally cheap in Lima, especially if patrons choose local varieties. Casinos are popular in Peru and many of the larger, upmarket hotels have casinos attached. For those who want a more sophisticated cultural experience, Lima has some good ballet, theatre and opera. The wonderful Teatro Municipal is a great option, and the Museo de la Nacion and Teatro Segura offer wonderful cultural experiences too.
Lima is divided into four quarters, all of which are small enough to explore on foot. Travellers should rely on the city's buses and taxis when moving between sections, though. Lima's buses range from microbus vans to larger 'school bus' vehicles. Travellers can hail vans in the street and should approach the 'school bus' variety with a degree of caution. Though inexpensive, they're uncomfortable and are frequently involved in accidents. Destinations are rarely marked, so passengers should ask the driver to confirm the route before boarding. Taxis are also cheap and common, but are indistinguishable by their make or model. Travellers should mark them by plastic signs on their windscreens. Taxis generally aren't metred, meaning passengers should establish a fare before departing. Foreigners should find out how much fares usually cost to avoid getting overcharged. Visitors also should avoid renting cars, given that roads are often poorly maintained, and that local drivers are reckless and aggressive. That said, the city has a number of rental agencies.
Lima is home to an enticing range of attractions. From wonderful restaurants to several picturesque neighbourhoods, Peru's capital is, indeed, a feast for the senses. Culture lovers should tour the historic Old Town, beginning at the Plaza Mayor and Plaza San Martin. The two squares are lined with stalls, artists, buskers, museums and colonial buildings, and are connected by a long pedestrian street. Lima's nightlife centre, Miraflores, and the bohemian resort district of Barranco are worth exploring too. The city also has a number of spectacular churches, with the magnificent Baroque Church of San Francisco standing out among them. Its impressive library, intriguing catacombs and richly decorated interior are definite must-sees. Travellers can arrange to do guided tours. The Museo de la Nacion, the Museo de Oro del Peru (which displays ancient gold artefacts), and the Museo Rafael Larco Herrera are among Lima's best museums. Visitors who are travelling with children should stop at the Magical Water Circuit (Circuito Magico del Agua), which is a stunning display of light and water in the Reserve Park. On the culinary front, Lima has become one of the most respected destinations in the Americas. Foodies will find restaurants that cater to every taste and every budget, though local Peruvian fare is unsurpassed.
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