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LIMA is a boisterous, macho city, relaxed and laid-back, yet having an underlying energy, with money and expensive cars ruling the roost you can buy anything in Lima if you have the cash, particularly in Lima Centro , the colonial zone of the city.
The city's population has increased dramatically in the last thirty years, swollen with people arriving from the high Andes to make camp in the shanty towns that line the highways.
The main plazas, once attractive meeting places, are now thick with pickpockets, exhaust fumes and, not infrequently, riot police.
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The climate in Lima seems to set the mood: in the height of summer (Dec-March) it buzzes with energy and excitement, though during the winter months (June-Sept) a low mist descends over the arid valley in which the city sits, forming a solid grey blanket from the beaches almost up to Chosica in the foothills of the Andes a phenomenon undoubtedly made worse by traffic-related air pollution.
Lima is brimful of culture and heritage, though it's not obvious at first. On a strictly guidebook level, there are the museums (the best of which are excellent and should definitely be visited before setting off for Machu Picchu or any of Peru's other great Inca ruins), the Spanish churches in the centre, and some distinguished mansions in the wealthy suburbs of Barranco and Miraflores.
But in their own way, too, there's a powerful atmosphere in the pueblos jovenes, where Peru's landless peasants have made their homes. In addition, Lima's noisy, fast-moving frenetic craziness is mellowed by the presence of the sea and beaches. The mix of lifestyles and peoples is a fascinating world of its own: from the snappy, sassy, cocaine influenced criolla style - all big, fast American cars, cruising the broad main streets - to the easy-going, happy-go-lucky attitude that can seem a godsend when you're trying to get through some bureaucratic hassle.
And, as anyone who stays here more than a week or so finds, Limeño hospitality and kindness are almost boundless once you've established an initial rapport.