Around the turn of the century, a salon society emerged in Peru’s capital, gathering at the mansions of landed Peruvian and European families who summered in Barranco (“ravine”), an intimate seaside enclave southeast of the city center.
As those bright young things gradually moved on, they left behind an architectural kaleidoscope that shifts from colonial to Gothic to art deco. Artists and musicians transformed those casonas into galleries and cafés, but by the 1970s the scene had turned bleak. Happily, a boom of venues has revived the warren. “When people in Lima look for something fun, artistic, or bohemian,” says Barranco resident Flor Calderón, “they end up here.”
Chess players, couples, and tourists rendezvous in this central green space that is at times tranquil and other times buoyant, with open-air salsa classes, a revolving cast of buskers, and free weekend concerts by regional rock and pop stars in the amphitheater.
This ivory-hued mansion houses the private cache of Pedro de Osma Gildemeister, an aristocrat who hosted dignitaries and helped put Barranco on Lima’s society map. His collection of colonial-era Peruvian paintings, textiles, sculptures, and books offers a glimpse into the traditional culture that shaped the neighborhood over a century ago.
A brick promenade lined by pastel houses, ficus trees, and bright bougainvillea flowers leads from the plaza to a spectacular ocean overlook, crossed by the Puente de los Suspiros (“bridge of sighs”), a slim wooden walkway where lovers linger.
An Italian missionary in the 1970s founded the Don Bosco cooperative and began promoting the handiwork of woodworkers from provincial Peru. His efforts continue at this studio and showroom in a restored century-old building, where visitors can watch Andean villagers transform wood blocks into masterful chairs, benches, and cabinets.
In this boutique selling local artists’ wares, the keen eye of owner María Elena Fernández is showcased throughout 14 rooms — from zany aluminum figurines by sculptor Luitpol Ruiz in one nook to sketches of a carefree Limeña girl by Shila Alvarado in another. Lima’s current arty set hangs around for its outdoor café, concerts, and master classes in painting.
High ceilings and intricately detailed tile floors set a chic scene at this newcomer specializing in sustainable twists on beloved Peruvian dishes, such as Japanese-inspired Tiradito Atún Nikkei, a seviche of tuna marinated in soy.
Throughout this multiroom lounge, the tipple of choice is pisco (Peruvian grape brandy) starring in unexpected cocktails with camu camu berry juice and coca leaves. Laid-back evenings morph into ultra-hip nights, with the cool crowd wandering in between midnight and 3 a.m.
Underground local groups, popular national acts, even Carlos Santana tribute bands — musicians of all kinds take turns here nightly. Shows rage from 11 p.m. until the wee hours, fueled by cheap cerveza and pisco sours. An oversize upper-level room offers rotating art exhibitions — and a welcome respite from the mob.
This piece, written by Gary Lee, appeared in the February/March 2013 issue of National Geographic Traveler. There’s a lot you can’t get online: To see all we have to offer, subscribe to get the print edition for just $10 a year or download a digital copy to your iPad.