A desert. A capital. A place of fine dining. Lima is much more than a layover. As one of the largest cities in South America, and by far the largest in Peru, Lima has a distinctly urban feel with a tangy Latin America twist. You’ll find 5-star hotels just minutes from traditional vegetable markets, and see sports cars parked next to bicycle carts. International travelers may be drawn to Peru by promises of Inca ruins and Nazca Lines, but Lima adds the tiny touch of modern luxury that completes the Peruvian experience.
One of Lima’s most distinctive features is its location. As the second largest desert city in the world yet sprawled along the ocean coast, it is an unusual place. To the east desolate sand dunes turn into mountains while to the west rolling waves of the Pacific Ocean carry surfers toward shore. During the winter a San Francisco-like fog (locally called the garúa) drifts through the city and only the brave forge the frigid waters, using wet suits and willpower. On land locals bundle up, although temperatures rarely drop much lower than 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The summer—November through March—brings a blazing sun, full beaches, and multitudes of ice cream vendors (you’ll hear them coming). While snow is falling in the Northern Hemisphere, Lima enjoys all the benefits of a beach town, making it a great option for a winter holiday getaway.
Called the “City of Kings” by founder Francisco Pizarro (who was also the conqueror of the Incas), Lima drives the Peruvian economy. The tourist infrastructure here is strong, and many visitors find themselves spending a night or two in the modern district of Miraflores, a well-maintained area of parks, restaurants, shopping malls, and hotels mingled with high-end to middle-class Peruvian neighborhoods.
How to spend
one day in Lima
The best place for people watching and experiencing the nonchalant Lima bustle is in and around Parque Kennedy, and triangle shaped park a few blocks from the coast. It's ringed by restaurants, cafes, and hostels; and filled with snack vendors, at-work artists, and cats (strange but enduring). To taste the authenticity, pick a place with the most people dining and head inside to order. Café Café is a popular chain that serves sandwiches, quality coffee, and well mixed drinks. Decide between the café’s Parque Kennedy location or its branch at the seaside Larcomar shopping complex. If you choose the coast, be sure to enjoy a stroll along the Malecon, a 6-mile stretch of paved walkways and lush parks lining the cliffs that follow the ocean shoreline. For a fuller meal, head to one of Lima’s world-renowned seafood restaurants, such as Astrid y Gaston (rated among the top 50 restaurants in the world), and try the fresh and tangy ceviche, a raw white fish specialty.
Like any proper capital city, Lima has a stately administrative center, also called the historic district or Lima Centro. This is where you’ll find the Plaza de Armas (central square), the president’s residence, and the main cathedral. Some of Lima’s most impressive and interesting man-made attractions are here, including the San Francisco church and catacombs and Casa de Aliaga, the oldest colonial mansion in Peru. Additionally, Lima has multiple museums, parks, and ruins well worth a visit.
Keen to see Lima for yourself? Check out our Machu Picchu & Peru tours here or speak to one of our Destination Experts about crafting the bespoke vacation of your dreams.
Thanks to Jorge Gobbi for the title image of this blog.