Lima is the capital of Peru, and the country's largest city. Situated along the Pacific coast, it is generally flat, though there are a few sandy, brown mountains that remind visitors the entire city is located within the desert.
In addition to being the political and financial capital of Peru, Lima is also the culinary capital, and the best place to sample regional dishes from around the country.
The city center features historic churches, monasteries, and museums. Upscale Miraflores and San Isidro are amongst the prettiest districts, and where the majority of visitors and expats stay.
Miraflores, along with bohemian Barranco, boast some of the best restaurants, bars, and discotecas in the city.
Getting There & Away
Lima is serviced by Jorge Chavez International Airport (LIM) located in the district of Callao, along the northern coast.
Given the large volume of tourists visiting Peru, the Immigration and Customs process is fairly well organized and efficient.
Flights are available to/from a variety of major cities throughout North and South America.
Taxis to/from Miraflores cost about $19, depending on your bargaining skills.
Unlike other countries, Peru's cities do not feature central bus terminals. Instead, each company has its own small terminal where the buses arrive and depart.
If you are arriving in Lima by bus, then your drop-off point will depend on where that bus company has its terminal.
Due to Lima's size, some companies have more than one terminal, so check to make sure you're getting off at the stop closest to your final destination, as it will save you money on the taxi.
There are a lot of bus companies from which to choose, however it's best to stick with the ones which have a good reputation for quality and safety.
Getting Around Lima
Lima is gigantic. Even walking around within specific districts can feel overwhelming.
Miraflores is a very walkable neighborhood — specifically the tourist-populated area along Avenida Larco, between Parque Kennedy and the Larcomar shopping center on the coast.
The historic city center is also walkable, though it may require a few days to see all of the churches, monasteries, and museums on offer.
Taxis are the easiest way to get around the city, and also relatively inexpensive. They should always be taken at night if you need to go more than a few blocks.
Taxis are unmetered, so it's important to get an estimate from a local, and negotiate before entering the cab.
The quality of taxis varies greatly. Some will shake, rattle and roll while you speed down the highway, while others are new and modern.
Solo female travelers concerned about their safety are better off accepting rides with older taxi drivers, who are less likely to accost a customer.
Whenever possible, it's safer to use a private taxi service versus hailing them on the street (which, of course, is far more practical).
You can ask your hostal or hotel to call. Never share a taxi with a passenger you don't know.
- 5 Soles ($2) – late night ride anywhere within Miraflores, even if it's just a few blocks.
- 6 Soles ($2.25) – daytime ride between Miraflores and Barranco.
- 12 Soles ($4.50) – daytime ride between Miraflores and Jockey Plaza shopping center.
- 80 Soles ($29.75) – late night ride between Miraflores and the discotecas South of the city (near Playa Silencio)
By Bus and Colectivo
The Metropolitano is a new mass transit bus service which features dedicated lanes on the highways.
The local bus and colectivo system are additional options, though short term visitors in the city may find them confusing.
Costs vary depending on the length of your ride, however most trips will cost under $1.
By Electric Train
Tren Electrico, a new electric train, has begun limited service as of January 2012, however it does not (yet) offer service to the main tourist areas, such as Miraflores and the historic city center.
Where to Stay
The vast majority of visitors (and expats) stay in Miraflores, or the nearby, and slightly edgier, Barranco. Both neighborhoods are along the coast, and offer easy access to beaches and Pacific sunsets.
Miraflores is regarded as perhaps the safest district in Lima, and it is also quite clean and attractive.
Staying in Miraflores means a ton of restaurants, bars and discotecas are within easy walking distance. In addition, you'll be centrally located within the city should you want to explore further in any direction.
[Author's Note: I lived in Lima for 3 months, renting rooms and apartments the whole time. These recommendations are based on hostels with the highest customer ratings on HostelWorld.]
- 1900 Backpackers Hostel – Av. Garcilazo de la Vega 1588, Centro Historico. If you're only going to be in Lima a day or two, then staying in the historic city center offers convenient access to most of the must-see churches and museums.
- Casona Roja Backpackers – Avenida Grau 720, Barranco. A few blocks walk from the main plaza, which features plenty of bars, clubs and restaurants.
- Ekeko Hostel – Garcia Calderon 274, Miraflores.
Short Term Housing
If you plan to spend a few weeks, or months, in the city, then you'll want to rent a room or apartment.
Craig's List – Lima has new listings daily, and the Living in Peru Classifieds section is another good site to check. A quick Google search will turn up a variety of local apartment rental sites. Lima 4 Rent is a company I used and can recommend.
Sites like Airbnb or Wimdu are additional options, though you'll be paying a service fee if you book a room or apartment through this site, and the listed apartments are more toward the luxury end of the spectrum.
Furnished apartments within a 5-10 minute walk of Parque Kennedy or Larcomar in Miraflores can be had for as little as $600 per month (including utilities).
Rooms for rent can be anywhere from $150 – $500. The cheaper rooms tend to be in older apartments or Peruvian homes, while the more costly ones are modern apartments, with expats or a Peruvian-foreigner couple.
You can certainly find cheaper places, but they will be further away (such as in Barranco).
One local informed me $400 is the going rate for furnished apartments in Miraflores, but I was unable to find any this cheap. Another local, from who I ended up renting an apartment for one month, said that apartments for less than $600 are either going to be unfurnished, or without utilities, and utilities could cost $100 – $200 per month.
Whatever room or apartment you consider taking, always try to negotiate for a lower price.
Lima has a large and active Couchsurfing community, which can be a good option for short stays.
Things to See & Do
While the sightseeing highlights of Lima can be squeezed into a day or two, and often are for tourists on package trips to Machu Picchu, the city deserves more time if you want to fully appreciate all it has to offer.
- Paragliding – There are no less than 3 popular paragliding spots along the Lima coastline, with the easiest to access being right in Miraflores. Several companies offer 10-minute, tandem flights for $50 – $60 (which is expensive given the short duration), as well as introductory and multi-day paragliding courses. A few of the companies offering flights include Paragliding Peru, PeruFly, and Fly Adventure.
- Surfing – Lima has a strong surf culture, and it's not uncommon to see people walking around Miraflores with boards, on the way to/from nearby Waikiki beach. The better waves, and cleaner water, are along the beaches South of Lima. Expect to pay $25 for a 2-hour lesson. For more info, check out Expat Peru, Peru Suf Specialists, or Peru Surf Guides.
- Caral (World Heritage Site) – This site lies 200 km north of Lima, and was home to the Caral civilization between 2600 – 2000 BC. It can be visited as a long day trip from Lima.
- Huaca Pucllana – Calle Gral. Borgono block 8. Located in northern Miraflores, this adobe and clay pyramid was built around 500 AD. It's a quick taxi ride, or about a 20-minute walk from Parque Kennedy. Admission is 7 Soles ($2.50).
- Pachacamac – Antigua Panamericana Sur km 31.5, Lurin district. Located in Southern Lima, this vast site features the usual array of temples, dwellings, and adobe walls. Admission is 6 Soles ($2.25).
The beaches immediately along Lima's coastline are rocky, and the water isn't the cleanest. For a better experience, you'll want to head South.
Colectivos shuttle passengers back and forth between Lima and the beaches at all hours, and for very little money.
You can pick them up underneath the bridge at the intersection of Avenida Benavides and Panamericana Sur. A taxi ride from Larcomar in Miraflores will cost anywhere from 5 – 10 Soles ($1.90 – $3.75).
During the Summer months, Lima's chic party people head to the Asia District.
A modern shopping center, Boulevard de Asia, features department stores, popular Lima restaurants, and several large discotecas. The beach is a 10-minute walk away, but it's not that nice.
There's little to no other hotel information online, so unless you book a vacation rental from an agency in Lima, you'll have to find a place once you arrive.
It's a 1.5-hour drive due South on the PanAmerican Highway, but closer to 2.5 or 3 hours by colectivo or bus.
This area is an easy day trip from Lima, and features two popular beaches. Playa Silencio tends to be more crowded, while Playa Blanca (Author's Pick) is a little more exclusive (though still open to the public).
Playa Blanca is geared more toward the weekend rental crowd, as the boardwalk is essentially lined with vacation homes. Renters are given priority with regard to the tents and umbrellas on the beach, but if you go midweek there should be plenty of space.
Playa Blanca is about a 1 hour and 15 minute bus ride from the Av Benavides/Panamericana bridge.
Punta Hermosa features several surf camps (like My Surf Camp, Nomadsurfers) as well as several popular discotecas (Tumbao Sur, Discoteca Voce).
These beachside discotecas become a popular Friday and Saturday night destination during the Summer. At night, a one-way taxi from Miraflores costs 80 Soles ($30), and takes about 30 minutes without traffic.
San Bartolo is another 10-15 minutes drive further South of Punta Hermosa, and features more beaches, surfing, and access to a gold club, park, and regional airport.
Historic City Center (World Heritage Site)
- Archbishop Palace (Palacio Arzobizpal de Lima) – Plaza Mayor. Worth a quick walk through if you like old furniture. A combined ticket with the Lima Cathedral Museum costs 15 Soles ($5.50).
- Church of San Francisco (Iglesia de San Francisco) & Catacombs – Plaza San Francisco, at Corner Jr. Ancash and Jr. Lampa. Beautifully preserved church and monastery, with the creepy catacombs underneath being the main attraction. Admission is 7 Soles ($2.60), and includes a guided tour in English or Spanish.
- Lima Cathedral – Plaza Mayor. This 16th century cathedral is a must-see, if only for the tomb of Lima's founder, Francisco Pizarro. Visiting the cathedral is free. The associated museum, which is also worth a visit, costs 10 Soles ($4).
- Monastery of Santo Domingo (Iglesia y Monasterio de Santo Domingo) – Corner of Jr. Conde Superunda and Jr. Camana. Very similar to the Church and Monastery of San Francisco, except without the catacombs. Admission is 5 Soles ($2) and includes an optional guided tour.
- Presidential Palace (Palacio de Gobierno) – Plaza Mayor. Every morning at 11:30 AM, there is a changing of the guard ceremony which features a marching band in the palace courtyard. The palace is open to the public, however you need to make arrangements through an office across the street to the northwest (look for a big water fountain). Talk to one of the palace guards, and he will point you in the right direction.
Museums and Other Points of Interest
- Cerro San Cristobal – For the best view of the city, you'll want to catch a bus up this mountain located near the historic city center. During the day it presents a typically hazy, grey view of the city. Many locals like to go at night, when you'll get 360-degree views of the city all lit up at night. Buses leave throughout the day from around Plaza Mayor in the City Center. Look for the people on the corners of the main plaza holding signs for San Cristobal. A roundtrip bus ride is 5 Soles ($2).
- Larco Museum (Museo Rafael Larco Herrera) – (Author's Pick) Avenida Bolivar 1515, Pueblo Libre. The #1 ranked attraction on TripAdvisor, and a must-see for any visitor to Lima, Museo Larco features a massive collection of Pre-Columbian art and artifacts. The entrance and gardens are filled with colorful flowers, and below the main galleries, is the ever-popular erotic pottery collection. If you only visit one museum in Lima, this is the one to see. Admission is 30 Soles ($11).
- Parque de la Reserva (Magic Water Circuit) – (Author's Pick) Adjacent Estadio Nacional, between Paseo de la Republica and Avenida Arequipa. This one-of-a-kind park features more than a dozen water fountains, which come alive at night thanks to various colored lights. Go at about 6 PM, right before sunset, so you can see the fountains in both the daylight and in the dark. Every evening at 7:30 PM there is a water and laser light show set to music that is worth catching. Admission is 4 Soles ($1.50). The park is open Wednesday to Sunday, from 4 – 10 PM.
- Parque de la Muralla – Behind the Presidential Palace, one block from Plaza Mayor, City Center. This modern park was built along the riverside, around a small but preserved archaeological site. Gaston Acurio has a restaurant here, named La Muralla, of course.
- Parque de las Leyendas (Botanical Gardens & Zoo) – Avenida Las Leyendas 580 – 586, San Miguel. This park encompasses archaeological sites, botanical gardens, and a zoo featuring native species of Peru. Admission is 8.50 Soles ($3.15) Mon-Fri, and 10 Soles ($4) on the weekends.
- Parque del Amor – Malecon de la Reserva, Miraflores. This park dedicated to love offers a romantic viewpoint from which to watch the sun set over the Pacific.
- Parque Kennedy & Parque Central – Intersection of Avenida Larco and Avenida Jose Pardo. These two parks are popular gathering points day and night. They are surrounded by restaurants and bars, with Calle de las Pizzas located across Diagonal Street from Parque Kennedy.
- Jockey Plaza – Javier Prado Este 4200, Surco. Large, modern mall centrally located in the city. It features a wide range of shops, including surf and skate stores, two department stores (Ripley's and Falabella), and a small Apple iStore. Plus, restaurants, cafes, and movie theaters.
- Larcomar (Author's Pick) – Intersection of Avenida Larco and Malecon de la Reserva. This modern mall is Lima's most well known. Literally built into the cliffside below the Marriott Hotel, this modern mall boasts shops, restaurants with sweeping Pacific views, several upscale discotecas, movie theaters, and a bowling alley.
Food & Drink
Peruvian food is currently enjoying its moment in the international spotlight.
If you know a little Spanish, you'll find taxi drivers asking you what you think of the food, as the second question after the most common “where you from?”
- Aji de Gallina – Shredded chicken served on top of boiled potatoes, which are both covered in a creamy, yellow, and slightly spicy sauce. Usually served with white rice, and garnished with a hard boiled egg and olives.
- Anticuchos – Traditionally, pieces of beef heart cooked and served on a skewer. Chicken hearts are also available, but not as favored.
- Arroz Chaufa – Peruvian version of Chinese fried rice. “Chifa” restaurants are Peruvian-style Chinese restaurants. They're everywhere.
- Arroz con Pollo – Classic Latin dish of shredded chicken with rice and diced vegetables.
- Causa – Chicken salad, tomatoes, and often avocado sandwiched between mashed yellow potatoes mixed with lime juice. Additional ingredients may include hard boiled egg, olives, and huancaina sauce.
- Ceviche (cebiche) – A coastal favorite. You may have tried it in other countries, but Peruvians will say their version is different, and better. And it's true, they give it a spicy kick with aji peppers so prepare your tastebuds.
- Leche de Tigre – The citric and seafood juices produced by making ceviche.
- Papa Rellena – Deep fried mashed potatoes stuffed with minced meat, eggs, and spices.
- Papas a la Huancaina – Sliced, boiled potatoes smothered in a cheese sauce, and topped with an olive. A popular starter dish before the main course.
- Pisco Sour – This classic Peruvian cocktail features pisco (a grape brandy), lemon or lime juice, and egg whites whipped up for a frothy head.
- Pollo a la Brasa – Rotisserie chicken.
- Rellena de Palta (con Pollo) – Avocado stuffed with chicken salad.
- Tacu Tacu – Mix of beans and rice served with steak.
The restaurants listed below are all within Miraflores, and geared toward foodies who want to sample the best the city has to offer.
Budget-minded travelers will find set lunches at most small restaurants. A 3-course meal in Miraflores will typically cost anywhere from 7 – 15 Soles ($2.60 – $5.60).
It might not seem like much, but a few Soles can make a big difference in terms of the food quality. These restaurants prepare for the lunch rush, so you'll usually get served quickly.
- Astrid y Gaston – Calle Cantuarias 175, Miraflores. Rated as one of the Top 50 restaurants in the world in 2011, this is the flagship restaurant where chef Gaston Acurio began building his empire.
- Cafe Amore – Avenida 28 de Julio 393, Miraflores. Comfortable cafe with dependable WiFi and set lunches under 15 Soles. This was one of my regular lunch spots while living in Lima.
- Cafe de la Paz (Author's Pick) – Calle Lima 351 (Parque Kennedy), Miraflores. Enjoy typical Peruvian fare while dining al fresco. Great spot for people watching, as it faces Parque Kennedy.
- Cebicheria la Mar – Avenida La Mar 770. Another Gaston Acurio restaurant, Cebicheria la Mar specializes in what else but cebiche. Now with 7 other locations around the world.
- El Pez On – San Martin 537, Miraflores. Known for its seafood, El Pez On features a nice outdoor dining terrace.
- La Rosa Nautica – Espigon 4 Circuito de Playas, Miraflores. This restaurant is built on a pier visible from the Larcomar shopping center. Due to its popularity with tourists, it's best to make a lunch or dinner reservation to ensure seating. There's also a separate bar if you're only looking to grab a cocktail.
- Maido – Calle San Martin 399 y Calle Colon, Miraflores. If you want to splurge on sushi, or other traditional Japanese dishes, this upscale restaurant is sure to please. The interior lends itself better to business meetings than romantic dinners.
- Ono Sushi Bar (Author's Pick) – Avenida Vasco Nunez de Balboa 747, Miraflores. Deliciously fresh sushi. Mondays and Thursdays are 2-for-1 sushi rolls! My favorite is the spicy tuna roll.
- Panchita – Calle 2 de Mayo 298 (Esquina con Coronel Inclán), Miraflores. Another Gaston Acurio restaurant, Panchita is known for it's HUGE portions.
- Pardo's Chicken – Larcomar shopping center, Miraflores. A dependable chain serving up quality chicken dishes.
- Punto Azul – Avenida Benavides 2711, Miraflores. Super popular seafood restaurant. It's only open during the day for lunch, and you should arrive early if you want to avoid a long wait (especially on the weekends).
- Restaurante Rigoletto – Calle Colon 161-C, Miraflores. Good spot for Italian food, though it's hard to see why it deserves such high rankings on Trip Advisor.
- Tanta (Author's Pick) – Avenida 28 de Julio 888, Miraflores. Tanta is one of many restaurants owned by Gaston Acurio. It's a terrific place to sample traditional Peruvian dishes and tasty pastries. The Miraflores location is one of several throughout the city.
Within Miraflores, Parque Kennedy is the epicenter of nightlife, though that doesn't mean it boasts the most interesting bars or nicest discotecas.
In fact, it's rife with prostitutes, especially on Calle de las Pizzas.
Bars & Clubs
- Aura (Author's Pick) – Larcomar shopping center, Miraflores. Large, modern discoteca which attracts a beautiful and young (18-24) crowd Thurdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. If you want a table, you'll need to make a reservation.
- Calle de las Pizzas – Parque Kennedy, Miraflores. Arguably Lima's Zona Rosa, at least for tourists and the local girls who like them, his small pedestrian walkway runs between Avenidas Diagonal and Bellavista, and is easy to spot from Parque Kennedy. Filled with pizza shops offering mediocre food, hostesses entice diners with a free glass of wine or pisco sour. There are several bars and discotecas. It's worth a visit if you're short on time in the city, but once is enough. Watch out for prostitutes, women who may drug your drink, and pickpockets.
- El Dragon de Barranco – Av. Nicolas de Pierola 168, Barranco. This discoteca is open most nights of the week, and is especially popular on Wednesday nights. The music varies nightly. Popular with foreigners as well as Peruvians.
- Gotica – Larcomar shopping center, Miraflores. An alternative to Aura, with a slightly older crowd.
- Huaringas Bar – Calle Bolognesi 472, Miraflores. This 3-level bar is attached to a popular restaurant, Las Brujes de Cachiche. The first level is a typical bar, while the second and third levels are small, but comfortable lounges. A perfect spot to take a date after dinner, or before going dancing at a discoteca.
- La Noche de Barranco – Avenida Bolognesi 307, Barranco. Part bar, part cultural center, La Noche offers live concerts, among other events, throughout the week. Arrive early on the weekends to ensure a seat.
- Om Bar Lounge – San Martin 400, Miraflores. An old, non-descript house converted into a lounge. Better for grabbing a drinking and chatting with friends than dancing. Popular on Tuesday nights, as well as weekends.
- Picas (Author's Pick) – Bajada de Banos 340, Barranco. Restaurant, bar, lounge.
- Pub Cubano – 443 Calle San Martin, Miraflores. Salsa dancing, Cuban style. Check the website for information on dance classes.
- Rustica – Calle de las Pizzas, Miraflores. This chain of restaurants/discotecas are ubiquitous in Lima — they're everywhere.
- Son de Cuba – Calle de las Pizzas, Miraflores. Salsa dancing.
- Tumbao VIP Miraflores (Author's Pick) – Calle Bellavista 237 – 241 (behind Calle de las Pizzas), Miraflores. This chain of discotecas was started by Vernis Hernandez, a pretty Cuban salsa singer/dancer who immigrated to Peru. A dependable, if not large, discoteca for live salsa bands and crossover music.
- Tuesday = Om Bar Lounge
- Wednesday = El Dragon de Barranco
- Thursday = Calle de las Pizzas
- Friday = Picas
- Saturday = Aura
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