Things to Do in Lima
A cluster of tiny islands off the Peruvian coast, the Ballestas Islands (Islas Ballestas) are often touted as the “Peruvian Galapagos,” famed for their spectacular variety of birdlife and rugged coastline of soaring cliffs, rocky beaches, and remote sea caves.
The enigmatic Nazca Lines (or Nasca Lines) are second only to Machu Picchu as the most famous archaeological site in Peru. The mysterious geoglyphs at the UNESCO World Heritage Site range from geometric shapes and swirls to a hummingbird and monkey. Theories on their purpose include astronomical markers, irrigation canals, and alien messages—an enigma that has spurred intrigue since their 1927 discovery. The spectacular etchings likely date from 500 BC and 500 AD.
The swanky beachfront suburb of Miraflores is one of Lima’s most sought-after zip codes. Here you’ll find the city’s best restaurants, shops, and hotels, plus waterfront mansions and high-rise towers. Lovely parks and beaches decorate the area, as well as the ancient ruins of Huaca Pucllana—a pre-Inca temple.
San Isidro visitors may overlook its cultural attractions, opting instead for its beaches and shopping districts. But, the enclave’s tree-lined residential streets are home to stately mansions being converted to luxury hotels, high-end boutiques, art museums, embassies representing 40 countries, and the city’s best restaurants.
Plaza Mayor, formerly Plaza de Armas, is the heart and birthplace of Lima. The crown jewel of the city, this UNESCO World Heritage–listed square is flanked by many important buildings, such as the Government Palace (Palacio de Gobierno), Cathedral of Lima, City Hall (Palacio Municipal de Lima), and the Archbishop’s Palace (Palacio Arzobispal).
Barranco is an atmospheric, seaside neighborhood in Lima known for its street art and hip, bohemian culture. The area was once a summer playground for fashionable Limeños and is full of old colonial buildings. Small cafes and artist-run boutiques buzz during the day, while bars and dance define the area at night.
Thanks to its designation as a UNESCO World heritage Site, the historical center of Lima is immaculately preserved. Encompassing the area between Plaza de Armas and Plaza San Martin, the core includes the majority of the city’s outstanding colonial attractions and palm-fringed green spaces, all within easy walking distance.
The oldest city yet unearthed in the Americas, the Sacred City of Caral-Supe is among Peru’s most impressive archeological sites. This magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Site covers 148 acres (60 hectares) in the arid Supe Valley and was first inhabited between 2600 and 2000 BC. Today, the site is a popular day trip from Lima.
The Church and Convent of Saint Francis (Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco) is a spectacular example of Moorish-inspired Spanish baroque colonial grandeur, but the real highlight is the spooky labyrinth of catacombs underground.
One of the best preserved churches in Lima, the Convent of San Francis of Assisi also has a remarkable library of antique texts and a tranquil cloistered garden.
A guided visit to the Museum and Convent takes you through the buildings’ history and architecture, before venturing into the underground passages lined with the bones of 25,000 Lima citizens from over 200 years of burials.
Bones were interred here until 1808, when Lima’s cemetery was established, and the catacombs lay undiscovered until 1943. A visit is not for the fainthearted, but those who do make the journey will be surprised to see the various skulls and thigh bones arranged in decorative patterns.
On the tour you’ll also visit the library of antique books, the pretty cloister, the museum of religious paintings and artifacts, the carved choir stalls and the Moorish-domed church.
Lima is dotted with sacred ruins and ceremonial sites known as huacas. Located in the coastal Miraflores neighborhood, the Huaca Pucllana complex, with its towering stepped adobe pyramid, is one of the city’s largest and most important ancient monuments. Built around 500 A.D, it was once an administrative and ceremonial center of the indigenous Lima Culture civilization.
More Things to Do in Lima
In a lush 19-acre (8-hectare) nature reserve (Parque de la Reserva) on the outskirts of Miraflores, Magic Water Circuit (Circuito Mágico del Agua) is one of the most popular attractions in the city. Choreographed to classical and Peruvian music and colored lights, the circuit’s 13 interactive fountains entice you to watch and to play.
Inaugurated in 1921 to celebrate a century of Peruvian independence, Plaza San Martin is named after the man who liberated Peru, Argentina and Chile from Spain, José de San Martín whose bronze likeness sits astride a bronze horse in the center of the plaza. Located within the UNESCO-listed Historic Centre of Lima and surrounded on three sides by neocolonial architecture, the plaza is considered one of the city’s most important public spaces.
The plaza becomes especially lively in the late afternoon and evening, when the buildings are lit up beautifully and locals gather to chit chat or, more often, argue politics beneath the trees. On the northwestern side of the plaza sits the Gran Hotel Bolivar, a perfect place to sip a pisco sour within the historic art deco building.
The Larco Museum (Museo Larco) is the only place in Peru that houses an extensive private collection of pre-Columbian artifacts. The museum displays more than 4,000 years of Peruvian history with tens of thousands of ceramics, textiles, pottery, metalware, and other excavated findings unearthed by the affluent Larco family.
Dedicated to Lima’s lovers, Love Park (Parque del Amor) understandably attracts couples who come to enjoy the Pacific Ocean views, especially around sunset. Located in the Miraflores district, the park bears a resemblance to Park Güell in Barcelona, thanks to the colorful mosaic walls displaying quotes on love spread throughout.
At the center of the park stands a sculpture by Victor Delfín entitled El Beso (The Kiss), unveiled in 1993 and still the best known work by the Peruvian artist. If you’re in Lima for Valentine’s Day, head to Love Park to watch young couples compete in a longest kiss contest staged by the statue.
Up the coast from Lima, the colonial seafront town of Callao is the capital’s principal cruise port, receiving thousands of annual visitors. With easy transport links to the center of Lima, most cruise travelers head straight into Lima, though Callao has worthwhile attractions and is a jumping off point to nearby islands.
The closest archaeological site to Lima is Pachacamac, a pre-Inca collection of sand-blasted pyramid temples and palaces spanning 1,500 years. Over the centuries the now-ruined city developed into one of the Inca’s most important religious and administrative centers.
Though all that remains is largely the rubble of walls and stepped foundations rising from the surrounding dusty desert, there are excavations and reconstructions to see, including a rebuilt Inca complex called House of the Chosen Women.
The site was inhabited by the Huari people prior to 800 AD, and later by the Inca, who built their Temple to the sun on the main square. Itshma was the name given to the state surrounding Pachacamac and the religious ceremonial temples built to honor the coastal deity, Pacha Camac.
The site was inhabited until 1533, when it was destroyed by Spanish conquistador Pizarro.
The on-site museum helps explain the significance of Pachacamac’s ceremonial temples, and displays artifacts unearthed at the site.
Lima’s main cathedral is located within the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Site on the lovely Plaza Mayor, a square marked by palm trees and grand palaces. Over the years, earthquakes spurred rebuilding and refurbishments of the Cathedral of Lima, adding baroque and neoclassical elements to the original colonial adobe structure.
The Palomino Islands are a rocky collection of small islets off the coast of Callao, which is about 7 miles (9.6 kilometers) from the center of the city of Lima. The islands are inhabited by a variety of birds—including guanayes, boobies, pelicans, red-legged cormorants, and Humboldt penguins—and by friendly sea lions.
Downtown Lima’s most lively and colorful street is pedestrianized Jiron de la Union.
Lined with boutiques and stores for window-shopping, restaurants and cafes for bar-hoppers, and thronged with locals for people-watching, taking a stroll along this atmospheric thoroughfare is the best way to experience Lima in a nutshell.
Taking up five blocks of prime city-center real estate, Lima’s most important boulevard was planned by Pizarro back in 1535, when the city was founded.
A walk along this thoroughly commercialized car-free route takes you past City Hall, monuments, squares and the La Merced Cathedral, with its pretty square in front.
The pepper-pot belfry of Santo Domingo, one of Lima’s most historic churches, makes a rococo statement on Lima’s skyline. The interior has a neoclassical design in turquoise and sumptuous gold.
The church was completed in 1599, though it’s been rebuilt over the centuries following several earthquakes.
The grand church has three naves, several altars, chapels and shrines, and Peru’s oldest choir stalls. Paintings and Seville tiles decorate the main cloisters surrounding the tranquil central gardens.
Many visitors make the pilgrimage to the Iglesia de Santo Domingo to pay their respects to the Americas’ first black saint, San Martin de Porres. Santa Rosa de Lima also has a chapel in Santo Domingo.
For years, Miraflores has been Lima’s district for tourists, expats, and visitors, but lately the neighboring Chorillos district is starting to flex its charm. Heavily razed by Chilean soldiers in a 19th century war, and then completely leveled in 1940 by a devastating coastal earthquake, this coastal district has risen once again into one of the capital’s best zones. Located just south of Miraflores, Chorillos offers visitors everything from beaches to views looking over the city. Sprawl on the sands of La Herradura and watch surfers play in the waves, or stroll the nearby malecón boardwalk that lines the beach at Agua Dulce. The Chorillos beaches are popular in summer—and can be packed on sunny weekends—and there are even wetlands on the far end of the district that house hundreds of species of birds. Late in the day, make the drive (or steep hike) up the hill at Morro Solar, where not only will you find a planetarium and a statue of Christ the Redeemer, but also a panoramic view that offers the best sunsets in Lima.
Located in the bohemian Barranco district of Lima, the Bridge of Sighs (El Puente de los Suspiros) is a landmark for the area. The beautiful wooden bridge was built to cross the Bajada de los Baños, which leads to the Pacific. Locals and visitors alike love to take in the views of the nearby seafront from the bridge.
Kennedy Park in Miraflores is literally the cat’s meow. Aside from being a well-kept park in Lima’s most popular district, the park is known for the dozens of cats that live in the cushy grass. If you’re a visitor who’s missing your pet back at home—or just want a cuddly experience—sit in the grass and wait for a cat to jump up and sit in your lap. Aside from the friendly Peruvian felines, Kennedy Park is also known for its collection of musicians and artisans—many of whom will gather on weekends to display and sell their work. Impromptu, upbeat music performances will occasionally enliven the park, and it’s a gathering spot where expats and locals mingle in Miraflores. Surrounding the park are the teeming amenities of Peru’s modern capital, including shopping, restaurants, numerous cafés, banks, and city bus lines. To escape the hectic Miraflores buzz, visit the Church of Virgen Milagrosa inside of Kennedy Park. The church was built in 1939, and when you’re done admiring the Catholic architecture, pick up a tasty, donut-like picarón from a vendor inside the park.
Lima, with a population of nearly 10 million people when counting the metro suburbs, isn’t exactly the first place you’d pick for a natural wildlife refuge. Here at Pantanos de Villa, however, over 200 different species of birds all flit through the wetlands spanning 650 acres outside the Chorillos suburb. On the winding network of walking trails, visitors with binoculars can encounter dozens of species in the span of a couple of hours. Scan the reeds for Black Skimmers, Herons, and Puna Ibis, and look in the water for Great Grebes of Neotropic Cormorants. Many of the birds here are migratory and sightings change with the seasons, and the months of December and January brim with seagulls lining the coast. 11 species of amphibians and reptiles can also be found in the reeds, although unfortunately as the city continues to grow, the manmade threats to Pantanos de Villa are literally encircling the marsh. Nature lovers with a stop in Lima should definitely visit this biodiverse sight before it’s potentially too late—although local conservation groups continue to work to do everything they can towards protecting the fragile site.
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