Lima is the first port of arrival for nearly every visitor to Peru, but unfortunately it often remains just that— it’s all too common for travellers to immediately hop on a domestic flight to Cusco or catch a bus further down the coast, completely cutting Lima out of their itinerary. This quick turnover seems to result in lukewarm impressions of the capital city (and even my own ambivalence during my first two trips to Lima), but instead of passing through within a matter of hours, take a couple of days to explore the Centro Histórico, the beautiful coastline, and all the great food that has made this city the perfect introduction to Peruvian culture and cuisine. You might just find, like I did on my third visit, that there is so much more to Lima than an airport and a bus terminal. Here are 10 of the best things to do in Lima, plus heaps of practical information to help you plan your visit!
This park in the middle of Miraflores is an absolute paradise for cat-lovers and one of the most interesting places to visit in Lima— dozens of kitties have made these flower beds, trees, and grassy patches home, so come hang out for a few hours and mingle with the local felines, most of whom are incredibly friendly.
A group of volunteers called the Grupo Voluntario de Defensa Felina has assumed responsibility of looking after all the cats in Parque Kennedy, which has included providing food, funding veterinary procedures, and re-homing nearly 1,200 cats over the last 20 years. You can find more information about their volunteer efforts and how to make a donation at the park.
Try Lima’s internationally renowned cuisine
Lima is a huge foodie destination, with some of the best authentic Peruvian cuisine in the country, not to mention a few of the world’s best restaurants. It’s difficult to go wrong, but here are some of my favourites and other popular spots to try:
- Canta Rana: This Barranco restaurant is one of the best places in the entire city to enjoy traditional Peruvian ceviche. They also make the best chicha morada (a sweet non-alcoholic purple punch made from corn) that I’ve ever had!
- La Lucha: A popular café in Miraflores with some of the best food around. Try the Pollo al Cilindro, a delicious dish with juicy chicken, potatoes, and lime-marinated onions— it may not sound like much, but the flavours are incredible! I also loved their fresh jugo de naranja, piña & fresa.
- Beso, Francés Crepería: Two adorable French-inspired cafes in Miraflores (one at Parque de Intihuatana and the other just past Parque del Amor) with amazing views of the coast, great crepes, and cold fresh-squeezed juice.
- Bam Bam: Another excellent restaurant in Miraflores (near Parque Kennedy) with incredible ceviche.
- Central: If your budget allows, this restaurant in Barranco is rated among the best in the entire world and was highly recommended by a number of serious foodies I met during my time in Peru. It was well out of my price range for this trip, but someday I’ll definitely have to indulge!
Take a Peruvian cooking class
Go beyond just sampling traditional Peruvian cuisine and learn to prepare several delicious dishes yourself! A number of companies offer half-day cooking classes that are both an excellent way to expand your skills in the kitchen and learn more about the country.
I joined an amazing class with SkyKitchen Perú and prepared 4 classic Peruvian dishes, Papa a la Huancaína, Ají de Gallina, Ceviche, and Pastel de Choclo, plus a Pisco Sour, the national cocktail of Peru. Classes are 3.5hrs starting at either 11am or 4pm and cost $70USD. It was a delicious day and my absolute favourite thing I did in Lima!
Parque del Amor
Highly reminiscent of Gaudí’s colourful Park Güell in Barcelona, Parque del Amor is a vibrant coastal park in Miraflores celebrating, what else, love. From the large and rather intimate El Beso sculpture to the bright mosaic walls inscribed with the names of famous lovers (I was pretty excited to spot “Florentino y Fermina” given that I was reading Love in the Time of Cholera during this trip), this park is one of the best places to sit and enjoy the scenery.
If you’re lucky enough to be in Miraflores on Valentine’s Day, I hear there is an annual kissing competition held in Parque del Amor, with the lovers who manage to kiss the longest taking the highly coveted title of best kissers and claiming bragging rights for the year to come. Grab a mate and get practicing!
Huaca Pucllana ruins
Machu Picchu isn’t the only set of ancient ruins worth visiting on your trip to Peru— there are hundreds of impressive archaeological sites scattered throughout the country, including a particularly well-preserved pre-Inca temple complex right in the middle of Miraflores.
Huaca Pucllana is believed to have been constructed in 400AD by a coastal civilisation who used the grounds for both spiritual and religious purposes. When the Incas discovered Huaca Pucllana nearly a millennium later, they recognised it as a sacred ancient site and worked to preserve the mud-brick architecture— there’s a big restoration project underway, but much of the site is still original. You can visit the ruins for S/15 (with a mandatory guided tour). The site is open 9am-5pm every day except Tuesday and there’s even an upscale on-site restaurant overlooking the complex that comes highly recommended.
El Quarto Bar
The highlight of my first trip to Lima was getting outside of the tourist district and discovering some of the vibrant local nightlife at El Quarto Bar, an awesome pub with inexpensive beers and great live music. All night, a band played Spanish covers of pop classics and rock & roll hits— everything from Michael Jackson to Queen— and I danced the night away as the lone gringa in a see of friendly limeños. It’s possible to walk here from the city centre, but an Uber is probably a safer option (especially if you’re coming from Miraflores).
Explore Miraflores on a bike
Miraflores has an incredible bike rental scheme which makes it inexpensive and super simple to cruise around for a few hours on two wheels, exploring the many coastal viewpoints and parks in this part of Lima. I’d specifically recommend the picturesque Parque Intihuatana, Parque del Amor, and the La Marina Lighthouse.
In order to borrow your bike, you’ll first need to register an account with Citybike Lima and then enter your log-in details at any of several dozen bike racks around Miraflores. The best option for short-term visitors is the daily pass (S/4), which allows you to make unlimited trips within a 24hr period. If you can return the bike and hire a new one every 30min, you won’t need to pay anything extra at all, but it’s only S/2 per half hour after that!
La Marina Lighthouse
The beautifully striped La Marina Lighthouse in Miraflores is an iconic coastal landmark and a great spot to look out over the pumping Pacific Ocean below. It’s extremely rare to catch Lima on a clear, sunny day, but if you do manage, this might be one of the most photogenic locations in the entire city.
Day trip to Paracas
Easily accessible as a day trip from Lima, the small town of Paracas is the perfect place to discover native wildlife and stunning coastal scenery. The town’s two most popular activities are boat tours out to the Islas Ballestas (S/50), commonly referred to as the “poor man’s Galapagos” for their abundance of marine animals, and the breathtaking Paracas Nature Reserve (S/15).
It’s possible to experience both the Paracas Nature Reserve and the Ballestas Islands in a single day, but I’d actually recommend spending at least 2 days discovering all this beautiful area has to offer. Check out 1 and 2 day tours offered by Peru Hop or read my comprehensive review of Peru Hop.
Day trip to Huacachina
The tiny desert town of Huacachina, home to South America’s only oasis and some of the region’s largest sand dunes, is located just 4hrs from Lima, making for a phenomenal day trip or overnight excursion from the capital. Check out 1 and 2 day tours offered by Peru Hop or read my comprehensive review of Peru Hop.
The town itself is little more than a few blocks, but the oasis around which it’s built is incredibly picturesque and it’s impossible not to enjoy the near-constant sunny weather. Sandboarding and buggy tours will take you up into the surrounding desert (S/50), you can climb up the dunes yourself for an aerial view, or even just hang out around the lagoon. I loved my time in Huacachina so much that I compiled an extensive travel guide on exactly what to do, where to stay, etc; check it out here.
Getting to Lima
Taxi from the airport
Most travellers will fly into Lima via Jorge Chávez International Airport, situated just 10km (20-30min drive) from the city centre or 18km (40-60min drive) from the popular tourist districts of Miraflores and Barranco. You can take a taxi to your accommodation for S/60-70, but I’d definitely recommend the more budget-friendly Airport Express bus instead.
Airport Express bus
The Airport Express bus is a relatively new, quick, and inexpensive way to get all the way to Miraflores without hassling with a taxi or a public transport. Book your ticket in advance online for $8USD or at the counter in Arrivals (next to the car hire companies, right before customs).
It’s not immediately obvious where to find the bus (at least it wasn’t to me), but if you exit the airport and head left towards the departures hall, then you should be able to see a carpark with a bunch of white buses in front of you. Once you cross the street and get a bit closer, the Airport Express bus will be visible. These buses leave regularly throughout the entire day and drop passengers off at a number of stops in Miraflores and Barranco. The staff can help you work out which stop is closest to your hostel or you can find all the details on their website.
Getting around Lima
Like all major cities in Peru, there are buses and colectivos (shared minibuses) operating throughout Lima, and these are an incredibly inexpensive way to get around (S/1-4 for most journeys).
BUT public transport in Lima can be really difficult and stressful if you don’t have a good grasp of navigation (or the Spanish language)— I once got so lost after a colectivo journey that it took me 8hrs to find my way back to the hostel. I’d only recommend this if you’re somewhat familiar with your surroundings, travelling with another person, and have absolutely no where to be.
Taxis & Uber
Alternatively, you can take inexpensive Ubers pretty much anywhere you need to go, including between the centre and the coast (Miraflores or Barranco; S/10-15). Uber is widely acknowledged as being much safer than taxis in Lima, which definitely come with a risk of theft. Plus, Uber takes a lot of the stress out of negotiating a fair price or explaining where you’re trying to go if you don’t speak great Spanish. If you do need to take a taxi, it’s best to ask someone (hotel staff, restaurant staff, tour guide, etc) to call one for you.
On a side note: Be warned that the traffic in Lima is absolute pandemonium. I personally think it’s one of the things that makes the city so exciting, but it can be pretty alarming when you first arrive if you aren’t expecting it! Suffice to say that road lines are a mere suggestion, merging across 5 lanes in a roundabout is totally acceptable, and it’s every woman for herself when it comes to pedestrian crossings. As long as you aren’t driving here (which I definitely would NOT recommend), just sit back and watch the chaos unfold— amazingly, there is a method to all of the madness!
On foot or bicycle
As I’ve already mentioned, biking around Miraflores or Barranco is a great way to see these trendy parts of Lima! I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it in the city centre unless you’re with a tour, but the coast is really well set up for bikers with its flat paths and modest traffic.
It’s also possible to walk most anywhere you need to go within Miraflores in under 30min (from the coast to Huaca Pucllana, for instance). I felt safe walking from the bus in the dark and even going out for dinner alone in the blocks surrounding my hostel, so there’s no real need to call an Uber if you are just sticking to the one neighbourhood.
Where to stay in Lima
The best areas in Lima
I stayed in central Lima during my first two visits, but in Miraflores most recently— I would definitely recommend basing yourself in Miraflores and just visiting the CBD during the day. The vibe is younger and more touristy on the coast, but it also feels way safer and decidedly less hectic than the city centre. I felt totally comfortable walking around alone with my camera, even in the evening.
- Hostel Kokopelli Miraflores: This Peruvian chain has some of the absolute best hostels I’ve ever stayed in! I love their pod-style dorm beds that make it feel like you’re in a private room, the awesome on-site bar and restaurant, the excellent free breakfast, and all the planned activities to join in on. Dorm beds start at S/30.
- Kaclla Hostel: This relaxed hostel in the middle of Miraflores offers clean dorm rooms at a reasonable price (S/45) and is located just three blocks from Parque Kennedy or the beach.
- 1900 Hostel: If you do want to spend time in the city centre, I stayed in this cool restored mansion during my first visit to Lima and really enjoyed the atmosphere. Dorm rooms are just S/30 and private rooms are also incredibly reasonable (S/100 and up).
- Get a SIM card when you arrive in Peru, as this will allow you to use Google Maps and Uber to get around (absolutely essential in a big city like Lima!). Claro and Movistar are the main providers, but Bitel also offers good packages specifically for travellers: get 20GB of data, 500min calling, and international call credit for S/49. All 3 mobile phone providers have shops within 50m of each other on Avenida Jose Larco in Miraflores.
- Avoid pulling money out of any GlobalNet ATMs (these are located in the airport Arrivals hall and also scattered throughout the city), as they charge a much higher fee than other ATMs. In Miraflores, there are heaps of banks and ATMs along Avenida Jose Larco and BCP typically charges a low fee or even no fee for withdrawals.
- Miraflores is a really safe area, so you should have no trouble exploring at all hours as long as you take normal safety precautions. Central Lima is a different story— it’s not a good idea to walk around alone in the evening and there are definitely parts of town where you don’t want to have a camera around your neck or a phone in your hand. Do your exploring in the daylight hours and use common sense when it comes to pulling your phone out.
- Lima is notoriously grey and rainy, so make sure to pack a light jumper and a rain jacket, no matter the season.
- It seems to come as a surprise to heaps of travellers that the language barrier is very strong in Peru, and Lima is certainly no exception. Outside of travel agencies and touristy hotels, most waiters, cashiers, hostel staff, and taxi drivers won’t speak a word of English, so it’s absolutely essential that you speak at least a little Spanish! Even just learning how to order food, buy bus tickets, ask for directions, and pay for things in Spanish will make your trip to Lima so much smoother. And when in doubt: Google Translate (which can be downloaded for offline use).
- Use the RedBus website to check public bus times and book tickets online or have a look at my comparison of public buses and the new hop-on/hop-off service Peru Hop to find out which is better for your trip!