“How much do you weigh?” the clerk asks in a bark while scanning the waiver form I have just completed.
“About 170 pounds,” I reply as I inhale the aroma of the clean, salt air of Lima’s coastline.
The man looks up at me and squints. Apparently doubting my answer, he requests I take a step back so he can better gauge my size and then repeats his question, taking on the tone of an interrogator. “How much?”
“Um, maybe 175,” I say, confessing to a weight gain I blame on too much steak from my most recent stop in Argentina.
“That’s 80 kilos.” He glances over his shoulder to a group of men sitting in plastic chairs and calls for Enrique. The clerk hands me a copy of the waiver form and a receipt for the adventure I have just enlisted in. “Your pilot is over there. You give him the money.”
Enrique has stood from his chair, looking very much like he could play a leading role in a Latin American version of “Top Gun”. He is square-jawed, tall and muscular, the best choice from the platoon of pilots to haul an adult male (170 pounds-ish in weight) into the sky.
The experience of paragliding from the cliffs of Peru’s capital, soaring over the rooftops of its towering office and apartment buildings, drifting above the waves of the Pacific Ocean, is one of the best soft-adventure rides I have ever encountered. The 10-minute tandem trip is thrilling and relaxing at the same time, giving you a bird’s-eye view of the city and the ocean, while a pilot such as Enrique guides you.
No training is involved for passengers of the tandem trip with Perufly (there are options for solo rides that require one day of training before you’re allowed to fly on your own). You simply walk up to the launching circle positioned on one of the cliff faces that are about 260 feet above the ocean and sign up. A team of workers harness you to the pilot, who is in turn harnessed to the paraglider that takes you both away. Although 10 minutes may seem short, it doesn’t feel that way when you’re aloft.
The ride is smooth and comfortable, slow and easy. The setting is spectacular and by the time you’ve figured out it may not be wise to be careening through the air with your feet dangling freely amid unpredictable winds, it’s time to set down. The pilot does all the work on the landing, too, delivering you back to the surety of Lima, a city with far more to offer than I expected.
Although it ranks as the most visited city in Latin America, Lima has served mostly as a layover stop, a place for travelers to spend a night or two en route to Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail. Most tourists come to Peru to spend days, sometimes weeks, exploring the country’s ancient cultural treasures that are hours away from the big city.
In my case, though, I arrived for the one area of tourism where Lima has found success — food. I was staggered by what else I encountered, primarily a public promenade, the Malecón, that skirts the cliffs of the city that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. The Malecón is to the people of Lima what the coastline is to Southern Californians or Central Park is to New Yorkers, a place to appreciate the nature of where you live without being inundated with commercial activity. A handful of small cafes are spread out along the northern side of the Malecón and the open-air Larcomar Shopping Center is bustling with fashion stores and al-fresco restaurants. Aside from those retailers, what you will find on the seawall are tennis courts and soccer fields, public art — including a large and lovely sculpture of a couple in embrace in Parque del Amor (Love Park) — and green spaces for lounging on grass, breathing in the ocean air and watching the scene from the clifftop. The paragliding base is in the center of the Malecón, as well.
Located in Miraflores, the safe, upscale neighborhood on the west side of the city, the Malecón is a six-mile delight that will wow you and encourage you to explore other parts of Lima.
Barranco is an arts district with historic houses, trendy clubs and a lovely main square overlooking a cathedral. You’ll want to drop into Ayahuasca Bar, a converted colonial mansion with multiple floors and a cocktail list that includes Peru’s famed Pisco Sour as well as concoctions made with exotic ingredients (including jungle fruits such as aguaymanto and Peruvian lychee, but excluding the hallucinogenic plant that is the bar’s namesake). La Noche features jazz music midweek and is a favorite with expats.
In Lima Centro, you’ll find the oldest parts of the city, including Plaza de Armas, which dates to 1535 and is cited as Lima’s birthplace because it is where Spanish conqueror Francisco Pizzaro laid the foundation for governance.
The beaches are a beacon for surfers and sunbathers. And then there is the food — specifically, ceviche, made with a variety of fish and shellfish, which are cured in lime juice, and served accompanied with corn and sweet potato, and a dash of aji or chili pepper. You will be tempted to carve a ceviche trail during your time here.
If you did, you would want to start at La Mar Cebicheria, the flagship restaurant of Gaston Acurio, considered the master of Peruvian cooking. La Mar, in Miraflores, is only open for lunch and it is bustling. It serves an array of ceviche dishes, plus other options including decadent seafood platters. For high-end dining, Acurio’s acolyte, Virgilio Martínez, has won over the foodie world at Central, which features cuisine from ingredients sourced from below sea level to the peaks of Peru — a nation whose capital city is soaring with pleasurable fun.
MORE ABOUT VISITING LIMA
Flying There: LATAM and American Airlines offer daily non-stop flights to Lima from LAX with round-trip fares costing approximately $1,500. Houston, New York and Miami also have direct flights.
Where to Eat: Central (Santa Isabel 376, Miraflores) has been named the best restaurant in South America by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. La Mar Cebicheria (Av. La Mar 770, Miraflores) is celebrity chef Gaston Acurio’s famous lunch spot for ceviche and other seafood fare. Cala (Circuito de Playas, Barranco 15063) is a stylish restaurant overlooking Barranco Beach. It serves delicious ceviche from less traditional recipes.
Paragliding: The Perufly experience costs $80 USD (or 260 Peruvian soles). You walk up to the company’s booth on the Malecón and sign up. Your wait is usually less than 10 minutes for the ride. You may want to wear a jacket, but I was comfortable in shorts and a T-shirt. The mounted GoPro shoots a video of you as you enjoy your ride and you receive a copy after the trip.