Lima, the capital of Peru, is a beautiful enigma on the west coast of South America. It is a cosmopolitan metropolis which has benefited from welcoming immigrants from all over the world within a country known for being conservative. It is the costal capital of a region known for its mountainous terrain. It is a city with a European feel and a well-presented and maintained indigenous culture. Ultimately, Lima is a wonderful and exciting place because of these contradictions and a great place to visit.
In the pre-Colombian period, Lima was an important city in an independent coastal culture. During the fifteenth century, this state was conquered by the Incas, the dominant empire of the uplands with centres like Machu Picchu. Less than a century later, the Incas would in turn be conquered by Francisco Pizzaro, the Spanish conquistador, who made Lima the capital of the Viceroyalty of Peru. This immediately linked the colonial city to far flung places like Manila, Acapulco, Mexico City, Valencia and Madrid. Today the city is a treasure trove of brightly coloured architecture, vibrant cuisine, and a nightlife so wild you’ll need the local Coca Tea to keep up! The city of Lima incorporates a mixture of indigenous Peruvian heritage with Spanish colonialism and Asian immigrants making travel to Lima a unique and memorable experience.
Jorge Chávez International Airport, named after a fearless Peruvian aviator, is Lima’s main international airport located just 11km (7 miles) northwest of the city centre. The city is a hub for South America’s largest airline, LATAM, so there are plenty of flights through this modern facility. To travel from the airport to your accommodation use either the luxury Airport Express Lima bus, which will take about an hour and cost £5 or travel by taxi in half the time for £15-£20.
Here’s a Pro-tip: The local currency is the Sol; the current exchange rate is 1 Sol = .18 Pound Sterling so just calculate five Sols to the pound and currency conversions are easy!
Lima is a massive metropolis, so there is so much to experience. Here are some of my favourites to see and do:
- Parque del Amor (or Love Park) is known for its romance. Set along the coast in Miraflores, you’ll know you’re in the right spot based on the beautiful waterfront views, mosaic tiled benches, canoodling couples and a sculpture, titled ‘El Beso’ by Victor Delfin, depicting two lovers doing the same.
- The archaeological site of Pachacamac, about 40km outside of Lima, is a beautiful and mysterious introduction to the ancient peoples of the region. Enjoy the temple of the Sun.
- Walk around Plaza de Armas (Plaza Mayor) in the centre of the city and view the location where, according to legend, Conquistador Pizzaro laid the first stone of the Basilica Cathedral in 1535.
- Close to the Plaza de Armas is the impressive Palacio de Gobierno or Government Palace. Like Buckingham Palace if you visit at the right time, you’ll be able to catch the changing of the guards ceremony.
- One block north of the Plaza Mayor lies the Basilica y Convento de San Francisco de Lima (San Francisco Monastery), a UNESCO World Heritage site. Make sure to head underground to see the catacombs.
- Street art lovers will lose themselves in the vibrant and creative energy of the Barranco Cross the Bridge of Sighs, built in 1876, and hold your breath to make a wish come true – according to local legend.
- Whilst in the district of Miraflores, make sure to take a guided tour of the Huaca Pucclana, an adobe clay pyramid still in the process of being excavated. The pyramid served as an important ceremonial and administrative centre for indigenous Lima peoples, between 200 – 700 AD.
- Visit the Museo del Pisco to understand the Peruvian version of the history of the spirit, pisco. There is a huge rivalry between the Peruvians and the Chileans who both claim to be the inventors of Pisco. It’s one part museum and one part bar so it’s a great place to spend an afternoon.
- Larcomar is where to go for luxury shopping. Built into the cliffs, this shopping complex comes complete with spectacular views of the city.
- Miraflores Indian Market is a great source of handmade Peruvian textiles and jewellery including alpaca blankets, shawls and silver smithed jewellery.
Peru is the gastronomic capital of South America. Here are a few recommendations to find some of the best cuisine the city has to offer:
- No one should leave the country without trying ceviche. The acidic fish and seafood curing method was invented by Peruvians and you can find cevicherías all around the city and especially in the fishing area of the Chorrillos district. Sonias owned by a fisherman/husband and chef/wife team is one of the best.
- Number four on “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants” is Peruvian restaurant Central Restaurante. Run by chef Virgilio Martinez and featuring a menu organised by altitude of the ingredient’s province, this is a culinary tour of the topography and indigenous ingredients of the country, and an exceptional experience.
- Lima is home to one of the largest Japanese diasporas, wonderfully reflected in the Nikkei cuisine; an expression of Japanese Peruvian culture. To taste some of the finest in the country head for Maido, run by chef Mitsuharu Tsumura, recently voted number seven in “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants”.
Here’s another Pro-tip: Chifa cuisine (Chinese-Peruvian food) is another delicious product of two cultures coming together in the kitchen. Visit Barrio Chino to find a variety of Chifa restaurants from which to choose.
Peruvians are known for their after-hours culture and Lima is home to some of the best places to experience. Here’s where I suggest:
- Carnaval is one of the hottest bars in all of Lima and beyond, making the list of “The World’s 50 Best Bars”. Known for its bartender who can design twenty types and shapes of ice and their artisan pisco, this place is well worth a visit.
- Ayahuasca is a well-known bar-meets-funhouse located in a beautiful colonial-style building. Made up of many different themed rooms and a lengthy cocktail list, it’s easy to while away the hours sampling the many drinks and decors available.
- If you’re interested in experiencing live Peruvian folk music and traditional dances, you’ll want to make an appearance at a Peña. Often accompanied by traditional Peruvian dishes and lots of laughter and good cheer, this is a wonderful way to experience the culture in a relaxed and traditional setting. Many restaurants and venues like La Candelaria will host these types of evenings.
Want another Pro-tip? Spend the day in Parque de la Reserva then make sure to stay for the evening’s fountain show known as the Circuito Magico del Agua. It’s a wonderful spectacle for all ages and capture a bit of the magic of Lima.
When you finally decide it’s time to rest, here are three recommendations for a good night’s sleep:
- Hotel B is a wonderful and unique luxury boutique hotel, and a formerly the private residence of an art collector until 2010. Now featuring a Peruvian tapas restaurant, twenty modern rooms, a library and rooftop terrace this is a memorable place to stay.
- For those wishing to be as close to the coast as possible, Miraflores Park, A Belmond Hotel is just a five-minute drive to Barranco Viewpoint and a 6-minute drive to the Huaca Pucclana ruins. Complete with a full-service spa and an outdoor pool, this accommodation has it all.
- Atemporal hotel is a warm, intimate hotel located in Miraflores, just a three-minute drive from cat-crazy Kennedy Park. With just nine luxurious rooms, guests are treated to personalised attention and top-quality service.
Here’s my final Pro-tip: The biggest Catholic procession in the world takes place every October in downtown Lima to celebrate the Lord of Miracles Procession, an image of Jesus that Peruvians believe protects and grants miracles. It is a celebration of faith and devotion and a sight to behold if you are visiting at the right time.
No matter where you go in Lima, the culture and the city will draw you in, and fill you with its contagious zeal and zest for life! Lima is an enigma, but a beautiful and vibrant one!