Peru's bone-dry capital (only Cairo is drier as far as national capitals go), Lima is a booming energetic metropolis built on ancient foundations millennia in the making. At first she is no looker, but scratch that parched surface below the high-rise offices and dust-settled dwellings and Lima's charms begin to shine: Strikingly preserved pre-Columbian ruins sit defiantly among modern skyscrapers, a cultural potpourri of world-class museums, sun-toasted beaches beautifully illuminated by nightly sunsets and one of the most exciting and dynamic culinary landscapes in the world.
Lima is a tale of two cities. Colonial charms abound in the city's historic center, where impressive plazas—including the cinematic 16th-century Plaza de Armas, the handiwork of Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro—are overseen by Baroque and neoclassical cathedrals, palaces, monasteries and remnants of ancient city walls. But a different Lima emerges in the cliff-hugging seaside barrios of Miraflores and Barranco. Miraflores, Lima's modern face, is a bustling enclave of chic restaurants, bars and nightlife, and Barranco is a bohemian resort commune flush with grand casonas converted into atmospheric hotels and eateries. One of the city's allures is navigating between the old and the new.
But the Peruvian capital is at its most extraordinary at mealtimes, where the signature dishes of its world-famous cuisine—ceviche, lomo saltado pisco (beef stir-fried with tomatoes, peppers, onions and fried potatoes), aji de gallina (a pepper-laced chicken stew), causa (avocado and shrimp layered between mashed potato)—are the culinary stuff of legend, further wowing when chased by Peru's extraordinary national cocktail, the highly addictive pisco sour. ¡Salud!