Lima is an exciting and vibrant capital. To maximize your chances of a great day in the city, be aware of a few key details, and take a few steps to prevent problems — just as you would on a visit to any other modern metropolis.
First, the city is sprawling: you'll need a taxi to travel between neighborhoods. Traffic is notoriously congested, so try to make car trips outside of rush hour. Second, in central Lima, and even in the wealthy suburbs, theft is not uncommon. Leave valuables in your hotel room and don't flaunt the ones you do take out.
Third, make the most of a short stay by choosing your overnight accommodations carefully. Lima's most desirable neighborhoods to stay in are San Isidro, Miraflores, and Barranco, which line the coast from north to south, respectively. Miraflores is sandwiched in the middle, so it's probably the best place to base yourself during this 24-hour introduction to the city.
For specific suggestions on where to stay, check out this article on Lima's best boutique hotels.
Morning by the Sea
Heading out of your hotel in Miraflores, you'll see that the shimmering ribbon of the Pacific Ocean is enticingly close, as are some of South America's best eateries. It makes sense to begin the day, therefore, by taking in the sea view and lingering in one of the wonderful cafés in the area. Wander along the seafront on the clifftop paths to great breakfast stops such as El Pan de la Chola, where delicious homemade bread and hot coffee are served.
Next, it's time to see Lima from the sky, if you dare. Several paragliding operators, such as AeroExtreme Paragliding School, are located in the vicinity. On the trip up into the clouds, the entire cityscape of Lima opens before you in a breathtaking panorama: the coastline, fancy high-rise apartments, green parks, and romantic colonial spires.
As with all paragliding experiences, the preparation takes longer than the flight. Afterward, you will have ample time (and inclination, as you'll almost certainly be hot) to experience that essential part of any Peruvian day on the coast: lunchtime. The hands-down specialty is ceviche (lime-marinated white fish served with red onion, cilantro, and corn). There are lots of amazing places in Miraflores, Barranco and San Isidro to try. See here for more on Lima's best places to eat.
The neighborhood of La Punta, a taxi ride north of Miraflores, is especially recommended for its seafood. Here, fronted by the sea on three sides, there are several excellent fresh-from-the-boat seafood restaurants. The area, dotted with attractive neoclassical residences and boasting an 18th-century fort, is interesting to explore, too. Have an early lunch and get ready for an action-packed afternoon.
Afternoon of Architecture
Take a taxi from La Punta to Museo Larco, halfway towards central Lima. Though there are several impressive museums in Lima, this one truly stands out. Museo Larco offers deep insight into the Pre-Columbian groups that once inhabited Peru, primarily through outstanding ceramics and other artifacts. The only downside of the museum is its out-of-the-way location: you'll need another taxi to get you to your next stop.
Hop out of the cab in Central Lima, the historic heart of the city. Despite the noise and traffic, it's an essential stop on any cultural itinerary due to its magnificent colonial architecture and museums. Start at the busy square known as Plaza de Armas. From there, you can walk between several of the must-see sights.
Plaza de Armas has several buildings of note around its edges. Most notable is the cathedral, La Catedral de Lima, which spectacularly exhibits more of the locally popular neoclassical style of architecture. It contains several elaborate altars, as well as the tomb of Francisco Pizarro, the conquistador who founded Lima in 1535.
The two other must-see buildings hereabouts are the bright yellow Monasterio de San Francisco, a colonial monastery with a stupendous library and extensive catacombs, and Iglesia de Santo Domingo, a beautiful 16th-century church containing the relics of several saints.
Night Out in Lima
A day in action-packed Lima comes all too quickly to a close. As evening approaches, it's time to make your way back to Miraflores, Barranco and San Isidro for dining and dancing, Peruvian-style.
Lima's gastronomy is well-documented, and choices for dinner are almost endless. Miraflores probably has the best-regarded restaurants, but artsy Barranco has great eateries and superb entertainment, too. Dine at Isolina Taberna Peruana, famed for its authentic Peruvian food, then move on to the brilliant nearby cocktail bar Ayahuasca and finish the night with some live music. One solid choice is the traditional Peruvian folklórica (folk music) at La Candelaria.
When it's time to turn in for the night, take a taxi back to your hotel. Traveling onward from the capital city? Have a look at suggestions for five different itineraries for a week in Peru.