For most people who travel to Peru, Lima is little more than a quick stopover on the way to Machu Picchu or Cusco; a convenient place to rest their heads after a long flight, before immediately moving on to some of the country’s more iconic attractions.
But thanks to its exploding food scene and vibrant culture, Lima is a city on the rise and is worth at least a day to explore in its own right. In fact, Peru’s capital turned out to be one of our favourite cities in South America and is definitely somewhere we’d like to return to in the future.
Lima is a big city therefore you’re going to have to rely on public transport to make the most of its top sights. Buses are safe enough in the day but run on a a fairly complex system and can be very slow.
Taxis are the safest and fastest method of getting around – especially if you only have a day to explore. Uber is also growing in popularity and is a cheaper choice – just check you have the right international mobile data plan. After reading a number of horror stories about unregistered taxis and tourist scams, I was a little worried about how to spot genuine taxis in Lima but we had absolutely no problems at all during our visit and felt perfectly safe getting around the city. A couple of top tips to keep in mind:
– You can spot a registered taxi by looking out for the license number painted on the side of the car and a rectangular authorisation sticker on the upper left corner of the windshield.
– Always agree your fare with the driver before you get in the car. Don’t rely on taxi drivers speaking English in Peru, so it’s important to know some basic Spanish (at least learn your numbers!) when agreeing a price to avoid any nasty surprises.
– Look out for taxis that are dropping tourists off – this was pretty much our strategy for getting around South America safely and is the best way to ensure you’re getting a trusted ride.
Planning your visit:
Start your day at Plaza de Armas (or Plaza Mayor) – the main square, marking the historic centre of Lima. Nearly every city in South America has a grand plaza but few are as beautiful as Lima’s, with its iconic yellow buildings, striking colonial architecture and perfectly sculpted flower beds.
At the forefront of the square is La Catedral – Lima’s most famous sight and a symbol of the old city. Guided tours of the Basilica are available throughout the day or you can take a self-guided tour for a small entrance fee.
The side-roads around the Plaza are just as pretty, so be sure to wander out beyond the main square. Keep an eye out for the grand Government Palace building – the official residence of the President of Peru.
Tucked just behind the main Plaza is Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco, even more impressive in many ways than the main cathedral. Admission is S/10 and includes a guided tour of the catacombs, where you will be led through underground tunnels and past piles of human bones (more than 70,000 bodies apparently!) Not for the faint-hearted… (or claustrophobic, like me!)
Finally, make a quick stop at the Church of Santo Domingo – another beautiful building worth a peek inside – before concluding your tour of the historic centre.
Next, grab a taxi and head to Lima’s trendiest and most colourful neighbourhood: Barranco. Packed full of vibrant street art, hipster coffee shops and boutique shops and galleries, this is the place to be in Lima. There are far fewer tourists here, than in the historic centre, giving the whole place a much more relaxed and local vibe.
First things, first – coffee. Start with some lunch and a caffeine fix at La Bodega Verde – a whimsical little courtyard cafe, tucked away from the main square.
Then make your way back to the plaza, where you’ll find a mish-mash of colourful architecture, including the bright yellow Cathedral and peach-coloured Biblioteca – my favourite building in Lima.
Continue on to La Ermita Church and the famous Puente de Los Suspiros (Bridge of Sighs). The Bridge itself isn’t much to write home about, but from here you can spot one of the most striking murals in Lima – the ‘Heart of Sighs’.
This whole area is packed full of eye-catching street art and impressive murals – most of which can be found along the Bajada de los Baños pathway and up the staircase to the left of the pathway.
Once you’ve had your fill of street art, head to the world-famous Mario Testino MATE museum. Take a tour around this beautiful old mansion-turned-gallery, where glossy photos of the rich and famous adorn the walls. Admission is S/10 and you’ll need no longer than an hour to tour the exhibitions.
Before moving on, take some time to wander around Barranco’s side streets, where you’ll find row after row of beautiful art-deco mansions and artsy stores.
Pick up the coastal pathway, El Malecon, all the way to Miraflores – Lima’s most upscale district. Allow 45 minutes to an hour for the walk, stopping for photos and at key sights such as the Larcomar Shopping Centre and El Parque del Amor along the way. ‘The Love Park’ is famous for its embracing statues, mosaic-tiled walls and romantic quotes etched into the walls. If possible, time your walk at sunset to enjoy the ocean views and watch para-gliders taking off from the cliffs.
Now that you’ve arrived in Miraflores, you’re officially in the food capital of the city. Lima has undergone a major food revolution in recent years and is the only city in the world to have two of the world’s best restaurants! Check out The Culture Trip for advice on some of the best places to eat in Miraflores.
But if there’s just one dish you HAVE to try while you’re in Lima, it’s ceviche – a delicious raw fish dish marinated in citrus juice. There are excellent cevicherias all across the city but we opted for Barra Maratezo after reading rave reviews and were not disappointed. As well as serving up tasty, fresh food, they also have daily drinks deals and a friendly, local vibe.
During our evening in Lima, we also visited the Magic Water Circuit – an interactive water and lights show. But, honestly, this is one thing I would probably cut out from our itinerary, if we were to do it again. Unless you have children, this isn’t a must-see attraction, in my opinion, and is not really worth the taxi fare or time out of your schedule. I would have rather had more time to relax at dinner with an extra pisco sour!!