The scene at Plaza San Martin in downtown Lima

We weren’t prepared to love Lima.

One reason was the negativity we got from some of our friends, including some who have never been there. In keeping with Latitude Adjustment Travel Rule #1 (never form an opinion about a place unless you’ve visited it yourselves), we ignored the nay-sayers and spent four days in Lima at the beginning of our Peru odyssey in October.

We bookended our trip three weeks later with a final night in Lima before flying home.

As South America’s fourth largest city, Lima has big-city problems: paralyzing traffic, a fair amount of air pollution, and extreme poverty. It’s also got a stunning historical district, fantastic boho neighborhoods, world-class restaurants, and little pockets of whimsy when you least expect them. Here are our favorite things about Lima.

The Food

Lima has a well-earned reputation as the culinary capital of South America, and everything you’ve heard about the wonderful Peruvian cuisine is true. During our month-long journey through Peru, we feasted on causa (a scrumptuous potato dish usually served with shrimp, avocado, and mayo), anticuchos de corazon (fabulously tender morsels of beef heart, grilled and served on a stick), alpaca (a very tasty and healthy alternative to beef), lomo saltado (stir-fried beef that fuses Chinese and Peruvian flavors) and, yes, cuy (also known as guinea pig). But if we had to pick a dish that is emblematic of Lima, we would say CEVICHE.

The quintessential Peruvian ceviche, served up fresh at Costazul

For the uninitiated, ceviche is essentially chunks of raw fish marinated in lime juice, spices, purple onion, and chili peppers (the Peruvians call this yummy marinade “leche de tigre” or “tiger’s milk”). You will find many variations throughout Latin America, but Peru is known as the birthplace of this fabulous delicacy. Lima’s proximity to the ocean means you’ll enjoy the freshest-possible ceviche and other types of seafood.

In four days we couldn’t even scratch the surface of Lima’s culinary scene, but we did hit some great restaurants:

  • Costazul, a cozy and very popular cevicheria in the Miraflores neighborhood
  • The cafe at Museo Larco. Fantastic food and service in a beautiful and elegant setting.
  • Bar Cordano. Peru’s movers and shakers, including presidents, have hung out at this joint for over 100 years. In the heart of Lima’s historic district, It’s oozing with atmosphere and worth a stop for a pisco sour.
Soaking up the atmosphere at Bar Cardona
  • Panchita. Wonderfully creative blending of ancient and more contemporary cuisines. Go early or make a reservation – it’s hugely popular.
  • Canta Rana in the Barranco district. Another very popular and cozy cevicheria with an Argentine flair.
The packed dining room at Canta Rana in Barranco. Go early – they don’t take reservations!

Miraflores

We spent our first four nights in a charming AirBnB in the upscale Miraflores district, a safe, clean, and walkable neighborhood overflowing with great restaurants and perched on the high cliffs overlooking the Pacific. Miraflores is best known for its malecón, a scenic walkway that serves up spectacular ocean views.

The Historic District

If you’re a regular reader, you know we’re big fans of free walking tours. To be honest, our tour of the Lima historic district with Inkan Milky Way was not the best we’ve had. Maybe the tour guide was having an off day, because Inkan Milky Way is highly rated. There are other free walking tour outfits available, and we still highly recommend doing one to get an overview of the sights you’ll want to come back and visit in more depth later.

An amorous moment in downtown Lima’s Plaza San Martin

Lima’s historic quarter is accented by the large and beautiful Plaza San Martín and the Plaza de Armas, bounded by the Cathedral of Lima, the Government Palace, the Archbishop’s Palace, and other landmarks. The ruthless Francisco Pizarro is credited with the founding of Lima in 1535 (and in fact is buried in the Cathedral). However, many other cultures – including the Incas, whose downfall was orchestrated by Pizarro and his crew – had existed in the area for many centuries prior. Like so many gems of South America, Lima’s city center is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site and is beautifully preserved and maintained.

Pre-Colombian Cultures

If you’re as fascinated by Latin America’s indigenous cultures as we are, these two sites are a must-visit:

  • The Huaca Pucllana ruins on the edge of the Miraflores neighborhood. This stunning site is what remains of a great pyramid built by the people of the Lima period around 500 AD. Check out the photo on the link above to get an idea of the sheer immensity of this place. And it was built completely with small mud bricks, many of which were laid vertically like books on a shelf. Be sure and arrive early – we got there just as it was closing and weren’t able to tour the ruins themselves. But the restaurant offers stunning views of the ruins and is a nice place for a pisco sour if you’re so inclined (we were).
  • Museo Larco. We were gobsmacked by this fabulous museum, which contains one of the world’s largest collections of pre-Colombian ceramics. And, as we mentioned, it has a beautiful and highly regarded restaurant.

Parque de la Reserva

A lovely, fountain-filled urban park by day, the Parque de la Reserva transforms into a colorful water wonderland at night when the fountains come alive with colored light shows. Also known as the Circa Mágico del Agua (Magic Water Circuit), it’s a bit cheesy – but so worth a visit. One of the things we loved the most was the hordes of local families out for an enjoyable evening together.

Barranco

The Barranco district is Lima’s bohemian quarter, with a decidedly more laid-back and artsy feel than Miraflores. We had a day and a night to experience Barranco at the tail end of our Peru trip, and it only whetted our appetite to return for a longer visit. Next time we’ll stay exclusively in Barranco.

Mural just below Barranco’s famed “Bridge of Sighs”
Barranco’s charming main plaza
The pedestrian walkway down to the beach is lined with artisans and their wares.

Lima was just the beginning of our fantastic month of travel in Peru. Here’s a link to the rest of our posts from that trip.

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Brightly lit colored fountain in Lima, Peru

17 Comments

  1. Glad you enjoyed Lima. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit in 2017. So many wonderful museums, churches, neighborhoods, etc. to explore. Thanks for reminding me of some great memories.
    Happy New Year.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      You are most welcome, and Happy New Year!

  2. Like you we really enjoyed Lima. You captured it beautifully with your lovely photos and descriptions. Peru was full of wonderful surprises. Happy New Year and safe travels to you both😄

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, Gilda! Happy New Year and adventurous travels to you too.

  3. We spent a week in Lima in 2014 and, like you, we loved our time exploring some of the city. In fact, it looks like we visited many of the same places (including the bone church and erotic museum) so reading your post was a trip down memory lane. The erotic museum was rather an eye-opener – with the exception of batteries, it didn’t look like anything new had been invented! 😁 Wishing you a very happy 2019 and many more travels ahead. Anita

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Haha, thanks, Anita – that made me LOL! Some of the items in the erotic gallery looked like they could use batteries 🙂 Anyway, thanks for your comment and here’s wishing you a most excellent New Year.

  4. I had my first Peruvian cuisine last week in Hong Kong when my best friend’s family took me to a newly-opened Peruvian restaurant in the city. The ambiance and music really made me want to travel halfway across the world to Peru, but the star was of course the food. We had ceviche, tiradito, anticucho, and some excellent dishes. I’m really curious now to try them all in their homeland. Speaking of Lima, I’m so glad you mentioned about Huaca Pucllana since I didn’t know it existed. Thanks for writing this post, John and Susan. Wishing you a new year filled with happiness and more travels!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Wow, Peruvian food in Hong Kong. That city truly is an international crossroads! Just saw you have posted about Hong Kong and looking forward to reading your latest. And the same back to you, Bama – all the best for the new year and abundant travels!

  5. Another great post you two. We’d go back to Lima just for the comida Peruana, especially the cafe at Museo Larco–excelente! For anyone even more interested in the history of this part of the world I recommend ‘1491’ by Charles C. Mann. You’ll never celebrate ‘Columbus Day’ again. Good stuff, keep it coming!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      You two are the ones that recommended the cafe at Museo Larco! And we had a fantastic lunch there and toasted you 🙂 Thanks for the book recommendation. The more we learn about the history of the so-called “New World,” the lest affinity we have for the early Europeans that came here. The story of the Incan downfall is really shameful, and it’s a story that has been repeated with indigenous cultures time and time again.

  6. it seems you had spent great time there, last year i went but not enjoyed like you but this year may be would go there once again and this time surely will enjoy a lot.

    Thanks for sharing beuatiful post.

  7. We just missed you! We were there in Sept. I enjoyed the synopsis of your time in Lima. I always enjoy your blogs, but this one was especially good! And you weren’t kidding about the food. Unbelievable! One restaurant we went to that you didn’t mention was La Rosa Nautica. It was top notch, and if you do return to Lima, I could not more highly recommend putting that one on your list! The restaurant is on stilts out over the surf, and you watch the waves approach and then roll underneath you while you eat. I hope you guys are loving Medellin. When we decide to head that way we’ll give you a call. We are heading to the DR in March. Scuba diving and cigars! Take care, Guy and Tracy

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Hey you two! So sorry we’re just replying – for some reason your comment was stuck in the “pending” queue. We will probably get back to Lima one of these days. We did see that restaurant when we were staying in Miraflores, but it was closed. We’ll definitely check it out next time. DR sounds great – enjoy! And yes, come see us in Medellin – we’ve got lots of room. Hugs, Susan and John

  8. Hi John and Susan, This brought back so many great memories. The magic water circuit was our favorite place in Lima. -Bonnie

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      We loved that too! It was a big highlight, for sure 🙂

  9. I love your coverage of Lima, I didn’t have such a great experience there. You make actually want to go back! I would have loved to have seen the blessing g of the animals!!!

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