Mega Plaza looks and feels much like any shopping mall, anywhere. Hidden speakers pipe The Girl from Ipanema. Posters ply car payment instalment plans. There is a Cineplex, a busy gym and a local fast food outlet that retails a “Kobe Steak” burger.
What is unusual, though, is Mega Plaza’s location: on a dusty stretch of the Pan-American highway, a few miles north of Lima’s historic centre.
Only 20 years ago, the “northern cone” suburb, in which Mega Plaza squats, was a collection of vegetable plots and makeshift hovels – home to hardscrabble rural settlers seeking refuge from a dirty war between the army and Maoist guerrillas that eventually claimed 70,000 lives. Now more than 2m people live there – about a quarter of the capital’s population.
Most of its straw hovels have been replaced by brick housing; some even have swimming pools. Mega Plaza is the brash face of South America’s fastest growing big economy, and part of Lima’s recent transformation from melancholy and languid capital into boisterous and traffic-churning metropolis.
Peru has been a mining country since pre-Incan times, and much of its transformation is due to the booming prices of its mineral exports, such as copper and gold. But other export products, from asparagus to designer clothes, have flourished too. As well as trade, which has tripled in value in the past 10 years, Peru’s $140bn economy is being driven by private investment (which is growing at 13 per cent a year) and domestic consumption (rising at 6 per cent).