Updated January 9th, 2019.
Lima, Peru, is a huge city of eight million people which means it can feel overwhelming upon the first introduction. It is the 16th most densely populated city in the world. The reason sometimes travellers miss this dynamic city’s charm is because they don’t know where to look!
Founded in 1835 the by Spanish conquistador, Fransisco Pizarro, the city of Lima was purposefully built as a port and trade centre for the colony in transporting treasures back to the homeland.
Over 500 years, Lima prospered as the capital city through such economic booms as the ‘guano boom’, an influx of immigrants (many from China) and recently foreign investment. Lima is the world’s second largest desert city, after Cairo, Egypt.
Despite it’s lack of actual ‘things to do’, in my opinion, having been brought up in the city, the key to enjoying Lima is through absorbing its culture and of course – the food! Here, I help you get the most out of your visit to Lima.
Weather in Lima
Weather wise it never rains in Lima, only drizzles. However, humidity is over 90% all year long. The city is known for having changeless dull white skies during the winter time which can be a bit depressing (sorry Lima!). American author, Herman Melville described the city in the book, Moby Dick as the ‘strangest, saddest city’…
“Nor is it, altogether, the remembrance of her cathedral-toppling earthquakes; nor the stampedes of her frantic seas; nor the tearlessness of arid skies that never rain; nor the sight of her wide field of lean, annotating spires, wrenched cope-stones, and crosses all adroop (like canted yards of anchored fleets); and her suburban avenues of house-walls lying over upon each other, as a tossed pack of cards;–it is not these things alone which make tearless Lima, the strangest, saddest city thou can’st see. For Lima has taken the white veil; and there is a higher horror in this whiteness of her woe. Old as Pizarro, this whiteness keeps her ruins for ever new; admits not the cheerful greenness of complete decay; spreads over her broken ramparts the rigid pallor of an apoplexy that fixes its own distortions.”
The city however, is certainly thriving in terms of economy, commerce and being celebrated more than ever for its exciting gastronomic scene, which makes Lima the food capital of South America. Read some of the must-try dishes in peru here! Recently there has been a huge increase in expats living in Lima, mostly Spaniards and Latinos – as the city booms, job opportunities rise as Lima’s middle class continues to grow.
Where to stay in Lima
The most modern and upmarket area of Lima, where the rich folks reside, (as well as nearby San Isidrio) this barrio has the best views of the ocean and is conveniently located near all major areas. If you like shopping this is the district for you – with the swanky shopping mall ‘Larco Mar’ perched on top of the cliff. Also a great choice for foodies, as Miraflores is home to the majority of Lima’s swanky restaurants.
Popular Hostels in Miraflores: This is a location where many backpackers choose to stay in popular hostels such as Loki, Kokopelli, Pariwana (excellently located overlooking Parque Kennedy) and other smaller hostels such as Hitchhikers Hostel.
Popular Bars in Miraflores: Miraflores is also famous for its nightlife – try the following popular bars: Tayta Bar, Gotica, Huaringas, The Irish pub, Aura and Habana Bar.
This area is the bohemian styled gem of Lima. It’s colourful, quirky and not far from the beach. Young Limenian’s choose to go out here most weekends as it has a pulsing nightlife with many restaurants, bars and night clubs.
Popular Bars in Barranco: Must try bars include the trendy Ayahuasca, Sargento Pimienta, Toro Retro Bar, Peña del Carajo (Criolla Music) and many Little no-name bars that you will come across!
Food in Lima
Local Peruvian chef superstar, Gaston Acurio, has become famous worldwide for his ‘fusion’ dishes and for putting Lima on the map. His restaurant chain ‘Astrid y Gaston’ (Astrid is his wife) is often considered to be one of the best restaurants in the world, as well as the raved-about El Mercado. Both restaurants can be found in Miraflores and if you are willing to splash out to treat yourself – should not be missed!
On a level that’s healthier for your budget, however, mid-price restaurants can be found all over the city, notably in Barranco and Miraflores. Check out the sushi place, Sashimito in Barranco which has creative fusion Japanese/Peruvian sushi dishes, such as Lomo Saltado Sushi and Huancaina Sushi (pictured below). This is still the best sushi that I have ever tasted in my life!
Other must-tries are Burrito Bar in Barranco (okay so it’s not Peruvian but soooo good!) there’s not even as sign outside, so just ask where it is from the main plaza in Barranco. Also try El Pescaderia (French owned) and Gourmet Burger Bar as mid-range options.
And if you’re wanting to go cheap – there are loads of Chifas (Chinese restaurants) in Lima where you can get a huge chaufa (fried rice) for as little as 9 soles. Lima has the largest Chinese community in all of Latin America and thus a fairly impressive China town – a great place to try Peruvian-infused Chinese food!
Must-Try Restaurants in Lima
That depends on your budget. Prices of food in Lima are increasing, and right now I would call it pricey but affordable.
- La Lucha Sangucheria. One of the best places for sandwiches, located right by Parque Kennedy. El Preferido is a must try!
- La Bistecca. Expensive but extremely good. It’s an all you can eat restaurant, with a wide variety of cuisines, but luckily everything has a Peruvian touch.
- Burrito Bar. It’s one of those small hole in the wall finds that Barranco is famous for. It has the best burritos in Lima.
- Any common Chifa (Chinese food done Latin America style). This is good for the pocket, arroz chaufa, fried rice with chicken, is the cheapest dish.
- Edo Sushi Bar. For the sushi lovers, this has been called the best fusion dining location in the whole country.
- Punta Azul. The best place to try the national dish of Peru: Ceviche (and you can’t leave Peru without sampling this one)!
Things to do in Lima
1. Visit Downtown Lima
Most people head directly to the Centro Historico, where you can see the main square, the cathedral and Plaza San Martin. From my point of view (a Peruvian) this is not the best of Lima. Unless you are really into architecture and history the best of Lima lies in the common things.
However, a walking tour (such as the Free Walking Tour Lima) is a great way to learn more about the city. You’ll watch the elaborate performance of the ‘changing of the guards’ outside the Lima Government Palace, visit a couple of churches and taste Pisco sours (of course!). The tour works solely on tips.
2. Go Surfing in Makaha
If you come in summer you should go surfing in Makaha, at the bottom of Miraflores. It’s not quite Hawaii but it is fun, there are lots of people, dogs, and sometimes even llamas! You can also surf in the winter but I wouldn’t recommend it!
3. Parasailing in Miraflores
As you sip a latte in Starbucks in Larco Mar Shopping Centre, you may notice para-sailers leaping off the cliffs of Miraflores – so why not give it a go! Check out Paragliding Peru for more information.
4. Ride the combis
Ride the combis (local transport vans). This is a good way to see the daily things in Lima. You can use them to connect all parts of the city, but they are especially helpful for backpackers traveling from Miraflores to the city centre.
5. Go shopping
Go shopping in Polvos Azules. It’s kind of a flea market but it has a good variety of well known brands for clothing. Plus, it is cheaper than any other place that I’ve found.
6. Take a coastal walk
Walk the whole Miraflores Malecon. It has the best views of the coast of Lima, and while you’re at it why not take in the views while parasailing over the Pacific ocean.
7. Drink Pisco Sours
Drink a couple of Pisco Sours at Bolivar Hotel in Plaza San Martin.
8. Explore the barrio of Barranco
Get lost in Barranco. You can find some pretty weird places, I’ll leave that adventure up to you!
9. Hang out in Parque Kennedy
Walk around Miraflores Kennedy Park on a Friday or Saturday. You will find Peruvian artists and students selling their paintings and handicrafts.
You can’t leave the city until you’ve tried these 10 amazing Peruvian foods!
Where to go next?
- Huaraz: Gateway to the second-highest mountain range in the world, Huaraz in eight hours by bus from Lima. Dig out your hiking boots, book a trek and prepare for some spectacular scenery!
- Trujillo: Atmospheric city further up the northern coast of Peru with impressive archaelogical ruins of Pre-Incan civilizations, great surf and good restaurants!
- Paracas: Lazy beach town just three hours from Lima, jumping off point for Islas Ballestas (known as Peru’s little Galapagos Islands).
- Ica and Huacachina: A backpacker haven with enormous sand dunes for sand boarding, lively hostels and wine tours.
NB: The best way out of the airport is by taxi. No doubt about that, as public transport can be a bit unreliable and dodgy.
About the author: Andres Nuñez del Prado is a Peruvian native who calls Lima home when he is not out exploring and photographing the world. Having recently finished a trip around the world Andres is now back in South America (for the time being!), check out his video project: 300 Days of Life.