Welcome to Lima — where life is lived to the full, family is everything and food is a joy to be savoured.
Having said all that, Peru’s capital city needs a little time to work its charms — so don’t be too quick to judge based on first impressions. The drive in from the airport is fairly uninspiring, but trust me, things will improve.
One thing you won’t need to worry about in Lima is rain on your holiday parade. It virtually never rains here (well, 5mm a year, but that’s generally precipitation from fog rolling in off the Pacific). There are very few holiday wash-outs or problems on wash day for the city’s nine million residents. As a big city, Lima has had its share of social issues over the years, but it’s a lot safer than it used to be. Still, be vigilant, especially at night — and don’t take a taxi alone.
Enjoy this Lima travel guide.
To immerse yourself in local culture, head for the historic heart of Lima.
With its magnificent plazas, colonial buildings and wonderful Andalusian and Moor-inspired architecture, the Plaza de Armas has been the centre of life in the city since it was established in 1535. The central fountain dates back to the 1600s.
While you’re there, don’t miss the changing of the guard at the Presidential Palace at around noon. Everyone seemed fairly nonplussed by this, so you could have the grand ceremony pretty much all to yourself!
Peru is the spiritual home of lost civilisations and Pachacamac is the ideal introduction to Incan history.
This massive archaeological site is a 40-kilometre drive from the city. It’s a harsh and unrelenting environment, so bring a hat and plenty of water. The site has a number of pyramids and some modern recreations to give you an idea of how things would have looked back in the heyday. There’s a small museum and extremely helpful guides to assist in making sense of it all.
In some ways Pachacamac lives on. There are modern-day housing settlements encroaching on all sides (albeit with a few more mod cons than would have been available to the original inhabitants — town water, electricity, satellite TV etc). However, it feels like this is just the latest chapter in the history of this ancient site.
Prepare to eat late in Lima.
Dinner can be served anywhere from 8 until 11pm, but you can enjoy a reviving lonche or snack around 6pm. Chicken and seafood feature prominently on most menus; red meat less so.
For a memorable dinner, try Restaurant Huaca Pucllana. The restaurant is built around an Inca pyramid, which provides an added level of ambience to this dining experience. You can take a guided stroll around the pyramid to walk off your arroz con leche (traditional rice pudding) with ice cream on top. Delicious!
Miraflores is Lima’s most tourist-friendly area, and there’s a plethora of cafes, restaurants, boutiques and handicraft markets on hand to keep shopaholics occupied.
Most of the tourist hotels are also located here. While it can all seem a little overwhelming at first, don’t be afraid to venture out and explore (it took us almost our whole stay to work out that we had a fabulous historic square and shopping strip just behind our hotel!).
If you want to shop in the historic centre of town, a taxi will cost around $4USD. Many of the taxis have seen better days (I saw one with absolutely no tread on the tyres whatsoever) so choose carefully. Also, there are no metres. Negotiate your fare prior to setting off or ask your hotel concierge to do it for you.
The aforementioned Plaza de Armas is a great spot to relax and indulge in a spot of Peruvian people watching.
If you are due for a coffee stop, there’s a rooftop café with yellow umbrellas directly opposite the palace on the far side of the square. The door is to the left. Go up three flights of stairs and veer right. The views over the square and surrounding city are fantastic and the coffee is good to boot!
Five tours we love
Get a fabulous overview of the charming Peruvian capital on this comprehensive city tour. You’ll take in the must-see sights, most interesting residential neighborhoods and enjoy the sweeping panoramic ocean views this city is famous for.
Lima is thought to have played a key role in the administration of the Spanish Americas. The city’s majestic colonial buildings and ornate baroque churches certainly support this assertion. Learn more on a fascinating three-hour private walking tour of the historic city centre.
This full-day tour will provide an unforgettable array of experiences, including visits to an authentic local market, a historic cemetery and some of the immigrant neighborhoods that are the reality of life for many in the Peruvian capital. You’ll also spend time with a local family.
Explore one of ancient Peru’s most significant religious sites — Pachacamac. See the towering pyramids that have largely survived the passage of time. You’ll also visit the Sun Temple and the excellent Pachacamac museum.
Take your taste buds on a journey of discovery on this four-hour tour, which includes a visit to a local market and a cooking class. Learn how to recreate traditional Peruvian fare at home.
Do you have any tips to add to our Lima travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.