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Things to Do in Lima

Lima, Peru has emerged from its reputation as a layover on the way to Machu Picchu to be a destination of its own accord, offering world-class art museums, preserved colonial plazas, and a trendy, destination-worthy culinary scene featuring a signature cocktail: the Pisco sour. Discover the city’s charms on a guided tour, visiting the collection of pre-Columbian artifacts at the Larco Museum, the Spanish-influenced Plaza de Armas, the dazzling fountains of the Magic Water Circuit, and the tomb of Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro in Lima’s City Centre, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Cultural tours of the city bring travelers in contact with local communities, artisans, and chefs through food, drink, and market tours for a taste (literally) of the daily life in the city. Contemporary charms abound in the bohemian Barranco District, while ancient Peru’s history is on display at the Pachacamac archaeological site, located 25 miles (40 kilometers) outside of the city. Those looking for outdoor adventure can indulge in a day of swimming and sun bathing on a day trip to the nearby Ballestas Islands and Paracas National Reserve or sand board at the Oasis of Huacachina, while those seeking to learn more about ancient Peru can fly above the famous Nazca lines or visit a number of nearby archaeological sites and still make it back in time to enjoy a drink on the veranda.
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Sacred City of Caral-Supe
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As the oldest known city in the Americas, the archeological site of Caral is among Peru’s most impressive ruins and makes a popular day trip from nearby Lima. The UNESCO World Heritage listed site covers an area of around 60 hectares in the arid Supe Valley and was first inhabited between 2600 BCE and 2000 BCE.

Although initially discovered back in 1948, recent excavations of Caral revealed an elaborate complex of temples, sunken plazas and some of the largest terraced pyramids in the world, leading archeologists to ponder the possibility of Caral being the fabled ‘Mother City’ of ancient civilizations. Now open to the public, the site has garnered acclaim for its beautifully preserved ruins and intriguing collection of artifacts, which include a quipu (a unique knot system used by ancient Andean civilizations) and a number of musical instruments fashioned from animal bones, but significantly, no trace of warfare or weaponry.

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Miraflores
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The swanky beachfront suburb of Miraflores is one of Lima’s most sought-after zip codes.

Miraflores is where you’ll find Lima’s best restaurants, shops and hotels, plus the waterfront mansions and high-rise towers of the city’s movers and shakers. It’s also home to lovely parks and gardens, beaches and promenades.

Some ancient history remains in Miraflores, including the Huaca Pucllana, the remains of a pre-Inca mud-brick temple.

Paragliders come to Miraflores to leap off the area’s rocky cliffs over the sea. The beaches are popular, but the coast tends to be rocky rather than sandy and the better beaches lie further south.

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Barranco
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Lima’s most bohemian district, the lively coastal neighborhood of Barranco first became popular towards the end of the 19th Century, drawing an influx of poets, writers and artists to the seaside resorts of Las Sombrillas and Barranquito. Although it was integrated into the capital territory in 1860, Barranco retains its village-like feel, with its striking colonial architecture and brightly painted buildings standing in stark contrast to the modern high-rises of neighboring Miraflores.

Best explored on foot, the elegant Plaza San Francisco is the starting point for a walking tour, home to the 19th century Iglesia San Francisco, and encircled by boutiques, cafes and restaurants. Nearby, the Bajada de los Baños ravine is the most popular hangout during the daytime, where the flower-lined Puente de los Suspiros (Bridge of Sighs) makes a romantic spot for watching the sunset.

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Pachacamac Itshma Temple
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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.

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Love Park (Parque del Amor)
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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.

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Cathedral of Lima (Catedral de Lima)
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Lima's baroque twin-towered cathedral dominates the city's central Plaza de Armas. The cathedral's elaborate colonial exterior looks intact, but it has suffered plenty of wear and tear over the years from earthquakes since its construction in the 1530s. Much of what you see dates from the rebuilding program of 1746. Step inside the huge cathedral via one of its grand three doors and you’ll find a lofty white and gold interior with soaring ribbed ceilings, mosaic chapels and pillared aisles.

The cathedral's walls are lined with paintings, and the highlight of the chapels is the elaborate marble tomb of Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro, who laid the cathedral's first stone in 1535. Entry includes a guided tour and a visit to the cathedral's museum. The cathedral is brilliantly illuminated with floodlights at night, and the palm-filled square in front is a popular meeting spot with seating.

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Historic Centre of Lima (Centro Historico de Lima)
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Stretching between the Plaza de Armas and Plaza San Martin, and bisected by the principal boulevard of Jirón de la Unión, the historic center of Lima is still the focal point of the modern-day city. Today, the UNESCO-listed area forms the basis of most tourist itineraries, with the majority of attractions within easy walking distance and a wealth of elegant buildings, churches and monumental statues dating back to the colonial era.

The Plaza de Armas makes a popular starting point for walking tours, home to a cluster of landmarks including the Presidential Palace, the Municipal Palace (City Hall) and the Palace of the Union, as well as a bronze fountain bearing the coats-of-arms of Lima. Famously the site of the foundation of the ‘City of the Kings’ in 1535, the Plaza de Armas became the city’s first public square and was later the site of the declaration of the Republic of Peru in 1821.

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Lima Plaza Mayor
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Lima’s Plaza Mayor (main square) is central Plaza de Armas, the city’s historic heart and birthplace.

Landscaped with palm trees, elaborate lampposts, flower beds and greenery, the square’s focus is the 1650 tiered bronze fountain in the center and the statue of Francisco Pizarro on horseback nearby. Visit at 11:45am to watch the changing of the guard, or visit any time to find an empty seat and watch the world wander by. There’s plenty to look at, with the cathedral on one side and the beautiful balconies of the Palacio Arzobispal next door. Several other attractive buildings with balconies and arched porticoes line the square, including the City Hall and Government Palace.

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Church and Convent of Saint Francis (Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco)
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The Iglesia and Museo 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.

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ChocoMuseo Miraflores
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There are few places more perfect for chocolate lovers than the ChocoMuseo in Miraflores. Travelers can tour the chocolate factory and watch expert artisans craft dark, milk and white chocolate delights by hand, or participate in one of the museum’s unique workshops that grant visitors an opportunity to create rich chocolate truffles or transform cocoa beans to bars under the direction of master chocolatiers. A world-class café offers up chocolate-themed pastries, desserts and beverages, and a well-stocked chocolate shop is lined with shelves of locally sourced treats. Interested travelers can even tour nearby cocoa plantations and learn how local farmers grow and harvest these prized beans to provide pastry chefs and cooks with one of the world’s most coveted ingredients. A visit to ChocoMuseo Miraflores is the perfect way for chocolate lovers to spend an afternoon experiencing the wonder of this rich and delicious delicacy with all of their senses.

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More Things to Do in Lima

San Pedro Church (Iglesia de San Pedro)

San Pedro Church (Iglesia de San Pedro)

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Lima’s baroque Church of San Pedro was built in grand style by the Jesuits in 1638. The Jesuit Order’s premier church in Peru, it’s also one of the country’s finest buildings.

With its three naves and dome, the church features lovely glazed tiles and Moorish-influenced carvings. Interesting tours reveal the history of the church and highlight its richly ornamented altars and chapels. The San Ignacio de Loyola chapel is the most highly decorated, and some prime colonial artworks hang in the chapels. The tour includes a visit to the underground crypt.

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Indian Market (Mercado Indio)

Indian Market (Mercado Indio)

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Avenida Petit Thouars in Miraflores is lined with numerous handicraft shops, and the Indian Market (Mercado Indio) is one of the biggest and best. If you’re looking for one-stop souvenir shopping, the Indian Market is your best bet, as it’s packed with vendors selling all variety of Peruvian crafts: silver, alpaca wool, ceramics, wooden carvings, paintings and inexpensive fossilized shark teeth.

If you’re planning to do some shopping in the Indian Market, prepare to do some bargaining, and if you’re in the market for high quality silver or alpaca, it helps to know the difference between the good stuff and the mass-produced items before you go. If it sounds too cheap to be true, it likely is.

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Iglesia de Santo Domingo

Iglesia de Santo Domingo

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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.

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Kennedy Park (Parque Kennedy)

Kennedy Park (Parque Kennedy)

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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.

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Bridge of Sighs (Puente de los Suspiros)

Bridge of Sighs (Puente de los Suspiros)

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If you’re looking for an atmospheric spot to watch the sunset in Lima, there are few lookouts as romantic as the Bridge of Sighs (Puente de los Suspiros), the principal landmark of Lima’s Barranco district and even immortalized in song by renowned Peruvian singer Chabuca Granda. Built in 1876, the wooden bridge runs across the high banks of the Bajada de los Baños ravine between the streets of Ayacucho and La Ermita, and joins the pretty red chapel of La Ermita to the Parque Municipal.

The iconic bridge is most renowned for its views along the Bajada below, a scenic walkway that leads down to the seafront, and the colorful colonial houses that line its banks, many of which have been transformed into bars, restaurants and music venues. Taking an evening stroll across the Bridge of Sighs has long been a favored pastime for local lovers and legend dictates that if you make a wish and cross the 31 meter long bridge without taking a breath, your wish will be granted.

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Huaca Pucllana

Huaca Pucllana

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The modern city of Lima is dotted with historic ruins and sacred sites, known as huacas, and the imposing archeological site of Huaca Pucllana is one of the city’s largest and most important ancient monuments, located in the coastal Miraflores district. Built around 500 A.D, the complex was once an administrative and ceremonial center of the indigenous Lima Culture civilization, constructed from hand-made adobe bricks and dominated by a 22-meter tall central pyramid.

The impressive pre-Incan ruins are now a popular tourist attraction, affording unique views from the top of the central mound and dramatically floodlit in the evening hours. There’s also an on-site museum displaying artifacts like tools, ceramics and textiles unearthed during excavations, a workshop area displaying ancient textile and ceramic making techniques, a small park growing key plants used by the Lima Culture people and a spectacularly sited restaurant that looks out over the ruins.

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Magic Water Circuit

Magic Water Circuit

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The Magic Water Circuit, located within the Parque de la Reserva, provides a fun and family-friendly option for those looking for something inexpensive to do in Lima. The municipal project—a series of 12 fountains choreographed to music and lights—was inaugurated in 2007 and has since become a favorite attraction in the capital city among locals and visitors alike.

While the fountains are open Wednesday through Sunday, beginning in the late afternoon, they’re undeniably most impressive at night, when the lights and laser effects are most visible. Each of the fountains has a different theme, and some are interactive (you’ll get wet), making them a huge hit with kids. The Maze of the Dream (Laberinto del Ensueño) is a major highlight of the Magic Water Circuit and challenges visitors to find their way to an inner circle through a maze made from vertical walls of water. After dark, the Fantasia Fountain (Fuente de la Fantasía) entertains with a choreographed show.

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Larco Museum (Museo Larco)

Larco Museum (Museo Larco)

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To help you get your head around Peru’s centuries of history and culture, visit the well-regarded Museo Larco Herrera in Lima.

The chronological overview of 3,000 years of history takes you through pre-Inca cultures and pre-Colombian art, to present-day interpretations of pre-Hispanic ceramics.

The museum is structured in a series of galleries, and its highlight is the fine collection of Inca gold and silver jewelry and artifacts, studded with prized lapis lazuli, turquoise and amethyst.

Painted pottery vases and tools are also displayed, along with elaborately fashioned metal ware, cotton and feather textiles. A unique feature of the museum is that visitors are granted access to the storage area, where 45,000 objects are arranged and cataloged.

The museum is housed in an 18th-century vice-royal mansion, built over a 7th-century pyramid and surrounded by leafy gardens.

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Plaza San Martin

Plaza San Martin

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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.

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Jiron de la Union

Jiron de la Union

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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.

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Pantanos de Villa Wildlife Refuge

Pantanos de Villa Wildlife Refuge

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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.

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Chorrillos

Chorrillos

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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.

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San Isidro

San Isidro

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One of Lima’s most affluent neighborhoods and main financial district, San Isidro is often passed over by visitors on their way to the beaches and shopping malls of Miraflores, but there are still a few surprises to be found between the business headquarters and residential blocks. In recent years, San Isidro has also spruced up its image and many of its elegant 20th-century mansions have been converted into 5-star hotels, luxury shopping boutiques and international restaurants. The Huallamarca is San Isidro’s principal tourist attraction, an elaborately restored adobe pyramid centered around the ruins of a pre-Columbian temple and now home to a museum displaying artifacts excavated from the site. Equally incongruous are the many green spaces that break up the sea of high-rise office blocks, most notably the scenic El Olivar park, an ancient olive grove and National Monument, popular with bird watchers and picnickers.
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