Lima is both the political and commercial centre of the Peruvian economy and the capital of Peru with most international flights landing and departing from here.
The city is one of the biggest cities in South America with a population of around 9 million people, so it has all the facilities of a big city with banks, expressways, lots of traffic, shopping centres, Metro lines, churches, restaurants, university, museums, sporting stadiums and hotels.
The centre of the city – Lima Centro – is where you will find most of the historic Spanish Colonial buildings and the Presidential Palace (Palacio de Gobierno) where the Changing of the Guard ceremony takes place. The centre is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The city’s centre is inland from the coast and you could either plan to stay in the centre or head to the coastline to Miraflores or one of the other beachside suburbs (Distritos) like Barranco, San Isidro or Pueblo Libre. If you search for hotels on this website under any of these district names or Limo Centro – you will see lots of hotel options to stay.
Once you have booked into your hotel and got your bearings, you will find that getting to and from the City Centre and Miraflores or Barranco by taxi is relatively easy, but you might also consider taking a ‘Colectivo’ as an alternative to a bus or taxi. The colectivos are mostly small mini vans that run along set routes, picking up and dropping off their passengers along the way. They are a bit faster usually than catching a bus and also cheaper than a taxi.
There are also official taxis and non-official taxis also – where the drivers or another person will try to entice you for a cheaper price. Always be aware of your own safety. If newly arriving at the Jorge Chavez Airport, take a little time to sort out the best way to get to your place of stay and get some Peruvian currency from an ATM or money exchange/bank before heading off to your destination.
The Airport is around 7 kilometres from the city centre and you could take a taxi or the catch the Airport Express Bus.
There are open top Bus tours that you can take to hop on- hop off and see some of the main sights in the city, and this makes it easier to get to know the city without having to search for places or try and walk, drive to or catch taxis.
Like almost all Spanish cities in South America, the city spreads out from the beautiful Plaza de Armas (Plaza Mayor) in Limo Centro where the main Cathedral (Catedral)is located and there are also other Plazas nearby too, including Plaza San Martin, with its grand fountains a few blocks away off Jirόn Carabaya. It is worth spending a little time in both Plazas and surrounding streets to get a feel for the city centre and its charm. If you stick with the main thoroughfares you will stay safe.
If you like to see fountains, there is a giant nightly water show with music and lights – a bit like the ones in Dubai and Las Vegas. It happens Wednesdays to Sundays in the Parque de la Reserva on Avenida Arequipa.
The city has a number of museums that relate to both the Incan and early civilisations as well the Religious and Spanish history too. These are just some of them –
- Museu de la Inquisiciόn – is located at Jirόn Junin 548 in the building where the Inquisitions took place over the years from 1570 to 1820. The Spanish Inquisition happened in Spain and also in the Spanish colonies in South America. It was a religious interrogation of those caught not professing the Catholic faith – heretics, non-believers and what were called ‘Marranos’ - converted Jews and Muslims who the inquisitors thought were insecure and only professed their Catholic faith in public, while still practising Judaism or Islam in private. Here in the museum you can see the courts and also torture chambers where the inquisitions took place.
- Palacio Torre Tagle – located at Jirόn Uvayali 323 - a classic old Spanish mansion building constructed around 1730 with a grand portico entranceway and double thick heavy doors opening to the street with an ornate wooden balustrade balcony overhanging the street. Inside, the building is built around a central courtyard in classic Spanish style.
You will see a lot of this style in South America. In most Anglo architecture, the idea is to have windows and/or a veranda looking outwards to a view of the mountains, sea or other landscape, whereas the Spanish and French often built buildings around a square central courtyard, where there is a garden and a wide walkway around the perimeter.
In designing this way, the ‘view’ is captured by looking down from a first floor or into the garden square from ground level. Often a building may have a non-descript door to the street and little else to indicate a substantial building inside. After opening the door, you would pass under the first floor above and then come to the central courtyard square inside, with a walkway and rooms on all four sides. Many of these central courtyards are very calming and beautiful – and there is a lot to be said about this style of architecture, where the ‘view’ is a controlled internal space.
- Centro Cultural Inca Garcilaso – at Jirόn Ucayali 391 is almost next to the Palacio Torre Tagle and is best known for its photography collection and the building’s architecture.
- Museo del Banco Central – located on the corner of Jirόn Ucayali and Jirόn Lampa has collections of Pre-Inca artefacts as well as paintings and coin collections.
- Museo Etnográfico José Pia Asa – at Jirόn Callao 562 is where you see some of the best craft work, jewellery from both Incan times as well as from Peruvian Jungle tribes too.
- Museo Arqueolόgico Larco Herrera – Plaza Bolivar, at the corner of Antonio Pola and San Martin Jirόn in Pueblo Libre. This is a pretty good museum to visit to see both gold and silver Incan work as well as erotic art too.
- Museo de la Naciόn – Javier Prado Este 2465 in San Borja. This is a big museum and has lots to see with changing exhibitions happening throughout the year.
- Museo Oro del Peru - Jirόn Alonso de Molina 1100, Santiago de Surco. Here you will see gold (Oro) artefacts - original and reproductions as well as military Arms that have been used over the centuries.
There are also a number of other museums too as well as many monasteries and churches that are worth seeing inside. While you could attempt to see all of them, seeing just one or two will suit most travellers.
One of the great things about Peru is that there is still a very vibrant craft culture still happening.
In many countries, paintings, sculptures, craftwork is almost entirely confined to Art Galleries and Museums with Gift Shops selling mostly tourist items made in China. Here in Peru you will find most craft work is made in Peru, from pottery to ceramics, intricately carved gourds, weavings, ceramics, paintings, jewellery, small dolls, alpaca wool, hats and clothes – and most of this work can be found in the markets.
Here in Lima – you will find shops and street sellers in and around the Lima’s Plaza de Armas and also in Miraflores there are many shops along the Avenue Petit Thouars – between Block 52 and 55 where the Mercado Indio’s is located.
Also here in Miraflores is the Miraflores Arts and Craft Market – in Parque Kennedy. Tourism is a big part of the Peruvian economy and while some sellers can be a bit too enthusiastic about selling you what they have, that also doesn’t mean that you have to equally play too hard in the bargaining game. Shopping should be fun and bargaining is also a part of that.
Running down the entire length of the Peruvian coastline is the Panamericano Highway and it runs old and new Panamericano Highway runs past a series of beaches along the coastline here too. There are mostly high cliffs separating the beach itself from the land and city buildings above it with a long boardwalk for walking and cycling. The cliffs are high enough for paragliding.
Both Miraflores and Barranco have lots of colonial buildings, plazas and garden areas and if you head to the Puente de los Suspiros (Bridge of Sighs), a big wooden bridge, you will be pretty much is the centre of the area to walk around and take in the sights and atmosphere.
Also in Miraflores is Huaca Pucllana – at Calle General Borgonõa 8 – a massive adobe brick and clay pyramid structure that is constructed over seven levels and dates back to pre-Incan civilisations, with some parts of it dating back to 500AD. The whole Pyramid is surrounded by the main city with its high rise buildings and is definitely worth a visit to see and hear the story of its history. At night it is lit up, the light creating its own special atmosphere.
Lima and particularly the districts of Miraflores and Barranco have lots of bars, restaurants, cafes and shops and being on the coast there is lots of seafood on offer, including Peru’s most famous seafood meal – Ceviche and national drink – a Pisco Sour.
To the south of Lima, around 30 kilometres south are the ruins of Pachacamac that date back to around 500AD – a whole complex of Temples, plazas and pyramids right next to the coastline overlooking the ocean with two uninhabited islands just off-shore. There is also a small museum with relics that have been discovered on-site and the best way to get here from Lima is on a day tour. There are also other ruins to the north and east of Lima too, and again the best way to see them is by taking a tour from Lima.
Lima is certainly the gateway to Peru and probably the best way to see Lima is to spend some time both in Lima Centro and also in Miraflores or Barranco, before journeying onwards to see the Nasco Lines (south of Lima) or to the Incan ruins of Cusco and Machu Picchu and/or to the Amazon and Iquitos.
There is so much to see in Peru and like all travel it really depends on how much time, energy and money you have to spend as to what you see and do here in this great country.