A Stroll through Lima’s Historic Pueblo Libre

Pueblo Libre in Lima, PeruPueblo Libre in Lima, Peru
Courtesy Mike Gasparovic

Check out the Traveler's Cross, a site where Spanish travelers setting out from Lima to the port at Callao once prayed for divine protection against attackers.

This article was written by Mike Gasparovic, a freelance writer, editor, and translator who devotes his free time to studying the history, art, and literature of the Spanish-speaking world and learning about its people. He currently lives in Lima and wrote this article on behalf of South American Vacations, providers of tours to South America.

A strange kind of time warp awaits you when you visit Lima, Peru. One minute you'll be walking along a 21st-century street, bustling with 21st-century noise and congestion, and the next you'll turn a corner and be confronted with colonial houses dating from the early 1700s. Two blocks further, a KFC will abut ruins that date back a millennium. Such temporal telescoping is apparent all over the Peruvian capital, but nowhere so abundantly as in Pueblo Libre, a sleepy district some 20 minutes from both Miraflores and downtown Lima. Quietly residential and overlooked by most travelers, the district is nonetheless surpassingly rich in history, boasting 19th-century taverns, pre-Colombian ruins, a house shared by the heroes of Latin American independence, and the two of the best museums in Lima—all packed together within a single square mile. So if you're in Lima for a few days and longing to escape the tourist herds, check out the following walking tour—its 16 blocks will allow you to survey over 1,600 years of Peru's vast history. Bring your imagination.

Stellae and Sandwiches

Tours of Pueblo Libre inevitably begin at the Plaza Bolívar, the district's main square. Here you'll find two of Lima's prime attractions, the Museo Arqueológico and the Quinta de los Libertadores (Calle Antonio Polo cuadra 8, 463-5070).

The Archaeological Museum is the most comprehensive of its kind in Peru. Founded in 1924 by the great Peruvian anthropologist Julio Tello, it leads visitors through 3,000 years of the country's history, with special emphasis on the pre-Colombian civilizations that flourished along Peru's coast before the arrival of the Incas. Housed among its winding galleries are two world-renowned treasures from the prehistoric Chavín culture: the Raimondi Stella, a sacred stone carved with jaguar and serpent deities whose design changes depending on the direction from which it's read, and the Tello Obelisk, an engraved monolith that once served as a sundial in the great temple at Huantar. In the same building you'll also find the Liberators' Museum, a series of rooms once belonging to Joaquín de la Pezuela, Peru's last Viceroy before being occupied consecutively by Jose de San Martín and Simon Bolívar, the two great revolutionary leaders of South America. Swords, letters, and furniture belonging to the two generals afford a glimpse of their (highly intermittent) domestic lives.

After a morning spent imbibing Peru's history, you'll probably be hungry, so you'll want to head to the Taverna Quierolo (San Martín 1079, 460-0041), a Lima hallmark that's been in continuous operation since the late-1800s. Founded by an Italian immigrant who got rich selling locally made wines and piscos, it serves some of the best sandwiches in Lima. On the other hand, if you're up for heartier fare, the Restaurante Bolivariano (Santa Rosa 291, 261-9565) is right around the corner and dishes up superb versions of all of Peru's criollo classics. Especially recommended: seco de cabrito (stewed goat) or pescado a lo macho (fish in a spicy seafood sauce).

Haciendas and Sexy Pots

After lunch, should you need spiritual support before yet another round of Peruvian history, you can head down Sucre two blocks to see the Traveler's Cross (Av. Sucre cuadra 6). First erected some seven blocks away in 1579 and reconsecrated by Franciscan monks in 1672, this monument was a waystation where Spanish travelers setting out from Lima to the port at Callao would pray for divine protection against attackers. The ladder and hammer affixed to the structure represent the implements used to nail Christ to the cross.

From there, it's two blocks east to the Casa Orbea (Jr. Juan Acevedo cuadra 1), one of the few 18th-century haciendas remaining in Lima. The house has been amazingly well preserved, and sports enchanting balconies and a lovely baroque chapel. The original family still lives upstairs.

The final two destinations mark a return to Peru's deep past. For sheer dazzlement, not to mention the beauty of the grounds, the Museo Larco(Av. Bolívar 1515, 461-1835) is hard to beat. Lodged in a former hacienda bought by the archaeologist Rafael Larco Herrera to house his staggering collection of pre-Colombian artifacts, the museum sports impressive gold- and silverwork, textiles, and other artifacts from the Moche, Chimu, and Huari cultures. Check out the Moche tools used in ritual human sacrifices, and then slip outside to peek at the annex filled with pre-Colombian erotic pottery. If men and women have done it, it's depicted here on these pots.

Finally, from the museum, take Av. Bolivar west till you hit Calle Rio Huaura. Turn right, and in two blocks you'll find yourself in front of the Huaca Julio Tello, one of the many pre-Inca huacas (sacred sites) that dot the Lima cityscape. Surrounded by middle-class houses, this 1,000-year-old complex belonged to the Maranga tribe and serves as a reminder of the persistence of the past in Peru's great capital.

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