Fronting onto a rugged stretch of shoreline, Lima is often used as a stepping stone to reach bucket list sites such as Machu Picchu, but the capital of Peru has become a destination in its own right. This bustling city more than makes up for its chaotic traffic and humdrum weather with out-of-this-world cuisine, dramatic coastal views and outstanding museums.
We'd say the capital of Peru has a lot going for it — an almost overwhelming amount. To help you make the most of your trip to the City of Kings (and simplify your trip planning) here are a few useful things to know before traveling to Lima.
Planning your trip to Lima
Lima is one of the less well-known cities in the Americas, so it helps to know what to expect. Here are some tips for planning a trip.
If you’re not visiting during the summer months, be prepared for gray skies
This is a heads up for those who suffer from seasonal mood swings in drab weather – don't assume this coastal Latin American capital is the land of sunshine. For every month of the year outside of Peru’s summer season (January to March), the skies over Lima are consistently gray. This can be a huge disappointment for unsuspecting visitors – and can wear down even those prepared for this quirk of the Lima weather.
Keep this in mind when planning the timing of a trip to Lima. On the plus side, the Peruvian capital is dry nearly all year round and you can stay active on the malecón (waterfront esplanade) to keep your energy levels and mood up. If you are in dire need of Vitamin D, consider a day trip down south to Pachacamac or a weekend trip to Reserva Nacional de Paracas where the sun is more likely to make an appearance.
Download a rideshare app for easy trips around Lima
Lima sprawls over numerous widely-spread districts, so you may spend a good chunk of time commuting. Though there are a handful of cheap and accessible ways to get around Lima, your best bet is to rely on a respectable rideshare app such as Uber or Cabify. Even if you have a decent level of Spanish or are traveling in a group, the risk of theft or getting scammed when taking an unmarked taxi off the street in Lima is not worth the few soles (Peru’s official currency) difference in price.
Stay in the district that best suits your interests
There are so many great neighborhoods in Lima, each with its own unique personality and attributes, and with the sprawling nature of the city, it pays to stay close to the things you want to see. Do a bit of research to discover the best neighborhood in Lima for you – some areas are better for people traveling with children, while others appeal to travelers looking to keep to a budget or seeking a taste of local nightlife.
Most tourists stay in the hip district of Barranco or centrally-located Miraflores, and for good reason. But less-visited districts such as Pueblo Libre or Magdalena del Mar can also woo you with their top museums and authentic vibe.
Consider distance and traffic when organizing your day-to-day itinerary
Sprawling across more than 1000 square miles, Lima is the largest city in Peru and one of the five most populous cities in South America. While many of the most touristed districts are close neighbors, some of the best things to do and see in Lima are on opposite sides of the city.
Don’t waste a chunk of your visit to Lima commuting. Instead, invest a bit of pre-travel time in mapping out what each district has to offer, so you can plan your days based on activities and sights that are close to one another.
For example, it's a good idea to pair gallery visits in Barranco with lunch or dinner in a Miraflores restaurant or a trip to Pueblo Libre’s incredibly thorough and informative Museo Larco with a drink at the same district’s famed Queirolo pisco bar.
Etiquette in Lima
Peruvian culture has all the complexity you would expect from South America – here are some tips to help you fit in.
Learn a few basic Spanish words and phrases for easier travels
A quick search on Facebook will turn up links to numerous groups of English-speaking expats who fell in love with Peru and set up a base in Lima, but the vast majority of locals do not speak fluent English. Thankfully, rideshare apps do away with the need to give detailed directions to taxi drivers, and purchases in markets can often be negotiated with just some creative gesturing.
However, to fit in, and reduce the chances of being scammed, learning a few phrases in Spanish is a good way to express your respect for locals and be less of an outsider in this strongly Spanish-speaking city. Many locals will give a passing greeting of qué tal (how are you) or buen dia (good day), and doing so yourself will put a smile on people's faces. Knowing your numbers is also helpful when it comes to paying a fair price – prices may be hiked for those who only speak English.
Don’t haggle excessively and keep cash handy
Speaking of respect for local culture, let’s talk about haggling. Many tour agencies encourage travelers to bargain for better prices, reassuring them that it is simply part of the Peruvian culture. However, while it is common in Lima markets to see vendors and buyers discussing a better price, there is a point where arguing hard for a cheaper price becomes disrespectful.
Many of the artisans in Lima come from the highlands or tropical lowlands – distant regions where it is difficult to earn a steady income and the quality of life is much lower than in the cities and most countries tourists come from. Unless you can be sure that the vendor is charging an extortionate amount, consider settling for a slightly higher price to help support local families. Keep in mind that many small businesses, as well as independent artisans, will only accept cash and they may not have change, so carry plenty of small bills.
Health and safety in Lima
Lima has its share of big-city issues, so here's what you need to know.
Trust your gut instinct when eating street food
Picarones (squash and sweet potato fried donuts), anticuchos (skewered beef heart), emoliente (a thick herbal drink served piping hot) – the list of tempting street food options in Lima goes on and on. And while the foods served on the sidewalks of Lima provide a delicious, budget-friendly way to sample the flavors of Peru, your stomach may not be on board with the lax (sometimes non-existent) sanitary standards employed by street vendors.
When choosing whether to eat from a street food stall, go with your gut. Back home, you wouldn’t eat from a place that has more flies than customers, or from a cook who doesn't wash their hands or use gloves for food prep, so don’t risk it in Lima. Another important rule of thumb for newcomers is to satiate your craving for ceviche in a proper restaurant; uncooked fish on the street is a fast track to a stomach bug.
Follow big-city safety precautions to avoid theft in Lima
Lima is a fairly safe destination for tourists when it comes to serious crime – but that doesn’t mean it's a good idea to walk around town at dusk with your camera or a shiny new phone on display. As with any large city, opportunistic crime, especially theft, is prevalent in Lima.
To avoid losing a precious valuable item, be street smart and aware of your immediate environment. Don’t leave your purse, bag or phone in the seat next to you while riding in a taxi or a public bus, for example, and avoid walking around with your wallet on obvious display in your back trouser pocket.
Phone snatching in the street is another problem. Don't be too shy to ask for directions or to use a paper map as opposed to carrying your phone in front of you as a digital map, especially in neighborhoods less frequented by tourists.
Safety for women travelers in Lima
Lima is generally safe for female solo travelers. Be cautious (as, unfortunately, we always have to be) of eager offers of rides from drivers of unmarked taxis, free rounds of drinks at the bar, and avoid walking alone at night, particularly in quiet parts of town. For safety in numbers, find a like-minded traveler from your hostel (or reach out to expat residents on Facebook groups) to join you on outings.
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