From the early days of Lima and Warri culture, to the Inca Empire and Spanish conquistadors, Lima is rich in well-preserved history. While the ancient city has grown to be one of the largest in South America, you can trace its origins back centuries thanks to ruins and captivating archaeological museums.
Over time, Baroque churches were built alongside the ancient temples, bringing in a new era of culture, cuisine and spirituality. You’ll experience all of this, and more as you combine the historic center, with explorations of the Pacific coast, charming local towns and an endless list of exhilarating adventures.
Take in the Plaza de Armas
In 1535, Francisco Pizarro, the Spanish conquistador, founded Lima right here in the Plaza de Armas. Under the order of King Charles I, the entire city was formed around the square shaped plaza that now harbors much of the city’s fascinating history.
It’s the perfect spot to begin your travels around the Peruvian capital city. From your central location, you’ll be able to see and visit a variety of prominent cultural and historical attractions. These include the beautiful Lima Cathedral and the city’s Government Palace.
But with within the square, also known as Plaza Mayor, you’ll be in prime position to soak in the atmosphere of Lima. Plaza de Armas is encased in leafy-trees with an ornate fountain in the center. After enough people watching, walk in any direction to find some of the best things to do in Lima.
Tour the Catacombs
In the 17th century, the Spanish Baroque San Francisco Church was built. Of all the historic churches in Lima, this one is in the best shape. Normally, that would be enough reason to visit and explore this significant piece of architecture. But the church’s grounds also hold the entrance to the underground catacombs.
Next to the San Francisco Church is a monastery from which you can access the city’s first cemetery. It’s believed that over 20,000 residents of Lima have been buried here over the centuries. Many chose to be buried underground, as it would place them close to God.
For those who battle claustrophobia, the experience in the catacombs can be narrow. It’s a cemetery experience that is more haunting than most, although the catacombs now feature an artistic side to make it less on the nose.
You must join a tour in order to explore the catacombs. But leave some time to check out the incredible collection of historic religious scripts in the church’s monastery.
See the Magic Water Tour
As the night falls upon Lima, the world’s largest collection of water fountains sparkles under the pitch black sky. The fountains first came to life back in 2007 in the Park de la Reserva. They were an immediate hit among locals and travelers alike, with over 2 million visitors within the first twelve months.
The record-breaking complex is home to 13 fountains, the largest of which is the Fuente Magica. This is the park’s largest fountain with the power to shoot water over 260 feet (80m) toward the heavens. Another highlight is the Tunnel of Surprises, which is a tunnel created by the water that you can wander through. With the illuminated water guiding you, you can walk over 110 feet (35m) to the other side. The actual star of the magical show, however, is the Fuente de la Fantasia. Using a range of water features synchronized to music, lasers and pictures, the fountain is a visual delight.
You can use public transport in order to make it to the brilliant fountain show. The park is located alongside the National Stadium, which you can reach via the Metropolitano bus.
Go for a Bike Ride
You’ll have a wonderful time making your way around Lima on foot. But the city’s extensive efforts to make their roads bike friendly means no trip would be complete without a casual ride. Whether that be through downtown or the surrounding neighborhoods.
Lima’s growing bicycle network continues in leaps and bounds. Close to non-existent in 2010, the city now has at least 130 miles (210km) of bicycle-only paths with plans to double that over the coming years.
It’s no coincidence that the bike lanes can be found in greater concentration around popular tourist areas such as the beachfront street of Malecon Cisneros, in beautiful Miraflores. The many lanes form an impromptu tour of Lima, guiding you to hot spots but also underrated districts like San Isidro.
But if you prefer a guide to lead you on your cycle, then join this small group tour that will take you around Miraflores to see the Pacific Ocean. Before stopping by the bohemian neighborhood of Barranco.
Walk Along the Malecon
You may have explored Miraflores on your bicycle tour, but it’s worth slowing things down a little. The Malecon de Miraflores traverses the edge of the Pacific coast and is an accessible boardwalk. Along the way, you’ll enjoy spectacular views of the ocean, coming to a crashing halt at the bottom of the rugged cliffs.
The town of Miraflores is spread along the coast for 5 miles (8km). It’s a great example of why Lima is known as the Garden City. Along your journey, you’ll pass a number of different parks, each with something different to offer visitors.
One of those is Parque Kennedy, also known as the Miraflores Central Park. It’s a vibrant green space, where you can find room to relax with friends or interact with the many artisans and vendors around and within the park. The most popular park, however, is Love Park. Here, you’ll find El Beso, a memorable statue of a couple kissing, with the Pacific painting a magical backdrop.
Visit Lima Cathedral
Along the eastern side of the Plaza de Armas, the Lima Cathedral has a striking presence. The church was designed after a cathedral in Seville, Spain, with the first iteration complete in 1535. The Lima Cathedral was expanded three decades later, before suffering a succession of damage in the 17th and 18th centuries, thanks to major earthquakes.
The last earthquake, in 1746, all but destroyed the gilded cathedral, which was quickly revitalized into what we see today. The gorgeous facade is flanked by two soaring bell towers, while the archways on the ground floor quickly draw you inside.
The cathedral features several intricate carvings along the interior walls, with the embellished altar being a sight to behold. It’s designed in a style called Churrigueresque, a common feature of late-Baroque architecture. A part of the Lima Cathedral is lathered with mosaics. Its inside holds the tomb of the city’s founder, Francisco Pizarro.
Jump on a Food Tour
No time in any city would be complete without taking a deep dive into the local cuisine. That certainly holds true in Lima. Peruvian cuisine is some of the best you’ll find in the Americas, providing an adventure and treat for the taste buds.
Despite being a small nation, Peru has a wide range of multicultural influences. From its indigenous cultures to the Spanish colonial era and, more recently, Chinese immigration. They’ve all helped to shape the flavor of Peruvian cuisine, to make it into the mouthwatering culinary treat that it is today.
Peruvian cuisine mixes main staples like corn, potatoes and legumes with a variety of meats. These include lomo satado (stir-fried beef) and aji de gallina (chicken stew). The best of the lot is the iconic ceviche. A raw fish meal so popular it has its own national holiday.
A major part of your travels through the capital will be choosing where to sit and eat. While it’s all well and good to go to the best and most-known, take a gamble or two on mom and pop shops to find true authentic eats with recipes handed down through the generations.
To help you get off the beaten path, sign up for this guided food tour that even teaches you how to make ceviche!
Explore the Museo de la Nacion
Now armed with a thorough understanding of local cuisine, it’s time to explore Peru’s storied heritage. The National Museum is the largest museum in Lima, and a complete representation of Peruvian culture from its original indigenous communities and the mighty Inca to Spanish conquistadors, and the modern day.
Approaching the subject from an archaeological background, visitors will uncover a range of exciting exhibits that are lined up in chronological order. Take a journey through time as you gaze upon impressive replicas of Machu Pichu and the Nazca Lines. The latter being huge geoglyphs found in southern Peru from 100 BC.
The order of the exhibits will show not just the country’s history but the slow changes in its local culture through the ages. From Nazca and Inca communities to the Moche mummies in Sipan and the development of the Spanish community that forever changed the course of Peru.
Try Pisco Sour
Peru’s most iconic drink, Pisco, is made from fermented grapes, a distilling process that ends in a spirit with a high alcohol content. Pisco dates back to the 1500s when Spanish settlers sought an alternative to orujo brandy that was a common choice at the time.
But the story of the Pisco Sour begins right here, in Lima at the beginning of the 20th century. Victor Vaughen Morris arrived in Peru from America to work on the what was then the highest-altitude railway on earth. Upon completion, Victor was tasked with leading the celebration. When the 5,000 attendees drank all the whiskey, Victor got creative and Pisco Sour was born.
You can now find the drink wherever you go in Lima, with the city renowned for further improving on the drink through a number of additions. Some of the best places to try Pisco Sour in Lima include La Mar, Gran Hotel Bolivar and Hotel Maury.
Go for a Hike
After one too many Pisco Sours, you’re going to have to walk it off. There are mountains that not only provide a nice hike but reward you with splendid views of the city below. One of those peaks is El Morro Hill.
The word hill should calm you down a little bit. After all, I am not sending you on a trek to Machu Pichu. But it’s nonetheless a lovely way to capture the city and work off the hangover.
El Morro Hill was once the site of an important battle in the 1880s, but is now a peaceful spot with incredible panoramic vistas. Along the Pacific Ocean, El Morro Hill, also known as Morro Solar, can be reached on foot or a mountain bike, for an extra splash of adventure.
At the top, you’ll be greeted by a number of statues, including Christ of the Pacific and the Unknown Soldier. Come at sunset for unrestricted views of the evening’s show.
With your journey down the Malecon and now to the top of El Morro Hill, you’ll have an appreciation for the city’s impeccable coastline. After a long journey across the Pacific, the strong winds soar up the towering cliffs, creating a perfect environment for paragliders. With the added benefit of the best views in Lima.
Chase the stoke by signing up for a paragliding experience in Miraflores. The process is easy and doesn’t require an advanced reservation. Departing just north of Love Park, venture high above the Malecon, with endless ocean views and an unforgettable vantage point of the nation’s capital.
Although just a 15-minute experience, it will stick with you for much longer. The cost of the paraglide also includes pictures and videos complete with a memory stick, so you can relive the adventure whenever you like.
Take a Trip to the Pachacamac Ruins
Along the banks of the Lurin River, just south of Lima, is a poignant reminder of a civilization that came before the Inca. One of the best-preserved archaeological sites in all of Peru, the Pachacamac Ruins are remarkable, yet remain off the tourist trail.
The expansive site is packed with ancient adobes still lined with old frescoes. You’ll find historic dwellings and temples, all created by several distinct cultures. The earliest ruins date back to the beginning of the 3rd century, with the site named after the god Pacha Kamaq.
400 years later, the site expanded with the arrival of the Wari Culture. The site quickly became a center of worship and when the Incas arrived, the gods were added to their own religion. The downfall of Pachacamac came when the Spanish arrived, converting locals to Catholicism and destroying much of the historic site.
Today, you can explore the beguiling ruins, including the remains of a stunning temple that overlooks the Pacific. Take a guided tour from Lima for just $59.
Enjoy Retail Therapy at Larcomar
One of the top attractions in Miraflores, Larcomar, is a sprawling shopping mall with a difference. It’s one of the best places to embark on some retail therapy while in Lima, with more than 70 shops to browse and almost 20 different restaurants to choose from.
What makes Larcomar such an interesting place to visit, however, isn’t the brands on offer. The mall is built on the side of the cliff. The open-air mall offers some incredible views of the ocean, the perfect accompaniment as you wander between each boutique and high-end store.
The mall is open from 10am to 10pm, with enough options to keep you busy as long as your heart desires. Just don’t be shocked if you walk out of a store to see paragliders fly by in the distance.
After taking in the sunset, you’ll find one of Lima’s top clubs in Larcomar. Lima Bar is an upscale club that attracts the city’s night owls for a evening of cocktails and dancing.
Visit Huaca Pucllana
In addition to Pachamaca, Lima has another amazing archaeological site, with recent on-site discoveries changing the timeline of Peruvian history. Placed in the center of Miraflores, Huaca Pucllana is an ancient pyramid temple made of clay bricks. The adobe building rises like a series of small steps contrasting to other famous pyramids from around the world.
Huacca Pucllana was developed by the Lima culture who also created Pachamaca. The stunning building has survived for an estimated 15 centuries, with the local climate maintaining the integrity of the brick design. Recent discoveries of untouched mummies prove the Warri culture later inhabited the space, continuing the pryamid’s position as a place of ceremony and political administration.
The historic site is only open to guided tours, which aren’t expensive. Your expert guide will help you uncover the story behind Huaca Pucllana and its many uses throughout the ages.
Explore Museo Larco
You can complete your archaeological adventure through Lima with an exploration of Museo Larco. Housed within an 18th-century mansion, the museum is teeming with pre-Columbian artifacts that showcase both Lima and Warri cultures.
Unlike other museums around the world, the storage rooms at Museo Larco are open to the public. Rather than keep thousands of relics hidden as they await their own exhibition, visitors can see the museum’s entire collection, which helps to make it the best repository in Lima.
Museo Larco features over 40,000 pieces of ancient ceramic art. Dating back over a thousand years, a feature of the art is the vast collection of erotic painting. Such was the surprise upon the faces of the Spanish when they found this amazing collection, it may be a shock that the ceramics still exist today. But they all remain, including the Karma Sutra ceramics.
The museum is open from 9am to 10pm all year long, with guided tours offered for a more insightful experience.
Go on a Free Walking Tour
See many highlights of Lima for free, on a guided walking tour with Inka Milky Way. This 2.5 hour experience is run by an indigenous owned company that showcases the best attractions in downtown Lima, including hidden gems that only locals know about.
As you wander through the historic center, discover why Lima is known as the City of Kings and how it became the gastronomic capital not just of Peru but all of South America. Your guide will take you along historic colonial streets that lead to embellished churches, beautiful palaces while unveiling several delectable local restaurants to eat at post tour.
Tours run twice a day from Monday through Saturday, starting at 11am and 3pm. Although the tour begins in downtown, those staying in Miraflores can be picked up ahead of time. The tour is free, however an adequate donation should be left for your amazing guide.
Take a Day Trip to Palomino Islands
Near the port of Callao, you’ll find a small group of four islands called the Palomino Islands. Jokingly referred to as the Galapagos for budget travelers, it’s an exciting and wild destination home to a large herd of sea lions who gather on the rugged islets.
The journey to the islands is almost as exciting as the destination. Tours will involve a cruise along the breathtaking coast, taking you away from the city and deep into the natural world.
Aside from sea lions, you’ll find a variety of bird species, including the guano along with the Humboldt penguins. While swimming with dolphins is an exciting yet common experience, a trip to the Palomino Islands will allow you to swim alongside the local sea lions!
On this 2.5 hour tour, don a wetsuit and dive into the refreshing waters of the Pacific Ocean to spend an afternoon swimming beside these majestic beasts.
From one adventure to the next, Lima doesn’t quit. Surrounded by mountains, deserts and sand dunes, there are a litany of adventurous activities to do just minutes from downtown. One of the best of the lot is sandboarding down the nearby dunes.
Trade in your snowboard and your powder snow for fine desert sand and an epic experience not to be missed. While many travel further afield to the adventure destination of Huacachina, there’s memorable sandboarding experiences to be had 90 minutes away in Aucallama.
With the help of your seasoned instructors, you’ll be all set up and ready to go. While there are no ski lifts here, tours will have their own dune buggies to bring you to the peak. From there, the real fun begins as you navigate the monstrous dunes on your way back to the valley.
Visit the Museum de Arte de Lima
Known simply as MALI, art lovers must take some time to visit the Lima’s major art museum. Featuring over 1,200 pieces of national art, you can learn even more about Peruvian history, with many of the pieces hailing from pre-Columbian times.
The museum is housed within the old and eye-catching Exposition Palace and is within Exposition Park. Travelers will uncover a range of art, from contemporary and abstract to ceremonial pieces and historic textiles. MALI is a complete journey through Peruvian art, with ancient indigenous cultures featured as heavily as modern luminaries.
Those who like to explore on their own time can enjoy the museum’s self-guided audio tour with bilingual options and in-depth commentary on each piece. MALI also offers guided tours around the museum from Tuesday to Saturday.
After getting your art fix, spend some time in Exposition Park, which is home to a number of Renaissance-style buildings, a lake with pedal-boats for rent and lush gardens to sit and admire your surrounds.
Venture Into the Bohemian Neighborhood of Barranco
A haven for creatives, Barranco is an artistic neighborhood with an edge. South of Lima, Barranco is a must-visit district to experience a different side of the city. You’ll quickly see how few tourists make the journey into the neighborhood, which, despite having much to offer, is not as refined as the popular Miraflores.
The seaside town features plenty of 19th century architecture and relaxed way of life. It’s a perfect place to mingle with locals and enjoy the quiet parks as the community goes about their daily life. But the real highlight of any visit to Barranco is the local street art. Between the pastel-hued colonial buildings and the tree-lined streets, you’ll stumble upon murals that capture the local spirit. Continue along to find chic cafes and independent galleries.
Barranco is also home to the Puente de Los Suspiros, aka the Bridge of Sighs. Local superstition states that you should make a wish before holding your breath as you walk its entire length. If you do so, your wish will come true.
Try Canyoning and White-Water Rafting
Two and a half hours out of Lima are Autisha Canyon and the Huanano Falls. It’s here where you can try your hand at canyoning, which is rock climbing with a twist. The journey begins with the drive to San Jeronimo de Surco, from where you’ll hike through the forest to the beautiful waterfall.
From the top of the falls, you will embark on the exciting adventure by rappeling down into the canyon. That’s where your real adventure starts, as you navigate the narrow valley via a whole mix of hiking, climbing and rock hopping. Most tours combine a trip to Songos Toboggans, that requires venturing through an obstacle course to reach the natural water slides.
If that’s not adventurous enough, why not sign up for some white water rafting? Lima is surrounded by three major rivers, and it’s even possible to journey from the beginning in the mountains all the way to the Pacific. But for a single day experience, make your way to the Lunahuana River for unforgettable rafting. Combine your trip with a traditional Pisco tasting on this tour.
Go Out on the Town
Before ending your travels through Lima, you must experience the city’s boisterous nightlife at least once. With its large population, you’ll find the full range of nighttime activities and ways to enjoy a drink or three.
Travelers will find a range of dimly lit cocktail bars, chic clubs, down-to-earth breweries and live music halls, whether that be in central Lima, Miraflores or the always fun, Barranco.
But for a truly local experience, make your way to one of Lima’s penas. These local establishments straddle a fine line between restaurant and rowdy club, where you’ll find authentic local drinks (meaning plenty of Pisco), live music or DJs and room to show off your dance moves.
Penas can sometimes be an overwhelming experience for first timers, especially if you don’t know a lick of Spanish. But some of the best ones to experience include Cocodrilo and Barranca’s Don Porfirio.
Have a Beach Day
Lima may not be known for its exquisite beaches and balmy water, however, when the sun is out, it’s a great place to be. All up, there are 20 local beaches to choose from, including many below Miraflores, Barranca and San Isidro.
Miraflores is the most popular beach destination. Backed by the soaring cliffs, you’ll enjoy wonderful views from the sand and sea. The local beaches aren’t renowned for their massive swell, but the waves that do exist make for the perfect surfing playground for beginner and intermediate riders.
You’ll find several surf shops along the coast offering board rentals and lessons. Serious surfers can head an hour down the coast to Pico Alto.
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