Founded in 1535, Lima was the Spanish crown’s “City of Kings,” the richest and most important city in the Americas and considered to be the most beautiful colonial settlement in the region. Lima was home to some of the Americas’ finest baroque and Renaissance churches, palaces, and mansions, as well as the continent’s first university. Today’s modern capital, with a population of nearly 10 million—about one-third of Peru’s population—sprawling and chaotic Lima thoroughly dominates Peru’s political and commercial life. Although many travelers used to give it short shrift, Lima is newly welcoming to visitors. The historic centro is being spruced up, and spread across the capital are the country’s most creative restaurants, finest museums, and most vibrant nightlife. Limeño cuisine is the subject of growing international buzz, and foodies bent on a gastronomic tour of Peru are flocking to Lima’s diverse restaurant scene.

History—Peculiar in a modern capital, evidence of pre-Columbian culture exists throughout the city, with the remains of adobe pyramids next to high-rises. Founded by the conquistador Francisco Pizarro and for 2 centuries the headquarters of the Spanish Inquisition, the city’s colonial wealth and importance are on view throughout Lima Centro.

Sightseeing—Concentrate on colonial casonas and baroque churches in the historic center, as well as Peru’s finest collection of archaeology museums. Then see a gentler side of the city in outer suburbs such as bohemian Barranco or the former fishing village of Chorrillos.

advertisement

Eating & Drinking—Lima is not just the dining capital of Peru but the best eating city in South America. From cevicherías serving the city’s signature dish and neighborhood huariques (holes-in-the-wall) to some of the world’s top restaurants and Japanese and Chinese fusion cuisines, Lima’s got it all. It also has Peru’s best pisco bars; the pisco sour was born here, after all.

Arts & Culture—The city’s impressive art and archaeology museums serve as perfect introductions to the rich history and culture you’ll encounter elsewhere in Peru; not to be missed are Rafael Larco Herrera Museum, with the world’s largest private collection of pre-Columbian art, and Museo de la Nación, which traces the history of Peru’s ancient civilizations.

Shopping—Lima is Peru’s shopping mecca, with superb regional handicrafts from across the country, ranging from excellent handmade textiles and colonial-style artwork to altarpieces from Ayacucho. Most head straight to the big markets in Miraflores, but a better experience is browsing small boutiques and galleries run by collectors and connoisseurs, especially in Barranco.

advertisement

The Best Travel Experiences in Lima

  • Delving into a pre-Columbian past: Lima’s first-class museums are a great introduction to Peru’s complex ancient civilizations, from the Moche to the Chimú. But an unexpected tie to the past are the ancient adobe pyramids (such as Huaca Pucllana) plunked down in residential neighborhoods. 
  • Strolling colonial Lima: Newly safe and spruced-up Lima Centro is home to many of Peru’s best colonial and republican-era palaces and mansions, baroque and Renaissance churches. Strolling through the historic quarter makes plain the city’s great early importance. 
  • Savoring ceviche: Peru’s signature dish is a tantalizing plate of raw fish and/or shellfish marinated in lime or lemon juice and ajíes, or chili peppers. A plate of tangy ceviche served at an informal neighborhood restaurant—a huarique to locals—is an unforgettable Limeño experience. 
  • Kicking back in Barranco: This easygoing former seaside village with colorfully painted old houses is the place to go to get away when you’re feeling overwhelmed by Lima’s big-city chaos. Famous for its happening nightlife, increasingly it’s home to boutique hotels and terrific restaurants. 
  • Rocking a peña: Lima’s vibrant criolla music culture is on display at its peñas, lively music clubs where folkloric and Afro-Peruvian music and dance, emphasizing both percussion and audience participation, go deep into the night. You’ve got to hit at least one in Lima.