Visiting Peru and spending most or all of your time in Lima? The coastal capital city showcases what makes Peru a leading tourist destination: world-class gastronomy, ancient ruins and breathtaking natural landscapes. Of course, as a metropolitan capital, Lima does it all with a modern and urban style. Here is the insider’s guide to the top thirteen things to do in Lima.
1. Meander along the malecón
A smoothly paved path that follows the natural curves of Lima’s coastal cliffside, the malecón is an iconic part of Peru’s capital. Covering roughly 2 miles, the malecón extends through a handful of Lima’s most popular neighborhoods. Rent a bike, go for a jog or simply stroll along this pathway that is dotted with green spaces, art and children’s parks.
Local tip: Streets in Lima can have several names, so Av Arequipa is also known as Garcilaso de la Vega or Wilson. Some names reappear in different districts, so be sure to indicate the right neighborhood if you're catching a taxi. To top it off, you'll see tiles indicating colonial street names that are no longer in use. Your best bet is to look for the green street signs and use well-known landmarks for orientation.
2. Tour Museo Larco and sip pisco sour at Queirolo
Less hip than Barranco and not nearly as swanky as Miraflores, Pueblo Libre is like a hidden jewel, quietly waiting to be discovered by tourists. One of its must-see sites is Museo Larco, an incredible museum that houses 30,000 cataloged ancient pottery artifacts – and a cheeky pre-Columbian erotic ceramics collection.
After touring Museo Larco (and admiring its lush garden), head over to the legendary Antigua Taberna Queirolo for a proper pisco sour.
3. Splurge at one of the world’s best restaurants
Lima has been considered a top culinary destination for a decade and counting, privileged with access to the bounty of exotic produce and superfoods that derive from all regions of Peru. Set aside a budget to spend at one of the handful of world-renowned restaurants located in Lima.
Central and Kjolle offer exciting concepts that focus on tubers, flowers and grains from the Amazon and Andes; discover nikkei (Peruvian-Japanese fusion) at Maido, or greet the godfather of popular Peruvian gastronomy, Gaston Acurio, at Astrid y Gaston.
Local tip: The country’s fusion cuisine, criollo cooking – a singular blend of Spanish, Andean, Chinese and African influences – is without parallel at neighborhood eateries as well as super-chic restaurants.
4. Paraglide above the spectacular Pacific coast
Take in a bird’s-eye view of the City of Kings and Lima’s coastline on an unforgettable paragliding excursion. In the Miraflores section of the malecón, tourists can find a reputable agency offering tandem (harnessed in with an experienced guide) paraglide sessions every day of the year. The flight time lasts 10 minutes and is a pure adrenaline rush.
5. Take a surfing or paddle board class
Though it was built on top of a desert, Lima’s unique coastal position makes it a haven for aquaphiles. The only South American capital kissed by the Pacific, visitors to Lima will want to take advantage of the easy beach access by signing up for a surf or paddle board lesson. Boards, wetsuits and instructors can be found simply by taking a stroll on the beach.
Planning tip: Despite the newspaper warnings about pollution, limeños (inhabitants of Lima) hit the beaches in droves in summer (January through March). Playa Costa Verde in Miraflores (nicknamed Waikiki) is a favorite of local surfers and has good breaks year-round. Serious surfers head to Playa La Herradura in Chorrillos, which has waves up to 5m high during good swells.
6. Visit galleries and boutiques in Barranco
Bohemian, trendy, artsy – Barranco is bestowed with numerous adjectives that paint it as one of (if not the) most popular districts in Lima. Luckily, you can immerse yourself in the creative scene for free by visiting galleries and boutique shops such as Las Pallas, Dédalo and Crisis Galeria. Full of street art as well, there is no shortage of art and culture in Barranco, an extremely walkable district.
7. Follow the locals to the best street food stalls
Thanks to Lima’s street food scene, you can eat out for nearly every meal without breaking the bank. In the mornings, street corners host carts selling quinoa, a warm drink made with the nutritious pseudo-grain, apples and spices like cinnamon and clove. By late afternoon, carts in Parque Kennedy are stocked with the fixings to put together a pan con chicharron (fried pork sandwich) and picarones (fried squash doughnuts drizzled in chancaca syrup).
Local tip: If you want an encyclopedic primer on Peruvian cooking, look no further than Gaston Acurio's Peru: The Cookbook, published in 2015. It features 500 traditional home cooking recipes from the country’s most acclaimed and popular chef.
8. Stroll the olive groves of Bosque el Olivar
It doesn’t take long to feel your nature-loving side stifled by the concrete jungle that is Lima. Get a breath of fresh air and visit the picturesque Bosque El Olivar in San Isidro. Stroll amongst 1500 olive trees that were planted four centuries ago, gaze upon the coy pond or simply spread out a blanket and enjoy a good book.
9. Visit the incredible Huaca Pucllana, a pre-Inca pyramid
Tucked in the heart of bustling Miraflores, Huaca Pucllana once served as an administrative and ceremonial center for the ancient Lima culture. Built around 400 CE, the mud-brick pyramid predates Inca masterpieces like Machu Picchu. To add to its mystique, a group of mummies was discovered on site as recently as 2010. Daily tours are available.
Local tip: It's incredible by day but time your visit so you can do both day and night if you can. There’s also a celebrated restaurant here which offers incredible views of the illuminated ruins at night.
10. Explore South America’s largest collection of catacombs
Do you dare to walk a network of subterranean passageways lurking beneath the streets of Lima’s Historic Center? Before the first cemetery in Lima was built, 25,000 crypts were put to rest just below the 16th-century Monasterio de San Francisco. A bit eerie, a guided visit to the Lima catacombs can be followed up with a tour of the Historic Center.
11. Splash around at the Magic Water Circuit
Couples, families and those young at heart will delight in a visit to the colorful Magic Water Circuit. The open-air park is best visited at night when a rainbow of lights reflect upon the active water fountains. If visiting during Lima’s summer months, a day visit is less colorful but all the more refreshing as you walk beneath a tunnel of fountains to cool off.
Local tip: The good news for travel with kids? This is a very family-oriented society, and children are treasured. Yes the city streets can be chaotic. If your family isn't used to navigating a busy city and you need to take refuge, head to LarcoMar mall in the Miraflores district.
12. Sample the flavors of Peru in Surquillo’s market
As the capital of Peru, Lima is a melting pot of ingredients indigenous to the coast, jungle and highlands of Peru. Feast your eyes on a rainbow of produce in the Surquillo market, one of the best examples of district food markets in Lima. The vendors are happy to explain where curious fruits like chirimoya (custard apple) and granadilla derive, and to discuss the nutritional value of seeds like sacha inchi that have been consumed since the time of the Incas. This is also a great place to dig into an incredibly fresh ceviche. Just look for the stall with the most locals.
13. Indulge your tastebuds on Peru’s best chocolate
Tucked in the charming district of Barranco, El Cacaotal is like an edible museum of cacao products from all regions of Peru. The shop sells Peruvian craft chocolate and specialty coffee curated by certified tasters who are happy to tell you the full story and process behind each bar and bean. Hop in and ask them about their tasting courses for a fun and educational Lima experience!