A Guide to Lima, Peru: South America’s Most Underrated City
Lima gets overshadowed by the Sacred Valley, and sadly, many visitors only spend a day or two here. After spending a week here, I fell in love with this crazy city. First off, it’s a foodie’s paradise for all budgets. You can sit shoulder-to-shoulder at the central market for cheap eats or treat yourself to sophisticated tasting menus at some of the world’s best restaurants. In between the fantastic meals, Lima has plenty of interesting attractions and neighborhoods to explore. A nice thing about the attractions in Lima and most of Peru is that a guide is provided at no extra cost.
I hear a lot of people say it’s an expensive and boring city, and that’s only true if you don’t leave the upscale Miraflores neighborhood. The chaos of Lima is endearing and the peaceful historic neighborhoods are the perfect break from the action. It’s the continent’s most chaotic city and it notoriously has horrible traffic because of the rapidly growing population.
The beautiful plazas and parks allow for much-needed breathing room while also serving as a forum for political activism. Peru’s political instability (5 presidents since 2018) often leads to protests at the Plaza de Armas. At night, Plaza San Martín plays host to activists giving passionate speeches.
Lima features on the best places to visit in South America. Check out the rest of the list!
Getting Around Lima
The traffic is rough and it can be difficult to find a taxi or Uber at certain hours of the day. Your best friend is the #301 bus that connects Miraflores (at Parque Kennedy) and the historic center (at Parque Exposiciones). Always use Uber going to and from the airport because taxi scams are common. I met a guy who took a taxi from the airport and paid nearly 10x what I did for an Uber.
Related: A Complete Guide to Cusco, Peru
What to Do
Huaca Pucllana – These adobe ruins that date back to 200 A.D. are phenomenal! The excavation took place within the last 50 years at this archeological site in Miraflores. The entrance is 15 soles (S/) and it includes a 90-minute tour about the fascinating history of the Lima people.
Barrio Chino – Lima’s Chinatown dates back to the 19th century when Chinese workers arrived as cheap labor to build the railroads. Nowadays, this small neighborhood is pure chaos. The mornings are calm, but when the afternoon rolls around, Barrio Chino comes alive. Shouting vendors line the sidewalks and the overflowing streets allow you to take in the surroundings as you’re forced to walk at a snail’s pace.
Pisco Tour – On this Airbnb Experience, you’ll visit historic bars and indulge in a few pisco sours, the delicious national cocktail. The guide is awesome and this experience makes for a really fun night.
Place of Memory, Tolerance, and Social Inclusion – An impactful museum covering the conflict between the Shining Path and the government. The museum is free and it’s a must-visit to learn about the modern history of Peru. The text is only in Spanish, but you can email the museum in advance to arrange a guide.
Walk the streets of Barranco – Lima’s prettiest neighborhood is full of colorful buildings, street art, and cafes. Listening to the birds chirping is a great escape from the constant honking of the city center. A couple of points of interest are the Bridge of Sighs and the Municipal de Barranco Park.
Catacumbas del Convento de San Francisco – A beautiful 16th-century baroque church with famous catacombs that store the remains of 25,000 people. The entrance is S/15 and it includes a 45-minute tour.
Cathedral of Lima – Elaborate chapels line the interior of this 18th-century cathedral and there is a small art collection as well. The entrance is S/10.
Related: 10 Important Things to Know Before Visiting Peru
Larcomar – This is the only time I’ll ever be writing about a shopping mall, but the views of the cliffs and the ocean from here are fantastic.
Museo Larco – A museum with a pre-Columbian artifact collection that tells the story of ancient civilizations in Peru. It costs S/35, and the nearby neighborhood of Pueblo Libre has well-preserved historic buildings.
Museo de Arte de Lima – An art museum with a collection that spans from pre-Columbian to contemporary. The entrance is S/30 and it’s free on Tuesdays.
Convento de Santo Domingo – A 16th-century convent with impressive architecture, a historic library, and views from the bell tower. The entrance is S/10 and it includes a 30-minute guided tour.
Related: 10 Amazing Restaurants in Peru
Where to Eat
As any food guide to Lima, Peru will tell you, eat all the ceviche you can. The raw fish dish is the cream of the crop when it comes to Peruvian cuisine and it’s one of the best meals in South America. As you move inland, the quality of ceviche goes down and the price goes up.
Al Toke Pez – This simple restaurant features on Netflix’s Street Food Latin America, and it did not disappoint. The combinado was maybe the best meal I’ve had in my life. It’s only open for lunch and it gets busy.
Maido – A Japanese-Peruvian fusion joint ranked as one of the world’s 10 best restaurants. The tasting menu is an experience any foodie dreams of and the plating is a work of art. The environment is very unpretentious and my worries of feeling out of place in jeans and a llama sweater were quickly erased. You do need a reservation 1-2 months in advance.
Punto Azul – A crowd favorite for ceviche among locals. It’s only open for lunch and gets very busy, so it’s best to arrive early.
Don Tito – The pollo a la brasa is mouth-watering here. Peruvians hold their chicken to high standards and this is one of the few places that pass the test for locals. The original location in San Borja is better than the one in Miraflores.
Mercado Central – Lima’s central market has the best meals of any market I’ve visited. There’s nothing better than starting the morning off with lomo saltado and coffee for S/8.
La Campesina del Norte – A hole in the wall local spot near Plaza de Armas with delicious ceviche for S/20. You won’t find it on Google Maps and I’m not even sure it has a sign out front. It’s located across from Villa Chicken on Jirón Ica street.
Picarones Mary – A delicious spot in Kennedy Park for traditional picarones and chicha morada.
Where to Stay
The three districts with accommodation are the historic center, Barranco, and Miraflores. The historic center is the best for sightseeing and is the cheapest. Meanwhile, Miraflores is the most expensive, but it’s the best for dining and safety. Barranco has the best nightlife, but it’s farthest from the attractions. It takes 30-45 minutes to get from the historic center to Miraflores/Barranco by taxi or bus.
1900 Backpackers Hostel – A budget hostel near the historic center with spacious dorms and a rooftop bar. It’s a great place for your first stop in Peru because the staff has lots of knowledge about the rest of the country.
Alpes Lima Kennedy Park – A modern hostel tucked away on a quiet street in Miraflores with a rooftop bar and hot tub.
Kokopelli Hostel Barranco – If you’re looking for a night out, this hostel in a historic house is the best option.
How Long to Stay
4 days is enough time to see the attractions, explore the unique neighborhoods, and enjoy the food in Lima. Now that you’ve read the complete guide to Lima, check out other destinations in Peru!
Related: The Best 1 Month Itinerary for Peru
Where to Next
Bookaway is a great resource that allows you to compare the prices of buses and flights, and secure your seat in advance!
Huacachina (4.5 hours by bus) – A desert oasis with the country’s coolest adventure activity and pisco tastings.
Arequipa (18 hours) – The “White City” has beautiful architecture and delicious regional food.
Cusco (75-minute flight) – One of the continent’s gems is a hiker’s paradise full of incredible Inca ruins.
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