By Briana Seftel
Peru's colonial cool capital has emerged as one of Latin America's top destinations. Boasting a world-famous dining scene, miles of lovely coastline and year-round sunshine, a visit to Lima is an introduction to all things Peruvian. Discover the best of the best with this helpful guide!
What to Know
Lima was founded by Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro in 1535 and was known as "The City of Kings." The establishment of the Viceroyalty of Peru crowned Lima as the capital of Spain's South American empire, which flourished for 300 years until Peru gained independence in 1821.
Today, Lima is Peru's largest city that's home to almost a third of the country's population. Sure, it can be a dizzyingly busy city with loads of traffic, but if you scratch the surface, you will find world-renowned gastronomy, laidback coastal charm and excellent museums.
When to Go
Lima, located on a desert strip between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains, is the second driest capital after Cairo in Egypt. With a desert climate, there's no bad time to visit Lima - although if you want to avoid the crowds, skip the peak tourist season from May to August. The summer months from December to April are the ideal time to visit Lima, with sunny skies, cool nights and a more local's feel.
How to Get Around
When it comes to getting around Lima, it's best to embrace the chaos! Traffic is notoriously bad and getting from one point to another can be time-consuming (Lima is a very sprawling city). Micros and combis are both small buses that can be used to navigate the city, although they can be quite confusing for the first-time traveler to Lima. Taxis are your best bet for getting around, although keep in mind that taxis are unregulated. Arrange a taxi from your hotel or restaurant if you want the easiest option or be prepared to negotiate before getting in.
Where to Eat
When it comes to food, Lima is legendary. No South American city comes close to the accolades that Lima's restaurants have received. Two of its fine-dining restaurants, Maido and Central, were named #1 and #2 on the list of Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants. Peruvian cuisine is a melting pot of European, African and Asian influences, and typical dishes range from fresh cebiche to lomo saltado. Peru's beverage of choice is pisco, a brandy made from grapes. Try it in Peru's national cocktail, the pisco sour!
- Astrid & Gastón Avenida Paz Soldan 290, San Isidro, Lima Phone: +51 1 4422777
- El Señorio del Sulco Malecón Cisneros 1470, Miraflores 15074 Phone: +51 1 4410183
- La Mar Av Mariscal La Mar 770, Miraflores 15074 Phone: +51 1 4213365
- Isolina Av San Martin 101, Lima 15063 Phone: +51 1 2475075
- La Picanteria Surquillo, Sta Rosa 388, Lima 15047 Phone: +51 1 2416676
- La Lucha Diagonal 139, Miraflores 15074 Phone: +51 1 2415953 (There are several locations)
- Chez Wong Enrique León García 114, Cercado de Lima 15034 Phone: +51 1 4706217
- Rafael Calle San Martin 300, Miraflores 15074 Phone: +51 1 2424149
- Malabar Av. Camino Real 101, San Isidro 15073 Phone: +51 1 4405200
What to See
Plaza Mayor (Plaza de Armas)
Begin your sightseeing at Plaza Mayor, Lima's central square and the birthplace of the city. With a large 17th-century fountain as the focal point, the plaza is surrounded by a number of ornate and historic buildings including Lima Cathedral, the Government Palace, the Archbishop's Palace and the Municipal Palace.
Dive into Peru's history through the years at Museo Larco, home to an ancient collection of pre-Columbian exhibits showcasing Peru’s indigenous people. In addition to incredible artifacts, visitors can enjoy the museum's beautiful gardens and on-site restaurant.
You don't have to travel far to see one of Peru's oldest archeological sites. Located in Miraflores, Huaca Pucllana is a 1,500-year-old adobe and old clay pyramid thought to be a ceremonial and administrative center in pre-Hispanic Lima. Consider visiting at night, when the site is beautifully illuminated.
Basilica and Convent of Santo Domingo
This architectural gem is one of Lima's most important religious sites. Originally completed in the 16th century, the church and convent are instantly recognizable by the pale pink bell tower. Its cloister galleries, covered in Seville hand-painted tiles and paintings, is one of Lima's prettiest photo ops. The church is quite well-known because it holds the tombs of two patron saints.
Travel tip: If you visit between 11 and 4 pm, you can ascend the bell tower for fantastic views over the old city.
In the lush neighborhood of Miraflores, the waterfront promenade known as El Malecón is one of Lima's best places for a stroll. Enjoy the coastal views from Parque del Amor (a beautiful Gaudi-style park) and take a selfie in front of El Beso (The Kiss), a famous sculpture by Peruvian artist Victor Delfín.
Tips and Tricks
You should only eat cebiche during the day - never at night! Enjoy Lima's signature dish for lunch at one of the many traditional cebicherias dotted throughout the city.
Head to the Parque de la Reserva and enjoy the nighttime show at Magic Water Circuit, the world's largest fountain complex!
Many establishments in Lima will only accept cash. Make sure you have cash on you (the currency is the nuevo sol), especially small notes.
The famous Nazca Lines are one of South America's most mysterious sights. Covering an area of about 20 square miles in the Nazca desert, the lines are known as geoglyphs, or designs and motifs etched into the ground. Because of the dry desert climate, the lines have remained largely intact for 2,000 years. The best way to experience this UNESCO site is by plane, which can be taken from Lima or from the city of Nazca.
Paracas National Reserve
Located approximately 155 miles south of Lima, Paracas National Reserve is a 700,000-plus-acre park that beautifully blends desert and sea. Along the coast, the reserve teems with wildlife. Pelicans, condors, flamingos, sea lions, penguins and dolphins are just some of Paracas' resident animals you may encounter on a visit. If you plan on adding a night or two in the town of Paracas, book a boat tour to the Ballestas Islands, known as the Peruvian Galapagos.
The tiny desert oasis town of Huacachina is like a real-life mirage! Hidden amongst the sweeping sand dunes of southwestern Peru, the town is centered around a palm tree-lined lagoon and has a handful of backpacker hostels, hotels and restaurants. After adventuring through the sand dunes by buggy or by sandboard, happening upon Huacachina feels like a fever dream. Since Huacachina is located five hours from Lima, it's recommended you stay the night in town.