There is no city in South America that I have visited as often as Lima. With good flight connections both to Europe and other destinations in South America, it made sense for us to come here multiple times.
We based ourselves in a hostel in the middle of Miraflores, 151 Backpackers, which I can highly recommend for its amazingly friendly and helpful staff. From there, we explored as much of Lima as we could. Lima has enough attractions to keep you occupied for three or four days, or even a week if you start exploring some of the museums we didn’t get a chance to see.
Here are twelve things you should not miss when visiting Peru’s capital:
#1 Take a walk around Lima’s historic centre
While downtown is not a good place to stay at (look for a hotel in Miraflores instead), it is great to visit during the day. Start at the Plaza de Armas. Here, you can find the government palace (inform yourself about the schedule of the changing of the guards, it is worth watching), the cathedral and many old colonial buildings with beautifully carved balconies. They were painted in yellow to form a contrast to the grey weather that is so typical for Lima.
If you walk half a block, you will come across the Monumento Taulichusco. This rock is all that remains of the Inca city that once stood here. Legend says that it refills your energy if you touch it – and you are definitely going to need energy for visiting Lima.
A great way to see the historic centre is to join one of the free walking tours that leave from the main square. There are a couple of companies operating here, so ask other travellers or your hostel which one they recommend.
2 – 4h
#2 Visit the Catacumbas in the Monasterio de San Francisco
If you’re in the city centre, the one sight you should not miss are the catacombs in the Convento San Francisco. Back in the time, they were used as a graveyard and now the remains of around 70.000 people line the corridors down here.
The convent is also worth visiting for its large library filled with ancient books and its painting of the Last Supper, a replica of the one you can find in Cusco, with a guinea pig painted on one of the dinner plates. It is a great example of how indigenous people adopted Christianity after the arrival of the Spanish.
To visit the monastery, you must go on a guided tour. They leave often, we only had to wait for five minutes, and are available in both English and Spanish.
#3 Take a walk in the Parque del Amor
One of the best places to go for a walk in Miraflores is the Parque del Amor. Located just above the cliffs, it is worth visiting both for its great view of the Pacific Ocean and for its statues.
The Parque del Amor is also a good place for people-watching. Take a seat on a shady bench and watch locals who exercise here, couples who try to hide in the bushes and dog-sitters going for a walk with half a dozen dogs at once.
30min – 1h
#4 Explore Barranco
Barranco is Lima’s artsy and bohemian neighbourhood. Come here for street art, street food, colonial buildings and Lima’s most popular beach.
A good place to start is the Parque Municipal. When we came, we were lucky and ran into a street food festival which gave us the chance to try various Peruvian dishes. You might also see street artists perfoming here.
The easiest way to explore Barranco is once again on a free walking tour. But if you happen to be here on a Sunday, the one day without free walking tours, google the main sights or follow one of the self-guided tours you can find online. You could also just walk off and wander around on your own.
#5 Learn about pre-Inca times at Huaca Pucllana
Everyone has heard of the Inca. But what most people don’t know is that the Inca kingdom wasn’t old when Spanish explorers came and destroyed it. Before the rise of the Inca, many old civilisations lived in Peru. After a month of travelling around the country, I can easily name seven of them and I know that there were many more.
If you want to get an idea of what one of those many cultures was like, visit Huaca Pucllana. Located in Miraflores, this archaeological site was once inhabited by the Lima culture. Later, the Wari culture, which came to power a bit more than a thousand years ago, used the temple as a burial site.
The pyramid of Huaca Pucllana can be visited on guided tours. They are available both in Spanish and in English and take around one hour. If you like, there are also evening tours in the darkness, but they won’t take you up to the top of the pyramid.
Also, if you’re interested in pre-Inca times and have an extra day to spare, you should consider visiting the oldest settlement in the Americas. You can easily visit Caral on a day trip from Lima.
#6 Sample chocolate in the Choco Museo
You are lucky. The Choco Museo has a couple of shops/museums/cafes all over the city. The main one is located in the historic centre, but you can also go to their two shops in Miraflores.
The Choco Museo is, as mentioned above, a mixture between a museum, a shop and a cafe. Ask for one of the helpful employees to show you around, and they will explain to you the history of cocoa and its production chain these days. Afterwards, you can sample one of their many chocolate jams (I highly recommend the one with Brazil Nuts) and, of course, buy lots of chocolate.
Inside the shop, you can also find a small cafe. Their brownies are to die for and large enough to be shared between two people. The hot chocolate is also amazing since you will get hot milk and can then add as much liquid chocolate as you like.
Inquire about the chocolate workshops if you want to make chocolate yourself.
30min – 2h
#7 Watch the fountain show in the Parque de la Reserva
The Parque de la Reserva is extremely popular with families with small children. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t the perfect evening entertainment for adults as well.
Every evening, the Parque de la Reserva comes to life with a multitude of fountains and LED lights. Some fountains will allow you to jump through them, others are constructed like a tunnel of water and some are just made to be admired from afar.
If coming from Miraflores, take a bus on Avenida José Larco that goes south along Avenida Arequipa (just ask any bus driver if they go to Parque de la Reserva and they will be happy to point out the right bus to you). Along the same street, in front of the park, you can also catch busses to go back.
1 – 2h
#8 Admire glittering gold in the Museo del Oro
The Museo del Oro houses a giant collection of pre-Columbian gold. I would have expected most of the artefacts to come from Inca times, but it looks like most pre-Inca civilisations also knew how to work with the precious metal. All over the basement, you can look at the amazing golden metalworks, from necklaces to wall decorations.
The first floor is filled with a collection of arms and armour from many different cultures, including a section about Samurai swords. While it seemed very random, the golden artefacts in the basement more than made up for it.
#9 Pet abandoned cats in Parque Kennedy
Kennedy Park is also known as the park of the abandoned cats. Nobody I asked could tell me how it started, but for many years, cats have been living in this park.
If you’re not a cat person, you should still come here, especially if you happen to be in Lima on a Sunday. On Sunday afternoon, the park comes alive with street vendors, artists and locals having a good time. Try the churros or the arroz con leche or whatever other treats you can find, sit down on a bench and relax while people-watching.
#10 Sample Peruvian food
There is no better place to try Peruvian food than Lima. In the capital, you can find everything you would possibly want to eat. Start out with ceviche, Peru’s national dish, which consists of marinated raw fish served with corn. Move on to lomo saltado, a styr-fry of beef and vegetables, or go to a Chifa restaurant, a Chinese restaurant serving a mixture of Asian and Peruvian food.
When we visited, we were lucky and came across a food festival in Barranco. But even without the festival, it is possible to find street food stalls almost everywhere, giving you an opportunity to try lots of different sweet and savoury dishes.
#11 Enjoy the view from Cerro San Cristobal
Cerro San Cristobal, located northeast of the city centre, is the perfect viewpoint to have a look at the city from above. On clear days, you can even spot the Pacific Ocean from this 400m-high hill, but I wouldn’t count on that.
While it is possible to walk to the top of the hill, the easier alternatives include taking a taxi from the Plaza de Armas, getting a mototaxi from the bottom of the hill or going up by bus. The urbanito bus leaves from the southwest corner of the Plaza de Armas and does one-hour tours to the top.
#12 Go paragliding
If you have never been to Lima, you wouldn’t know it is a popular paragliding spot. But the cliffs in Miraflores and Barranco offer great conditions for paragliders and you cannot miss the colourful gliders soaring above your head when walking along Parque del Amor.
Tandem flights last around ten minutes and, in Miraflores, take off at Parque Raimondi. Even if you do not want to go into the air yourself, this is a great spot to watch others take off and land.
I hope you have found this guide useful. If you have any other suggestions on what to do, or if there was one activity that you particularly loved or hated, I would love to hear about it.
If you are going on to the South, make sure to find out what to do in Paracas and what not to miss in Arequipa. Or you could read up on the whole country and find out the most important sights you shouldn’t miss.
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