They say that first impressions count, and Lima was no exception. This vibrant metropolis was my first stop exploring South America, and it has quite literally shaken all my senses.
It’s difficult to describe exactly how you feel and everything that’s going on around you, so my best advice is to go and visit it! Though to help, here is what I’d recommend as the must dos when you visit the former capital of the Spanish Empire in South America. Get in touch if you have any other questions / things you’d like to know.
Take the bus – There are two types of busses, the metropolitan and the local buses (I call it the crazy bus!) Both really easy to use once you get how they work, the metropolitan is good for getting from Miraflores to Lima city / Lima city to Barranco, you can either buy a top up card from the station for 5 soles, then each journey is 2.50 soles, or you can give 2.50 soles to a local and they will scan their card for you, this is a very normal thing to do.
The local (crazy) buses are good for shorter trips, only 1 soles per journey and differ by coloured stripes on the side of the bus: for example one will have a green red and white stripes down the side. To make it easier, the routes are also written on the sides of the bus, each have around 5-6 stops in total.
Take a free walking tour – I went with ‘I ❤️ Lima’ and it was great! A couple of hours taking you around the city, getting you used to transport and general info. A really helpful start to the trip.
EAT & drink! – Lima is known for its food so prepare yourself to eat big! Put yourself out there and try food you have never tried! My favourites where Tacu Tacu, Anticucho (vegan version), Picarones, Pisco, Chicha, Fresa juice.
Safety – Overall Lima is a safe place and you can feel that, plenty of tourist police around too. General rules apply of being aware and keeping a hold of things, though it’s not a dangerous city at all.
What to do in Lima!? My top 17 by area:
Downtown / Miraflores / Barranco
Lima has 43 different districts. Massive, right? You’ll find all kinds of architecture, from the charming colonial buildings to modern skyscrapers, and business districts to favelas on the outskirts of the metropolitan area. So, where is best to go?!
Spanish conqueror Francisco Pizarro arrived to Lima in 1535 and he founded the city centre in ‘Plaza de Armas’, a clear example of how the religion and political powers were one in colonial South America.
Even though several earthquakes have destroyed all the original buildings, the ‘centro histórico’ has been reconstructed to its original look, so you can travel back in time to the colonial era.
1. Take a wonder – It may sound cliche, though spend some time wondering the streets, soaking up the surroundings and adjusting to the hustle and bustle, you’ll need to! It’s a grid system, making it easy to navigate around the square and surrounding streets.
2. See the tombs! – Catacombs, San Francisco Church. Take a guided tour of the historical church, the Franciscan monastery and its impressive gardens, including the creepy catacombs. Cost: 15 soles. Plaza de San Francisco.
3. Religion or Torture!? – Museum of the Spanish Saint Inquisition. For those in touch with their kinky side, you’ll find plenty of tools and torture techniques used by the Spanish inquisitors… Ok, maybe these methods are going to far! Their main duty was to ensure everyone followed the catholic rule in a very sadistic way. Cost: Free. Plaza Bolivar, Jiron Junin.
4. Skull of a Saint! – Church of Saint Domingo. Catholics love their relics and if you want to see two of the most adored ones by Peruvians, you need to visit this church. Find the altar with the figure of the Saint Rosa, patron of the city. Look twice beneath the figures and you’ll find the actual skull of the saint! Free. Jiron Camana, 170.
5. Drink Pisco on a rooftop! – Plenty of places to do this, though after some spy work I seemed to stumble across this undiscovered rooftop bar with prime views over the square! It’s not obvious to get to at all, which is why I think it’s unknown. Strong Pisco… enjoy! ‘Moyas’, Jiron Huallaga 160, 4th floor.
6. Listen to changing of the guard – This is not an official ceremony like in the U.K, though nontheless it is still impressive! It takes place daily at 11:45am and 17:45pm and the army will play tunes you know well!
7. Embrace the most full on market street! – This may have been due to a Religious festival that took place whilst I was in Lima, though one street was packed beyond all others, and full of traders ranging from Churros sellers, to people demonstrating T.V aerials! It’s a full on walk down one street, though its also great fun! Abancay Av.
8. See the favelas – I didn’t realise these existed in Lima until the walking tour. A couple of days later I crossed the bridge to explore the first couple of streets, a completely different vibe and definitely one to experience, though with caution. This is a more dangerous place than Lima downtown, not one to be wondering down a side street with your phone or camera out. Stick to the streets with a lot of people and though a wonder further up the mountain is tempting, guides and locals advised me against it.
Most probably you’ll be staying in this area. It’s like a new Lima. It’s busy, close to the ocean with an up-market vibe and plenty of leisure spots. It’s also the safest area in the metropolis, with easy access via the metropolitano bus.
Miraflores has something for everyone; from chilled cafes overlooking the ocean to paragliding over the cliffs. You name it! Here are our must do’s:
9. Bike or walk down the Malecon at sunset – You can rent a bike from your hostel or rental places for around $8 a day. El Malecon is a long coastal walk, stretching for miles along the ocean and you’ll find lots to do – chilled parks, sports & cafe’s. Check out ‘ BuenaVista Café’ for an incredible view overlooking the Pacific – an awesome spot to watch the sun go down!
10. Eat Picarones with cats in Kennedy Park! – Another beautiful square, yet completely different from Plaza de Armas. This small-sized park is perfect for people watching and enjoy one of Peru’s best sweet treats: Picarones (sweet potato donuts). A good few years back the area had mice problems, so the council brought a few cats to get rid of the mice! The kitties did their job, though they loved the park, decided to multiply and stay! Nowadays, they all live in the park, protected, fed & watered by the council, a good life for a cat! Isn’t it nice?!
11. Visit the Park of love – Giving yourself some love or with your partner, either way it’s a nice place to visit with great views. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see the statue of two lovers!
I named this district ‘Shoreditch by the Sea’. Barranco is the most bohemian, hippy and hipster area of Lima. You can get there from Miraflores by walking along the Malecon or taking a crazy bus! The streets are full traditional & modern art along with some very colourful houses. Grab your camera & get exploring!
12. Immerse yourself in street art – Follow the walls of art & you’ll see some really impressive paintings and bold, inspirational messages!
13. Discover the bridge of equality – At least that’s what we called it! A bridge with people from all different backgrounds and cultures painted in the arches. Promoting equality & acceptance, with the message being – no matter our background, we are stronger together ❤️
14. Soak up the street music – In Barranco’s main square you’ll find an abundance of street music performers when the sun starts to set. There’s a lot of talent & some really impressive artists as its a popular place for musicians starting out! A nice chilled vibe.
15. Hold your breath at the Bridge of Sighs! – Legend has it that if you can cross the whole bridge whilst holding your breath and making a wish, your wishes will come true! It’s a popular spot for couples and also funny to watch people running across the bridge trying to complete the challenge!
16. Go to a Peña – Wait, a what?! A pena is a meeting place where you can enjoy live ‘Peruvian’ music whilst feasting on traditional dishes. Expect traditional outfits & quite a touristy crowd! We heard the most authentic in Barranco is ‘La Candelaria‘ (Avenida Bolognesi 282).
17. Chill in a leafy cafe – You can’t call yourself a hipster if you don’t hang out in a trendy, leafy, organic cafe, right? Barranco has a few of these and I think I found the coolest of all just a couple of minutes from the main square. ‘Las Vecinas‘ is located in an old colonial house: plenty of character, high ceilings and very cool rooms, even the bathroom. It’s pricey, though worth it as a treat, make sure you try their organic Peruvian coffee and Guacamole with Peruvian papas, the tastiest I’ve ever had! (Calle Domeyer 219)
Have you been to Lima and have more to add, or heading there and would like to know more? Feel free to get in touch / comment below.