Lima surprised me with its fascinating culture, unique landmarks, energy and affordability. Some travel guides recommend a single day or two in Lima but I think the city deserves more attention. This is a vibrant and lively city with a rich history and culture. Lima is home to over 10 million people and is the economic and cultural center of Peru. Compared to many other destinations in North America and Europe, Peru is much easier on the wallet and is a great choice for the budget traveller.
Credit for founding the city of Lima is given to Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro, although indigenous groups had occupied the region for centuries prior. Peru became the center of the Spanish colonial empire in South America during the 16th century. Today, the city is a mix of modern and colonial architecture with many historic landmarks and sites to explore.
Where to Stay
Lima is huge and includes 43 neighbourhoods, but most tourists will focus on Miraflores, Barranco, and the Historic Center. My best advice is not to try to see everything because you will likely need more time than you've planned. Take some time and consider the attractions that are most appealing to you.
If you choose the Historic Center you will be close to the historic landmarks but this area is noisy, feels noticeably less safe after dark, and there is an increased risk of pickpocket and snatch & grab crimes. I chose to stay a few days in the 1900 Backpackers Hostel located across from the Parque de la Exposition during my first stay in Lima. I had a private room which was comfortable and away from the street noise. I enjoyed having a drink on the balcony of the bar overlooking the action in the street below but it wasn't an area I felt comfortable exploring at night.
Miraflores is the main tourist suburb and was my choice for my second visit when I chose a small guesthouse in a local neighbourhood. Miraflores is easy to navigate, quieter, and feels safer -- especially in the areas that tourists frequent. It is much more comfortable meandering here compared to the historical centre of Lima. It feels safer and more welcoming but don't get complacent, keep your valuables secure and stay alert.
I also stayed a few days in a rental apartment in Barranco. Barranco is a bohemian and artsy neighbourhood located along the coast. It is known for its colourful and charming streets which is why this district is becoming more popular with tourists looking for a more relaxed atmosphere.
The taxi ride to and from the airport will be painfully slow. The traffic is ridiculous at all hours, and people in the city love using their car horns. It never takes less than an hour to get downtown and even longer to get to Miraflores. Check the airport shuttle for service to and from Miraflores. Airport Express Lima offers very comfortable buses that pick up travellers from multiple stops in the area at a very reasonable price (S/15 -- $6 CAD). I situated myself close to the sites I wanted to visit so I did a lot of walking with an occasional Uber or taxi ride to explore the city. Few taxis have meters so if you elect to use taxis, make sure you use an official taxi and agree to a set price (clarify payment in sols) before getting into the vehicle. Don't expect drivers to provide change, so try to have the exact amount in hand Official taxis must be yellow or white, with a white license plate including a yellow stripe at the top. The taxi sign should be permanently fixed on the roof of the car, have red and white reflective stickers on both sides and rear of the car and the license plate number painted (or a sticker) on both rear passenger doors.
Lima's history is littered with tales of wars, riots, earthquakes, and mass migrations which have influenced life in the area since long before colonial times and continues today. Since the 1940s, Lima's population started to grow rapidly due to massive migration from the Andes regions, as rural populations moved into the city. In this span of time, the population grew from 600 000 to ten million (and growing!) today. The stresses of such a population explosion caused many social problems.
Plaza de Armas
The Plaza de Armas, also known as Plaza Mayor, is where all the major government buildings are located. The Spanish conquerer, Francisco Pizarro, selected this area as the government administration area in 1535 and insisted on very high standards of construction, often at the expense of the local people, both economically and culturally.
Palacio de Gobierno del Perú
The Government Palace, also known as the House of Pizarro, is the official residence of the Peruvian president and the seat of government.
I arrived in time for a wee concert and the daily changing of the guard ceremony on the Patio of the Government Palace. The military band also had a jazz/rock group. They had the whole crowd cheering (unfortunately the police keep everyone well back and all my shots include the fencing)
If you peer close enough through the fencing, you can see the soldiers doing their very slow march. Every step is a high kick! It was not only impressive, it was a fascinating and very entertaining ceremony.
Throughout my travels in Perú, every significant historical site and museum has large student groups (50+ youngsters in each group) visiting on school excursions. The age of the groups range from pre-schoolers to teens. All the groups wear matching tracksuits. One group I saw even had matching hair scrunchies! I was enchanted by this group of little ones who were rocking out while waiting in line, dutifully holding the hand of their partner.
Security is very tight during the ceremony. There are police stationed every 500m or so. This group was hanging out during the changing of the guard, waiting to be called as reinforcements, if needed.
The Archbishop's Palace, also known as the Palacio Arzobispal, is the residence of Lima's Archbishop and the administrative center of the Roman Catholic church in Lima. Forced conversion by the invading Spaniards has resulted in Peru being predominantly Catholic.
The 5-storey Palace is a colonial-era architectural blend. Outside, the facade includes a series of tall arches at ground level, with a covered arcade above, and more floors with elegant balconies above the arcade. The large balcony overlooking the Plaza is where Peruvian Independence was declared in 1821.
This is a beautiful building and the interior public areas are compact, making this a fairly short visit. The highlight, in my opinion, is the staircase and skylight. The small chapel with a gold altar is also worth your time. Budget travellers will want to purchase a combined ticket to visit both the Archbishop's Palace and the Cathedral.
Catédral de Lima
Next to the Archbishop's Palace is the Cathedral of Lima, located on the same land granted by Pizarro in 1535. Pizarro's vision of colonial Peru included destroying Inca temples and religious spaces to build Catholic churches and cathedrals on the same site. This cathedral is no exception. The building has been rebuilt several times over the centuries, with the last major restoration in 1940. The exterior of the Cathedral is a series of incredibly ornate and unique façades. The main façade facing the Plaza has a huge central portal flanked by two tall bell towers.
Inside you'll see gorgeous carved furniture, altars, sculptures, and a huge amount of glittering golden objects but the most stunning feature is the amazing vaulted ceiling. I suggest spending a good amount of time sitting in a pew looking up.
Pizarro's tomb is in a mosaic-covered chapel near the main door. I was intrigued to learn the story of an incident in the late 1970s. Workmen cleaning a crypt had discovered several bodies and a box containing a skull. The box's inscription suggested the skull belonged to Pizarro. A bunch of tests were done only to discover that the relics on display didn't belong to the notorious Spanish conquistador, instead, his remains were in the crypt and bore evidence of a brutal murder and decapitation. The head and body were reunited and transferred to the chapel.
The Cathedral is open weekdays from 09:00 to 17:00, with short hours on Saturdays 10:00 to 13:00.
Casa de Aliaga
A quaint pedestrian street called Jiron de la Union connects the Plaza de Armas with San Martin Square, the second Plaza de Armas of Lima, also known as Plaza 2. This is where you will find Casa de Aliaga. This stunning private home has been occupied by the same family since it was gifted to Captain Jerónimo de Aliaga y Ramírez in 1535. Tourists may visit but must hire a guide. Check out their website for a list of recommended guides. The house is open daily from 10:00 to 16:00. It will cost s/30 for the tour (the cost of the guide will be an additional expense).
Plaza St. Martin
Plaza St. Martin, also known as Plaza 2 Mayor, is another important plaza in the area. In the center is a large statue of José de San Martín. The bright blue buildings are quite beautiful, but a closer look shows a much different scene. Unfortunately, many of the original buildings were left in ruins in an earthquake in the mid-1700s.
Basílica y Convento de San Francisco de Lima
The Monastery of San Francisco, also known as the Convent of San Francisco, is a UNESCO site and a historic religious complex that will appeal to library fans and those who enjoy dark musty places full of bones, but leave your camera in your bag as photos are not permitted.
One of the most significant features of the monastery is its library, with a huge collection of ancient texts and manuscripts dating back to the colonial era. Many of the over 25,000 book are written in other languages including Latin and Quechua. The other big draw for many tourists is the Monastery's catacombs, which contain the remains of thousands of Lima's colonial-era residents.
The Monastery of San Francisco is open to the public daily from 09:30 to 17:45. Guided tours are available in several languages. Visitors are required to wear appropriate clothing, including covered shoulders and knees.
The Spanish imported many slaves for sugar and cotton plantation work but as slavery became outlawed, cheap labour was needed. People from China began to arrive in large numbers in the mid-1800s, some to work on the plantations. Others were lured and then disillusioned by the California Gold Rush and had moved south looking for both work and acceptance. Later, these immigrants were exploited for building railways.
As the Chinese population in Lima increased, a neighbourhood was created and the first South American Chinatown was created in 1854. Although its original intention was to provide a safe community offering the goods and services needed, the restaurants soon attracted other residents of the city. The flavours of Chinese cuisine eventually melded with traditional Peruvian cuisine, resulting in Chifa, a style of food found throughout the country that blends the unique tastes of both.
Chinatown is a fascinating place to explore, with colourful storefronts, lively markets, and an array of street food vendors selling everything from dumplings to medicinal herbs, but for me, the highlight is the vibrant street art. Many buildings are adorned with colourful murals and graffiti. There are also several ornate Chinese temples and pagodas scattered throughout the neighbourhood.
Museo de Arqueología, Antropología e Historia del Perú
The Museum of Anthropology, Archaeology, and History of Peru was my favourite museum in the city. Founded in April 1826, this is Perú's oldest museum and is stuffed full of excellent exhibits covering pre-Columbian artifacts and objects and follows time to the Spanish occupation and Simon Bolivar. For visitors planning to explore the ancient Wari, Moche, and Inca civilizations while visiting Peru, this is a great place to start.
The museum is housed in an old colonial mansion in the Pueblo Libre neighbourhood. The museum is quite large and covers a lot of ground, so visitors should expect to need several hours to explore the exhibits thoroughly. There is also a café and gift shop on-site. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 09:00 to 16:00, with extended hours on Saturdays until 7:00 pm.
One of the most important exhibits in the museum is the Royal Tombs of Sipán, which features the elaborate burial chamber of a Moche warrior-priest from the 3rd century AD.
Check out the Hall of Gold, featuring a collection of gold and silver artifacts, and the Inca Gallery.
The Larco Museum is another large museum also located in Pueblo Libre in an 18th-century mansion. It has one of the largest and most varied collections of pre-Columbian art in all of South America. The collection includes art from pre-Inca cultures like the Moche, Tiahuanaco, Chavin and Paracas people, but its most famous exhibit is the large collection of erotic ceramics belonging to the pre-Inca Chimu culture.
Magic Water Circuit
The Magic Water Circuit, also known as Circuito Mágico del Agua, is a popular tourist attraction located in the Parque de la Reserva in central Lima. The park is home to 13 fountains that light up at night, creating a stunning visual display that is sure to impress visitors of all ages. The park's main attraction is the Fuente de la Fantasia, a fountain that features a stunning laser light show set to music. For more detailed information, see my post about my visit.
Parque de la Exposición
Parque de la Exposición, also known as Exhibition Park, is a beautiful public park located in the heart of Lima, first established in 1872 and originally designed for the National Exhibition. Over the years, the park has been expanded and renovated several times and now features a variety of attractions and amenities.
One of the main highlights is the Museum of Art of Lima (the MALI), which is located within the park and features a vast collection of Peruvian art from pre-Columbian times to the present day. The Park is also home to the National Museum of History, the Italian Art Museum, and the Ricardo Palma Cultural Center.
In addition to its museums, the park also features beautiful gardens, fountains, and statues, making it a great place to take a leisurely stroll or relax in the shade. There are also several food and beverage options within the park, including a café and a restaurant. I really enjoyed exploring the different areas during the day but I was not comfortable walking through the area alone at night.
Parque de la Exposición is open daily from 06:00 to 22:00 pm and admission is free. It is located in the district of Jesus Maria, just a short distance from Lima's historic center. The park is easily accessible by public transportation and there are several bus and metro lines that stop nearby.
Miraflores is considered one of the safest neighbourhoods in Lima, with a low crime rate and a strong police presence. This makes it an ideal location for tourists who want to explore the city without worrying about their safety. Miraflores is located just a short distance from Lima's historic city center, making it an ideal base for exploring the city's cultural landmarks and attractions. It's also close to some of Lima's most popular beaches, including Playa Waikiki and Playa Redondo... and if that's not enough there is the splendid Huaca Pucllana archaeological site -- right smack dab in the middle of a residential neighbourhood.
Malecón and Parque del Amor
The Malecón is a scenic walkway along the cliffs at the edge of the Pacific Ocean. The views from there are amazing, especially in the evening. The perfect place to watch a brilliant sunset is at Parque del Amor (Love Park) along the Malecón.
The park features mosaic designs vaguely reminiscent of Parc Güell in Barcelona, Spain. The park also has some lovely trails but the centrepiece is a sculpture named "The Kiss" by Peruvian artist Victor Delfin.
John F. Kennedy Park is a narrow and very busy park surrounded by restaurants and shops. The most noticeable feature of the park is the many, many cats who spend their lives in the park. It is speculated that the original cat population were mousers in the local convent but others suggest the cats were brought to the park during a rat infestation in the 1980s. Either way, you can feel very comfortable interacting with these friendly cats, as they are cared for by local volunteers.
Close to my digs in Miraflores is the archeological site of Huaca Pucllana. This site was created by the Lima people about 100AD... several centuries before the Inca. The site features a flat-topped pyramid. It is created by adobe bricks, laid “bookshelf” style. It was first uncovered in 1941. Excavation didn’t start until the early 1980s. At the time, it was just a garbage-covered hill. Excavations are still on-going.
The site was also used by the Wari and the Inca for religious, ceremonial, and administrative purposes. During the Lima time, the lower plaza was used for sacrifices. The vast majority of bones uncovered belonged to women. It is not clear why women were considered more sacred sacrifices.
The Wari dug into the adobe brick to create tombs. Bodies were mummified in seated positions with offerings. 82 mummies have been discovered (so far), including many children.
The site includes gardens that raise animals and food crops important to the Lima people. Various potatoes, squash, cotton, llamas, alpacas, and guinea pigs are plentiful.
Barranco is the hipster neighbourhood of Lima, in the former seaside resort for Lima's elite. I love the funky art and murals found throughout the area. I suggest selecting a free walking tour of the area with a local guide. If you like street art, graffiti, hipster cafes and coffee shops, Barranco is going to enchant you.
El Puente de los Suspiros
The Bridge of Sighs, known locally as "El Puente de los Suspiros," is a historic wooden bridge built in the late 19th century that spans a small ravine leading to the Pacific Ocean.
According to local legend, if a couple crosses the bridge while holding their breath, their love will last forever. The bridge has been an inspiration for many poets, artists, and writers over the years, and is considered a symbol of the bohemian spirit of Barranco.
Link to map with all locations
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