The RealWorld Guide to Lima
Nearly nine million people call Lima their home. They live in an intriguing and exciting city in which skyscrapers stand next to beautiful colonial architecture and the green Pacific coast gives way to inland desert. Lima has some of the world's hottest restaurants, South America's best museums, and all the bustle and sophistication you'd expect from one of the continent's biggest cities.
Where to Stay in Lima
Although most of Lima's major historical sites are in the city centre, and there are a couple of great character hotels there (notably the art deco Hotel Bolivar) we usually advise that people stay in either the Miraflores or Barranco districts of the city. Why? Well, Lima fell out of love with its 'downtown' in the 1960s and 1970s, and so although today it's been brilliantly restored and we suggest a tour of Lima's historic centre on all our Peru holidays, the majority of the city's shops, restaurants and hotels moved south to these previously residential districts. In Miraflores in particular you find the best of Lima's hotels, restaurants, shops and all the other facilities you need, as well as offering access to the beaches and cliffs of the Pacific coast, known as the Costa Verde.
Further south from Miraflores, Barranco has long had a reputation as a bohemian, artistic area - a kind of Soho of Lima, if you like, but a little less seamy. It's always offered more interesting nightlife than Miraflores, for example, although it's not been anything like as good for hotels or restaurants.
More recently, however, the area has seen an influx of young professionals moving in, and it's fast becoming one of Lima's most desirable addresses. Certainly, if nightlife is a big attraction, or if you'd just like a slightly more quirky hotel than you often find in Miraflores, Barranco is well worth a look.
The one downside to basing yourself in Miraflores or Barranco during your holiday in Lima is that you are a bit of a drive from the airport - around 45 minutes if traffic is normal, perhaps a little quicker in the early morning. Obviously if you're arriving late and flying straight out the next morning, or have a night in Lima before flying out early the next morning then this is probably driving time that you could do without. There are a couple of airport hotels we can look at, but it's worth bearing in mind that there really is nothing else in the area, so unless you are literally just planning to sleep, it's probably still worth heading to Miraflores.
Sights and Tours in Lima
Traditionally, Lima's architecturally stunning historic city centre has been seen as a nice stop on your way to or from Machu Picchu, but the hip restaurants, bars and galleries of Miraflores and Barranco are making more and more people look at Lima as a destination in its own right.
With churches and grand mansions dating back to Lima's colonial heyday as the premier city of the New World, and some absolutely superb Art Deco and Belle Epoque buildings and grand squares to accompany them, the centre of Lima is arguably the most impressive of any of South America's capital cities.
Lima's Historic Centre
Possibly the highlight of any trip to the centre is a tour of the Monastery of San Francisco, just a couple of blocks from the grand Plaza de Armas main square. San Francisco comprises a huge Baroque church dating to the 17th century, the monastery itself which includes a lovely cloistered garden, and a series of underground catacombs which contain the remains of an estimated 70,000 Limeños! The church and monastery are genuinely impressive, and the catacombs are fascinating, so it's all more than worth a couple of hours of your time.
Aside from this, we'd also recommend the short walk from the colonial Plaza de Armas to the Art Deco Plaza San Martin to appreciate the different stages of Lima's development. In the Plaza de Armas you have Lima's vast Cathedral, the Archbishop's Palace and the Palacio de Gobierno - in short, all the trappings of colonial government. Meanwhile, in the Plaza San Martin, you have the exquisite Colon theatre, the Neo-Colonial Metro Cinema and the beautiful Art Deco Hotel Bolivar, where the famous Pisco Sour was perfected. We know which era we'd choose!
Miraflores and Barranco
There aren't any great historical sites in the southern suburbs of Miraflores and Barranco, but they do have the best of Lima's hotels, shops and restaurants, so they are your best base during a holiday in Lima. Both also sit right next to the beaches and cliffs of Lima's Pacific coast, so you can enjoy a wander from, for example, the Parque del Amor where young Limeño couples traditionally do their courting, to the Larcomar complex, where shops and restaurants are built right into the cliffs so you can enjoy some great views while you eat - try Cafe Cafe, which has multiple terraces overlooking the ocean.
From Larcomar, you can also see one of Lima's great institutions: the Rosa Nautica restaurant, built on a Victorian-style pier jutting out into the Pacific. Specialising in traditional criollo seafood dishes, it's a fantastic dining experience, although for our money some of Lima's 'young guns' such as the superb Central, La Gloria or Rafael in Miraflores are even more amazing. All three of these places would be Michelin-starred in Europe but for now you can tuck in at what seem like absolutely bargain prices.
Of course, you don't have to go to the high-end places to enjoy the great Peruvian food in Lima. Places like Mama Olla (Jiron Tarata 248) offer great traditional cuisine at bargain prices, or you could try Punto Azul (San Martin 595) for some absolutely superb seafood - Limeños queue around the block for lunch here.
In Barranco, you're more likely to enjoy just wandering around and enjoying the laid-back atmosphere during the day, but things really come to life at night. With some of Lima's best-loved clubs and bars, some of which (like the classic Posada del Mirador) have fantastic ocean views, while others have great live music, you're sure to find something to your taste here. Sofa Cafe is one of our favourites, but Rustica (on the main square) is also really good and has an excellent buffet so you can try lots of different things.
If you're on the look out for something a little more cultural, then just a little further south from Barranco is the superb pre-Inca site of Pachacamac. This sacred site was dedicated to the god Pachacamac and was believed to contain an Oracle. Worship took place here from around 200AD before the Incas swept down from the Andes, and as was their usual practice, simply took everything over and told the locals that Pachacamac was actually just an aspect of their own god so hard cheese... Today it has been extensively restored and is one of our most popular tours in Lima: it's a great way to fit in some of Peru's pre-Inca history even if you can't spare the time to head up to the north of Peru, where the biggest pre-Inca sites are to be found.
Magic Water Circuit
Finally, and for something completely different, we'd really recommend a trip to see Lima's Magic Water Circuit one evening while you're here. Just a short taxi-ride from either Miraflores or the Centre, this choreographed show of lights, fountains and music might sound a bit odd but it's really surprisingly beautiful and a totally unexpected bonus to your stay in Lima. It's open from Wednesday to Sunday until 10pm, so why not catch a cab up there and then go for a stroll after dinner?
Flights To and From Lima
As Lima is Peru's only major international airport, the chances are high that it will be your point of arrival and departure on any Peru holiday. The Jorge Chavez Airport was recently totally rebuilt ("By Germans", Peruvians will approvingly tell you...) and has been voted best major airport in South America for the past few years. As well as every conceivable destination within Peru and most major cities in South America (most recently with the addtion of cities like Cartagena and Salta, it offers direct connections to many cities in the USA and Europe as well. The only direct flights from the UK are with BA, who fly from Gatwick to Lima three times a week from April to October - Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. On other days you will need to rely on the many good options via Amsterdam, Bogota, Madrid, Paris, Sao Paulo or the USA.
At the Crossroads...
Lima is also at the centre of Peru's road network, so you have a huge choice of comfortable inter-city coaches to choose from, with destinations not just all over Peru but into Bolivia, Ecuador and Chile as well. There's only one train line heading out of Lima, actually, and that's the twice-montly Central Train Service up to Huancayo - it's one of the highest train rides in the world and is definitely one for the railway buffs out there.
Transport Within Lima
Until the past few years, transport in Lima involved a lot of traffic and either taxis or smoke-belching combis - small minibuses that plied the main routes with one driver and an assistant hanging out the side, touting for fares. However, the past few years have seen a revolution on both fronts, and Lima's transport (and traffic!) are vastly improved.
Firstly, long-delayed public transport works, such as the Tren Electrico metro system and the Metropolitano rapid bus system have been finished, with further lines underway. Major bus routes have also been formalized, with set routes and modern vehicles, banishing combis to side roads. Taxis also have to be officially licensed (they didn't before) and all vehicles are compulsorily tested every two years. All in all, Lima's roads are very different places to what they were.
The Metropolitano serves Miraflores and Barranco as well as the Historic Centre and attractions such as the Magic Water Circuit so it's an easy way to get about for many tourists. Passengers can buy a card worth 5 soles and scan it when getting on the bus - the fare, between .80 and 1.50 soles, will be deducted electronically, and the cards can be recharged. Metropolitano buses run every 5-10 minutes between 06:00 and 22:00, and they are a great way of shuttling between Miraflores, Barranco and the centre.
On the other hand, taxis in Lima are cheap and ubiquitous, so getting taxis is also an easy and cheap way to get directly to where you want to be. A taxi between Barranco and Miraflores should be between 15-25 soles, and around 20-35 from Miraflores to the centre.
Tailor-made Tours in Lima
All our holidays in Lima are 100% tailormade, so if you'd like to customise any of the tours you see above, or just plan a trip completely from scratch then get in touch and let us know - we'll be delighted to help you plan your perfect holiday in Lima!
Did you know?
Peruvian food is currently taking the world by storm but as you'd expect, Lima is the best place on earth to enjoy it properly. In fact, Lima has more restaurants in the prestigious San Pellegrino Top 50 list than cities like New York and Paris!