I’ve been reading a lot of Lima tourism articles lately, and I’ve come across the typical list articles (“Top 10 things to Do in Lima”). About.com, TIME Magazine, Lonely Planet – all their lists are LAME (Lonely Planet’s is the worst).
So this is my stock Lima tourism article, and these are my top 10 things to do in Lima!
1. La Punta del Callao
Callao, home to the largest Pacific Ocean port in South America, is also an infamous slum notorious for crime. However, La Punta de Callao is an upscale district of wealthy homes and yacht clubs located in a tiny peninsula. To get in or out, you have to pass through Callao proper. I have found it safe to travel the main avenues during the day, and it’s worth the trip.
The taxis drop you off at Plaza Grau, before the entrance to La Punta, because it costs 20 soles for vehicles to enter. On the east side of Plaza Grau (on your left if facing the sea) is the Coast Guard. There’s a dock right there where you can take a boat tour of the port and La Punta.
Some boat tours are motorized, and some are led by fishermen with rowboats. They both will show you abandoned piers overtaken by starfish, sea spiders, pelicans, and more. But only the motorized tours will offer you glimpses of the massive port. Those tours leave from this dock at Plaza Grau, and they require a minimum number of passengers. A fisherman’s tour will only take a few.
Points of interest in Callao include Port of Callao, the Navy Museum, Fortaleza del Real Felipe, Chucuito, Plaza Galvez, Plaza Matriz, the Naval Academy, Plaza San Martin, Malecon Wiese. See a map of La Punta de Callao with those points of interest.
2. Bicycle Tour
I became an avid urban cyclist in Bogota because of its chaotic congestion. In the process I realized cycling is the best way to see a city. You’re not passing too fast to see interesting places, as in a car or bus. You’re also not limited to the areas you can walk or run to. On a bicycle, you can cover a lot of territory but you don’t go too fast to take in the sights.
Lima is an even better city for cycling because, although there are fewer bike paths, it never rains, it’s never too cold, and it’s completely flat. Avenida Arequipa, a major vein running from downtown Lima to Miraflores, is closed to cars on Sundays until 2 p.m., during which time all four lanes fill with pedestrians, rollerbladers, skateboarders, and cyclists. It’s great for people-watching without the stress of cars and honking horns. Sunday is the best day to do a Lima bike tour, but any day will suffice.
I recommend Bike Tours of Lima if you are not comfortable navigating Latin American car traffic in on a bicycle. But if you have the confidence and want to cover more ground than a one-size-fits-all guided tour, I’ve created a custom Lima tour on Google Maps. In addition to the typical tourist areas, my tour will take you through Lince, Paseo Colon, Campo de Marte, Avenida Salaverry, Jesus Maria, Barrio Japones (Japanese Town), and more.
3. Lima Shantytown Tour
Lima Shantytown Tour is one of two off-the-beaten-path recommendations. This list formerly offered up Gamarra garment district in La Victoria, but its decline has led to its demotion in favor of visiting the hillside slums of Villa El Salvador with Haku Tours.
Only seeing areas like Miraflores and Barranco offer a jaded view of Lima given one third of the people are lower-middle or lower class. On the national level, more than half of Peruvians live in conditions more like these informal-housing districts than in the heart of the city. It’s a culture shock, but it’s reality.
That’s a video of what it looks like. It’s not scary. I’m not into scary shit whatsoever, although I did go skydiving almost 20 years ago. That was great. But paragliding isn’t a big thrill. The draw is the view.
I think Lima is beautiful in its own way, the splendor in architecture, the cascading rosebushes on houses, the colorful signs. But there is no great view of the skyline like, say, above New York City or even St. Louis with our iconic arch.
The view from Cerro San Cristobal is of sprawling, two- to three-story buildings downtown and in Rimac. From the Moorish Arch in Parque de la Amistad you can see the park and the poverty of San Juan de Miraflores. Paragliding takes you above the luxury apartment towers of Miraflores which spread out from the Green Coast of the Malecon. It’s an expensive view, but it’s the best in Lima.
5. Magic Water Circuit
By night, Parque de la Reserva hosts the Magic Water Circuit, a water fountain exhibit. The show consists of 13 water fountains that combine music, colored lights, and laser effects. The Guinness Book of World Records has verified it as the world’s largest fountain complex in a public park.
A Lima must-see, The Magic Water Circuit is a family-friendly hit with all ages. Some fountains are interactive, with names like Tunnel of Surprises, Dream Maze, and Walk-In Dome. You can stand and walk through these exhibits trying not to get wet. But anticipate getting wet. Excited kids get soaked. Staying dry is an option, but not as fun. Visitors say the Magic Water Circuit is more impressive than the Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas.
Dream Maze Fountain
6. City Center Walking Tour
Of the Latin American cities I’ve visited, downtown Lima is by far the most impressive city center. Before the 18th century, all of Spanish South America was governed by Spanish representatives in Lima. In Spain’s extraction of the vast silver wealth from the Potosi mine in present-day Bolivia, everything passed through Lima.
Below is a custom walking tour of downtown Lima, called “Cercado” in Peruvian Spanish. The tour features the Palace of Justice, Casa Roosevelt, Plaza Francia, Iglesia de la Recoleta, Plaza San Martin, Parque Universitario, Plaza de la Cultura, San Pedro Church, Barrio Chino (Chinatown), Congress, San Francisco church (which features the famous catacombs), Plaza de Armas, Government Palace, Lima Cathedral, Archbishop’s Palace, the Alameda Chabuca Granda, and Santo Domingo church.
7. Miraflores Walking Tour
Miraflores is an upscale district along the Pacific Coast, and the heart of Lima tourism, business, and leisure. Known for shopping, gardens, parks, and beaches, Miraflores is Lima’s best-known upscale district where all Peru’s modern celebrities have a history.
My tour features Parque Central, Parque Kennedy, Calle de las Pizzas, Avenida Larco, Larcomar, Malecon, and Parque del Amor. See my Miraflores Walking Tour.
8. Barranco Walking Tour
Barranco is the bohemian beach community in Lima. Where Miraflores is hustle, bustle, and business, Barranco has a more laidback, artistic vibe.
My walking tour features Parque Municipal, Plaza Barranco, Santisima Cruz church, Boulevard Sanchez Carrion, Avenida Miguel Grau, Avenida Saenz Peña, Avenida San Martin, La Ermita church, Puente de los Suspiros (Bridge of Sighs), Bajada de Baños. See my Barranco Walking Tour.
9. Gastronomy (Eat!)
Peruvian cuisine is the best in Latin America. If you’re in Lima for a week, you won’t have time to try everything. If you’re in town for a month, you’ll be able to have your favorites a second or third time. So don’t waste time, and don’t go to McDonald’s!
Lima-specific food features more seafood, so lots of ceviche and variations of causa. But here’s a list to work through while in Lima:
- Ceviche (raw fish marinated in lime, tossed with sweet potato)
- Causa (chicken or tuna salad with avocado in mashed potato cake)
- Aji de Gallina (shredded chicken breast in creamy sauce served with rice)
- Arroz con Pollo (cilantro-infused rice steamed with chicken, carrots, and peas)
- Seco de Cordero (stewed lamb in cilantro with potatoes and rice)
- Lomo Saltado (steak strips tossed with fried potatoes, tomato, and onion in soy sauce)
10. Debauchery (Drink!)
Pisco, a strong spirit distilled from grapes, is Peru’s national liquor. When I first moved to Peru in 2008, I thought it was awful. Since then, I’ve turned a new leaf. I love it. Pisco sours or pisco shots, I am all in.
Pisco sours, which contain simple syrup, lime, and egg white, are very sweet. I have to chase them down with beer, which Cusqueña is my choice in Peru. Although if you want to drink like an authentic Limeñan, stick with Pilsen Callao.
The less famous Peruvian cocktail is the algarrobina, which is a pisco-infused, sweet and creamy cocktail. With both condensed milk and egg yolks in the recipe, the diet is out the window.
In sticking with the off-the-beaten-path nature of my recommendations, I would never send you to a bar in Miraflores or Barranco. Start at Bar Queirolo, Lima’s oldest bar, located on Camana just below Colmena and west of Plaza San Martin. Queirolo is one of Peru’s national pisco and wine brands, and the bar sells all their booze by the bottle. It’s a great place to let your hair down, order a bottle of wine or pisco with your friends, and get a buzz started. They also sell cheese and salami platters for the wine aficionados, as well as sandwiches and hot plates.
From Queirolo, move to Gran Hotel Bolivar facing Plaza San Martin and order the Catedral, an oversized pisco sour. Then hit Bar Maury, which claims to have invented the pisco sour, just a block south of Plaza de Armas. If you’re in the mood to dance, I recommend El Bolivariano in Pueblo Libre. If price is not an option, try La Calesa in San Isidro. They have dozens of herb-infused piscos to sample.
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