Most travellers heading to Peru will most likely touch down in the capital, but quickly move on to other more popular destinations such as Cusco and Arequipa.
The truth is that Lima too has many incredible things to do and see – it just requires a little more effort to find out what and where they are.
From surfing along its perfect waves to exploring one of the most comprehensive pre-Columbian history museums on the planet, you may just find that Lima pleasantly surprises you too (After all, I only planned a few days and now live here!).
Is Lima worth visiting?
Yes, Lima is highly worth visiting! While cities like Cusco and Arequipa are especially tourist-friendly, the bustling capital offers a different experience, being the perfect destination for those who want to explore an unfiltered and diverse culture. There are many fantastic things to see and do — and we’ll share the best ones with you in this guide.
Reasons to visit Lima
With its multicultural roots being shared between indigenous Peru, Europe and Asia, Lima has since evolved into one of the most upcoming food destinations on earth.
From must-try dishes such as Lomo Saltado and Ceviche to the local staples of Papa a la Huancaina and Papa Rellena, I recommend trying a menu ejecutivo at a local restaurant where you can sample the most authentic Peruvian cuisine (it’s cheap and will also fill you up well).
You’ll also find in Lima a clash between colonial architecture and ancient ruins, which gives us a great insight into Peru’s colourful yet turbulent past.
The Historic Centre is full of European-style architecture, with the Plaza de Armas and the Torre Tagla Palace among the most striking. You’ll even find crumbling ruins within the city of Lima too! Huaca Pucllana was a formidable adobe city that was built as early as 200 AD, and lies just a few blocks north of Parque Kennedy in Miraflores.
Another reason why Lima is worth heading to is for the climate. Due to its positioning between the cool Pacific and the towering Andes, it has created a unique micro-climate here which means it almost never rains.
This makes it impossible for your travel plans to get ruined by unexpected weather, whilst it has also led to amazing natural phenomena such as the green rolling hills of the Lomos de Lúcumo during the summer months.
1 Day in Lima
As much as I’d love travellers to stay longer here, it’s not always the case and you may be in a rush. If that’s you, then below you can find the perfect one day itinerary for Lima.
Waking up early, you can head straight to the Plaza de Armas in the historic centre to see beautiful buildings like the Torre Tagle Palace, and also the presidential palace inside the Plaza de Armas.
After wandering around, you’ll then visit the picturesque San Francisco Convent, where you tour to see its beautiful rooms and courtyard before entering the creepy catacombs below (it’s the second biggest of its kind in the world!).
Now we’ll take a colectivo to Miraflores, where you can then explore the incredible terrace-layered ruins of Huaca Pucllana. From here you can grab some lunch at Aries (one of my favourites which has the menu ejecutivo), and then walk around Parque Kennedy and pet the dozens of cats who are full-time residents here.
From here you can head down to the Costa Verde, either renting a bike and cycling to Barranco (the Puente de los Suspiros is a must-see), or going surfing in the consistent, rolling waves of the Pacific. If you’re quick you could even fit both in too before you need to leave Lima.
Whether you have one or several days in Lima, the following are some of the best things you can do.
10 Best Things to See and Do
1. Explore the San Francisco Catacombs
Starting off our list we have perhaps the eeriest and spookiest destination of all in Lima.
Lurking beneath the San Francisco Monastery, these catacombs are a large network of secret passages and tunnels that are known for housing over 25,000 skeletal remains.
Only the catacombs in Paris are bigger, making this otherwise unknown destination in Lima the second largest of its kind on the planet!
To enter you’ll first need to buy a guided tour ticket from the entrance to the monastery, where you’ll first be shown around the convent. Here you’ll see many colourful murals depicting different religious events, a picturesque courtyard as well as one of the most comprehensive libraries of its kind in Latin America.
After you’ll then head down into the catacombs below, where you’ll see skulls perched on ledges as well as human bones perfectly arranged in different shapes. Be sure to bring a jumper since it can get quite cold down there.
This site is located on the north end of Plaza San Francisco, which is just two blocks away from the Plaza de Armas in the Historic Centre. This guided tour is another great way to visit the Catacombs.
2. Go Surfing along Lima’s Coast
Peru is known for a lot of things, though surfing is not usually one to top most lists. Whilst many prefer to head to the warmer waters of Chiclayo or Máncora in the north, it’s in fact Lima that has some of the best and most consistent waves of all.
Known as the Costa Verde, here you’ll find many great spots along this Pacific coastline. Miraflores is one of the best districts to head to, where these perfect waves never seem to stop rolling in.
You can either book a surf lesson online beforehand, or you can head down to Playa Makaha where you’ll find surf rentals and instructors ready to go. Punta Hermosa is another popular option, whilst those who are more experienced may like the more challenging waves of those found in La Herradura.
Whilst Lima is great for surfing year-round, those who don’t like the cold will want to come during Peru’s warmer summer season, which runs from November until February. Regardless of when you do come, you’ll still need a wetsuit given how cold the waters are.
3. Discover the Huaca Pucllana Ruins
If ancient ruins are on your list of things to see when coming to Peru (and they really should be given the country’s unique and deep history), then you’ll find that you won’t even have to wait until Cusco for your first taste of pyramid delights.
The Huaca Pucllana Ruins were first built in 500 CE by the Lima culture, who flourished in these lands way before the time of the Inca. This site was known for housing the elite of this civilisation, with the seven layered and terraced pyramid the most important feature here.
Since its recent excavation, many tombs have been unearthed which shed more intimate details on how the Lima culture lived, as well as the fact that human sacrifices were also a common way of life.
The Huaca Pucllana Ruins are located within the upscale district of Miraflores, and you can easily walk here from Parque Kennedy in just 20 minutes.
4. Visit Barranco
This edgy district is one of the must-visit areas when coming to Lima. Located in the south bordering Miraflores, Barranco is known for its more relaxed pace of life, where you’ll find jazz musicians serenading on the street as well as novel markets popping up every now and then around the Parque Municipal.
One of the best things to do here is to walk from the Park along the Bajada del Baños, where you’ll see the infamous Puente de Los Suspiros.
After spending time here and visiting the statues in the Plazuela Chabuca Grande, you can then head to La Posada del Mirador which is right at the end of the street (at the edge of the cliffs). Here you can eat some really nice traditional foods, as well as try Pisco – the national drink of Peru.
Barranco is also well known for its street art. You’ll find some of the best creations along Pedro de Osma Avenue as well as the connecting street of Jirón Dos de Mayo. You can see these along with an included visit to the Pachacamac Ruins with this guided tour.
Whilst you can easily take a taxi or Uber here, I recommend heading on a bike from nearby Miraflores, which perfectly leads into our next activity…
5. Cycle along the Costa Verde
One of the things that make Lima stand out as a capital city among others in Latin America is its expansive Pacific coastline.
Known as the Costa Verde (translated as “green coast”), this area gets its name from the bright green vegetation that’s found on its cliffs, which makes this 20 km long coastline even more striking.
Whilst there are many different districts and hidden beaches to explore along the route, I would say that the stretch from San Isidro to Barranco is the most picturesque. Exploring by bike is perfect, since they have lanes for riders as well as numerous CityBike stations where you can pick up and drop off as you please.
This route will take you between 1-2 hours to get there, where you will see gardens, a lighthouse as well as some perfect vantage points for looking out over the Pacific Ocean.
Those who want more adventure can continue on to Chorrillos, and up to Morro Solar which in my opinion has the best views over Lima. You can also join this group bike tour which covers the same route.
Whilst the summer season is best for clear skies and better views, you can easily ride any time of the year. Just make sure to stick to the bike lanes, since driving in Peru isn’t known to be the best thing around!
6. Bar Hop along the Calle de las Pizzas
Those looking to have a few beers (or fully throw down) will love Lima. Whilst it’s not quite Rio, there’s still a lively nightlife scene that really comes alive from Thursday onwards.
Miraflores is one of the best districts for heading out after dark, with Calle de las Pizzas one of the best streets to visit. This short avenue is located right next to Parque Kennedy and is filled with 20+ restaurants, bars and nightclubs that each give their own vibe and energy to this busy avenue.
Some of the best bars to visit here include Atrio Restobar as well as Strega Rooftop. Those after a more authentic, Latin night out will love Son de Cuba, which plays salsa music and is often filled with locals who are looking to get loose.
Whilst it can feel seedy at times (by this I mean getting offered drugs and prostitutes every now and then), it’s still a great place to kick off the night and get the drinks flowing.
I also recommend heading to the nearby Selina or Pariwana hostels, which often have lively parties most nights of the week.
7. Hike along the Lomas de Lúcumo
This is an absolute must for nature lovers, photographers or those looking for a nice day trip out of Lima. The Lomas de Lúcumo are a series of hills that are located roughly 40 km from the historic centre of Lima and are known for their incredible green foliage.
Before hopping on a bus here, it’s important for me to first mention that this is not a year-round site, and only occurs from the months of June until early October. This is because the area has a unique microclimate that traps moisture from the Pacific, leading to this stunning bloom in an otherwise arid, desert climate.
As well as walking along its weaving hiking trails, here you’ll also see bizarre rock formations, ancient cave paintings and even wildlife such as hawks and foxes. The very best months to visit are July and August, which is when the hills are at their most green.
The Lomas de Lúcumo are located within the Pachacámac district and can be reached in just over an hour of driving (or 2 hours when taking public transportation).
8. Learn at the Larco Museum
Peru has one of the most interesting ancient histories in all of the Americas, and I’d put it as a good candidate for the world too!
From the early days of the Caral Civilisation, which was founded in 2600 BC (the second oldest settlement on earth), there have since been a diverse variety of ethnic groups. These range from the Inca Empire to the Moche and Chavín cultures. And the very best way to learn about them all is by heading to the Larco Museum in Lima.
This archaeological museum is home to over 45,000 pre-Columbian artefacts, which makes it one of the most comprehensive of its kind in the world. Inside you’ll find numerous ceramics, textiles and golden objects that were once used by these various ancient tribes. You’ll also find a diverse range of Erotic Pottery too, giving a sneaky insight into some of their more fun pastimes all those years ago.
The Larco Museum is located within the Pueblo Libre district, which is easily accessible by Bus or Taxi.
9. Join a Walking Tour around the Historic Centre
Lima’s historic centre is a gift in itself, where you can easily get lost walking around with its abundance of architectural delights and picturesque plazas.
This area is of course where Lima was born, following the infamous speech and declaration from Francisco Pizarro himself in 1535.
Most of the buildings still standing are from this distinct colonial period, which incorporates many designs and styles found over in Spain. Whilst I’m a solid advocate for just walking randomly and seeing where you end up, this time I highly recommend going with this walking tour in Lima’s Historic Centre.
Here you’ll have a professional guide show you around, where you’ll visit the Plaza de Armas and other notable squares such as Plaza San Martin.
You’ll also learn about key historical landmarks which include the Presidential Palace (which is often the source of controversy even nowadays) as well as the Metropolitan Cathedral with its Neoclassical and Renaissance architectural styles.
10. Day Trip to Caral
Despite being the oldest settlement in the entirety of the Americas, Caral is still not a popular day trip for tourists visiting Lima.
Whilst most prefer to head to the desert of Huacachina or the Ballestas Islands, I can personally guarantee that this archaeological site will be a memorable experience for anyone who makes the trip.
Located just outside of the town of Caral, these ruins are some of the first on earth to feature pyramids, as well as the circular plazas that can be found when walking around the site. Since this civilisation pre-dated ceramics, they were experts with other materials such as the native Totora Reed, which was used for fishing as well as for agricultural purposes (both of which made up the bulk of their diet).
As well as learning about the complex with a mandatory guide, you’ll also have some epic landscapes around you too, since Caral is located within a desert surrounded by tall mountains and small dunes.
Caral is located roughly 150 km north of Lima, which takes around 3.5 hours to get to, making it a perfect day trip from the Peruvian capital.
This organised day tour is the perfect way to explore Caral, where you’ll have all logistics conveniently handled for you.
Lima Travel Tips from a Local
I’ve spent over a year in Lima now, both as a tourist and living here full-time. This has allowed me to gain deeper insights and tips into the city, which I’ll now share with you below.
Where to stay
Given that Lima is the capital of Peru (and is also the biggest city), this means there is a lot of bustle. Being honest this makes the majority of districts not worth the visit, however the areas of Miraflores, Barranco and the Centro Histórico certainly are, and are the best places to base yourself.
Not only are they the safest, but they also have solid accommodation options as well as a more inclusive vibe (something I’ve noticed that often lacks in the less developed areas). Selina Miraflores has always been my go-to and is perfectly located in the heart of this district.
Best time to visit
As already mentioned, rainfall will never be an issue here. This leaves just the summer and winter seasons, each with its own benefits.
The summer runs from November until February, when it gets pretty hot with many more clear-blue skies than the rest of the year. This makes it a perfect time for exploring and heading to the beach.
The winter is much cooler with more grey skies (yes it can get depressing sometimes), which is due to the Garua phenomenon where an ever-present mist and clouds linger above Lima. However, the trade-off is that this season is very cheap, and also a better time for visiting other destinations within Peru on the same trip.
Using Uber or InDrive is going to be the most time-efficient way of getting around.
You can also get between the Historic Centre and Miraflores really cheaply too by using the colectivos (shared cars) that pick passengers up next to the Sheraton Hotel. You shouldn’t pay any more than 7 Soles for the ride.
Another great way is by using the Metropolitan Bus, which has several stations all the way from Plaza Norte in the north to Chorrillos in the south. It operates just like a metro system and is a good way (and cheap!) for hopping between the north and south of Lima.
To be honest, this is actually the first time I wouldn’t recommend using public buses. Not only are the schedules running as they like on the day here, they’re also pretty sketchy and not the safest for travellers. Yes, you’ll save for sure, but whether it’s worth taking the extra risk I’ll leave up to you.
The Peruvian capital is the perfect place to start off your adventure through this awesome South American nation, where you’ll have the perfect introduction to the very best culture, history and cuisine.
You’ll also be able to have some unique experiences too, such as cycling along the rugged hills of the Costa Verde as well as visiting one of the oldest human settlements on earth.
I hope you enjoy your time here in Lima! It’s a very underrated city and I am more than convinced that travellers should spend a few more days getting to know it better. Who knows, you may even end up living here…