After Cairo, this sprawling metropolis is the second-driest world capital, rising above a long coastline of crumbling cliffs. To enjoy it, climb on the wave of chaos that spans high-rise condos built alongside pre-Columbian temples and fast Pacific breakers rolling toward noisy traffic jams.
But Lima is also sophisticated, with a civilization that dates back millennia. Stately museums display sublime pottery; galleries debut edgy art; solemn religious processions recall the 18th century and crowded nightclubs dispense tropical beats. No visitor can miss the capital’s culinary genius, part of a gastronomic revolution more than 400 years in the making.
This is Lima. Shrouded in history (and sometimes fog), gloriously messy and full of aesthetic delights. Don’t even think of missing it.
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These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Lima.
In an 18th-century viceroy’s mansion, this museum offers one of the largest, best-presented displays of ceramics in Lima. Founded by pre-Columbian collector Rafael Larco Hoyle in 1926, the collection includes more than 50,000 pots, with ceramic works from the Cupisnique, Chimú, Chancay, Nazca and Inca cultures. Highlights include the sublime Moche portrait vessels, presented in simple, dramatically lit cases, and a Wari weaving in one of the rear galleries that contains 398 threads to the linear inch – a record.
One of Lima’s most historic religious sites, the Iglesia de Santo Domingo and its expansive convent are built on land granted to the Dominican friar Vicente de Valverde, who accompanied Pizarro throughout the conquest and was instrumental in persuading him to execute the captured Inca Atahualpa. Originally completed in the 16th century, this impressive pink church has been rebuilt and remodeled at various points since.
Lima’s 140-sq-meter Plaza de Armas, also called the Plaza Mayor, was not only the heart of the 16th-century settlement established by Francisco Pizarro, it was a center of the Spaniards’ continent-wide empire. Though not one original building remains, at the center of the plaza is an impressive bronze fountain erected in 1650.
This indulgent series of illuminated fountains is so over the top it can’t help but induce stupefaction among even the most hardened travel cynic. A dozen different fountains are capped, at the end, by a laser light show at the 120m-long Fuente de la Fantasía (Fantasy Fountain). The whole display is set to a medley of tunes comprising everything from Peruvian waltzes to ABBA. It has to be seen to be believed.
The well-designed Fundación Museo Amano features a fine private collection of ceramics, with a strong representation of wares from the Chimú and Nazca cultures. It also has a remarkable assortment of lace and other textiles produced by the coastal Chancay culture. There's an optional 1.5-hour guided tour in English, Portuguese or Spanish.
Known locally as MALI, Lima’s principal fine-art museum is housed in a striking beaux-arts building that was renovated in 2015. Subjects range from pre-Columbian to contemporary art, and there are also guided visits to special exhibits. On Sunday entry is just S1. A satellite museum is under construction in Barranco.
Housed in a pristine 19th-century mansion with Spanish tile floors, this worthwhile private museum showcases a vast collection of minerals, as well as breathtakingly displayed Nazca textiles and Chancay pottery, including some remarkable representations of Peruvian hairless dogs.
Superstar graffiti artists are helping to revive the rough neighborhood surrounding Casa Ronald, a 1920 architectural masterpiece. Now a center for creatives, Monumental Callao incorporates restaurants and artists’ studios, as well as galleries, with tenants intermittently donating their time to the surrounding community. Every weekend you can find rooftop parties with DJs or live salsa concerts, and even fashion shows using the colorful Spanish-style tiling as the catwalk.
Located on the 1st floor of a towering and dark office building, this contemporary-art museum has a glass facade that reveals just enough of the stark white interior to pique your interest. Both national and international artists are continually exhibited here to provide diverse yet always fresh perspectives.