When the weather turns chilly, a sun-drenched getaway sounds like a great idea. But most travellers go no farther south than the all-inclusive options around the equator, while low-tourist, high-value South American destinations such as Lima, Peru, are neglected.
In January and February, Lima is in full summer. It's flush with exotic fresh fruit, colourful markets, affordable shopping and an up-and-coming locavore restaurant scene. Best of all, there's not another snowbird in sight.
Here's how to do the Lima sun vacation right:
Hit the markets
One of the largest textile markets in South America, Lima's Gamarra Market boasts the most commercial transactions per minute in the country. In the streets of the 40-block market, workers push carts piled high with ribbons, spools of thread and material of every colour to export warehouses.
On the open upper floors of the warehouses, watch unbleached cotton drapes, bed sheets and tablecloths flying off the sewing machines of busy workers in great whooshes of air, forming linen mountains.
Most shoppers, however, stick to store after store (and floor after floor) of incredibly affordable unbleached cotton clothing, shoes and party dresses. Corseted dresses are in this year, I realize, as a saleswomen helps strap a customer into a C$10 lace-up number that will cost over $40 by the time it reaches North America.
Salud over salad
The best prices on high-quality silver and gold hand-hammered jewelry are found in the multi-level warehouses of the Mercado Surquillo. This market is also the city's largest wholesale food market, selling to local restaurants and Limeos looking for affordable quality food. On the market's periphery, a mess of street vendors sell hand-knitted socks, multicoloured ponchos and perfunctory factory-made egg- and meat-stuffed pastries. But inside is an urban jungle -- stalls of grenadillas (the fresh fruit, not the cocktail syrup), mangoes, papayas, lucuma (fruit that tastes like butterscotch-flavoured sweet potatoes), pink-fleshed bananas, beef, chicken and fresh fish pack the winding aisles.
The smells of hot tortillas and grilled meat fill the air of the stadium-size building, and bottles of salsa made with red rocoto or yellow aji amarillo chili peppers line the kiosks -- a feast for the eyes, nose and stomach. It's best to avoid raw salsas and unwashed fruit samples for the same reason you're better off with bottled water and grilled chicken for lunch than salad. To your health!
The road to travel
Although city bus tours are often overrated, the San Cristobal Hill tour that winds up a steep, rail-less road for a panoramic view of the city is well worth the five soles it costs (less than $2).
Suck up your courage and hop on one of the small tour buses leaving from the Plaza de Armas.
After passing the Lima Cathedral, the Alameda de los Descolzos promenade, the majestic fountains of the Colonial Paseo de Aguas, the El Angel cemetery (one of Lima's oldest cemeteries), the Rimac River, source of the city's potable water, and the Plaza de Acho bullfighting stadium, the bus begins its climb up the treacherous cliff. It speeds dangerously past the Limeos living halfway up the mountain. They are so isolated that they get water delivered once a week, explains my Limena guide, who works for a local bank. But, she says, even when offered loans or given the opportunity to leave, the hill's residents choose to stay.
Once you start ascending, it's best to close your eyes and trust your bus. With only one lane up and down the hill, only buses and a few brave taxis make the trip.
A hundred metres up, drivers honk twice before rounding turns to warn oncoming traffic of their arrival and distaste for brake pedals.
Looking out the window, the view is nothing but open air and a seemingly inevitable fall to your death. Once safely arrived, however, the view from the top overlooking the sprawling metropolis is worth the mini heart attack. Besides, most of the buses return to the Plaza de Armas unscathed. And it's a cheap fix for adrenalin junkies.
Back at the Plaza de Armas, sit with the Limeo couples licking helado -- gelato, or ice cream -- and take in the midday Spanish fanfare of trumpets, cymbals and drums that accompany the daily changing of the guard outside the presidential palace.
Then cross the square to a cobblestone street of open-air restaurants and find a table at T'anta.
At this cosy café owned by Peruvian celebrity chef Gaston Acurio, sip sweet purple corn chicha morada or fresh passion-fruit juice while enjoying a Peruvian tasting platter of lime-marinated fish ceviche with sweet potato and rocoto chilies, fried calamari and fresh crab causa -- a seafood salad stuffed between layers of smooth potato pur}e spiked with yellow chili peppers. Don't skip Gaston's wife Astrid's suspiro de Limena (the "sigh of a woman from Lima"), a rich dulce de leche caramel and meringue parfait for dessert.
-- Postmedia News
IF YOU GO
Because of school holidays, January and February are relatively quiet months in Lima, making it ideal for travellers not looking to spend their vacation stuck in gridlock with the 7.6 million people who call Lima home.
Watching hang-gliders at romantic Parque del Amore (the Park of Love) in Lima's Miraflores district makes for a break from the urban heat in a city that prefers ice cream to air conditioning. The other way to cool down is to head with the locals to the beaches just outside the city, a short bus ride away.
Where to stay
Swissotel Lima: Though Lima has plenty of smaller hotels in old colonial buildings, business travellers in particular won't be disappointed with the convenience and comfort of this luxury abode. Guests staying on one of the executive floors have access to the executive lounge's breakfast, lunch, dinner and open bar, as well as an upper-floor boardroom. All guests, regardless of floor and suite size, enjoy full gym, spa and tennis-court access as well as 24-hour room service. But if you can bear to leave your sleek room, try one of the hotel's five restaurants, which range from fondue to sushi to contemporary Peruvian. Rates start at $239 a night. Via Central 150, Centro Empresarial Real, San Isidro, Lima 27; +51 1 421-4400. Website: swissotel.com/hotels/lima/
Second Home Peru B&B: Staying in the former home of Peruvian painter and sculptor Victor Delfin feels like staying in a hip art gallery. The upscale B&B in Barranco, however, leans more toward luxury than bohemian accommodations ,with Wi-Fi, balconies with breathtaking ocean views, Baroque-style tubs (in addition to showers) and air conditioning -- an often overlooked essential for summers in Lima. Rates start at $115 a night. Domeyer 366, Barranco; +51 1 247-5522. Website: secondhomeperu.com/