The Travel Guides: What to Do in Lima
Lima is a foodie mecca with a lot going on. Here’s what to do in South America’s culinary capital.
The short list
- Hit the water
- Mingle among superfoods
- Walk, shop, eat and gallery hop el malecón
- Follow the trail of craft beer
- Explore colonial history in El Centro Histórico
- Take in some more art
- Eat, eat and… Eat some more
- City (bus) tour
- Rosa Nautica
- Huaca Pucllana
Hit the water
For some, Peru is the birthplace of surfing and it’s not unusual to see a barefoot tablista (surfer) walking the malecón. Waves come in all sizes, as do the surf schools along the shores of the Miraflores, Barranco and Chorrillos districts. Show up and take a class or book in advance. Many of the surf schools, like Eternal Wave, have bilingual teachers on staff.
Swim with sea lions
Just 45-minutes northwest of Miraflores District is the marine bioreserve of San Lorenzo, El Frontón, Cabinzas and Palominos Islands. The reserve is known for having a diversity of seabirds and the second largest colony of sea lions in Peru. Multiple companies organize excursions to swim with these curious creatures. Look for companies who carry fewer passengers, like Mar Adentro Excursiones.
The waters between the islands can be extremely rough. Consider taking a precautionary seasickness tablet even if you are not prone to nausea.
It’s possible to kayak along Lima’s Costa Verde. Peru Sea Kayak is the main company for tours.
Lima is not a popular destination for divers. But the PADI-certified Spondylus offers courses and fun dive packages.
Tanning is best in the summer months (December to March), when the sun is unforgiving along the Limeño coastline. Miraflores has rockier beaches ideal for watching surfers, while the beaches of Barranco and Chorrillos have much more sand. There are, however, pros and cons to each swimming area. For example, sandy beaches like Los Yuyos and Playa Pescadores are typically packed on the weekends.
Quick local bites and parasols are typically available during the Peruvian summer months. Parasol rentals are usually per day and cost the equivalent of a few USD. Ask around if you cannot locate a vendor and remember to negotiate and agree on a price before renting.
Mingle among superfoods
Weekend bioferias (organic fairs) are the new normal throughout upscale districts of Lima. Sample Peruvian superfoods, indulge in organic sweets and stock up on locally-grown goodies like Amazonian honey, passion fruit oil and white chia seeds. (Many of which make great gifts!) Some of the markets downsize during the Peruvian summer months, when Limeños retreat to the beaches in the south, while others close entirely. El Trinche (in Spanish) has more on the bioferias citywide.
For a more traditional market experience, the markets in Surquillo have stalls of fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and fish; as well as counters to enjoy a quick, local lunch for just a few soles. Most tourists will venture to Mercado No. 1 a few blocks from Parque Kennedy but Mercado No. 2 feels a bit more “authentic” (for now) and has more to offer in terms of fresh produce. The Borderless Project has a list of their top eight Limeño markets to check out.
A number of companies also offer market tours. Lima te Llena, run by two, young globe-trotters passionate about food, is among the best with tours that showcase the authentic, culinary side of Lima.
Read Conozca Tu Camu Camu for more on the Peruvian fruits.
Walk, shop and gallery hop the malecón
Frequenting the lists of top things to do in Lima is the malecón. The 10km (6mi) cliff top promenade runs from Miraflores to Barranco and overlooks the Pacific Ocean, hills of Chorrillos and island of San Lorenzo on a clear day. The esplanade is a green haven for pampered pooches and exercise enthusiasts with park and beach access at designated locations. Start in Miraflores and hit the following detours along the way.
For the adventurous, and when the thermals cooperate, paragliding is offered from a grassy plateau next to Parque Amor in Miraflores. Multiple companies offer parapente excursions, all of which can be arranged on-site.
Built into the cliffs of Miraflores, Larcomar is a multilevel outdoor shopping, food and entertainment complex literally beneath the malecón. Shops range from international chain, like North Face and Desigual, to the Peruvian alpaca-brands Kuna and Sol Alpaca. Renowned Peruvian chefs and restaurateurs also have outposts, like Gastón Acurio’s Tanta and Diego de la Puente’s KO Asian Kitchen. See Shop for more shopping in Miraflores.
Museo de Arte Contemporáneo (MAC)
Lima’s Contemporary Art Museum maintains a permanent collection of international and national works, in addition to an outdoor space for temporary exhibits. The museum is located at the Barranco district entrance (just off the malecón) and its small gift shop is worth a peruse if you are in the market for prints by Peruvian artists. MAC organizes activities, like art fairs and outdoor movie screenings, throughout the year. Follow MAC’s social media for events and programs.
Malecón Saenz Peña
Once the summer homes of wealthy Limeños, renovated mansions along this perpendicular promenade are now the boutique Hotel B and Galería Lucía de la Puente. Non-guests can dine at Hotel B with prior reservation. Opt for a table in the hotel’s inner courtyard on a sunny day or clear night. On the southern side of Malecón Saenz Peña Dédalo Arte is a beautifully curated villa-turned-shop of fine Peruvian crafts, home wares, clothing and jewelry. The museum-esque Artesanías Las Pallas and Artesanos Don Bosco boutiques are also just a few blocks away. See Shop for more shopping in Barranco.
Puente de los Suspiros
The malecón eventually ends at three-centuries old Iglesia La Ermita, directly in front is the Puente de los Suspiros (Bridge of Sighs). Legend has it anyone able to cross the bridge while holding their breath will have a wish come true. Beneath the bridge is the Bajada de los Baños; a passageway to the beaches of Barranco lined with restaurants, bars, hostels, and small vendors.
Refuel around Parque Barranco
Barranco’s central park is an ideal place to stop and eat after exploring the length of the malecón. The park is a couple blocks southeast of the Puente de los Suspiros and has a number of street carts and restaurants nearby, like El Chinito (sanguchería), Las Vecinas Eco Bar and La Bodega Verde.
Pop culture and colonial art
With energy for one more stop, the museums of MATE and Museo Pedro de Osma are nearly side-by-side a few blocks from Parque Barranco. MATE was founded by the Mario Testino and houses some of the Peruvian fashion photographer’s more famous works, including his Vanity Fair shoot with Princess Diana.
Less frequented is the Museo Pedro de Osma (MOsma). Named after the Peruvian philanthropist and collector, the museum is a mansion of viceregal art dating back to the 16th century. Single day, discounted tickets (boleto único) are available at participating museums for anyone planning to visit MAC, MATE and MOsma.
Follow the trail of craft beer
Craft beers are all the rage in Peru, and for good reason… The beers are outstanding. BarBarian is typically credited as being first on the scene closely followed by Nuevo Mundo. Both have draught beer bars off Parque Kennedy. Bar Cañas (formerly Cañas y Tapas) is another cult favorite in Miraflores with a wide selection of Peruvian microbrews.
In the neighboring district of Barranco, a number of bars cater to the cerveza artesenal including Wicks Brewpub and Moustache Restobar. A few blocks away, Barranco Beer Company brews on site with a spacious restaurant and bar to sample its range of beers; including a collaborative brew with the Cervecería del Valle Sagrado.
Explore colonial history in El Centro Histórico
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988, Lima’s El Centro Histórico (Historic Center) was originally founded by Spanish conqueror Francisco Pizarro in 1535. The main points of interest for most travelers – La Catedral de Lima (where Pizarro’s remains are kept), Palacio del Gobierno (where the president resides) and Monasterio de San Francisco (a labyrinth of a monastery with catacombs, a cloister and a world renowned library) – are located around or near the Plaza Mayor.
For more Moorish balconies and colonial architecture the Casa de Aliaga (reservations required) and Palacio de Torre Tagle should also be on your to-see list. Next to the Torre Tagle is the Centro Cultural with art, photography and other cultural exhibits. There are city tours but much of the center can be covered on foot during the day with a map, good historical guide and a bit of street smarts. (The center is not unsafe per se, but pickpockets have made a decent living off the absent-minded or naïve traveler.) GPS My City has a free Historic Centre Walk Route Map online. Lonely Planet’s Lima Guide also proposes a walking route (available with the purchase).
For a history break, head to the Choco Museo and recently opened Museo del Pisco near the plaza. While the word “museum” should be loosely interpreted, the Choco Museo has a number of informative and fun chocolate making workshops for children and adults while the Museo del Pisco is a great place to learn more about pisco while sampling a variety of the Peruvian brandy.
Take in some more art
Art appreciation is growing in Lima and the city’s burgeoning art scene reflects the new-found attention. Museums and galleries tend to be small and best enjoyed when visited en route to another destination. A few more museums worth considering:
- Museo Larco. The privately owned museum is famous for its collection of erotic pre-Columbian pottery, jewelry, ceramic vessels and stunning 18th century viceroy mansion location.
- Museo de Arte de Lima. Lima’s recently restored fine art museum, MALI, displays more than 3,000 years of Peruvian art with temporary galleries for local and international exhibits. MALI is located at the entrance of El Centro Histórico and can be easily combined with a trip to the historic center.
- Amano Museo Textil Precolombino. Hidden on a side street in San Isidro the Amano Museo houses the personal collection of Yoshitaro Amano and is internationally recognized for its impressive collection of pre-Columbian textiles and artifacts.
Eat, eat and… Eat some more
Given the momentum behind Lima’s gastronomic scene, it is no wonder why many travelers plan their days around restaurant reservations. Having lunch at a cevichería is a must. See Eat for specific restaurant, food tour and cooking class recommendations, and Ceviche 101 for a guide to popular dishes.
If traveling with the culinary in mind, keep your eye on late October/early November when Mistura, the largest gastronomic fair in South America, is held annually in Lima.
Although they may be on sightseeing lists, reconsider the following activities during your visit to Lima… Especially if you are crunched for time.
City (bus) tours
Lima is best enjoyed on foot and is relatively safe to do so in the majority of areas where foreigners frequent. If physically able, walk to points of interest within San Isidro, Miraflores and Barranco and take public transport or taxis elsewhere. With a good guidebook and a bit of common sense you can create a far more leisurely and enjoyable city tour than most of the current companies can.
La Rosa Nautica
Attracting visitors with sea views and surfer-watching La Rosa Nautica serves decent food (by Peruvian standards) but at higher prices. Consider one of the restaurants along the Circuito de Playas in Barranco instead. Restaurants such as Cala also have seaside views and plenty of surfers with better food and DJ lounge in the evenings.
Unless you are a major archeology buff, or have never seen an excavation site before, you may not be impressed with the temple of Huaca Pucllana. There is a restaurant onsite with a view but reviews are mixed regarding food and service. If temples are a must-do consider venturing outside Lima to spend a half-day at the temples of Pachacamac instead.
Last updated June 2018.