Should you consider San Isidro when planning your own trip to Lima?
On our third visit to this city of 11 million people, we decided to get a little distance from the popular Miraflores neighborhood and give lush, quiet San Isidro a try. Here’s what we learned.
For this trip, we booked a room in the Novotel San Isidro Lima. Like the neighborhood around it, the hotel is “business chic.” While rates vary from site to site, we found a rate of around $65.00 per night; with a little effort and flexibility, you can probably stay there for less.
- The Novotel offers a guaranteed early check-in for a $50.00 fee. Especially for those of us arriving after an all-night flight from the U.S., being able to go straight to our rooms and shower (instead of dropping bags and struggling to stay awake until 3 PM) is well worth fifty bucks.
- The free wifi included with your room will be adequate for checking email and social media, but not much else. No upgrades are available; it is what it is.
- A trip to the restaurant’s breakfast buffet is included with most (but not all) room rates. While staples (including breads, cheeses, fruits, cereals, milk, coffee, and juices) persist from day to day, entrees vary, which keeps your morning meal from becoming monotonous during longer stays. That said, everything is prefabricated back in the kitchen, so don’t expect piping hot omelets or hotcakes just off the griddle.
- In both of the two rooms we rented, the bathroom was split into two completely separate chambers: a water closet (with bidet and basic sink with no hot water) and a shower room (with a standard sink). Neither chamber has much counter space for your toiletries — or even for towels! — and while we adapted, neither bath nor toilet time felt luxurious here.
- A little convenience store (“Mini Market Las Villas”) next door has good prices on anything you forgot to bring along, including bottled water, toothpaste, and deodorant.
The best thing about the Novotel San Isidro? It’s within walking distance of everything we wanted to do or see in this neighborhood. (Every single destination mentioned in this post is less than a 5-minute walk from the hotel!) To be honest, though, for tourists, the list of things to do in San Isidro — a financial district — is pretty short.
We spent our first morning walking the Bosque el Olivar, or the “Olive Park.” The hundreds of dramatic olive trees here descended from three saplings transplanted from Spain. During the day, it’s open, safe, and busy, with sections roped off when workers are harvesting olives.
This long, narrow park isn’t well-represented on maps, which fail to help you understand just how accessible it is due to the flat landscape and paved bike and pedestrian paths. Embedded in the park is the Museo Marina Nunez del Prado, a small but engaging sculpture park displaying works in interior and garden galleries. You can view the entire collection in less than half an hour … and walk the extent of the entire Bosque el Olivar in 60-90 minutes, depending on how often you stop to snap photos or chat up the locals.
On the way back from the garden to the hotel, poke your head in the Parroquia Nuestra Senora del Pilar, the neighborhood church. (It’s less than a block from the Novotel.) This is not the most opulent sanctuary in Lima, but it is earnest, peaceful, and pleasant, and worth five or ten minutes of your time, if you can catch them with the sanctuary doors open.
Seven minutes to the west of the hotel lies the ancient Huaca Huallamarca, a pre-Incan pyramid built 2000 years ago as a site for funerals and ceremonies. (San Isidro, at one point, wanted to tear it down and put a city park in its place.) Any day except Sunday, you can walk the steep ramp right up to the top and see an unobstructed view of San Isidro.
For my birthday lunch, we indulge in a meal at Astrid and Gaston, regularly listed among the world’s top ten restaurants. We go for the multi-course tasting menu: more than a dozen bites of local delicacies, including scallops, mashua (potatoes), oysters, sole with crispy garlic, duck, prawns, ravioli, stewed goat with onion, and, of course, the most famous local dish: chuy … which we Americans would call “guinea pig.”
Despite being prepared like Peking duck (complete with little pancakes and hoisin sauce), the chuy retains a gamey taste. It does not, as they say, “taste like chicken.” Instead, it tastes more like a cross between duck and squirrel.
Every bite of this dish — and the others — is a delight, and very much worth the $200 per couple price tag. (This includes selected cocktails and a couple of glasses of wine; true connoisseurs can also request a $150 series of wine pairings to go along with the meal.)
Be aware the this is more an event than a meal; when the waiter warns you the experience lasts three hours, he’s not kidding.
A day later, we enjoy a particularly tasty lunch at Pardo’s Chicken, where, in addition to succulent rotisserie birds, we sample Inka Kola (Peru’s favorite bubble-gum flavored soda) and my new personal favorite non-alcoholic beverage, chica morada (a dark purple beverage made from corn). We can also recommend the tiny little empanadas and the massive fried chicken sandwich. Share your french fries: a single order arrives in a bowl massive enough to feed the entire table!
Save some room, though, because on your way back to the hotel, you’ll want to stop at Cremeria Toscana and try the lucuma ice cream, made with a creamy, tasty local fruit. Expect a line; if there isn’t one, rush on in, because one will form shortly.
Other restaurants on our list included Osso (a steak house) and Osaka (serving Asian/Peruvian fusion). With other obligations, we simply didn’t have time to stop by! (If you go, let us know what you think!)
Should You Stay in San Isidro?
San Isidro is a good choice, especially if you want a break from the crowds in the more touristed Miraflores neighborhood. It’s a nice spot for a short stay (particularly if you’re adjusting to a new time zone or enjoy daily walks). And because Uber is cheap and fast in Lima, you can easily hop from San Isidro to other locations for less than $10 USD.
That said: on our two previous visits to Lima, we stayed in Miraflores … and enjoyed the busier, more vibrant vibe. When we return, I’ll probably forego San Isidro and stay in Miraflores again.
Reminder: You can trust my recommendations, because I accept no sponsorships, freebies, or discounts from the hotels, restaurants, or attractions we visit. I spend my own money and pay my own way so I can tell you the truth about the places we go. My goal is always to give you information you’ll find useful when planning a trip of your own.