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A view of the malecón (esplanade) in Lima, taken from the Barranco neighborhood (Photograph by Elie Gardner)

Elie Gardner, a freelance photographer who contributes to  Traveler magazine and has led trips for National Geographic Student Expeditions, grew up in a tiny town in North Dakota. Work brought her to Peru’s capital city in late 2010, and she’s been there ever since. Elie loves speaking Spanish, trying new foods, seeking out cultural experiences, and finding hidden gems in her husband’s hometown. Here are some of her favorite things about Lima.

Follow Elie’s story on Twitter and Instagram @eliegardner.

Lima is My City

When someone comes to visit me, the first place I take them is the historic center of Lima for a walk, starting at Plaza San Martín and ending in the Plaza de Armas via the pedestrian avenue Jirón de la Union.

January is the best time to visit my city, because the sun shines on the entire city and makes its colors more vibrant and its residents less irritable.

You can see my city best from Cerro San Cristóbal.

Locals know to skip Starbucks and check out Tostaduría Bisetti instead.

Dédalo is one of my favorite places to buy authentic, local souvenirs.

In the past, notable people like Mario Testino, Gastón Acurio, Susana Baca, and Mario Vargas LLosa have called my city home.

My city’s best museum is the Church and Convent of San Francisco, a gem of colonial architecture complete with catacombs. But if you prefer art to history, check out the Lima Art Museum, known as MALI, housed in an impressive palace built in the 1870s.

If there’s one thing you should know about getting around my city, take Metropolitano (Lima’s official public transportation system) when you can. It connects the popular neighborhoods of Barranco and Miraflores to the historic center. It’s often jam packed, but you’ll arrive quickly and avoid sitting in traffic.

The best place to spend time outdoors in my city is reading, walking, biking, running, blading or paragliding on the malecón in Barranco and Miraflores.

My city really knows how to celebrate it’s gastronomy, especially at Mistura, one of the largest and most important food festivals in the world held every September.

You can tell if someone is from my city if the first topic of conversation is food.

For a fancy night out, I recommend dinner and drinks at Rafael.

Just outside my city, you can visit the archaeological complex of Pachacamac, an important pre-Incan religious center, which also has a panoramic view of the ocean.

My city is known for being ugly and dangerous, but it’s really worth taking the time to explore.

The best outdoor market in my city is Bioferia de Miraflores on Saturdays, chuck full of organic goodies and local flavors.

Gianfranco is my favorite place to grab breakfast because of their perfect cup of espresso made of beans from six different regions of the country, and La Lucha is the spot for late-night eats, as long as you order the turkey sandwich with sarsa criolla (a delicious mix of lime and onion), homemade tartar sauce, and ají.

To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read the “Escape” section of the newspaper El Comercio or the Facebook pages of local museums and cultural centers.

My city’s biggest sports event is when Peru plays soccer, even though they usually lose. Watch it at the national stadium and soften the blow by taking a few nuevos soles to buy a choripan (chorizo).

When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I go for a walk and take advantage of cheap and delicious street food, like picarones (sweet potato donuts served with fig syrup) and anticuchos (kebabs of beef heart).

To escape the crowds (and the clouds!), go to Cieneguilla where the sun almost always shines. On the weekends you can eat pachamanca, a traditional way of cooking with hot stones and the earth, and pass the afternoon swimming or laying in a hammock at one of the many “campestre” restaurants.

If my city were a celebrity it’d be Marilyn Monroe because it’s a city of stark contrasts, beautiful but complicated, even dark at times. Yet both share a persistent desire to rise above their circumstances.

The dish that represents my city best is ceviche, and the pisco sour is my city’s signature drink.

The Archbishop’s Palace of Lima in the Plaza de Armas is my favorite building in town because of its gorgeous wooden balconies.

The most random thing about my city is that it almost never rains. It’s the second largest desert city in the world after Cairo. Leave your umbrella at home.

Peña Don Porfirio has traditional Afro-Peruvian music and is my favorite place to see live music, but if you’re in the mood to dance, check out Tumbao for some salsa madness.

With a moderate climate year round, houses without heating and air conditioning could only exist in my city.

In the spring you should check out the Holy Week processions, to see how Catholic and indigenous customs have fused, and bear witness to the superstitious and faith-filled culture of the city.

In the summer (winter here!) you should warm up with an emoliente, an herbal drink that usually contains flax, barley and other healing plants like horse tail and cat’s claw.

In the fall you should go for a hike in the Lomas de Lucumó or the Lomas de Lachay because the humidity and clouds of summer have flooded the desert hills with green vegetation.

In the winter (summer here!) you should eat lots of mangoes, wear sunscreen, visit the beach, and learn to surf.

If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss the Magic Water Circuit, a vast park featuring 13 fountains that you should visit at night. It’s a colorful, interactive experience and one of the largest fountain parks in the world.

The best book about my city is La Ciudad y Los Perros by Mario Vargas Llosa.

When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is “Triciclo Perú” by Los Mojarras.

In 140 characters or less, the world should heart my city because it has a rich past, delicious food, and an edgy entrepreneurial spirit that makes it one of the most interesting cities in Latin America.

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