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Lima’s Top 5 Neighborhoods

The Top 5 Neighborhoods of Lima, Peru

By Walker Dawson

Lima is intimidating at first glance. It’s gigantic, noisy, and crowded; understandably most travelers want to leave the second they arrive. But if you know where to go and what to see, Lima can be one of South America’s best kept secrets. Let Breaking Borders take you through our top 5 favorite neighborhoods of Lima.

#5 Pueblo Libre

Pueblo Libre’s backstreets at night.

Pueblo Libre is an up and coming middle class neighborhood located a few miles west of downtown. The neighborhood is centered around Plaza Bolivar, with numerous lively bars and restaurants around it. A Limeño classic is Antigua Taberna Queirolo, a 135 year old bar that’s famous for it’s pisco sour with ginger ale and it’s old world charms. This is a great neighborhood for a night out on the town with Peru’s bohemian middle class. The famous Museo Larco and the Museo Nacional de Arqueología, both featuring pre-Columbian art and artifacts, are located in the neighborhood as well.

#4 La Victoria

Classic Ceviche from Barra Cevichera Jose y Juanita in La Victoria made with raw corvina (sea bass) marinated in key lime and served with corn and sweet potato.

At first glance, La Victoria seems sketchy and run down, but give it a chance and you can find some truly authentic Limeño experiences here. La Victoria is one of the easiest places in Lima to get inexpensive ceviche. In the blocks surrounding the massive Polvos Azules market, street stands serve up some of the most delicious ceviche for as little as $3 USD. A man named Jose has upgraded his street cart to a restaurant, turning a rough corner of La Victoria into a foodie mecca. Barra Cevichera Jose y Juanita offers some of the freshest and spiciest food at bargain prices, it’s a must. Also located in La Victoria is Gamarra, a giant section of the city that has been turned into an open air market. Play it safe in La Victoria and you might find yourself returning again and again.

#3 Miraflores

Miraflores is one of the most upscale neighborhoods in Lima, and is filled with an array of great restaurants, bookstores and ocean views.

Miraflores is the most touristy neighborhood in Lima. It’s a nondescript, upscale shopping district. With that being said there are some great things to see and do. No lunch in Miraflores is complete until you’ve eaten at El Enano, a Miami style outdoor sandwich shop which serves up incredible toasted Chicharrón sandwiches with a jar of fresh juice. Chicharrón sandwiches are made with chunks of fried pork shoulder, red onions, and slices of sweet potato with a Peruvian salsa on a crispy french roll. La Lucha Sanguicheria right next to Plaza Kennedy also serves up a mean Chicharrón sandwich. The sweet chicha morada drink is a great compliment. Chicha morada is a traditional Peruvian drink made from blue corn with pineapple, cinnamon, clove, and sugar. Monolo’s is a Miraflores classic, where old men discuss life and politics over espressos and warm, dulce de leche filled churros. A few blocks away is El Virrey, a modern bookstore that would be right at home on Rodeo Drive, where you could easily spend an afternoon browsing over books. Ultimately, Miraflores is about the Pacific Ocean. Spend some time strolling along the cliff banks at sunset and you might begin to consider moving to Lima.

Manolo's is a classic spot in Miraflores that has been serving up tasty sandwiches and churros since 1968. The crispy, sugary churros comes in three flavors, manjar blanco, chocolate and crema pastelera. They are all delicious, so get all three!
The crispy,sugary churros comes in three flavors, manjar blanco, chocolate and crema pastelera. They are all delicious, so get all three!

#2 Centro/Barrio Chino

Lima’s Plaza de Armas lit up at night. Many of the buildings surrounding the plaza were built over 400 years ago during the rule of the Spanish.

Centro is the beating heart of old Lima. While many of the big businesses fled to Miraflores decades ago, Centro has an energy unmatched anywhere in the city. Plaza de Armas and Plaza San Martin anchor Centro, with the former containing government buildings, beautiful architecture and plenty of history. Be sure to poke your head inside Galería Municipal de Arte Pancho Fierro for cutting edge contemporary art and photography exhibitions highlighting local Limeño artists, great stuff. Following Lima’s main pedestrian street, Jiron de la Union, you end up in Plaza San Martin, a Parisian style plaza where political rallies usually taking place. Many say the famous pisco sour was invented at El Bolivarcito, it would be a shame to miss it.

The backstreets of Centro come alive with traditional costumes and contemporary graffiti.

However, the most interesting area of Centro is Quilca, a long street with old school bars, graffiti covered walls, underground punk venues and character-filled record shops and more radical bookstores than you can count. Start off your Quilca adventure with a drink and some food at Bar Queirolo, a place where college students and political activists rub shoulders and discuss the worlds problems. In a somewhat conservative city, Quillca shows Lima’s more radical and underground side. Another part of Centro worth visiting is Barrio Chino, Lima’s 170 year old Chinatown.

#1 Barranco

Street art adorns the walls of Barranco.

Ah, Barrnaco! This is one of the coolest neighborhoods not only in Peru, but in all of South America. Once home to the famous Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, Barranco is a wonderful neighborhood full of cobblestoned streets, beautiful ocean views, and sophisticated restaurants experimenting with Peru’s new gastronomic boom. Barranco is a little slice of the Mediterranean in the heart of Lima, No trip to Peru would be complete without spending a day and night here. Start off the morning at Bisettis, a cool cafe that wouldn’t be out of place in the Mission District or Williamsburg. Have lunch at El Chinito, quite possibly the best Chicharrón sandwich shop in Lima. For dinner try Burrito Bar, a British owned Mexican restaurant which serves up tasty tacos and burritos; it’s surprisingly delicious. However, if you’ve come to Peru to spend some money on food, your money would be very well spent in one of the more upscale restaurants. To finish the night off head to Ayahuasca Bar, which was once a Barranco mansion and now has been turned into a labyrinth of different bars and lounges, with each room out-styling the next. This is where Lima’s rich and fabulous come to play, and a night out here is guaranteed to be a good time. Try one of the Ayahusca sours, which contain mashed coca leaves from the high Andes mixed with tropical fruits from the Amazon.

Ayahuasca is an upscale bar in an old converted mansion in Barranco.


10582904_10152710407396469_4292822206649074376_oBorn and raised in San Francisco, Walker then majored in International Relations and Chinese at the New School University in NYC. He began traveling during a high school exchange to Argentina, and hasn’t stopped since. Walker has always sought out the more unusual and off the beaten path locations and is combining his love for photography and travel to kickstart a career as a journalist, striving to redefine the profession in rapidly changing world.

São Paulo’s Top 5 Neighborhoods

By Walker Dawson

With 31.5 million people in the combined metropolitan area, São Paulo is an impossible city to describe in only a few short words. To call it the New York of Latin America wouldn’t do this megalopolis justice.  Three times the size of Paris, this city would take several lifetimes to get to know.  São Paulo is expensive and crowded, but any city this large will naturally have its negative aspects, but if one is prepared to look beyond these, the positives far outweigh the negatives. São Paulo is a city of distinct neighborhoods and diverse lifestyles intermingling everyday on the subway and in the crowded streets, at the numerous bookstores, bars, nightclubs and restaurants.  Economically, Brazil is one the most unequal countries in the world, yet it is this exact inequality that makes São Paulo so complicated, yet so intriguing. The poorest and the richest of Brazil interact in close quarters, creating a complicated fabric from which emerges Brazil at its most creative and most intellectual. On par with New York and Paris, this is truly one of the world’s greatest and most captivating cities.  Many people overlook São Paulo for the beaches of Rio, or the jungles of the Amazon, but they are missing out on a city that has the ability to humble even the most seasoned traveler.

#5 Barra Funda

Os Gemeos Exhibit at Galeria Fortes Vilaça.

Barra Funda is an up and coming industrialized area northwest of downtown, characterized by art galleries and music venues of all types. The slightly rundown streets exude a type of Williamsburg-before-it-was-cool vibe. In 5 minutes, you can walk from D-Edge, one of São Paulo’s trendiest night clubs to Boteco Pratododia, where an alternative crowd dances to Caribbean salsa and other Latin beats late into the night . Not only is Barra Funda filled with an insane array of nightlife options, it is also a center for up and coming artists. Many of the industrialized warehouses are becoming independent studios such as Galeria Fortes Vilaça, which recently hosted an exhibition on the world famous São Paulo graffiti duo, Os Gemeos. Make sure to see what’s on display and check it out.

#4 Liberdade

Aska Ramen Restaurant in Liberdade.

São Paulo is a city of immigrants and that diversity can best be seen in Liberdade, a densely packed neighborhood of Japanese restaurants, Chinese markets, and narrow, hilly streets that light up beautifully at night. Brazil has the largest concentration of Japanese people outside of Japan, and the majority live in this neighborhood. The best way to discover Liberdade is to attend the wonderful Sunday street market, where you can buy the Japanese delicacy, takoyaki, a ball of octopus, shrimp, tempura flakes, green onion and ginger fried in fresh cream.  No one should leave São Paulo without having a meal at Aska, a cozy, Japanese ramen joint, that has super cheap prices (extremely unusual in this city), delicious food, as well as a long wait. A São Paulo must!

#3 Centro


Centro is the historic heart of the city.  Most Paulistas dismiss the the neighborhood as dirty and crime ridden, but if you are able to see beyond its decay, it is a fascinating area full of pedestrianized streets, 400 year old churches, steep hills with narrow, bustling streets, open-air markets, neoclassical and art deco architecture, and enough energy to impress even a hardened New Yorker. One of the most interesting aspects of Centro is its alternative edge. Most downtowns in North America are strictly about business, yet here in São Paulo, there are numerous alternative art galleries, and underground bars where skateboarders, weed smokers and anarchists rub shoulders with businessmen getting off of work. Be sure to check out Galeria do Rock, a five story mini mall dedicated to punk and skater shops, tattoo parlors and musky record stores.

Praça Roosevelt.

The area around 25 de Março is considered the largest commercial center in all of Latin America, and is one of the best places in the city to see São Paulo’s diversity. Chinese and Korean merchants sell electronic goods to Bolivians and Paraguayans, while Syrians, Iraqis, Palestinians and Lebanese folks sell clothes and produce to every other race under the sun. One location that perfectly encapsulates the alternative-meets-business feel of Centro is a bar called Papo, Pinga e Petisco, a bohemian joint that wouldn’t be out of place in the most intellectual corner of Greenwich Village. Take a seat in the back behind the pool table, where the smell of African incense and marijuana mix with the aroma of dusty vinyls, books and dark Paulistânia beer.

#2 Vila Madalena/Pinheiros

Local artists in Beco do Batman

Vila Madalena and Pinheiros are two trendy, residential neighborhoods adjacent to each other, located southwest of Avenida Paulista. While there aren’t many specific sights to see, its the best place in all of São Paulo to eat and drink. The coolness factor in these two hoods is unmatched anywhere in Brazil, and is on par with the the most hip neighborhoods of New York, Paris and London. Take a stroll down Beco do Batman, an old alleyway that has been converted into a space highlighting local graffiti artists. You won’t go wrong pulling up a chair at any bar in Vila Madalena/Pinheiros, but be sure to start with Mercearia São Pedro, which is part bar, part restaurant, part bookstore and part video store; definitely one of the coolest places in this city. Another great bar is Empório Sagarana, a perfect place to sample every type of cachaça imaginable.

Empório Sagarana.

For food, be sure to eat at Meats, an American style diner serving incredible burgers such as the Big Apple, a juicy patty topped with crisp green apples and a honey-wasabi glaze. Wash down your meal with a Guinness and Jack Daniels milkshake. For a slightly lighter meal, check out Kebab Paris, one of the best kebab places this side of the Atlantic. You also won’t go wrong at Feed Food, a stylish organic restaurant serving all types of world food in a greenhouse setting. For coffee, check out Coffee Lab, where baristas in lab coats serve aeropressed coffee for maximum flavor and kick.

#1 Bela Vista/Paulista

A Dupla da Paulista performing on Avenida Paulista.

Avenida Paulista is the beating heart of São Paulo. While some might disregard the area because of its endless sea of skyscrapers, you only need to pause for a moment to observe the chaotic energy unmatched anywhere else in Brazil. As the sun sets and rush hour begins, artists line the street to sell their work, while musicians of all ages play for the teeming masses of businessmen. In one minute I witnessed a band play Creedence Clearwater while a separate group of Anarchists and Feminists blocked traffic while marching down the middle of the street.  Along Avenida Paulista, relax in a bean bag at Livraria Cultura, the largest bookstore in Brazil.

Avenida Augusta.

Adjacent to Avenida Paulista is Bela Vista, whose main thoroughfare, Avenida Augusta, is full of bars, restaurants, movie theaters, comedy clubs and music venues. The neighborhood was once inhabited by punks, skinheads, lesbians, gays and hippies, but today vestiges of the old neighborhood are mingling with business folks who trickle off Ave Paulista in search of drinks, dinner, and more. The contrast between the alternative original nature of Augusta and the recent wave of gentrification is a fascinating.  When in Bela Vista/Augusta, be sure to check out Chicano Taqueria, a new California style taqueria serving up mean burritos, tacos, quesadillas and San Francisco’s finest, Anchor Steam beer. Afterwards, hit up Caos Bar, an eclectic biker bar sporting Americana kitsch and serving up great drinks while you lounge on antique couches.

Rio’s Top 5 Neighborhoods

There is not other way of putting it, Rio de Janeiro is one of the world’s best cities. It’s equal parts first world and third world, part European, part Latin, and part African. It flows to the beat of Samba and Funky, and enjoys hands down the greatest setting of any city in the world. It is far from perfect, the crime rate is high, the poor are mistreated by the military and police, and the economic disparities are some of the most extreme on the planet, but it is those exact tensions and contrasts that make Rio endlessly fascinating.  At the end of the day, Cariocas (a resident of Rio) seem to put these differences aside in favor of white sand beaches, the warm Atlantic water and the vibrant nightlife.

#5 Urca

The upper middle class neighborhood of Urca is an unexpected delight. It has beautiful treelined streets with local neighborhood restaurants and bars (make sure to check out Bar Urca where you can sit on the sea wall overlooking of Rio and the Christ the Redeemer statue). But what makes this neighborhood great is its setting. It is situated on the end of a narrow peninsula between the iconic Pão de Açúcar/Sugarloaf mountain and the bay.

Things to see:
  • Pista Cláudio Coutinho
  • Praia Vermelha
  • Pão de Açúcar/Sugarloaf mountain
Praia Vermelha and Pão de Açúcar, Urca.

#4 Copacabana

This is the most typical of neighborhoods on this list, but it must be mentioned. This is what Rio de Janeiro is famous for; if you’ve seen this city in a movie or on a postcard, it was probably from Copacabana. Here lies one of the greatest stretches of urban beach anywhere in the world. One minute you are underground, packed like a sardine at rush hour on a crowded subway car, and the next minute you are riding waves in clear, warm water with white sands, palm trees and blue skies. An added bonus is that the people are beautiful, the juices are plentiful and otherworldly and the setting is spectacular. This is why people come to Rio, and I can understand why.

Copacabana Beach.

#3 Centro

For a city of 12.5 million, the downtown of Rio may seem disappointing at first (the skyline could be compared to a mid sized American city such as Cincinnati or Denver), but what it lacks in soulless skyscrapers, it makes up for with history and old world charm. This is the historical heart of Rio de Janeiro, and some might argue all of Brazil, but this isn’t like the tacky tourist joints of the North End in Boston, or Midtown Manhattan where teeshirt shops outnumber locals, these streets are rough, with homeless men smoking crack, people shuffling through garbage and the walls are covered in graffiti. But pause for a second and you will find over 400 years of Portuguese and Brazilian history all around you.

Things to see:
    • Mosteiro de São Bento
    • Centro Cultural Banco Do Brasil
    • Travessa do Comércio
Igreja de São Francisco de Paula, Centro.

#2 Lapa

If there is a crazier party strip in Latin America I’d like to see it. Lapa is where Cariocas of all walks of life come to party and be merry. The sounds of Samba flood into the street, strangers meet and begin dancing, people sip caipirinhas while chewing on grilled meat from migrants from Brazil’s Northeast, transsexuals sell themselves on street corners in skimpy dresses, and in the shadows crack dealers sell their goods. It’s a crazy mix that must be experienced, preferably with a sweet caipirinha in your hand.

Street Vendor, Lapa.

#1 Santa Teresa

This bohemian hood of narrow, 100 year old cobble stone streets is Rio’s crowned jewel. This is a neighborhood of poets, writers, artists, and those who inhabit crumbling, turn of the century mansions. This neighborhood would certainly take the cake as one of the worlds great neighborhoods. Make sure to check out Largo do Guimarães and Largo das Neves, two old squares with bohemian bars (Bar do Gomez) and restaurants (Bar do Mineiro). Our personal favorite is Largo das Letras, a wonderful place where music dances through a library like setting and caipirinhas flow freely.

Bar do Gomez, Santa Teresa.

Stay tuned for our neighborhood review of Sao Paulo.