Learning Spanish on a Cultural Tour of Lima, Peru

Learning Spanish on a Cultural Tour of Lima

By Alice Driver

The Cathedral of Lima was built in 1535, and is an excellent example of colonial architecture.
The Cathedral of Lima was built in 1535, and is an excellent example of colonial architecture. Photos by Alice Driver.

Maybe you studied Spanish in high school or college? Or perhaps you picked up some working at a restaurant or with a construction crew? Then months or years passed without you using your language skills, and you felt a sense of loss.

When it comes to speaking languages, many people feel shy or embarrassed. However, no matter your skill level, you can incorporate language practice and improvement into your next trip to a Spanish-speaking country, and you can do this without attending a language school.

Weeks before you leave for Lima, start brushing up on you Spanish with books like 501 Spanish Verbs or, if your Spanish is more advanced, Gramática Práctica de Español para Extranjeros by Sanches, Martin and Matilla.

Going Solo

Traveling solo is the best way to improve your language skills because it forces you to interact with local people, and prevents you from chatting in English all day with travel buddies. However, if you’re traveling with a friend or a group you must make a pact before you leave to speak Spanish as much as possible. You will feel silly at first, but you'll be smarter because of it.

Once you’re in Lima, a great way to start your visit of the city is by going on guided tours in Spanish. Tours of local museums and churches offer an affordable learning experience and allow you to orient yourself in the city.

Your guide is a captive audience to whom you can ask questions; if you are nervous you can even prepare a list of them in advance. The following guided tours and cultural activities are recommended:

1. The Cathedral of Lima on the Plaza de Armas offers one-hour guided tours as part of the 10 sole admission price (3 soles = $1USD).

2. The National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology and History has a one-hour tour of ceramics of the Chimú, Nasca, Mochica, and Pachacáma cultures, as well as Incan works of art and textiles. The entrance fee is 11 soles for adults, 3.5 soles for retired people and students with an Internatinal Students Card (ISC) and one sol for kids. The tour is an extra 15 soles.

The National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology and History displays more than 100,000 artifacts of pre-Hispanic culture.
The National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology and History displays more than 100,000 artifacts of pre-Hispanic culture.

3. The Museo de Arte costs only one sol on Sundays and the price includes a 30-minute tour of one gallery. Outside the museum is a beautiful park and a stadium that often has live music. At Plaza Grau near the museum you can watch street performers break dancing or doing back handsprings across the corsswalk when traffic is stopped.

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4. Devote a whole day to the Museo Arqueológico Rafael Larco Herrera which houses the best pre-Columbian ceramics collection in South America. The entrance fee and the guided tour each cost 25 soles.

The courtyard of the museum is lush with flowers and a quite reprieve from the honking cars and buses on Avenida Bolívar. The serene environment is perfect for journal writing or enjoying a cup of coffee in the museum cafe. The museum has four main galleries for textiles, ceramics, metal work, and erotic art. Also on display are the 40,000 ceramic vessles in the museum’s vaults.

5. If you’re interested in theater, dance, poetry or performace art stop by the teleticket counter inside any Wong supermarket or at Ripley’s shopping center. These cultural activities are quite affordable, and there are discounts for students who present their ISC.

The well-tended flower beds of the Plaza de Armas offer a tranquil place to rest.
The well-tended flower beds of the Plaza de Armas offer a tranquil place to rest.

Take Local Buses, Eat in Local Cafes

The best way to practice your Spanish while getting around the city is to take local buses and eat at local restaurants. Buses costs one sol or less, go almost anywhere in the city, and are significantly cheaper than taking a taxi. The bus system is confusing, but if you ask your hotel, they will tell you where to catch the right bus.

There is a bus to and from the airport, the black and white #9, which costs one sol as compared to the $12-15 most hotels will charge to pick you up or drop you off. Avoid chain restaurants where food is often bland and waiters will speak to you in English.

Instead look for small restaurants populated by locals advertising the “menu del día” for 4-8 soles. This menu includes a salad or soup, a main dish, a drink and a dessert. These restaurants cook up local dishes like ceviche (raw fish or seafood sprinkled with lime and mixed with salt, chillies, onions, and garlic) and chicha morada (a sweet drink made from a base of purple corn boiled with pineapple rind, cinnamon, and cloves).

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Pick up a used book in Spanish or English for 3-5 soles at the many bookstores on Quilca Street off Plaza San Martin, and spend time reading in your favorite park. Become familiar with Peruvian authors like novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, poet César Vallejo and chronicler Inca Garcilaso de la Vega.

Central Park in Miraflores

The central park in the upscale district of Miraflores is a relaxing place to read and people-watch without being bothered by scam artists. If you spend time in the Parque Universitario, Plaza San Martín or the Plaza de Armas in central Lima you will be approaced by friendly scam artists who prey on lonely or lost tourists.

When travelling, keep in mind that there are many ways to learn a language, and language school is just one of them. Success in language learning involves taking personal initiative to learn about the history, literature and traditions of a particular place.

Recommended Lodging in Lima:

Hostal Turistico Mami Panchita
Av. Federico Gallesi 198.
San Miguel – Lima, Peru.
Tel: (0051-1) 2637203.
Webpage: www.mamipanchita.com
This hotel, run by a lovely Dutch-Peruvian couple, has hardwood floors, breakfast with fresh squeezed orange juice and free intenet. The garden is bursting with fuscia, purple and orange bouganvellias. Rooms are $30 with a balcony and $20 without.

Alice Driver

Alice Driver is a Ph.D.candidate in Hispanic Studies at the University of Kentucky, and her travel writing has appeared in Cultural Survival, Abroad View and the travel guide To Vietnam With Love (Things Asian Press, 2008).

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