02/01/2012 07:25 am ET | Updated Apr 02, 2012

Searching for Ceviche: Lima, Peru

Truth is, I had to do a mileage run to maintain my executive platinum on American Airlines and had a meeting in Miami, so I thought heading south to the ceviche capital of the world was a good bet.

Lima is only five hours from Miami, meaning I could save my VIP upgrades for long hauls to Europe. It was a day flight, and I booked an exit row seat. Two movies and a few blog entries later I was landing in the city of kings.


I bedded down at Sonesta El Olivar, located in the posh district of San Isidro. "Serene" isn't a word usually used to describe the fifth largest city in Latin America, but the hotel overlooks a gorgeous grove of olive trees (which appropriately suited my Greek roots), and it was super quiet. Its unique location provided easy access (walking!) to several boutiques, restaurants and a great bar/resto that I loved.


The property is traditionally a business hotel, however seamlessly caters to leisure travelers. I found it just perfect as my base for searching for the best ceviche on the planet. Two restaurants--including one amazing sushi spot--a fitness center to keep up with my morning workouts, and a rooftop pool overlooking the city were all on offer, and my corner room had the most comfortable bed ever. The service consistently exceeded my expectations. The staff was really over-the-top fabulous, and the executive team run the place like a ship.


Shopping was on the agenda for the weekend, too, along with a little nightlife. My guide was Bertha, a friend's godmother who has lived here her entire life. Think Auntie Mame meets Jackie Kennedy. Bertha is the epitome of fun and class wrapped up in a stylish package, and true to Auntie Mame, she won't reveal her age!

Bertha took me to a beautiful shop called Wayra, where the textiles are simply divine. Under the auspices of several mining companies, the company actively participates in sustainable development projects with women and men in the Peruvian Andes. Wayra workshops are fully committed to the principles of fair and equitable trade and constitute a sustainable source of income for the artisans. I picked up some hand-woven dolls for my nieces, and two baby alpaca blankets.

We then stopped at Dédalo, is a super artisans' collective (Paseo Sáenz Peña 295; 51-1-477-0562), with gorgeous (albeit pricey) crafts and original art. A café in the back serves a lovely lunch and terrific wine. I bought a great hand drawing of a group of alpaca.


Bertha navigates the Inca Market (every tourists go-to for souvenirs) like Vasco de Gama and, given her tremendous bargaining skills, I was able to pick up fingerless gloves, scarves (yes, more baby alpaca) and loads of other gifts. Hint: cut prices by 2/3 and negotiate from there.


I'd heard that gold dipping in Lima was the thing to do, so I brought a gold-plated necklace I had bought in a Parisian flea market years ago. Bertha had the answer. Off the beaten path, Ruben's Joyería was super-efficient and even delivered the goods to my hotel when they were ready. I also managed to pick up a charm for my Wanderlista necklace: a Santa Rosa - the patron saint of the city. It was quite apropos for me, given my handbag line, Dea Rosa. Calle Alcanfores #132 (01-446-3810)

I also stopped by Giuliana Testino's boutique (sister of photographer Mario Testino), for a hand-crocheted poncho. She has gorgeous works.

After purchasing plenty of alpaca, I was very ready to tackle the well-known food scene. Bertha and I started at Francesco's. We split a beer and their famous ceviche (also spelled cebiche or even seviche) since we knew we had more than one lunch that day. Our next stop, Cebichería La Mar, is an old Lima standby (now with an outpost in New York's Flatiron district in the old Tabla space). It's slightly different (think easy, rustic chic) than its grown-up Big Apple sister, but equally as delicious. Owner-chefs Astrid and Gaston keep a super busy lunch crowd here on its namesake, Avenida La Mar.


Bertha's boyfriend Augusto then took us to La Rana Verde for their favorite conchitas a la parmesana. It's in the private university club Augusto belonged to, so access is limited but ask around. It's right on the water, a simple, but amazing, setting.


I met some friends that night for a bit of a nightlife crawl, starting with pisco sours at Lima 27, which was just down the street from my hotel. They have a great cebiche flight. We then headed over to Barranco, which is the hip, happening 'hood in Lima. Think NY's Lower East side, but with gorgeous old stately homes. The hipster hangout is Ayahuasca, located in a grand old republican mansion. Here a series of rooms all boast varied décor, and cool art.


So why Lima? Well, what started out as a run-of-the-mill mileage run turned into a true cosmopolitan adventure, complete with a gorgeous fairy godmother, sustainable baby alpaca blankets and gourmet cebiche. And, for a Wanderlista like myself, that's reason enough to place it high on my lista.