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LIMA PERU

by Dan Allen Phoenix and Scottsdale - Gay Travel

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Right now, Lima finds itself at a very interesting juncture, one at which it likely never expected to be. As the fifth biggest city in Latin America (with a metro area of about eight and a half million people), the cosmopolitan Peruvian capital has quietly sat by this millennium as the four powerhouses in front of it (Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, and São Paulo) have leapt ahead in terms of gay scenes, gay rights, and accordingly, gay travel pull. While the groundwork for attracting gay visitors (basic legal protections, a growing nightlife, and posh hotels and restaurants) is already laid in Lima, there's some catching up to do before this beautiful, vibrant, and historic capital, founded in 1535 as the "City of Kings," will be a thriving LGBT destination.

Things are suddenly changing, however, and rapidly so. During Peru's recent hotly contested presidential election, gay rights shocked everyone by becoming a major issue. Early adopter gay travelers have already started to flow in, eager to find the next big South American jewel. One thing's for sure: visitors who once viewed Lima as a quick stopover point before venturing off to Cusco and Machu Picchu (a few hundred miles to the southeast) are now staying longer to take in this multi-faceted and captivating city.

To help you put together your visit to the Peruvian capital (and beyond to the country's myriad anthropologic and natural wonders), Lima Tours (Tel: +511-619-6900. www.limatours.com.pe) is hands down the preeminent choice. As the company that arranged the first LGBT tours to Peru with Hanns Ebensten back in the 1970s, Lima Tours has years of experience in the field and is personally tapped into the quickly-evolving local scene; they can tailor your visit to be as gay-focused as you'd like.

When planning your explorations of Lima, make sure that the incomparable Museo Larco is on your list (Av. Bolivar 1515. Tel: +511-461-1312 or +511-461-1835. www.museolarco.org). Lima's showplace of pre-Columbian artifacts celebrated an official re-launch last September, having more than doubled its size with a major renewal and expansion of its installations. The museum now houses more than 50,000 objects, including the tourist-glee-inducing erotic collection, with its clear evidence (emphatically and phallically so) of early homosexuality, mostly in pottery from the Moche and Chimu peoples. The superb onsite Café del Museo (www.museolarco.org/cafedelmuseo/museo.htm) is not to be missed, serving up a scrumptious and very reasonably priced line-up of Peruvian dishes all in a serene setting surrounded by award-winning gardens.

The fifth-century, mid-Miraflores, Amerindian wonder, Huaca Pucllana (Calle General Borgoño, block 8. +511-445-8695. www.pucllana.perucultural.org.pe), also boasts one of the city's best and most famous restaurants onsite, the aptly-named Restaurant Huaca Pucllana (Calle General Borgoño, block 8. Tel: +511-445-4042. www.resthuacapucllana.com). The eatery, overlooking these ancient ruins that are at once quite plain and totally mesmerizing, is owned by Arturo Rubio, who's also the former president of the Committee for the Promotion of Peruvian Cuisine. If you want to try cuy (traditional Peruvian guinea pig), this is the place to do it.

For gayer libations and frolicking, the huge Downtown Vale Todo (Pasaje Los Pinos 160. Tel: +511-444-6433 www.peruesgay.com/downtownvaletodo) in Miraflores is still Lima's gay disco of choice, pulling in a cute and diverse young crowd with a lively slate of event nights and a solid roster of strippers and drag queens. Not far away, Legendaris (Berlin 363. Tel: +511-446-3435. www.gayperu.com/legendaris) is the city's other main gay club, often attracting a younger and more female-centric crowd (especially for lesbian nights on Fridays), but there's a cross-section here as well. Rounding out Lima's gay dance club triad is La Cueva (Av. Aviación 2514. Tel: +511-225-1413. www.gayperu.com/lacueva), a bit farther afield in the San Borja neighborhood, but easily reachable by taxi. It's smaller than the others, but it's always lively (with very popular drag shows); Limeño bears reportedly love it here (not for nothing: its name translates to The Cave).

For many years, Lima's accommodation roster has included some wonderful choices. The fabulous and excellently located Casa Andina Private Collection Miraflores (Av. La Paz 463. Tel: 866-220-4434 or +511-213-9739. www.casa-andina.com) was fully renovated in 2008 and is the perfect pick for those who want to explore the area's shopping (like the cliff-top Larcomar, www.larcomar.com, the city's upscale mall) by day, and its gay scene by night. Just east of Miraflores, the tony San Isidro neighborhood is home to some of the city's best properties, from the old world luxury of the Country Club Hotel Lima (Los Eucaliptos 590. Tel: +511-611-9000. www.hotelcountry.com), named one of the World's Best Hotels by Forbes Traveler, to modern favorites like the posh Sonesta El Olivar Hotel (Pancho Fierro 194. Tel: +511-712-6000. www.sonesta.com/lima). The brand new Westin Lima Hotel and Convention Center (Calle Las Begonias 450. Tel: +511-201-5000. www.starwoodhotels.com/westin) not only has the city's biggest spa, but is also Peru's tallest building.

Meanwhile, Lima's main travel draw for many has rightfully been its astounding gastronomic scene. Building on a five-century fusion of far-flung international social and culinary influences (especially Spanish, Andean, Asian, Italian, and African Creole) and utilizing its unique bounty of fresh local produce and seafood, Lima is now home to a cuisine so exhilarating that in 2009 Bon Appétit magazine pegged it as the Next Great Food City. The taste palette here expands off the charts in all directions, but also includes delicious native classics.

One of the city's most exciting new restaurants is Mesa 18 (Calle Los Carolinos 118. Tel: +511-610-4000. www.mesa18restaurant.com), which opened last July in the posh Miraflores Park Hotel. With its simple but divine, French-tinged Peruvian menu and ultra-hip, nearly monochrome décor, Mesa 18 is a spot to be seen in Lima right now, and to simultaneously delight your taste buds with the likes of Chef Federico Ziegler's famous grilled local doncella fish over yellow potato, baby veggies, and fine herbs emulsion.

While it's been around a bit longer (since 2004), Malabar (Calle Camino Real 101. Tel: +551-440-5200. www.malabar.com.pe) in the nearby San Isidro area is considered by many to be the best restaurant in Lima, consistently ranking high among the local Summum top-ten list. Chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino is especially fond of ingredients from the Amazon, so you'll delight in delectable and unexpected elements like carachama, an Amazonian catfish.

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Thanks Dan Allen and Passport Magazine for a wonderful article about the new gourmet capital of AMERICA! Lima is a life and vibrant city!!!
- Ylan Chrem , Fort Lauderdale, FL USA

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