Lima. The bustling capital of Peru. I’ve heard that many people opt to pass through Lima on their way to Cusco, the gate city to Machu Picchu. But, I decided to take a few days to explore the city to ease into trip and to shake off any jet lag. I’m glad I did. Lima is a fascinating city comprised of many districts, each with its own look and feel. For many, the main districts to explore are Cercado de Lima and Rimac, Miraflores, San Isidoro, and Barranco.
Cercado de Lima & Rimac (Central Lima)
If Lima has a central downtown area, this place is it. Walking from my hotel in Miraflores along Ave Arequipa (a 5-mile walk), I was able to see how the landscape of the city altered. And for being 8 a.m. on a Saturday, there was so much traffic. I was surprised as all the shops that I passed were still closed. As the traffic doubled and the streets became a buzz with activity, I knew I was getting close to my destination.
The focal point of the area is the Plaza Mayor, a large square lined by intricately beautiful buildings. These include the Palacio de Gobierno (Presidential Palace). Though visits are not permitted, it’s worth a look especially if the visit is timed for the changing of the guards.
The highlight is La Catedral with its detailed facade and impressive interior. Immediately as you enter, on your right, is the final resting place of Francisco Pizarro who conquered and destroyed the Inca empire and established Spanish control of the country. The colorful, airy nave is contrasted by the dark underside of the church where skeletal remains are on display.
A short walk from the Plaza Mayor is the San Francisco Church and Covent. The exterior, with its yellow layers, is simplistically stunning. Upon entering the church, it’s a sea of muted red and beige in its Moorish design. Though small, the interior leaves an impression.
One can visit the church at your leisure and for free; but, the convent is by guided tour only with admission. At most, the wait time will be 10 minutes and it’s completely worth it. The tour takes you through the incredible library, catacombs, and to a painting of the Last Supper with cuy (guinea pig, the traditional dish of Peru, which I couldn’t bring myself to try) as the main course. It’s an informative and fascinating tour.
Miraflores & San Isidoro
The main pulse of Lima resides in Miraflores with the jewel of the area being the clifftops. Walking along the path, there are endless views of the Pacific Ocean (sunset is amazing!). Along the walk, you can rest at the Parque del Amor and take in the large sculpture, El Beso.
Built into the cliffside is the Larcomar shopping center, which is the perfect spot for grabbing a bite on a terrace (with a variety of international cuisines to choose from). Many restaurants overlook the ocean and during the day you can watch the paragliders circle above you while you sip on a Pisco Sour. Many of the international clothing brands have stores here, too.
Heading back into the city, you pass through the Parque Kennedy lined with artists displaying their works. But, the park is known for the many cats that call it home. You can spy them sleeping in the flowers and trees and mingling with visitors. A short walk takes one to Huaca Pucllana, an archeological site of pre-Inca ruins. Though it’s not easy to visualize how the site would have looked in its heyday, it’s fascinating to see how the culture was able to build structures to withstand the many earthquakes that still plague the region. A visit to the site is with a tour guide only.
This is an area without a main tourist attraction. Here, the allure to visit lies in the laid-back pace and the vibrant colors of the streets. With all the incredible street art, several streets seem to be a free outdoor museum that you can peruse at your leisure. A museum of sorts, the shop Las Pallas, run by the fascinating Mari Solari, is a treasure trove of authentic Peruvian folk art. The quality of the pieces is such that even if you aren’t in the market to buy, a look is well worth your time.
There are several open areas to just relax. One of my favorites was the small park by the Puente de los Suspiros. Myth has it, that if you hold your breath during the first time you walk over the bridge, your wish will be granted (I’m still patiently waiting). Right next to the bridge is La Ermita, a church that lost its roof in an earthquake.
After the bustle of Miraflores and Central Lima, Barranco is the perfect area to relax and become lost amid the architecture, art, and color. It was my favorite area of Lima.
If you are planning to visit Peru, definitely consider spending a few days getting to know Lima. You won’t regret it.
Airport: Jorge Chávez International (LIM)
Getting from Airport: Taxi or bus service to Miraflores (trip is roughly 45 minutes)
Getting Around Town: Walking, taxi, or bus