Planning Your Visit to Lima
Lima used to be known simply as a convenient city to pass through on the way to Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu. But about two decades ago, something happened to put the Peruvian capital on the map, and it’s stayed there ever since: thanks to a few key chefs, the rest of the world discovered a unique cuisine that had always been there. Now the culinary capital of South America, Lima has earned its place on every traveler's itinerary for much more than its international airport.
Chefs like Gastón Acurio of the pioneering restaurant Astrid y Gaston, and Virgilio Martinez, who recently starred in his own episode of Netflix’s Chef’s Table with his restaurant Central, have put Lima on the map—but they’ve also elevated the humble beachside cevicherias and street vendors serving up grilled meats that have always made the city special.
And there’s a lot more to Lima than the food. Once you’re done eating, venture out into a city full of vibrant neighborhoods like San Isidro, Miraflores, and Barranco, incredible colonial architecture, and views of the rugged pacific coastline. If you have less than 24 hours here, see the ocean, wander along its clifftop paths, and stop in at a quaint café with a view, or head downtown to catch a glimpse of a grand monastery and cathedral. It’s just as easy to spend up to three days tasting and experiencing all the city has to offer, including a day trip to see ancient temples or a journey to Paracas.
Whether you’re planning a trip to hike the Inca Trail, explore the tributaries of the Amazon River on a boating excursion, or trek the Peruvian Andes, you should consider spending more time in Lima.
What’s the best time of year to visit Peru? Read all about it here.
Lima as a 1-night stopover
If you arrive in Lima late at night and are on a short trip with a connecting flight to Cusco (or elsewhere in Peru) the next morning, it makes sense to stay at the Lima airport hotel. On your way out at the end of your trip, it often makes sense to spend at least a few hours (if not at least a day) in Lima to experience its legendary gastronomy and get a feel for the city.
Lima in An Afternoon
Where you’ll go with just one afternoon and evening in Lima will depend a lot on your travel preferences. If you’re into history and architecture, Lima’s city center can’t be beat. This is where you’ll find ornate marvels like Lima Cathedral or the Archbishop’s Palace—remnants of a colonial-era rule by the Spanish that began in the 16th century.
Start at the genteel, open square Plaza de Armas and work your way outward, stopping at the Monastery of San Francisco, which includes a Baroque church, an impressive library, and catacombs, and plenty of museums, including the Gastronomy Museum, which tells the long and storied history of this region’s cuisine, and the Casa de Literatura, a columned temple to literature with an ornate, stained-glass ceiling. The area is planned on a grid and quite walkable, so even if you don’t get to every building, just wandering the streets, spotting historic houses like the Casa de Aliaga, with its detailed façade, can be a laid-back way to spend a few hours.
If you’ve done some advanced planning you can score a table at one of Lima’s temples to cuisine, but in this center of all things delicious, it isn’t difficult to find an under-the-radar restaurant serving up some of Peru’s best delicacies. The Miraflores neighborhood is a sure bet when dining out, famed for its flower-filled streets and Bohemian vibe.
To see how to go on a gastronomic tour of Peru with Lima as your first stop, check out this 14-day itinerary.
Lima in 1 Day
If you have a full day in Lima, bookended by two nights in a hotel, you can delve deeper into the gastronomic legacy of this city, taking a food tour that will lead you to street stands and family-owned restaurants serving citrusy ceviche with a chili kick, succulent grilled meats, desserts made with Amazonian fruits, and of course a cocktail made with the Peru’s national spirit Pisco. You’ll also get a chance to learn about Nikkei, the special type of fusion cuisine that resulted from Japanese immigrants settling in the capital, and whose star is quickly rising as Lima’s food scene heats up.
If you’d rather fast-track your city exploring by getting on two wheels, take a bike tour to discover neighborhoods like Miraflores, Barranco, and Chorillos, where travelers mingle with locals to enjoy a mix of art galleries, restaurants, and nightlife. On the other hand, if you’d rather wander these neighborhoods on your own schedule, they are safe, friendly, and imminently walkable. Miraflores has a picturesque stretch of beach, plus restaurants, cafes, and upscale shopping centers like Larcomar, where local designers sell clothing and accessories.
Just south, Barranco has a mix of colonial architecture, including the charming Municipal Library, and the famed Puente de los Suspiros or Bridge of Sighs, where locals and visitors hold their breath and make a wish as they cross over. Meanwhile, the less-frequented Chorrillos grew out of a fishing village to become a local hot spot for swimming and surfing: take a stroll along the beach or a dip in the water, and have a meal at one of the area's many seaside restaurants, which range from no-frills beach shacks serving up ceviche to more elegant places with an Italian bent.
For more on what to do with 1 day in Lima, click here.
Lima in 2 days
Most people think you have to travel all the way to Cusco—the heart of the Sacred Valley—to find traces of the Incans, but a few of them are close enough to Lima to visit without an overnight. So if you have up to two full days in Lima, take your time getting to know the city on your first day. But on your second, you should consider visiting archaeological sites like Pachacamac and Huaca Pucllana.
The most famous among these, Pachacamac, can seem to rival the Egyptian pyramids for sheer scale. Dedicated to a major pre-Hispanic god, it was created by the indigenous people of this area around 200 AD and treasured by several successive civilizations. Each of them added on temples and settlements, making it a massive and fascinating complex that’s like a crash course in architecture before Spanish rule. It’s a quick bus ride (25 miles) southeast of Lima, or you can join a guided day tour to take you there.
A Huaca is a sacred monument in the Quechuan language, and there are several of them in or close to Lima, including Huaca Pucllana, a pre-Incan adobe pyramidal structure right in the middle of Miraflores. Today, its graduated steps sit in quiet meditation, surrounded by gleaming new office buildings and apartments, their shared space a testament to the values of clashing civilizations in different eras. Another temple that sits in half-ruin north of Lima is Caral, part of a settlement by the Norte Chico civilization that dates back thousands of years. Although quite a vast, impressive sight, Caral’s relative distance from Lima (a little over 100 miles) means it’s likely to be nearly empty when you visit. So get an early start, bring a camera and a picnic, and enjoy the tranquility as you commune with a civilization long gone.
Lima in 3 days
A Lima visit of three days can be an excuse to go farther afield, traveling to standout coastal destinations like the Paracas National Reserve and the Ballestas Islands. About a 3.5-hour drive down the coast from Lima, Paracas is a protected coastal area sheltering over 200 species of birds. Part of the reserve, the Ballestas Islands are often likened to the Galapagos for their incredible diversity of marine life, including Humboldt penguins, turtles, and sea lions, all of which can be seen from boats that skirt the coastline (in order to protect the island wildlife, disembarking is prohibited).
On the way, you’ll also be able to spot the Candelabro, a giant pre-historic geoglyph carved into a cliffside, reminiscent of Peru's famous Nazca lines farther southeast. Depending on timing, you can also factor in a visit to Pisco, the city where the famous Peruvian grape brandy originated, a tour through the vineyards of Ica, or even some time for dune-buggying or sandboarding in the landscape around Paracas.