It may not look much more than a sprawling desert city at first but the appeal of Lima lies in its hidden treasures, from the country's finest museums to the many colonial buildings located in the historic UNESCO-listed centre. Pre-Colombian temples stand amid stately colonial mansions and the wealth of archaeological remains on display is nothing short of staggering. The city’s museums rate highly as must-see attractions for the sheer size of their exhibits and the insight provided into the various civilisations of Peru. Other sights include the canary-coloured Franciscan monastery and church, famed for its catacombs lined with the bones of an estimated 70,000 burials, and Puruchuco, the site where 2,000 excellently preserved mummies were unearthed from the large Inca cemetery. Further out of town is Pachacamac, an archaeological complex of a pre-Colombian citadel with palaces and temple pyramids.Read More
Aside from Lima's architectural and archaeological attractions, the city is also known for its delicious and varied cuisine. A profusion of eateries offer everything from fine restaurant dining to humble street stall grub flaunting the influences of Spanish, African, European, Chinese and Japanese immigrants. Lima also boasts a thriving nightlife scene from the trendy international nightclubs to the salsa clubs of San Isidro where you can shake your tail feathers and learn one of South America’s hottest dances. Shopaholics will love the busy Polvos Azules Mercados, packed with everything from back catalogue CDs to excellent quality fake brands. Open every day of the week, it’s Lima at its most frenetic and well off the beaten track.
Best sites to visit in Lima
Huaca PucllanaView on map
Situated in the heart of Lima's affluent Miraflores suburb, the pre-Columbian temple complex of Huaca Pucllana is the capital's most important archaeological site. Dating back to 400 AD, the site served as an important ceremonial and administrative centre with temples dedicated to the female gods of the moon and the sea. Of the estimated 18-20 hectares that the complex once occupied, only six hectares have been excavated including the centrepiece adobe flat-top pyramid that features seven levels with a plaza on each. The on-site museum contains a small offering of pottery unearthed from Huaca Pucllana during the mid-20th century.
Plaza MayorView on map
Known as the Plaza de Armas until 1990, this square is at the very heart of Lima's historic centre and is home to a number of important religious and political buildings including the Catedral and the Palacio de Gobierno, the official residence of Peru's president. Founded in the early 16th century, the Plaza Mayor occupies the space where indigenous palaces and Inca temples would have once stood though nothing remains of this heritage today. The attractive square features towering palm trees, tracts of grass and benches where the city's residents and international visitors gather to appreciate the sense of history and impressive colonial monuments.
CatedralView on map
The austere Catedral of Lima is one of the most eye-catching sights of the Plaza Mayor with three large doorways and two great towers topped with slate spires. Construction originally began in 1535 with the Catedral's first incarnation as a small adobe church that was added to and improved upon over the decades with major renovations carried out in 1614 due to an earthquake. Today the monument displays an eclectic mix of Renaissance, Gothic and Baroque architectural styles. The Catedral is also home to the Museum of Religious Art and Treasures, which contains 17th-18th century paintings, gold and silver work, and wood-carved religious imagery from the time of viceroyalty.
Iglesia San FranciscoView on map
The canary-yellow Iglesia San Francisco is one of Lima's most attractive churches with a baroque-style facade featuring a main porch sandwiched between two towers. Dating back to the 15th century, the building houses a monastery alongside the church and is most famous for its cavernous catacombs that are lined with the bones of the 25,000 people estimated to have been buried here. Other highlights of the church include the beautiful 16th century Sevillian tiles that decorate the interior corridors, the beautifully carved cedar ceiling constructed without the use of a single nail, and the choir gallery with close to 100 seats built with two-tiers.
Parque de la ReservaView on map
Located in downtown Lima, the Parque de la Reserva wins over residents and tourists alike thanks to its Magic Water Tour (El Circuito Mágico del Agua), which consists of 13 distinct fountains that create a choreographed display of light and movement accompanied by water. Once the sun sets, bright neon lights illuminate the water fountains with changing colours though the fountains still shoot water into the air during daylight hours. The fountains are open from 4pm to 11pm Wednesday to Sunday with an entrance fee of around $1.50. It's definitely worth waiting until the evening when at 7:15pm, 8:15pm and 9:30pm the light displays begin.
Recommended things to do in and around Lima
Visit the suburb of BarrancoView on map
Overlooking the ocean to the south of the city, Barranco is one of Lima's trendiest suburbs with a thriving arts scene, attractive crumbling colonial buildings, and great choice of atmospheric bars and stylish eateries. A popular seaside resort for the rich and famous of Peru during the 19th century, the district is characterised by colourful art-deco houses that have been given a new lease of life by communities of artists with the waters below drawing surfers to the area looking to take advantage of the waves. Although short on tangible attractions, it's worth visiting the bright yellow Iglesia de la Ermita and the whimsical main square.
Head to the beachView on map
Lima's location on the edge of the Pacific Ocean means it is home to a number of beaches, a fact that few visitors to the city take full advantage of. Many of the best beaches are located south of the city roughly 35km along the Pan-American Highway that runs parallel to the ocean. The suburbs of Miraflores, Barranco and Chorrillos offer access to broad beaches that tend to be busy with local residents while the most attractive options further out of town include the family-friendly Santa María del Mar and the Playa San Pedro that is better suited to surfers than swimmers. Those looking to overnight or enjoy a calm swim should head to either Naplo or Pucusana 70km south of Lima.
Explore the Pachacamac ruinsView on map
Situated in the Rimac Valley 40km southeast of Lima, the archaeological site of Pachacamac is one of the most interesting ruins in the region with grand pyramidal temples, treasure-filled graves and multicoloured frescoes on the adobe walls. Originally settled around 200 AD, the citadel flourished for some 1,300 years as a centre of pilgrimage in honour of the creator god Pachacamac with temples dedicated to the sun and the moon. The site occupies an area of 600 hectares with a number of restored buildings alongside original structures that are less distinguishable and an on-site museum that houses an intricately carved wooden idol of Pachacamac.
Visit the pyramids of CaralView on map
Surrounded by a desert landscape reminiscent of the surface of the moon, the archaeological site of Caral is considered to be the oldest city in the Americas with a history dating back over 4,600 years. Located 180km north of Lima, the ancient urban centre is particularly noteworthy for its six large pyramidal structures that are likely to have been constructed before the Great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt. More than 3,000 people are believed to have lived at Caral and since excavations began archaeologists have uncovered plazas, an amphitheatre, residential buildings and artefacts ranging from textiles to musical instruments fashioned from condor and pelican bone.
Eating out in Lima
El CordanoView on map
Located a block north of the Plaza Mayor opposite the Palacio de Gobierno, the El Cordano is an institution in Lima with a history that dates back to 1905. Styled with late 19th century decor of mirrored walls and original geometric floor tiles, it has served practically every president since its opening and continues to attract diners today looking for that old-world atmosphere. It's particularly popular for its hearty ham sandwiches known as butifarra and serves up delicious mussels cooked in a marinade similar to ceviche with chopped onions, chilli, coriander and lime.
Meal prices: $$
Antigua Taberna QueiroloView on map
Just south of Plaza San Martin in Lima's historic centre, the atmospheric Antigua Taberna Queirolo invites you to take a step back in time with its traditional saloon-style doors, stone tiled flooring, wooden display cases filled with bottles, and black and white photographs adorning the walls. Established in 1920, the restaurant has long been popular with locals, attracting bohemians looking for conversation over a Pisco sour or round of beers. The food is simple but satisfying with large portions of traditional dishes such as cau cau limeño and lomo saltado.
Meal prices: $$
Cafe HaitiView on map
The family-owned Cafe Haiti has over 50 years of history and tradition and appears to be caught in a time bubble of Lima in the 1960s with suited waiters and classic furniture that refuses to move with the times of modern-day Miraflores. Located opposite Parque Kennedy, its outdoor terrace is a popular people-watching spot with middle-class residents of Lima flocking here to socialise over coffee, tempting desserts and excellent snacks at all times of the day with set breakfasts and speciality cocktails.
Meal prices: $$
Chez WongView on map
Javier Wong, the proprietor of Chez Wong, certainly knows how to drive demand with a home-kitchen that can only accommodate eight tables worth of people, no menu, a distinct lack of signage and lunch-only opening hours yet this doesn't stop his establishment from being widely considered as one of the best places in Lima to try ceviche, Peru's national dish. Dover sole and octopus are the only seafood ingredients with ceviche and tiraditos - a sashimi-style dish with a spicy sauce - served either hot or cold, sweet or sour.
Meal prices: $$$
MalabarView on map
Frequently listed as one of Latin America's top 50 restaurants, the acclaimed Malabar restaurant is the brainchild of one of Peru's most popular chefs, Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, who brings a unique approach to the food of the Amazon. The seasonal menu features such inventive fusions as sea urchin with fava beans and river snails served in a spicy chorizo sauce. The restaurant is ethically-minded sourcing ingredients from well-managed farms and local cooperatives, and offers an attractive cocktail menu to accompany the excellent food.
Meal prices: $$$$
El Rincon Que No ConocesView on map
Another reliable option for traditional Peruvian lunchtime food is El Rincon Que No Conoces, a traditional huarique (loosely translating as a local, no-frills joint) founded by the late Teresa Izquierdo Gonzales who became something of a national treasure. Specialising in Peruvian Creole cuisine with a menu that varies each day of the week, it's the place to go for comforting, home-cooked-style dishes such as aji de gallina (shredded chicken in a creamy yellow sauce) and Tacu Tacu (lima beans) served with grilled meat.
Meal prices: $$
Shopping in Lima
Centro Comercial LarcomarView on map
Located in the Miraflores district, the Centro Comercial Larcomar shopping centre is one of Lima's most popular shopping destinations with luxury brands and high-end stores alongside a fantastic choice of restaurants and a bowling lane and cinema. It's also a good place to enjoy the views of the ocean thanks to its coastal location.
Artesanias Las PallasView on map
Part shop, part museum, the Artesanias Las Pallas displays a fabulous collection of native folk art and Peruvian handicrafts. The owners have opened their colourful home as a showroom with pieces to buy and others simply to appreciate. It's located in the trendy suburb of Barranco and run by the knowledgeable and passionate Mari, accompanied by her pet dog.
Mercado IndiosView on map
A one-stop-shop for souvenirs and handicrafts, the Mercado Indios (Indian Market) is where you'll find everything from alpaca wool blankets to pottery pieces in the style of pre-Columbian designs. It's a great place to practice your haggling skills with all prices open to negotiation. There's a number of stalls selling the same thing so scope out the best prices before purchasing.
KunaView on map
The Kuna brand is one of the most prestigious companies dealing in quality alpaca products from luxury scarves to lighter jumpers and ponchos. The award-winning brand uses only the finest wool manufactured by the leading alpaca producer and ensures the sustainability of their business by supporting local Andean communities. Their flagship store is located in San Isidro in Lima with outlets across the city and even at the airport.
Transport links in Lima
Flying InView on map
The capital of Peru is the country's primary transport hub with the city served by the modern Jorge Chavez International Airport. Located 11km from the Historic Centre of Lima and 17km from Miraflores, it's between a 45 minute to an hour drive from the airport, depending on the traffic that often blights the outer suburbs of Lima. The vast majority of international flights will transit through Lima as few airlines fly direct to Peru's other main cities. Despite this, the airport is still reassuringly small with ample shops, restaurants and services offered.
By RoadView on map
Lima is well-connected to the rest of Peru with long-distance buses operating routes to Arequipa, Cuzco and Nazca to name but a few. The most reliable and popular operators have offices on Avenida Javier Prado Este with depots nearby. The city itself is also easily navigable by bus with an extensive network of colectivos and standard buses that ply routes along Lima's main arterial roads. Prices are minimal but stops are frequent so journeys are often better undertaken by taxi as they're much quicker - agree a price before you set off as taxis in Peru very rarely have meters.
Best Time to Visit Lima
Thanks to the cool waters of the Pacific Ocean, the coastal city of Lima experiences much milder temperatures than other destinations in this sub-tropical desert region of Peru. Temperatures do not vary too much between seasons but humidity remains high throughout the year. Despite the thick grey clouds that often shroud the capital, it rarely rains in Lima with just an average of 30cm of precipitation annually. The best time to visit Lima is the summer season, which falls between December and April with largely clear skies, minimal rainfall and hot weather.