Many visitors to Lima are merely on their way to other places in Peru, and few spend more than a couple of days in the capital. But because nearly all transport goes through Lima, most people take advantage of layovers to see what distinguishes the city: its colonial old quarter -- once the finest in the Americas -- and several of the finest museums in Peru, all of which serve as magnificent introductions to Peruvian history and culture.
Much of the historic center has suffered from sad neglect; the municipal government is committed to restoring the aesthetic value, but, with limited funds, it faces a daunting task. Today central Lima has a noticeable police presence and is considerably safer than it was just a few years ago. A full day in Lima Centro should suffice; depending on your interests, you could spend several days traipsing through Lima's many museum collections, many of which are dispersed in otherwise unremarkable neighborhoods. But for those with a couple extra days in the city, when Lima's traffic and grit get to you, head to the artsy coastal neighborhood, Barranco, home to Lima's best nightlife and the site of a handful of excellent small museums. It will likely greatly improve your impressions of the capital.
Me Ama, No Me Ama, Me Ama . . . -- A curious park along the ocean at the edge of Miraflores, much beloved by Limeños looking to score, is the Parque del Amor (literally, "Love Park"), designed by the Peruvian artist Victor Delfín with a nod to Antoni Gaudí's Parque Güell in Barcelona, Spain. It features good views of the sea (when it's not shrouded in heavy fog), benches swathed in broken-tile mosaics, and, most amusingly, a giant, rather grotesque statue of a couple making out -- which is pretty much what everyone does nearby. Benches are inscribed with sentimental murmurs of love, such as vuelve mi palomita. If it's Valentines Day, stand back.
All That Glitters Isn't Necessarily Gold
The privately held Museo Oro del Perú (Gold Museum), for decades the most visited museum in Peru, was part of a must-see museum triumvirate in Lima only a few years ago. But that was before the National Institute of Culture and the Tourism Protection Bureau declared just about everything in the museum -- some 7,000 or more pieces -- to be fake. The massive collection, mainly consisting of supposed pre-Columbian gold, was assembled by one man, Miguel Mujica Gallo -- who, perhaps fortunately, died just days before the investigation into his collection was launched. Although the museum was expensive and poorly organized, all that glittering gold -- augmented by hundreds (if not thousands) of ceremonial objects, tapestries, masks, ancient weapons, clothing, several mummies, and military weaponry from medieval Europe to ancient Japan -- certainly caught many a visitor's eye over the years. Though the museum contends that everything on display is authentic, it's pretty difficult to recommend visiting a collection with such a fraudulent history. The museum is located at Av. Alonso de Molina 1100, Monterrico (tel. 01/345-1292; www.museoroperu.com.pe; daily 11:30am-7pm; admission S/33 for adults, S/16 for students. A taxi is the most direct way here; coming by colectivo involves taking at least two buses along Arequipa to Avenida Angamos, changing to one marked UNIVERSIDAD DE LIMA, and asking the driver to let you off at the Museo de Oro.
Cool Breeze in Barranco
Although it's a residential neighborhood and not immediately thought of as having many tourist sights, apart from the small Museo de Arte Colonial Pedro de Osma, the charming seaside district of Barranco is still one of the highlights of Lima. Its serenity and laid-back artiness is a welcome contrast to the untidy and seedy character of rest of the city, and a stroll around the tranquil side streets of brightly colored bungalows is the best way to restore your sanity. It's little wonder that artists and writers have long been drawn to Barranco. Beneath the poetically named wooden footbridge Puente de los Suspiros (Bridge of Sighs) is a gentle passageway, La Bajada de Baños, which leads to a sea lookout and is lined with lovely, squat single-family houses, spindly trees, and stout cacti. During the daytime, the barrio is mellow and tropical-feeling, with sultry breezes coming in from the sea, but at night the area is transformed into Lima's hedonistic hot spot, with locals and visitors flocking to the discos and watering holes here -- much to the dismay of local residents who don't own a bar or restaurant.
Archaeological Sites in Lima
Lima is hardly the epicenter of pre-Columbian Peru, and few visitors have more than the museums featuring ancient Peruvian cultures on their minds when they hit the capital. Surprisingly, there are a handful of huacas -- adobe pyramids -- that date to around A.D. 500 and earlier interspersed among the modern constructions of the city. The archaeological sites are junior examples of those found in northern Peru, near Chiclayo and Trujillo. If you're not headed north, Lima's huacas, which have small museums attached, are worth a visit.
In San Isidro is Huaca Huallamarca (also called Pan de Azúcar, or "Sugar Loaf"), at the corner of Avenida Nicolás de Rivera and Avenida El Rosario. The perhaps overzealously restored adobe temple of the Maranga Lima culture has several platforms and is frequently illuminated for special presentations. It's open Tuesday through Sunday from 9am to 5pm; admission is S/5 for adults and S/3 for students. Also in San Isidro is the Huaca Juliana, a pre-Inca mound dating to A.D. 400. It's at Calle Belén at Pezet and keeps the same hours as Huallamarca; admission is free. Huaca Pucllana is a sacred pyramid, built during the 4th century and still undergoing excavation, in Miraflores at the corner of calles General Borgoño (Block 8) and Tarapacá, near Avenida Arequipa (tel. 01/445-8695; http://pucllana.perucultural.org.pe). It has a small park, a terrific restaurant, and an artesanía gallery. From the pyramid's top, you can see the roofs of this busy residential and business district. It's open Wednesday through Monday from 9am to 4pm; admission is S/5 and S/3 for students.
Unfortunately, a few of these sites occasionally do not keep consistent hours, so you might find yourself staring through a chain-link fence if there's no one on hand to let you in.