LIMA (Reuters) - Let's just get it out of the way. Locals call Lima "la horrible," and they have their reasons.
A grimy metropolis of 10 million with an aggressive street vibe, few sunny days and dysfunctional public transportation, Lima can be a tough place to spend time.
But don't let the decades-old nickname fool you.
The Peruvian capital is full of vibrant, friendly people and has loads of charm tucked into its gritty layers, which are slowly receding to reveal world-class restaurants, lush green spaces and unique cultural sites.
Visitors can untangle Lima's fascinating past at dozens of historic monuments, spend days at museums and galleries and surf the Pacific at the foot of the city as cars rush past and skyscrapers loom above. (Map: goo.gl/maps/GLd4M)
Oh, and then there's the food. Lima's fusing of ingredients from the Peruvian Andes, Amazon and Pacific has made it the de facto culinary capital of Latin America. Anyone with half a taste bud should stick around for more than a few meals.
Here are tips for getting the most out of a trip to Lima from Reuters, whose 2,600 journalists in all parts of the world offer visitors the best local insights.
Stay at Second Home Peru, a Tudor-style mansion perched above the Pacific in the colorful seaside district of Barranco. The bed-and-breakfast doubles as the gallery of renowned artist Victor Delfin, whom you might catch working in his studio.(www.secondhomeperu.com/)
Like much of Lima, the hotel may be shrouded in fog that never quite turns into rain, especially if you come between May and September. Ishmael in "Moby Dick" called the desert city "tearless Lima, the strangest, saddest city thou can'st see."
But the year-round moderate weather means plenty of opportunities to explore beneath Lima's perpetually fuzzy gray sky that locals have dubbed "panza de burro," or donkey's belly.
Be sure to take a walk along the "malecon," a lovely stretch of cliffside parks overlooking the sea. Pick a spot in the grass to picnic or watch the sunset. If you're feeling more adventurous, paraglide down to the shore. (here)
In Barranco, fuel up at the cafe La Bodega Verde (www.facebook.com/labodegaverde), then wander over to the nearby "bridge of sighs" and down a lush walkway to the beach.
A slew of "anticucherias" will beckon with the smell of grilled beef-heart skewers, a must-eat before leaving Lima.
At the Costa Verde beachfront, you'll see why Peru is a surfer's paradise. Skilled surfers will want to check out the massive waves that can pound Herradura beach.
Beginners can ride their first wave with the help of dozens of teachers at beaches in Barranco and Miraflores. Jesus Torres might have you walking on water your first day.(+51 946-276-361)
A visit to Lima isn't complete without seeing one of its mysterious "huacas," or pyramids - reminders of the cultures that once thrived along the coast thousands of years ago.
Huaca Mateo Salado - named after a French Lutheran who hid amid ancient ruins until the Spanish Inquisition found and burned him alive - features the remains of an Incan road and layers of more recent history, like a burial site for Chinese indentured laborers and the rose gardens of flower merchants who have squatted in the archaeological site and refuse to leave.
Don't miss nearby Museo Larco's stunning collection of pre-Colombian art, spanning 10,000 years and featuring intact gold headdresses and a seductive selection of erotic ceramics.
The museum's restaurant, set in a gorgeous garden, is also worth a visit. Try the "seco de cordero," a mouth-watering Peruvian lamb and cilantro stew. (www.museolarco.org/)
For contemporary art head to the upscale Miraflores district for Impakto, a gallery frequented by collectors that features emerging Latin American artists. (galeria-impakto.com/)
Take a stroll with Ronald Elward, a Dutch historian who points out little-known chapters of Lima's history on his excellent walking tours. (limawalks.blogspot.com/)
You'll find the city's richest architectural history downtown, once the stomping grounds of Allen Ginsberg.
Check out the regal Plaza de Armas, bordered by the presidential palace and the 500-year-old Cathedral conqueror Francisco Pizarro built when founding Lima as the capital of the Spanish crown for much of colonized South America.
For a glimpse of Pizarro's legacy today, try to find a 1930s statue of him in a nearby quiet park, where it ended up after being uprooted from the main square by offended Limenos.
It's hard to eat your way through Lima without a stop at one of the dozen restaurants started by Gaston Acurio, a chef so influential some are now urging him to make a presidential bid.
For the full experience stop by Astrid y Gaston, his flagship restaurant newly relocated into a historic two-story hacienda after a $6 million renovation. The menu, constantly changing, will likely please. (astridygaston.com/)
Take a step off the eaten path with a "puerta cerrada" restaurant. With no signs, open doors or overt publicity, these gems cater to cult followings and are worth the trouble to find.
Sonia offers dishes from the fishing district Chorrillos, where the restaurant serves up sublime seafood in an unassuming house. Try the ceviche, whole-fried fish or the "muchame de atun" - seasoned sun-dried tuna based on a now-banned dolphin meat delicacy. (here)
Visit the home and restaurant of legendary chef Javier Wong, who might prepare - as the mood strikes him - a fresh stir-fry or heavenly "tiradito," a more subtle version of ceviche.(470-6217, email@example.com)
For the city's best "comida criolla" or homemade comfort food, check out La Botica. Try the tavern's spicy stuffed rocoto peppers, the tripe stew "cau cau," or the fried fish pickled in vinegar and onions.
While you're at it, take a cue from La Botica regulars and order a "res." A waiter will bring a bottle of pisco, ginger ale, bitters and a heap of limes and ice - the bulk ingredients for the ubiquitous cocktail "chilcano." Your table can mix drink after drink to your liking. (here)
Looking for nightlife? Catch great lives shows, from rock to Andean folk fusion, at La Noche. (www.lanoche.com.pe/)
And if you want to see what Lima's hipsters are up to, head to Cholo Bar, a funky club managed by two young poets. (www.facebook.com/CholoArtyFun)
They might even be able to quote a verse by Peruvian poet Cesareo Martinez: "The night is opening, time is opening, the great gate of Lima is opening."
Editing by Mary Milliken and Cynthia Osterman