Many people fly into Lima solely as a stop-over for getting to more sought-after destinations in Peru, like Machu Picchu or the Amazon. But with a history predating Colonial occupation, Lima itself is worthy of spending an extra day or two. Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Lima is the third-largest city in the Americas and the second largest desert capital city behind Cairo in Egypt. Home to one-third of Peru’s population, Lima attractions are plentiful, and the cuisine is delicious.
My two days with AdventureSmith Explorations gave me the opportunity to see that Lima has so much to offer!
Barranco is Lima’s bohemian district. If you take a short walk from the seaside malecón and you’ll find yourself surrounded by exquisite 18th-century colonial churches, lovingly restored turn of the century European mansions dripping with bougainvillea, and a plethora of some of the most unique and well-done street art anywhere.
In fact, Victor Delfin, one of Peru’s most famous sculptor and painters lives here. The area is overlooked by the Bridge of Sighs is a charming wooden bridge with stone steps that lead all the way down to the beaches below Barranco.
There’s no better place for a stroll than the malecón in Miraflores, where the cliffs drop down to the sea. The paved seaside boardwalk stretches for six miles, with views that are memorable.
Parque del Armor
Reminiscent of Anton Guell’s surreal/modernist park in Barcelona, Parque del Amor overlooks Lima Bay. Visitors can stroll along an undulating walking path lined with colorful mosaic sculptures. The name was taken for its enormous whimsical sculpture “El Beso” aka “The Kiss” by Peruvian artist Victor Delfín.
Founded in 1926, the Larco Museum’s exhibits depict 3000 years of Peru’s pre-Columbian history. It’s housed in an 18th century vice-royal mansion that was built over a seventh century pyramid and has a courtyard with extensive floral gardens. Highlights include ancient gold and silver collections and its infamous gallery of erotic artifacts.
The Peruvian Inquisition took place between 1570 until 1820, and visitors can view some of the torture devices employed during that dark period of history. Exhibits include the Chamber of Secrets, the Room of Processes, the Room of Stocks, and the Torture Chamber complete with human mannequins.
Lima was officially founded 1535 by Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro. It quickly became the capital, epicenter of architecture, education, culture, and religion, and most important city for Spain in the New World.
Lima’s history predates colonial occupation of the country, so if you will not get an opportunity to visit some of the Inca sites in Peru’s Sacred Valley, then a visit to the ancient adobe and clay pyramid a must. The pyramid served as an important ceremonial and administrative center between the years of 200 A.D. and 700 A.D. Excavations are ongoing. There’s a restaurant on the archaeological site which serves traditional regional and Andean dishes.
The Plaza de Armas
Founded by Francisco Pizarro in 1535 and also known as Plaza Mayor, the main square is the birthplace and historical heart of Lima, and the highlight of any visit to the city. In the center of it all is a large 1650 bronze colonial fountain, flanked by exquisite colonial churches, monasteries, and mansions with magnificent carved doors and balconies.
Basilica Cathedral of Lima
16th-century Lima Cathedral is the most well-known architecture in all of Lima Centro. The interior of the cathedral is formal and ornate, has 13 chapels, and the main altar is gold-plated. Francisco Pizarro’s remains are interred in an underground tomb.
Monastery of San Francisco
Built in the 17th-century, the landmark architecture includes a church, monastery and plaza. The church is noted for its exquisite Baroque architecture, gilded altars, works of religious art, and the massive and mysterious library which contains 25,000 vintage texts, including a Bible printed in 1571.
In 1943, a subterranean mausoleum was uncovered underneath the Monastery of San Francisco. Descend into the depths and you’ll find yourself in the midst of thousands of skulls, femurs, hips and pelvic bones, all quite gruesomely displayed. Miraculously surviving Lima’s earthquakes, it is estimated that 75,000 bodies were buried there. It is also believed there were once secret passageways connecting the catacombs to the Lima Cathedral.
Convent of Santo Domingo
Dating back to the 16th century, the convent is one of the best preserved in Lima, and is the only one with a real steeple. A courtyard spreads through the middle of the property, and the main cloister of the convent is lavishly decorated with Spanish colonial tiles and sprays of flowers.
While standing in the courtyard, look up and you’ll see the pink bell –don’t miss the chance to climb up the rickety wooden stairs to the top. You’ll be rewarded with a spectacular (but windy) view of the historical city, Plaza Mayor and beyond.
Peruvian cuisine is said to be the best in South America, and is also making its mark on the international food scene with its fusion menus that include Andean, Inca, Spanish, Japanese, French and more. Two of the top 50 restaurants in the world are in Lima: Central and Astrid & Gaston.
And don’t forget about the local, traditional cuisine. Here are some iconic staples you simply must try.
I was somewhat surprised to learn that ceviche is believed to have been invented in Peru, not Mexico. If you haven’t tasted this succulent seafood dish, you’ve been missing out. Ceviche is made with raw fish such as trout, onions and chili peppers, and marinated in lime which partially “cooks” the fish.
Chicken salad or tuna salad layered with sliced avocado, chopped black olives, and flavored mashed potato pressed into a round mold which is removed before serving. The distinctly separate flavors meld together for a mouth-watering savory and tangy treat.
Pisco is Peru’s national liquor. It’s a strong spirit distilled from grapes. The Pisco Sour is a deliciously sweet drink made from Pisco, simple syrup, lime, and egg white.
There’s no better view of Lima than gazing down from the clouds, securely strapped into a paraglide parachute. Tandem gliders leap from the cliffs at Miraflores. Once airborne, the views sweep across the Pacific Ocean, the rugged cliffs, and city skyscrapers.
Peru offers some of the best places to surf in South America. To reach Lima’s bestsurfing beaches, you don’t have to venture very far from the city. La Herradura has steep waves, while Waikiki in Miraflores is considered the best place for beginners.
(Note: paragliding and surfing are not part of AdventureSmith’s tours)
Larcomar is a popular tourist attraction. Built into the side of the cliff, the colorful mall has breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. Inside the complex are restaurants, a cinema, and bars. For high-quality alpaca goods, go to KUNA.
On Avenue Petit Thouars in Miraflores you’ll find the local artisan markets. Along with the typical souvenirs are stall after stall offering unique handcrafts, jewelry, wood crafts, and alpaca clothing and weavings.
A final note about the weather…. Lima frequently has gray, overcast skies, especially between April and December, but it does not mean it’s going to rain. Peru has over 90 different micro-climates, and Lima, which has 3 months of summer and 9 of winter, lays claim to clouds and fog.
Peru is such an exciting country and Lima attractions are amazing! See below for more places to visit:
- You Can’t Take Your Clothes Off at Machu Picchu? Now You Tell Me!
- Cheat Sheet to 48 Hours in Ollantaytambo
- How to Eat Guinea Pig in Peru
- 10 Ways Cusco Will Improve Your Life. Brace Yourself for #8.
- Is Machu Picchu Just for Backpackers? Definitely Not!
- Exploring Peru’s Sacred Valley
Disclosure: The author was honored to be the guest of AdventureSmith Explorations during her stay in Lima, but as always, the opinions, reviews, and experiences are her own.