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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.