The Barranco area in the heart of Lima is an open art museum known for its bohemian vibe. The colorful, colonial mansions in the area have been converted from summer homes into coffee shops, art galleries, ice cream parlors, bookstores, and more. The walls and buildings of Barranco are a colorful canvas.
As I walk under the bridge near Avenue San Martin, I see one of the most extensive murals in the area. It is a portrait of a starry night that bleeds into the many different peoples of Peru. The dark blues of the mural fade to lighter tones as it tells the story of its people’s diversity, inclusion, and unity. A young musician softly plays his guitar under the mural’s stars. His soft and lilting voice passes by me as I walk along the cobblestone streets. The sugary smell of the freshly made picarones wafts through the air as a young boy buys the doughy treat from a vendor on a worn-down bicycle. Although the area fills with the hustle and bustle of tourists during weekends, today, the streets of Barranco are quiet and calm.
Barranco is home to some of the finest restaurants, including Central, which was recently rated the second-best restaurant in the world. Central is famous for creating innovative and eccentric dishes using indigenous, local flavors and ingredients. Chef Virgilio Martínez Véliz is the head chef and has created a tasting menu based on the different altitudes of the country. The menu takes you from the Andes mountains into the Amazon jungle and back down to the Pacific Ocean. Pía León, Martínez’s wife, has a restaurant nearby that also tops the 50 Best Restaurants in Latin America. Equally delicious, Kjolle is a bit more casual than Central. There is no set menu, but like the latter, they source the ingredients from the different regions. Chefs Martínez and León are more than just purveyors of delicious food; they are scientists constantly experimenting and creating exclusive dishes that take you on a tour of Peru.
Among the cobblestone streets of Barranco sits Hotel B, a small slice of France’s Golden Age, La Belle Époque, or the “beautiful era.” The beauty of the building shines through the bright picturesque windows, open balconies, and elaborate facade. The villa was once accessible only to Peru’s high society, but now it is available to art and history enthusiasts. French architect Claude Sahut designed the building in the classic La Belle Époque style in the early 1900s as a summer home for a renowned politician in the area, García Bedoya. In 2013 it was restored and opened up as Hotel B. The mansion has many exquisite rooms throughout: including a formal dining room, a library filled with old encyclopedias, a bar reminiscent of the 1920s, and an elegant rooftop.
Entering Hotel B is like stepping into an art gallery. This boutique hotel has over three hundred pieces of Latin American art. In the lobby hangs an immense hyperrealist painting by Mexican artist Víctor Rodríquez. One half of the image portrays a glass full of water, while the other half features a beautiful Latin American woman with short dark hair, a piece both feminine and mysterious. In the library, a pre-Columbian blanket that dates back to 800 AD hangs on the wall. The geometric shapes of the blanket emphasized by the tile on the floor are striking, and the colors seem to be just as sharp as they were over a thousand years ago. There is a beautiful smell in the library of old books and a hint of vanilla. Bottles of champagne sit chilling in the corner, ready to be drunk by hotel guests.
The bar menu, curated by the 2018 Best Peruvian Bartender, Axel Romero, sits neatly on the tables, beckoning passersby to sip some of the best cocktails Lima offers. The Summum award-winning bartender is known for creating drinks that connect to the history and culture of the country. One of his popular drinks is based on a spiritual celebration famous in southern Peru. The handmade cup in which it is served dons the masks of two dancing devils, commonly used during the Festival of the Virgin of Candelaria in Puno. This festival, started in the 16th century, pays its respects to the patron saint of Puno and is filled with fierce dancing, elaborate attire, and a large feast. The interpretation of this festival, in the shape of a cocktail, is fragrant, filled with whiskey and rum distilled in the ancient Incan terraces near Machu Picchu. Romero’s passion for the history and culture of Peru can be tasted in each sip.
Throughout the mansion, the artwork seems to never end. In a room upstairs, hanging above the ornate white furniture, is a more modern artwork. The area is quiet and peaceful; I hear the guests in the rooms softly getting ready for their day. It feels fresh and clean and smells of light lavender oil. In the corner of the room, I take a freshly squeezed lemonade from an embellished jar. It is tart and refreshing as the chilled glass hits my lips.
The room is filled with art, but a brightly colored magenta sculpture stands out among the rest. Pink is the creation of the Peruvian sculptor Aldo Chaparro, who bent stainless steel with only his hands and body, transferring his energy and physical imprint into the artwork. The harsh edges of the piece reflect soft pink light at all different angles around the room. As I continue through the boutique hotel, I can feel the vibrations and spirit of the paintings, old and new.
At the core of the building, the Italian marble staircase turns to glass as I step onto one of the best resto bars in Lima. I walk past a few teatinas, a term used in the coast for the distinctive style of skylight popular in the early 1900s, which brings light and ventilation into the building. The geometric shapes, marble tables, and dark wood seen throughout the hotel continue even onto the rooftop, which looks down upon the grassy boulevard below. In the distance, the light shines on the Pacific. The soft sounds of classical music drift in the air. It is calm here, and the drink menu finally entices me for an aperitif. I, of course, opt for the most famous Peruvian drink, the Pisco Sour. The pisco is strong but sweet with its distinguishable frothy top and a dash of bitters, perfectly fresh and citrusy for this warm, sunny day in Lima.
Besides sipping cocktails on the rooftop, the hotel offers many excellent experiences showing a taste of the city’s life. Cooking classes are offered where you can learn to create authentic local dishes such as lomo saltado and ceviche. There are also sailing classes where you can sail along Lima’s exquisite coastline. The hotel is a remarkable place to visit and will fill you with culture, history, and art.
Emerging back out onto the streets of Barranco is the old wooden Bridge of Sighs, built in 1876 to cross a small stream that used to flow through the area. However, it took on a life of its own. The rumor goes that the daughter of a wealthy merchant lived in a summer home in the area. She had fallen in love with a street sweeper, and when her father found out, he forbade her to see him. She was left to look out of her window onto the bridge with a deep, longing sigh. Nowadays, it is a popular spot for deep thought among poets and artists. Standing over the structure, one can see surfers riding the waves of the Pacific Ocean. One of the most beautiful murals by artist Jade Rivera is on one side of the bridge. It is titled El hogar de un suspiro, the Home of Sigh, and is a declaration of love by the artist to the neighborhood. On the other side, a fence with thousands of locks is dedicated to the lovers who have crossed the bridge together. Love is palpable in this part of Lima. Romance, art, and culture are ubiquitous here.
A version of this article appears in print, in Issue 1 of Álula Magazine with the headline: “Barranco: Lima’s Bohemian District”