Ah, Lima! It may not be to everyone’s taste, but there are plenty of reasons to allow at least a few days to explore the Peruvian capital.
One thing is for sure: drag yourself out of your hostel and you’ll never be short of things to do in Lima, with attractions including everything from museums to culinary hotspots, submarines, music concerts, cliff-jumping monks and more…
Things to Do in Lima, Peru
1. Eat ceviche. Yep, Lima is certainly a good place for it, whether you find yourself chowing down on ceviche near Chorrillos market, sat in an affordable Miraflores eatery like Aventuras Marinas, or paying a little extra in one of Lima’s more famous cevicherias like La Mar, Chez Wong or Pescados Capitales.
2. Get wet at the Magic Water Circuit, an impressive series of illuminated fountains in the Parque de la Reserva. It’s fun, seriously. It should be explore not only on foot but also by bike! Check out Lima Bici and Green Bike Peru for a full day bike tour around Lima including a stop at this awesome water circuit.
3. Escape from Lima – Fancy discovering a unique desert oasis? Or the poor man´s Galapago´s full of sealions and penguins? Take a short round trip from Lima to Paracas and Huacachina. Peru Hop run 1day, 2day and 3day short round trips from Lima and are a great way to see and do a lot whilst basking in the all year round sunshine that exists south of Lima.
4. Get to grips with Peruvian history at one or more of the capital’s numerous history and archaeology museums. Highlights include Museo Larco and the Museo de la Nacion.
5. Admire the photography of Mario Testino. The MATE Asociación Mario Testino gallery showcases the photography of the famed Peruvian phototographer as well as temporary exhibits by other photographers.
6. Explore Lima’s art museums, including the Museo de Arte de Lima (MALI), the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Lima (MAC Lima) and smaller galleries like Galería Germán Krüger Espantoso (Av. Angamos Oeste 160, Miraflores).
Note: If you would like to try out explore Lima’s art museums or visit the catacombs for free and with a local guide you can check out the options and make a reservation here.
7. Descend into the dark catacombs of the San Francisco Convent. Walk through the remains of an estimated 75,000 bodies buried beneath the convent, a truly memorable and beautifully dark sightseeing experience.
8. Overdose on churches and cathedrals. If you haven’t yet had your fill of churches in South America, you can certainly see more than enough in Lima. There’s Lima Cathedral (home to a small museum and the remains of Francisco Pizarro), the Iglesia de Santo Domingo (home to the skull of Saint Rose of Lima), the sumptuous Iglesia de la Merced, and many, many more…
9. Stroll along El Malecón. Or jog. Or skate. Or cycle. The Malecón is a stretch of paths and parks that runs along the top of the seafront cliffs. There are great views out over the Pacific and along the curving Lima coastline, as well as some notable works of art including the “Intihuatana” sculpture by acclaimed Peruvian artist Fernando De Szyszlo and the popular “El Beso” (“The Kiss”) sculpture by Victor Delfín (located in the Antoni Gaudí-inspired Parque del Amor).
10. Explore Barranco, Lima’s so-called bohemian district. Bohemian or not, it’s a good place for a daytime stroll or a lively night of bars, beers, bands and anything else that begins with ‘b’. That includes bridges: if you like little bridges, you’ll love the ornate Puente de los Suspiros (Bridge of Sighs) that crosses over the Bajada de Baños, a walkway that runs down to the beaches below. Check out a half day bike tour with Lima Bici.
11. Explore the islands of Lima by boat. If you need a bracing break from the big city, hop on a boat for a tour of the islands off the coast of Lima. Standard stops include the islands of Palomino (home to sea lions and Humboldt penguins), Cabinzas (for pelicans, gulls, boobies and more) and El Frontón (an island that once served as a quarantine stop in colonial times and later as a maximum security prison). Most boats depart from Callao.
12. Discover a different culture in Chinatown. Lima’s barrio chino is an interesting place to explore on foot; keep an eye open for the pedestrian street paved with individually-inscribed red bricks. And if you’re hungry, don’t miss the excellent all-you-can-eat chifa buffets served by a few of the neighborhood restaurants.
13. See a music concert or festival. Lima attracts an ever-increasing number of major international music acts, so keep an eye on the concert schedule. Concerts in 2016 have so far included The Rolling Stones, Coldplay, Slipknot, Aerosmith and Guns N’ Roses. Annual music festivals are also growing in popularity, such as Rock en la Playa, Acustirock, Lima Fest and Festival 7 Mares.
14. Watch a football (soccer) match. If you can, try to see the Peruvian national team play a competitive game (not a friendly) or get tickets for one of the world’s great local derbies, the clásico between Alianza Lima and their Lima-based rivals Universitario. Two stadiums worth visiting are the Estadio Nacional and Estadio Monumental.
15. Hurl yourself off the seafront cliffs strapped to a friendly Peruvian. Yep, paragliding is a popular pastime along El Malecón. I think a 10- to 15-minute glide costs about US$80 to $100.
16. Check out the view from Cerro San Cristóbal. Take the little tour bus from the Plaza de Armas in the historic center of Lima and head up to the top of Cerro San Cristóbal for an impressive view across the sprawling capital — if there’s a break in the clouds and coastal flog.
17. Venture inside a submarine at the Museo de Sitio Naval Submarino Abtao. The Abtao was first launched in New London, Connecticut, in 1953 before being purchased by the Peruvian Navy a year later. It now serves as a naval museum, with its own interior providing the main attraction. On a related note, is the Submarino Abtao homepage unintentionally funny, or is it just me?
18. Shop ‘til you drop in Gamarra, where you’ll find block after block dedicated to selling clothes and fabrics. The place is a damned nightmare if you don’t like shopping for clothes, but a veritable paradise if you do. You’ll find everything from small stores selling shoddy replicas of major brands to shopping malls packed with quality items at great prices. It’s not the safest of areas, so go during the day and take only what you need.
19. Eat, drink and dance the night away at a peña music club. Lima has some very lively peñas featuring genuine Andean folk music and Peruvian música criolla. Barranco is the peña hotspot, with venues like Peña del Carajo! and Peña De Rompe Y Raja. In Central Lima, try Brisas del Titicaca.
20. Catch a colorful street parade or party, be it for a civic event such as the anniversary of Lima (January 18) or a major religious parade like the Virgen del Carmen Festival (July) or El Señor de los Milagros (October).
21. Gaze up at the heavens in the Museo Planetario y Observatorio del Morro Solar. The observatory, which is run by the Peruvian Astronomy Association, includes a modern digital planetarium and an onsite museum. Public presentations currently occur on Sundays at 11:30 am (S/.5 entrance); the museum is located on the Morro Solar in Chorrillos.
22. Hang out in the Plaza de Armas (Plaza Mayor), right at the heart of Lima’s historic center (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Lima’s Plaza de Armas is a place of endless photo opportunities and excellent people watching. Notable buildings on the square include the Government Palace and Lima Cathedral, as well as the Archbishop’s Palace and the Casa del Oidor, both of which sport ornate box balconies made of wood.
23. Explore the pre-Columbian ruins of Huaca Pucllana and Huaca Huallamarca. You don’t even need to leave the security of Lima’s upscale districts to see these two truncated pyramids, both of which predate the Incas. Huaca Pucllana is located in the popular tourist district of Miraflores, about nine blocks north of Parque Kennedy (if you’ve got some cash to burn, there’s also a good onsite restaurant). Huaca Huallamarca is located in the wealthy San Isidro district. We suggest taking a bike tour to maximise your time in Lima.
24. Relax in one of Lima’s many parks. Despite the city’s reputation as a hectic metropolis, there are plenty of parks where you can sit and think. Just ask the cats in Parque Kennedy and Parque Central in Miraflores, all of whom seem very at ease with the world. Notable parks located in downtown Lima include the eight-hectare Parque de la Reserva (home to the Magic Water Circuit), the Parque de la Exposición and the Parque de la Muralla (where you can see remains of the old city walls and the statue of Francisco Pizarro). There’s also the elegant Bosque el Olivar in San Isidro, one of the prettiest and most interesting parks in the city, and the Parque María Reiche on the seafront, which has illuminated Nazca Lines figures at night.
25. Get some retail therapy in Lima’s lively markets. If clothes shopping in Gamarra didn’t quench your retail thirst, try the Mercado Central (near barrio chino) and Polvos Azules (La Victoria) for, well, just about anything. For souvenirs (think alpaca items, replica Inca ceramics, paintings, Peruvian silver), try the Mercado Indio (Indian Market) along Avenida Petit Thouars in Miraflores.
26. See how the other half lived in their colonial mansions. The historic center of Lima is dotted with colonial casas, including Casa Aliaga, Casa de la Riva, Casa de Oquendo (Casa de Osambela) and the impressive Torre Tagle Palace. You can visit all of these old homes, but you’ll have to arrange a tour in advance (sometimes easier said than done).
27. See a bullfight at the Plaza de Acho, the oldest existing bullring in the Americas. The bullfighting season runs from October to December, with events at the Acho representing the pinnacle of bullfighting in Peru and attracting some of the world’s greatest toreadors. If seeing a bullfight doesn’t appeal, it’s still worth seeing the Plaza de Acho for its architectural and historical significance (and onsite museum). The Plaza was investigated by Ghost Hunters International in “Temple of Doom: Peru” (Season 3, Episode 07); as usual, the team strolled around like a bunch of gasping idiots.
28. Spend a day at the zoo. Lima’s Parque de las Leyendas is a reasonably well maintained zoo (especially by South American standards) that highlights animals from the country’s three geographical regions: the coast, highlands and jungle. Parts of the Maranga archaeological complex — an important administrative and ceremonial site of the Lima culture (c. 100 to 650 AD) — are also found on the grounds of the zoo.
29. Hit the beach. Lima’s numerous beaches come alive during the summer months (from December to April). Many of the best beaches are just south of the city off the Panamericana Sur highway, including El Silencio, San Bartolo and Punta Hermosa to name just a few. You’ll find bars, restaurants and clubs dotted along many of the beaches, as well as some upscale resorts.
30. Take a tour of the Palacio de Gobierno and watch the daily changing of the guard. Palace tours are free but need to be arranged at least a day or two in advance, but you can try to charm your way in without a prior appointment. You can call the palace on 311-3900 or visit the nearby palace tourism office to arrange entry. While you’re at the palace, stick around for the changing of the guard. Arrive at about 11:30 am for the midday change.
31. Walk through history at the Real Felipe Fortress. Back in the mid-1700s, when pirates and corsairs were harassing the vital port of Callao, construction began on a fortress to secure the port and the cargo that passed through it. The fort still houses about 1,000 Peruvian soldiers, as well as the Peruvian Military History Museum. Foreign nationals can pay S/.15 to join a guided tour through the imposing fortress. Like the Plaza de Acho, Real Felipe Fortress was investigated by Ghost Hunters International in “The Ghost Child of Peru” (Season 1, Episode 015); as usual, the team strolled around like a bunch of gasping idiots.
32. Get excited about stamps. This is really for all you philatelists out there, who certainly shouldn’t miss the Postal and Philatelic Museum of Peru (Jr. Conde de Superunda 170, Central Lima).
33. Watch a monk jump off a cliff. If you’re the type of traveler who likes to do random things just for the hell of it, head out to Paseo Billinghurst in the Chorrillos district. Here you’ll find a cliff top restaurant called El Salto Del Fraile (The Friar’s Jump). I’ve no idea what the food is like, but that’s not so important. The monk is important, because he jumps off the cliff into the sea below. Awesome (and here’s a video for you). I’m not too sure how often he jumps (it might just be Sundays in the afternoon), but I’ve emailed the restaurant for the schedule (no response yet…). If you are inte
34. Double your daily budget in one of Lima’s casinos. OK, that may be optimistic, but you’ll find casinos dotted all over Lima, giving you the chance to get rich quick (and maybe increase your Peru travel budget) or go broke even quicker.
36. Go scuba diving. Lima isn’t well known for scuba diving opportunities, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be found. Popular dive sites include Pucusana (south of Lima) and the Islas Palomino. Perú Divers offers diving lessons, equipment rental and tours.
37. Eat in style at Astrid & Gastón, one of Peru’s most famous restaurants. The restaurant has recently moved from Miraflores to San Isidro, but remains the flagship restaurant of celebrity chef Gastón Acurio (you might have seen him on TV with Anthony Bourdain or Andrew Zimmern). Astrid & Gastón was fourteenth in “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants” list in 2013.
38. Catch the latest blockbuster at one of Lima’s cinemas. OK, so this is one of those “why go to Peru just for that?” things, but a decent cinema can be quite a treat for long-term backpackers. Cinerama “El Pacifico” and the UVK Multicines cinema in Larcomar are both good options in Miraflores.
39. Hit the bars and clubs. If you like drinking, dancing, chatting and generally staying up all night, you’ll never be short of opportunities in Lima, be it at a trendy hotspot or a place that most middle class limeños wouldn’t recommend. The best nightlife spots in Lima change all the time, so ask the locals for recommendations (but feel free to recommend a bar or club in the comments section below).
40. See and be seen at Larcomar. Some people love this slice of modern uber-commercialism lodged in the seafront cliffs of Miraflores. You can shop for designer labels, go bowling, play arcade games, eat ice cream and go to the cinema. There are also some chic restaurants with sea views and the way-too-trendy Aura nightclub.
41. Catch a wave or two. Whatever the weather, you’ll always see a few surfers dotted along Lima’s extensive coastline. Both novices and pros can find a good spot to surf, be it learning at Punta Hermosa or competing with the best at Punta Rocas.
42. Catch a dune or two. If you want to go sandboarding in Peru but don’t have time to head down to the hotspots near Ica, why not spend a day on the dunes 30 miles south of Lima? Yep, it is possible. I can’t vouch for them personally, but one good option seems to be Sandride Sandboarding Lima (if social proof means anything, these guys have almost 4,000 Facebook “Likes”).
43. Eat street food. Stomachs be damned, there are anticuchos, churros and picarones to be devoured.If you would like to learn about the traditional dishes and get a taste at the local eateries in the Peruvian capital you can check out the options and make a reservation here.
44. Check out some torture devices at the Museum of the Inquisition, fun for all the family.
45. Try to master Lima’s cheap public transportation systems. Embrace the chaos of combis, colectivos and micros or explore the city using the Metropolitano.
46. Hunt for street art. There are plenty of impressive pieces already in place throughout the city, with new works springing up all the time.
47. Listen to some Beethoven by the Peruvian National Symphony Orchestra. Head to the Gran Teatro Nacional (GTN), Peru’s state-of-the-art multipurpose theater. You can see the schedule in PDF form at the Ministry of Culture website (there’s also a GTN Facebook page).
48. Contemplate the Christ of the Pacific statue, by most accounts a half-assed replica of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro. The controversial statue was a “gift” from outgoing president Alan Garcia, who decided to stick it on a desolate mount adjacent to the Morro Solar hill.
49. Visit Mini Mundo (block 17 of Avenida Salaverry, Jesus Maria), a series of miniature replicas of Lima’s most famous places and buildings, as well as some sites from other parts of Peru. Good for kids, but the S/.8 entrance is a bit steep for what’s on offer.
50. Eat Indian food while you can. I know, no-one goes all the way to Peru to eat Indian food. But if you’ve been backpacking in Peru or South America for a while, you might be craving a curry (we English crave curry frequently, both at home and abroad). Try Mantra or Guru Kebab & Curry.
What Lima Attractions Do You Recommend?
I obviously haven’t covered all the attractions in Lima, so feel free to recommend alternatives in the comments section below. Or if you’ve done any of the things listed above, go ahead and share your opinion, be it good, bad or indifferent….