Peruvians proudly say their country is known for three things: history, sightseeing, and food. But they may be selling themselves short. Although this South American country does boast an abundance of stunning archeological sites, a multitude of museums and delightful vistas, and just about every dining possibility you can imagine — Peru is so much more.
Peru is the ultimate in environmental diversity, possessing 84 of the Earth’s known 103 ecosystems in three climate zones—the coastal plateau, Andes mountains, and Amazon jungle. Its capital city, Lima, is as diverse and cosmopolitan as any major global metropolis, and the country as a whole is a true melting pot of cultures, histories, religions, and ethnicities.
There are some caveats for the LGBTQ traveler, though. Peru is still making strides when it comes to issues of tolerance and basic rights such as marriage equality. The machismo aura prevalent within many Latin cultures is also strong here, and this becomes more prevalent the further one travels from Lima.
Above: The indigenous people of Peru are most hospitable, including to queer travelers.
“I would be cautious about public displays of affection,” said Julio Cesar ‘Polo’ Salas, digital planner for Mountain Lodges of Peru (MountainLodgesofPeru.com) and the communications director of Presente, a non-government organization that promotes LGBTQ rights within local businesses and cultural communities. “There are some safe spaces where you can display love, such as Miraflores and Barranco,” he elaborates. “Nevertheless, local people, especially older ones, are very conservative and would still gasp if they saw two men holding hands or kissing.”
Same-sex couples should have no problem renting a room with one bed in the more deluxe hotels but should exercise caution when roughing it or in isolated areas. A reputable tour organizer with experience planning for LGBTQ travelers can ensure you make the right choices for each locale.
Lima is massive. At last count, 11 million Peruvians call this cosmopolitan city home and the number is growing daily. The ethnic and cultural diversity of the mega-metropolis—from large transplanted Asian communities to the indigenous peoples who fled past terrors brought on by the Shining Path guerilla movement—results in an unbelievable variety of culinary experiences, from hole-in-the-wall to high-end.
Above: Astrid y Gaston
Looking for a five-star caliber restaurant with multiple-course meals and a wine list to die for? Try Astrid y Gaston (AstridyGaston.com), the collaboration of Peruvian cuisine ambassador Gaston Acurio and pastry chef Astrid Gutsche. In the mood for ceviche while overlooking the crashing waves of Pacific Ocean? You’ll find cevicherias everywhere, but the best views are down south in the touristy beach district of Pucusana. How about trying a chifa kitchen with authentic Chinese noodles? Or something more exotic, like guinea pig (which tastes more like rabbit than chicken)? You’re covered there, too! There’s also plenty of eateries serving up steak, seafood, sushi, pizza, and burgers if you’re feeling less adventurous.
My stay was organized by Chimu Adventures (ChimuAdventures.com), which arranged everything from airport transfers to a bicycle tour of the various districts. Their knowledge and attention to detail made everything a breeze. My accommodations were in a 1920s Republican-era estate home, repurposed into the boutique hotel Casa Republica (CasaRepublica.com). Located in the Barranco District on a quiet street overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the 22 rooms of Casa Republica are an oasis of serenity amid the hustle and bustle of the nation’s capital. Outside its gates, small streets lead to a variety of restaurants and galleries. Bougainvillea-covered park benches invite you to linger, watch the passersby, and gaze at the eclectic mix of architecture, and silhouettes of parasailers against the setting sun.
Above: Incan masonry.
Lima’s typically gay-friendly districts of Miraflores and Barranco mentioned by Salas are definitely worth checking out. Miraflores is a trendy, upscale residential area with a shopping district to rival Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive. You’ll find plenty of bars serving pisco sours (try the passion fruit, it’s a Peruvian specialty), Michelin book-worthy restaurants, and happening nightclubs. The three main gay clubs in the area are in the Miraflores district — Lola Bar, Vale Todos Downtown, and Legendaris. Barranco is more artistic and cutting edge and includes the historical center of town. Think SoHo with a Spanish Colonial and Republican architectural makeover, offering craft breweries and too many restaurants to count, all sprinkled with architecture dating from the time of Francisco Pizarro (who established Lima in 1535).
Make time for a cutting-edge theatrical experience at Microteatro (which translates to “micro theater,” MicroteatroLima.com). The brainchild of Peruvian photographer Rafo Iparraguirre and Spanish actor Jordi Vilalta, it features quick and quirky plays using “found place” staging. Microteatro features good drinks, mouth-watering appetizers, live music, and LGBTQ-themed events and activities in a unique Peruvian-Bohemian environment.
If Lima is the modern Peru, then Cuzco is its proud past. This city in the clouds is at the heart of the successive indigenous empires that ruled Peru for over 4,000 years before the arrival of the first Spanish conquistadors. There is an Incan symmetry to the layout and design of the old town, combined with the colonial architecture of cathedrals and town squares brought by coloninizing Europeans. Cuzco is touristy in places, but the rich history (and the altitude) will take your breath away. With fewer restaurants than its big sister city on the Pacific, this Andean wonder still has enough culinary variety to keep you satisfied for an extended visit.
Above: The courtyard at El Retablo.
Located in a newly-gentrified section of the historical area of Cuzco, El Retablo Art Boutique B&B (ElRetablo.com) is an older repurposed property of Mountain Lodges of Peru. Rather than rely on local hotels, MLP simply built or repurposed their own exclusive properties. The rooms at El Retablo are bright and inviting, with hand-painted ceilings and walls. An inner courtyard with small tables and chairs provides a respite from the 12,700 feet of elevation. It’s best to spend a night or two in Cuzco to acclimate yourself before venturing to even higher elevations. The locals chew cocoa leaves constantly and sell small bags of the natural stimulants everywhere for less than a dollar. The result of extended use is comparable to drinking a few cups of coffee combined with a tingling numbness in the mouth. Cuzco is the gateway to the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. It’s more traditional and lags behind Lima in LGBTQ tolerance. There is a more accepting and respectful attitude once inside upscale restaurants or hotels. Cuzco does have a gay-friendly restaurant, night club, and hotel wrapped into one establishment, Fallen Angel (FallenAngelinCusco.com), that is popular with both locals and visiting celebrities (like Susan Sarandon) alike. While not a designated gay bar, it is unofficially recognized as a local LGBTQ gathering place.
Peru is a fascinating and vibrant travel destination. It is for the most part friendly and welcoming to the LGBTQ traveler, as long as one recognizes some areas are still struggling to progress beyond certain old-school, homophobic attitudes. Travelers will experience the best in dining, culture, history, architecture, and natural beauty in this exciting South American country.