Where to stay: I highly recommend staying in the district of Miraflores – one of the more upscale neighborhoods in the city that is tourist-safe, by the ocean, and has good restaurants. Most of the large hotel chains are present here, as are independent hotels with similar standards.
Historic Center of Lima: Start by driving to the Historic Downtown area, located in the city cener and Rimac areas of Lima, around a 45-minute drive from Miraflores. The area was a strong hold during the city’s colonial history and is the home to quaint Spanish arcitecture. All these places are a short walk from each other. along streets lined with now-abandoned houses with colonial architecture-esque facades.
1)You could begin your day at a slightly morbid, claustrophobic (read on to know why) yet beautiful Convent of San Francisco. The church is Spanish Baroque styled on the outside, but it is the inside that allures most visitors.
The catacombs below the monastery were Lima’s first cemetery and is estimated to contain over 70,000 burials. The catacombs are labyrinths with narrow corridors and many skulls and bones, some even arranged in patterns. So, if you are claustrophobic or are over 6-feet and have problems hunching for a short while, you may want to skip this. If not, there’s nothing eerie or squeamish about the catacombs. If anything, they remind you of rituals and respect that was shown to the dead, back in the 18th and 19th centuries. Photography was not allowed here, so I don’t have much to show. But you could Google these pictures, if you’re really curious.
Don’t miss convent’s world-renowned library. Photography was not allowed here, so once again I’ll skip the pictures. The library has over 25,000 antique texts, the more famous ones being the first ever Spanish dictionary and a printed version of the Holy Bible from 1571. The campus also has beautifully gardened courtyards and balconies.
2)After you’re done with this, walk around and you’ll be sure to stumble across colonial churches, cathedrals, buildings, and palaces that it is hard to miss anything.
For ease, you could start with Plaza Mayor. This is where Francisco Pizarro – a Spanish conquistador officially founded the city of Lima.
3)Surrounding the Plaza are important buildings like the Government Palace – where the President lives, the Municipal Palace – which houses the Municipality of the city and where the Mayor’s office operates from, the Cathedral of Lima, the Archbishop’s Palace of Lima, and many others in between these important ones. The 360 view from the Plaza is quite the supply of colonial architecture and history that you’d need since you last closed your history text books in high school. The extra effort to walk to and inside the Cathedral of Lima is definitely worth it. If you’re lucky,you may witness the change of guard ceremony outside the Presidential Palace, a la Buckingham Palace.
This should take up most your morning, so get back to Miraflores or any other place you spot for a good lunch.
4)Reserve the second half of the day for a trip to the museum – Museo Larco. This is located in the Pueblo Libre district, around 20-30 minutes from Miraflores.
Many wrongs make a right? Well, yes, at least in the case of Museo Larco. The museum is the only place with remnants of Lima’s pre-colonial history. Many Spanish colonial plunderers looted most of it before they left. Larco was one such fine gentleman too – he spent most of his life looting and plundering. One day, he ended up having so much loot that he opened his own museum – instantly transforming him to collector and historian. Eventually, artifacts from others were collected and housed in this museum, providing a window to the lives of Lima’s indigenous ancestors.
The museum itself is in a farmhouse-like property with Bougainvillea and all.
The museum houses artifacts from multiple coeval and successive dynasties from across Peru. These include (but an exhaustive list) the Chimu and Mochica dynasty from the Northern Coast; the Lima dynasty from well, the Lima Coast; the famous Nazcas (remember the large, mysterious Nazca lines draw on open fields) and Chinchas from the Southern Coast; the Huaris and of course, the Incas from the mountains of Peru.
The highlight of the museum is the Erotic section. This is more A-rated than most movies these days, so you might want to keep kids out of this section. It is housed at a completely different level, not linked to the main museum floor. Just goes to show that sex, sexual desires and fetishes exhited way before Playboy and the internet.
For the evening, you could grab dinner at one of Miraflores’ many famed restaurants, including the popular Le Mar (from NYC fame). You should definitely stick to an only-fish diet if possible. Lima’s Pacific waters are home to the world’s best supply of fish. So it is as fresh as they can get. I doubt you’d leave without trying the Ceviche, but if you were planning to skip – don’t. Try it, even if it is just a couple of bites. Because Peruvian food is hitting an all-time high on the world food scene, I’m going to dedicate an entire post on what you must try when in Peru. Coming soon on the blog!
Day 1 was all colonial. Day 2 involves more time traveling.
5)First stop, Huaca Pucllana – a pyramid-temple surrounded by a city built by the Lima dynasty, somewhere between 200 AD and 700 AD. I recommend walking to this site, if you’re staying anywhere in the Miraflores district. If it is a weekend with nice weather, you may be lucky enough to shake a leg or ride a bike along the city’s main roads and wide avenues.
Huaca Pucllana is a must-see. Only because you are either back from or will soon be heading to the obvious reason behind your vacation – visiting Machu Picchu. Comparing the two sites will put a lot of things in perspective. For one, this site was over 1200 years older than Machu Picchu and used a complete different, and may i say – advanced, architecture by use of adobe books (same science used to this day).The city was built and inhabited by people from the Lima culture and eventually taken over by a number of other dynasties. Note the differences in cultures of the coast and the highlands. For eg: at this structure, the pyramid was built as a temple for the ocean – the most powerful goddess of the ancient Lima people, whereas at Machu Picchu, you will see how the Incas revered the mountains and the sun as the most powerful forces.
So how does such an old pyramid made of water-soluble bricks still stand intact? It hardly ever rains in Lima. The city is situated on a highly earthquake-prone belt though, but you will soon see how the usage of small bricks was intended to withstand earthquakes.
There are English and Spanish guided walking tours included with the entry ticket to Huaca Pucllana, which I definitely recommend being part of.
6) Grab a nice lunch on the way to , or if you can hold on to your hunger, head straight to (taxis wait right outside Huaca Pucllana) to Larco Mar – one of the most beautiful malls I’ve ever been to. I never thought I’d say this about a mall in Peru, but what the hell, it’s true. The mall is on a cliff and faces the Pacific ocean, with open levels – a refreshing break from enclosed air-conditioned malls that are dime a dozen elsewhere in the world. With plenty of options, you could dive into your typical food court-type food, but I’d rather you not. There are food restaurants serving authentic Peruvian food. Once again, coastal cuisine dominates. Grab a beer (Cusquena is the local beer) or one of the many desserts. One of the recommended food options, which I did not try, but you definitely should is – Pardo’s Chicken which makes coal-roasted chicken with Peruvian herbs. Don’t forget to try the local soft drink Chica Morada (made of purple corn), if you haven’t already. Like I said, read here for more on what to eat when in Peru.
Larco Mar is also a great place to spend some time with breathtaking ocean views, if you have a few more hours to spend in the city before leaving. It’s relaxing and gives you a few choices to buy gifts, if you want.
7) After lunch, stroll around the mall and along Malecon de la Marina. Its a six-mile stretch of parks along the cliff overlooking the ocean, on which the mall is situated. You will see bikes, skateboards, families, even open-air gym equipment.
8)A five minute walk will take you to El parque del Amor or the Park of Love. Stay on until sunset and watch the beautiful sunset on the Pacific horizon. I call it meditation-meets-inspiration. Walk north-wards to reach the starting point for parasailers. If the weather is good and it is not a madly windy day, you can parasail accompanied by a trained guide. Prices are around $50 for 10 minutes. I’m sure it will be worth it. Just be sure to get there well before 5 pm.
9) The neighboring bohemian district called Barranco is supposedly the hub of nightlife culture with multiple restaurants, bars, and clubs. This district is tourist-safe, so not to worry. Unfortunately, I missed this out so I don’t have personal recommendations but I hear that any of the places in the district make for good times.
10)Before that, however, don’t forget to walk across the Bridge of Sighs. Folklore goes that you hold you make a wish, hold your breath and walk the bridge without exhaling/inhaling. If you do, your romantic or otherwise wish a will come true! More quaint and nicely painted buildings are good sights to see in Barranco, as you walk along and explore the neighborhood.
And if you have more time and don’t know what else to do, hop onto one of the double-decker hop-on-hop-off tour buses, NYC-style. Mirabus is another option, but it mostly takes you only through Miraflores. Tickets can be bought at Larco Mar. The bus takes you around the city to other sights that you may have missed, like the Magic Water Circuit amidst others. Keep in mind, that these are expensive and will not give you the luxury of time at any of the sights, since it does spend a lot of time in traffic.
So that’ that. More to come on Peru. But I must say, Lima surprised me. Of course I might have only seen fancy parts of the city, from what I saw, I judged it to be one of the cleaner cities in the world.
Lima is clean, welcoming, laid-back, steeped in history, and has great food. However, contradictory to its long history and somewhat unpleasant past, it is a NEW emerging city, and you’ll notice how new it really is. It is expanding quickly, is more open to the world, is educated and employed, has a large middle-class, and more importantly has set itself up to join the big league cities and nations of the North. Salut to that!