Lima is logically the first place many international tourists visiting Peru come, and as is true of almost any capital city around the world, it is not really indicative of the rest of the country. At first it can be a hard city to warm to, especially if arriving in the long winter when the famous and melancholy garúa blankets the sky white, meaning you may not see the sun for days on end.
If you are a fan of cities like us, though, you will certainly find something of interest here.
Please note: this is not intended to be a comprehensive guide to Lima, rather our personal guide to the best things to see, eat and do in the city.
The city of Lima is divided into 43 barrios or neighbourhoods, many of which have little or no touristic value. The three districts of the city where most things of interest are concentrated are:
The historical centre of Lima, while not the prettiest part of the city, is where you’ll find the highest concentration of Spanish colonial architecture, high street shopping and most of the big museums.
This coastal neighbourhood is where you’ll find modern shopping centres, big name American chains, swanky high-rise apartment buildings and many, many expats. It’s also very popular with tourists as there is a large range of hotels here, and it is in fact where we rented an apartment. It’s also full of cool cafés (see below) and several nice restaurants. The neighbourhood is focused on the area surrounding Kennedy Park.
This small and bohemian neighbourhood to the south of Miraflores is also one of the oldest and smallest. It has an active nightlife scene, independent boutiques, pleasant squares and several cafés worth a visit.
Sights and Activities
These archaeological ruins from pre Inca times, located in Miraflores, are believed to have been built as a temple by the Lima people between 400 and 700 CE, though they were subsequently occupied by the Wari, Ycshma and finally Inca peoples. Excavation only began in 1981 and will probably take another twenty years to finish. In the meantime, you can visit on the very interesting and informative, if slightly rushed, compulsory forty-five minute guided tour (in Spanish or English) that is included in the entrance ticket for S/12 (£2.60). We particularly liked the recreated garden showing how and what the people who originally inhabited the area would have grown for food.
Circuito Mágico del Agua
The Magic Water Circuit is a modern park in Centro filled with water fountains. It may not sound like much, and depending on your mood, you may either find it to be extremely fun and silly or a bit pointless and a waste of time. The whole thing is pretty tacky, but for us, the main reason we enjoyed it was to watch how Limeños became so excited about walking through, around or between fountains of different shapes, sizes and formations. The fountains themselves also have some wonderfully silly names like The Labyrinth of Fantasy, the Tunnel of Surprises or the River of Desires. We visited during the day, but if you go after dark, you’ll be able to witness the park in its full splendour when the moving water is accompanied by lights and music.
These make up for the majority of the sights in Lima, and are some of the best in all of Peru. Highly recommended are MALI in Centro for contemporary South American art, Museo Larco in Pubelo Libre for pre-hispanic Peruvian history, MAC in Barranco for modern art and Museo del Banco Central in Centro for a good mix of all three.
See more: Top 10 Art Galleries and Museums in Lima
This café-cum-museum-cum-workshop is a great place to go for chocolate. You can simply go and enjoy a chocolatey drink or snack, buy some chocolate-based gifts in the shop or look around the free display which explains where chocolate comes from, the history of how it came to Europe and the rest of the world from Central and South America and how it is produced today. They also offer chocolate making workshops, which we definitely recommend.
If you’ve been paying attention to this blog even for just five minutes, you’ll know that we spend a lot of time seeking out nice cafés wherever we go. We found that the majority of the best places were in Miraflores.
Run by German expats, and definitely aimed at the expat and gringo crowd, this café serves up some lovely cakes, good coffee and excellent bagels.
Digital nomad friendly? Yes. Though they sometimes play heavy metal music pretty loud, so that could be distracting.
This is an excellent place to go for a really decadent selection of cakes and pastries. They also have a good selection of coffees and cold drinks, and you can even buy whole cakes to take away. We were sorely tempted, but managed to resist.
Digital nomad friendly? Yes. There is wifi, but we didn’t try working there. It’s quiet and comfortable enough, though.
Come here as much for the pretty and tasty cakes (the Nutella cupcake is quite lovely, though I don’t think it actually contains Nutella) as for the cheerful and quirky atmosphere, with mismatched furniture and bright, floral patterns.
Digital nomad friendly? Yes. The wifi is decent and we never found it overly busy or crowded.
A counter-service only café attached to a hotel, this place has a library of books to browse, including several South American travel guides and serves nice teas, coffees and a decent selection of cakes.
Digital nomad friendly? Very. Quiet, large enough tables, good wifi, power outlets.
El Pan de la Chola
Craving some artisanal bread and handmade hummus? This is your place. The cookies, juices and coffee aren’t bad either and the vibe is somewhere between hipster, yuppie and yummy-mummy.
Digital nomad friendly? No. There’s no wifi and the tables are too small to support two laptops.
This place offers good iced tea, generous portions of cake and waffles with maple syrup. And being just off Kennedy Park in Miraflores, it's very convenient.
Digital nomad friendly? Yes. We had to ask them to restart the wifi router, which they did not hesitate about, and once they did, we were online without problems.
This hole-in-the-wall café is bigger than it would seem from the outside, but not by much. We enjoyed the cakes, cookies, teas and the fact that the music was kept pretty low, making it easy enjoy a casual conversation.
Digital nomad friendly? Not really. Despite seeing several people with laptops perched in knees when walking past, we found the wifi impossibly slow and the tables way too small for both of us to work opposite each other.
If you’re craving churros con chocolate, this is as close to the Madrid styles ones as you’re going to get. It’s a busy, bustling place, and we can’t recommend anything else than the churros, as that’s all we tried.
Digital nomad friendly? No. Even if they do have wifi (which we didn't check), it’s too busy, noisy and crowded to comfortably work.
La Bodega Verde
For a range of teas not easy to find elsewhere, this is an excellent little place. In summer, the outdoor seating in the garden could be lovely, but it was unfortunately too cold while we were in the city. They also serve some nice muffins and coffee.
Digital nomad friendly? Yes. There aren’t many tables, but there are power outlets, it never got too crowded and the wifi worked fine.
“What is Starbucks doing on this list?” I hear you ask. I mention this place only for its location. In Centro, just a couple of blocks from the Plaza Mayor on a pedestrian shopping street, this is a convenient place to stop for a break from walking around the centre of Lima where they are few other cafés worth visiting. It’s also set in a nice building, has comfy sofas and has some interesting decoration that we haven’t seen in many other Starbucks.
Details: Foursquare; Avenida Ica 112, Centro
Digital nomad friendly? Yes. There are even some power sockets!
Like the cafés, many of the best places to eat in Lima are in Miraflores. The city is brimming with excellent restaurants and sampling some of them may be a good enough reason to visit Lima alone. Unfortunately, we did not go to many of the most popular or well known places as we cooked at home a lot in our apartment. So instead of a comprehensive list, these were our two favourite places for really top-notch vegetarian food.
While certainly not the cheapest place, this restaurant serves fresh, delicious and well-prepared vegetarian and vegan food. The ambiance is relaxed yet classy, the service attentive yet laid-back and the decoration minimal yet clearly done with a lot of attention to detail. Overall a great place for a bit of a splurge.
Everything served at this café/restaurant is organic, vegan, gluten-free, raw and even more delicious than I thought that combination could possibly be. The fruit smoothies with almond milk are wonderfully light and tasty, the mains are inventive without simply being weird and the desserts are to die for. Perfect for an afternoon snack, a light lunch or a healthy but filling evening meal.
Of course, you could easily shop till you drop in Lima with the abundance of regular high street chains (especially in Centro), many and expansive shopping malls and endless other high-end options. For some more specific and unique things, these are our top recommendations:
Organic food and products
We were especially pleased to find that there are quite a few places in Lima to buy organic food, cosmetics and clothes. Our favourite, though, was certainly the weekly Saturday market right around the corner from our apartment beside Parque Reducto in Miraflores. The cakes were especially tempting.
See more: Where to Find Organic Food in Lima
In Barranco especially, there are several places to shop for Peruvian handicrafts, but our favourite was certainly Las Pallas, at Cajamarca 212. Unlike many of the other shops around, everything there is hand made and as a bonus, the owner, Mari, is a fascinating person to talk to.
See more: Expat Living in Peru: Mari in Lima
As mentioned above (in Sights and Activities), the Choco Museo is a good place to pick up a variety of chocolate related gifts, from actual chocolate, to implements for chocolate making, to chocolate flavoured condoms and beauty products containing cocoa.
Below is a map of Lima showing all the places mentioned in this guide.
View Lima in a larger map
Public transport in Lima is great if you are travelling north to south, for example between Centro and Miraflores. The recently inaugurated Metropolitano runs in this direction taking approximately 25 minutes from Benavides (roughly five blocks east of Kennedy Park) to Estación Central. For comparison, the equivalent distance by regular bus could take over an hour.
The Metropolitano works just like a metro system but instead of trains, is run on long, single-story buses (the same kind as the London ‘bendy buses’) on a dedicated lane in the middle of the main north-south highway through the city. Journeys cost S/2 (£0.40) regardless of distance and must be paid for on a rechargeable smart card, which can be topped up in most stations.
The other north-south route which runs roughly parallel, east of the Metropolitano is confusingly known as the Metro, Linea 1 (as it is the first of five similar planned lines throughout the city). This is an overhead train system, also charged on a rechargeable smart card system, but annoyingly not the same one as the Metropolitano, and rides cost S/1.50 (£0.30). Trains and stations are super modern (they reminded me a little of the DLR in east London) but unfortunately do not serve many areas of touristic interest, except the Museo de la Nación in the neighbourhood of San Borja at La Cultura station.
For all other destinations (including the airport), taxis are the only real option. There are city buses, but like in most other South American cities we’ve visited (with the notable exception of Buenos Aires), it is almost impossible to work out which bus goes where. In general, we paid roughly S/10 (£2.20) for every 5km in a taxi within the city, agreed on before getting in the taxi. This is especially important to do in Lima as some taxi drivers may not be willing to take you where you want to do, because of distance, time or traffic.
You can also download this guide in the GPSMyCity app!