Lima, Jul. 10. Lima tops the list of the most attractive cities in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the fourth annual MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index released on Wednesday.
The index revealed that the Peruvian capital is expected to receive 5.11 million visitors this year, which represents a 4.1% growth over 2013. This translates into an injection of US$1.80 billion in the city’s economy.
Rounding out the top ten most popular cities in the region are Mexico City, Mexico; São Paulo, Brazil; Buenos Aires, Argentina; San Jose, Costa Rica; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Bogota, Colombia; Montevideo, Uruguay; Quito, Ecuador.
LIMA – PERU
In 1535 Francisco Pizarro found the perfect place for the capital of Spain’s colonial empire. On a natural port, the so-called Ciudad de los Reyes (City of Kings) allowed Spain to ship home all the gold the conquistador plundered from the Inca. Lima served as the capital of Spain’s South American empire for 300 years, and it’s safe to say that no other colonial city enjoyed such power and prestige during this period.
When Peru declared its independence from Spain in 1821, the declaration was read in the square that Pizarro had so carefully designed. Many of the colonial-era buildings around the Plaza de Armas are standing today. Walk a few blocks in any direction for churches and elegant houses that reveal just how wealthy this city once was. But the poor state of most buildings attests to the fact that the country’s wealthy families have moved to neighborhoods to the south over the past century.
The walls that surrounded the city were demolished in 1870, making way for unprecedented growth. A former hacienda became the graceful residential neighborhood of San Isidro. In the early 1920s the construction of tree-lined Avenida Arequipa heralded the development of neighborhoods such as bustling Miraflores and bohemian Barranco.
Almost a third of the country’s population of 29 million lives in the metropolitan area, many of them in relatively poor conos: newer neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city. Most residents of those neighborhoods moved there from mountain villages during the political violence and poverty that marked the 1980s and ’90s, when crime increased dramatically. During the past decade the country has enjoyed peace and steady economic growth, which have been accompanied by many improvements and refurbishment in the city. Residents who used to steer clear of the historic center now stroll along its streets. And many travelers who once would have avoided the city altogether now plan to spend a day here and end up staying two or three.
Peru’s sprawling megacapital is actually a mosaic of many smaller cities. Comprising 43 districts with nearly 9 million inhabitants, Lima is a study in contrasts, with ultramodern seaside neighborhoods butting up against gritty shantytowns that cling to barren hillsides. It is one of the world’s few megacapitals that can claim a golf course in the middle of the financial district, and where executives can go surfing before high-powered breakfast meetings. Although it’s built in a desert — Cairo is the only other metropolis drier than Lima — it’s known as the “Garden City” and is home to one of world’s largest fountain parks.
While many of Lima’s stately manors have given way to glass-enclosed apartment buildings, high-rise business towers and hotels, at least one part of Peruvian culture is returning to its roots here: the cuisine. Lima natives — Limeños — are obsessed with food. A 2009 documentary Cooking up Dreams (De Ollas y Sueños) profiles the emergence of Peru’s national cuisine on the world stage. Meanwhile, Lima’s government has established a Boulevard of Gastronomy in the Surquillo district, turning a traditional farmers’ market into a pedestrian mall to showcase the fresh ingredients used in Peruvian cooking. And the city’s annual food festival, held each September, is quite possibly the most important event of the year.
The only thing that rivals Limeños’ love of food is their passion for pisco, a grape brandy that is the main ingredient in the national drink, the pisco sour. Don’t be fooled by its frothy silhouette — it packs a powerful punch.