Lima, Peru’s sprawling coastal capital. Image by Imperial94, flickr.com.

It’s no small task to write a concise Lima travel guide. Home to around 10 million people, the Peruvian capital is by far the largest city in Peru. It’s a sprawling metropolis whose boundaries encompass everything from run-down shanty towns to luxury sea-view apartments; from bland traffic-choked districts to historic areas with beautiful plazas and parks.

Many tourists overlook Lima, using it as nothing more than an entry point into Peru on the way to Cusco, Arequipa, Puno or the Amazon. And I get that: not everyone likes big cities, and Lima isn’t the most obviously charming of places despite its seafront location.

But if you have the time, give the Peruvian capital at least a few days. Lima is full of sights and attractions, with plenty to keep travelers of all ages and budgets entertained for at least a week — and potentially far longer. And Lima is the beating heart of modern Peru — a mix of every type of Peruvian, from the coast, the highlands and the jungle — where Peruvian culture, music, food and more have collided to form an urban melting pot that might be hard to love, but is never short on sights, sounds and sensations.

Things to Do in Lima

Sightseeing in Lima

Lima is packed with sights and attractions. For relaxed sightseeing, you can easily spend an hour or so strolling around Parque Kennedy and Miraflores; or Barranco with its colorful buildings and café culture; or Bosque el Olivar in San Isidro; or the impressive historic center of Lima, all of which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

More specific excursions within the city include the Magic Water Circuit with its illuminated fountains, and the Parque de las Leyendas, which combines a zoo, botanical garden, museum and archaeological site. For views — at least on a rare clear day — head up to the top of Cerro San Cristóbal, or south to Chorrillos and the Cristo Del Pacífico (Christ of the Pacific) statue. If you’re traveling with kids, they might enjoy Mini Mundo, Divercity and the Parque de la Imaginación.

Sports and Outdoor Activities in Lima

Believe it or not, Lima is also pretty good for sports and outdoor activities. There are obviously far better places in Peru to go trekking, but for walking, jogging and cycling you can hit El Malecón, Lima’s coastal cliff-top path. You can also go paragliding from El Malecón. Bicycle tours run along this stretch and other parts of the city.

Down below the cliffs are Lima’s beaches, which attract surfers year-round and hundreds of sunbathers during the city’s all-too-brief sunny spells. Most of Lima’s best surfing beaches are further down the coast on the city limits and beyond.

Other outdoor activities in Lima include free walking tours; sandboarding (not as good as at Huacachina down south near Ica, but decent nonetheless); scuba diving at Pucusana and the Islas Palomino; and boat tours of nearby islands.

The biggest sporting event in the city is the huge soccer derby match — El Clásico Peruano — between Alianza Lima and Universitario. If you want passion and maybe a little chaos, this is the game to see. Alternatively, you might be able to catch the national team play — ideally against a neighboring rival such as Chile or Ecuador, or a heavyweight like Brazil or Argentina. For a more traditional but far more controversial spectator “sport,” head to the historic Plaza de Acho bullfighting ring (most major bullfights take place during October and November).

Parque Kennedy in Miraflores, Lima. Photo by Tony Dunnell.

Art, Music and Theater in Lima

It took a long time for Lima to get its act together on the arts scene, at least in terms of contemporary art. Now the city has the new Museo de Arte Contemporáneo (MAC Lima) in Barranco; it’s still got some way to go, but it’s a start. Also in Barranco is the MATE gallery, set up by internationally acclaimed photographer Mario Testino. You’ll find other galleries, including the Lima Museum of Art (MALI) and the Museum of Italian Art, in the Parque de la Exposición in downtown Lima. For street art, stroll around Barranco.

Lima attracts a lot of major international music acts these days, playing in a variety of venues across the city (with the biggest gigs often taking place at the Estadio Nacional). Big concerts in 2017 include Justin Bieber, Bryan Adams, Linkin Park, Ed Sheeran and Maroon 5. Lima also hosts a growing repertoire of music festivals. You can see all the upcoming concert and festival listings for Lima and Peru here.

For classical music and theater, check out the program at the Gran Teatro Nacional (www.granteatronacional.pe).

Museums and Historic Sites in Lima

The main museums in Lima include the free and fairly brutal Museum of the Inquisition; the private and much acclaimed Museo Larco; the Museo de la Nacion; and Museo Pedro de Osma. Other museums in Lima cover everything from minerals to textiles, stamps and gold. Also of note is the Museo Planetario y Observatorio del Morro Solar (Lima’s planetarium and observatory).

The historic center of Lima is packed with important old buildings from the colonial period and the Republican Era. The Plaza Mayor (Plaza de Armas) is the historic center of Lima and the most important and impressive square in the capital. On it you’ll find the Government Palace (with a daily changing of the guard), Lima Cathedral and the impressive Archbishop’s Palace, among others.

Don’t miss the Monastery of San Francisco with its bone-filled catacombs, located a couple of blocks from the main square. Other notable religious buildings are the Iglesia de Santo Domingo (home to the skull of Saint Rose of Lima) and the extravagant Iglesia de la Merced.

Other important landmarks include Real Felipe Fortress in Callao; old colonial homes such as Casa Aliaga, Casa de la Riva, and Casa de Oquendo (Casa de Osambela); the impressive Torre Tagle Palace; and the Parque de la Muralla in which you can see parts of the old city walls.

Archaeological sites within the city include Huaca Pucllana in Miraflores and Huaca Huallamarca in San Isidro. Just to the south of the city is the large complex of Pachacamac.

The Archbishop’s Palace of Lima, one of the main buildings on Lima’s Plaza Mayor. Photo by Art DiNo, flickr.com.

Where to Stay in Lima

When you’re trying to decide where to stay in Lima, you might want to first choose a district rather than a specific hotel or hostel (unless, of course, there’s a particular hotel you really want to stay at). You can read more about this in my article Where to Stay in Lima: The Best Districts for Sights and Safety.

If you’re planning a layover in Lima and you want to stay near the airport, read The Best Hostels and Hotels Near Lima Airport.

I’ll be covering more individual hostels and hotels in Lima in the future. But for now I’ll list some of the best options available in a range of prices, from cheap backpacker hostels to five-star hotels.

Friend’s House (facebook.com/FriendsHouseLimaPeru) — I’ve been returning to Friend’s House in Miraflores for years. It’s a little worn around the edges, but cheap, comfortable and has a good vibe.

1900 Backpackers Hostel (www.1900hostel.com) — My favorite hostel in Central Lima, located in a spacious renovated mansion.

Red Llama Eco-Hostel (redllamahostel.com) — A good spot in Miraflores. Slightly expensive for a hostel, but fun and eco-friendly.

Gran Hotel Bolivar (www.granhotelbolivar.com.pe) — One of Lima’s most historic hotels, albeit a shadow of its former star-studded self. Still, its slight decline has made this supposedly haunted hotel surprisingly affordable. I love it.

Hilton Lima Miraflores (website) — Generally considered one of the best hotels in Lima. Rooms start at around US$230.

Hotel B (hotelb.pe) — This arts-boutique hotel in Barranco has garnered a lot of global media attention since it opened in 2013. It’s not cheap though, with rooms between $330 and $580.

Where to Eat in Lima

If you believe all the hype, Lima is one of the world’s great food cities. The international accolades keep pouring in, and no Lima travel guide would be complete without mentioning certain chefs who are becoming global stars.

Most notable among them are the husband-and-wife culinary teams of Gastón Acurio and Astrid Gutsche (owners of Astrid & Gastón and a billion other restaurants) and Virgilio Martínez and Pia León, owners of Central, voted the best restaurant in South America in 2017 (and the fifth best in the world).

So while you’re in Lima, think about booking a seat at one of these swank restaurants to see what all the fuss is about. You might have to book well in advance, but it will be far more affordable than eating in restaurants owned by the same chefs in cities like London and New York.

If upscale isn’t your style, you’ll find plenty of excellent restaurants in Lima that won’t drain your budget. The capital is one of the best places in Peru to eat ceviche, whether it’s at the fish market in Chorrillos or one of many cevicherias serving a range of different types of ceviche. One particular seafood restaurant I always return to is Aventuras Marinas at Manuel Bonilla 178-B in Miraflores (not far from the top of Parque Kennedy); the lunchtime menú costs between S/ 10 and S/ 15 ($3 and $4.60) and it’s always memorable.

If you like chifa (traditional Peruvian-Cantonese fusion) then go chow down in Barrio Chino (Chinatown) in the city center. It’s a fun area for a stroll and an even better place for eating chifa. If you’re hungry, head to an all-you-can-eat chifa buffet, guaranteed to fill you to the brim.

For quick eats, try Lima’s street food. From pork sandwiches to sugary churros, the street food in Lima is well worth exploring, especially after a beer or three.

If you’ve been on the road for a while, you might be missing food from back home. In that case, take advantage of Lima’s international options — buffalo wings, curry, sushi, pulled pork sandwiches and much more — which are hard, if not impossible, to find in other cities. Check out places like Mantra (www.mantraperu.com) in Miraflores, Wingman (@wingmanalitasinc) in Barranco and Papi Carne (@PapiCarne) in Surquillo, to mention just a few.

Sweet-toothed tourists should visit the ChocoMuseo (www.chocomuseo.com), where you can learn the chocolate-making process and eat a load of chocolate. Lima has two ChocoMuseos, one in Miraflores and the other on Lima’s Plaza Mayor (Central Lima).

Also keep an eye out for gastronomic fairs. If you’re a “foodie,” you’ll enjoy annual culinary events like Mistura, Invita Perú and various others.

When it comes to alcohol, Lima is home to Peru’s best pisco sours and other classic pisco cocktails. Hotspots include the bar at the historic Gran Hotel Bolívar; Bar Inglés at the Lima Country Club; and Mayta in Miraflores. Beer enthusiasts, meanwhile, will want to sample the ever-expanding options coming out of Peru’s new craft beer scene (see nightlife section for more).

A busy night in Barbarian bar and taproom in Miraflores, Lima. Photo by Tony Dunnell.

Drinking and Nightlife in Lima

Lima is packed with clubs playing modern electronic music with various others genres sometimes thrown into the mix. I’m no expert on big clubs in Lima (so feel free to recommend something in the comments below), but you could try Bazar in Miraflores, El Dragon in Barranco, and MIA or Mute in Surco (both close to each other).

Bars are more my kind of thing, especially if they sell good beer. A few years ago, it was tough to find an IPA or a pale ale in Peru, with just the standard Pilsen Callao, Cristal and Cusqueña available at most bars. But Peru’s craft beer scene has blossomed in the last few years, and now you can bar crawl from one taproom to the next. In Miraflores you’ll find the Barbarian and Nuevo Mundo taprooms, both of which have a range of house beers and other craft beers from across Peru. Barranco, meanwhile, is home to the English-owned Brewpub Wicks and Barranco Beer Company. And in Pueblo Libre, head to Hops.

For traditional nightlife in Lima, go to a peña. A peña is a mix of live musica criolla, dancing, food and drink. Some peñas are touristy and not so authentic, while others are the real deal. One of the most popular peñas in Lima is Del Carajo! (www.delcarajo.com.pe) in Barranco. It’s a mix of foreigners and tourists, and gets lively late on Friday and Saturday.

Other nightlife options include gambling in one of Lima’s many casinos or catching a movie at the cinema. Most districts have a good cinema, including Miraflores, which has at least two, with one inside Larcomar Shopping Center (www.larcomar.com).

Shopping in Lima

I hate shopping. I loathe it. But here we go anyway…

Shopping in Lima is great! Ahem. Yeah, well, I guess it’s great. I mean, you can buy everything from genuine Gucci handbags to finger puppets made from llama wool.

Districts like Miraflores and San Isidro have plenty of expensive boutique clothing stores frequented by people who probably own pink poodles. You’ll also find international brands in shopping centers like Larcomar and large retail stores like Ripley.

Bargain hunters should avoid these places and instead go to Gamarra, the largest center for retail clothing in Peru (it covers about 20 blocks in the La Victoria district). It can get a little sketchy at times, especially when it’s crowded, so be wary of pickpockets and opportunistic thieves.

Another option is Polvos Azules, also in La Victoria. It’s a sprawling and ramshackle shopping center with thousands of stores selling everything from perfume to purses to PlayStations. In Central Lima, a block or two from Barrio Chino, you’ll find the Mercado Central. Inside the main market building are stalls selling fresh produce, including meat, fruit and veg. All around the market are stalls selling everything from shoes to Tupperware to electronics that probably won’t work for more than a week.

For something completely different, head to the Mercado de Brujas (Witches’ Market), located beneath the Gamarra metro station. Here you can buy all kinds of potions and cure-alls, including the now-infamous frog smoothies.

For prime souvenir shopping in Lima, go to the Mercado Indio (Indian Market) along Avenida Petit Thouars in Miraflores. It’s touristy and you’ll probably find slightly better prices elsewhere, but it’s packed full of good stuff and makes souvenir shopping easy. Perfect for people who hate shopping.

Transport in Lima: Arriving, Getting Around and Onward Travel

Lima is the transportation hub for the whole of Peru. Most major forms of national public transport in Peru have their main terminals or ports in the capital. Nearly all international air traffic lands at Lima’s Jorge Chávez International Airport, and all of Peru’s domestic airlines are centered on Lima, from where they fly to other airports in Peru.

Many travelers arrive in Lima by air and then travel to tourist districts like Miraflores. You can read about getting from Lima Airport to Miraflores by taxi, bus, shuttle and more here; many of these options also apply to other districts.

Major domestic bus companies in Peru arrive and depart from their respective terminals, not from a large bus terminal serving all companies. Many of these terminals are in La Victoria. Taxis in Lima are good, but you need to be careful when flagging down a cab. Always look for a reasonably modern vehicle with a clearly displayed license (including yellow cabs and unmarked modern black cabs).

Lima has a cheap but chaotic system of minibuses (combis and colectivos). If you’re feeling brave and you don’t mind the cramped conditions, give it a go — just be careful of pickpockets and snatch thieves.

A better, safer option is the Metropolitano bus rapid transit system. It’s not perfect and can be overcrowded, but it’s cheaper than a taxi and normally more comfortable and quicker than a combi. You’ll need to buy a Metropolitano swipe card to use the system (or you can ask someone to swipe their card for you and give them the equivalent amount in change — normally a few soles).

If you have any questions about transport to, from or in Lima, feel free to ask in the comments section below.

Safety in Lima

No big city anywhere in the world is ever totally safe.

The most dangerous thing about Lima is the traffic. Otherwise, it’s not so bad. Exercise all standard precautions etc. etc. and you should be fine. Especially watch out for snatch theft, and don’t leave any valuables exposed or unattended for even a second.

Certain districts in Lima are worse than others, so try to avoid the most dangerous areas, especially at night. I won’t cover them in this Lima travel guide, but I have written a separate article all about the most dangerous areas of Lima.

Withdrawing and Exchanging Money in Lima

ATMs are everywhere in Lima. It’s best to withdraw money from an ATM inside a bank just to be on the safe side (less chance of snatch theft and card skimmer devices). You can read more about using ATMs in Peru here.

If you are using US dollars in Peru, you can change them for soles in banks, casas de cambio (currency exchange offices) and with registered street money-changers, the latter often giving the best exchange rates.

Internet in Lima

The internet in Peru is normally functional and sometimes surprisingly fast, and Lima has arguably the best connection speeds, especially in touristy and upscale districts.

Most three- to five-star hotels should have good Wi-Fi access throughout. Many hostels also have good Wi-Fi, although speeds vary greatly depending on the internet package used and the number of people online at any given time.

You’ll find internet cafes all over Lima, and most cafes, restaurants and bars have free Wi-Fi. Free Wi-Fi hotspots have also been set up in some districts, including in Miraflores.

Weather in Lima

Lima is an oddball when it comes to weather. The city is located in the tropics, just 12 degrees south of the equator. It’s also in a desert. But Lima is neither a lush tropical city nor an arid desert metropolis — it has a mild desert climate with two distinct seasons: a warm and fairly sunny summer and a cool and overcast winter.

Summer runs from December through April with January to mid-March being the hottest period. Average maximum temperatures sit around 28°C (82°F) during the day, with average lows of about 18°C (64°F) at night. Coastal fogs are common in the morning, keeping humidity levels high early in the day. The summer skies over Lima are relatively cloud-free, ensuring a reasonable amount of bright and sunny days. Rainfall is almost nonexistent during the summer months, with the exception of some brief and very light showers.

Winter runs from May to November with June to September being the coolest, wettest and cloudiest months (the most depressing months, some would say). Average temperatures from June to September hover around 14°C (57°F) at night, with average maximum temperatures rarely rising above 20°C (68°F). Dark, lifeless and overcast skies often hang over Lima for days or weeks on end during the winter. Precipitation remains low, but morning drizzle and fogs — known locally as garúa — are common.

A large percentage of international tourists arrive in Lima during the city’s grey winter period, which happens to be high season in Peru. Tourists who only see the gloomy side of Lima might well have a different opinion of the city if they returned in the summer.

Festivals and Events in Lima

You can find out what’s happening in Lima throughout the year with my guide to festivals and cultural events in Lima, Peru.