6 Must-Do Experiences in Lima, Peru

6 Must-Do Experiences in Lima, Peru

Lima, the capital of Peru, is more than just a gateway to the famous ruins of Machu Picchu. It’s a bustling metropolis rich in history and culture. Lima is a city of layers, each telling its own story, from pre-Columbian history encapsulated within ancient ruins to colonial splendors and vibrant modern-day districts. A visit to Lima provides a glimpse into the rich tapestry of cultures that have shaped this fascinating city.

My family spent a few days exploring Lima before going to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Based on our experiences, here are six must-do adventures in Lima that capture the spirit and diversity of this vibrant city.

1. Explore Lima’s Spanish Colonial History

Lima’s Historic Center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a must-visit destination for anyone exploring Peru’s capital. We went on a private guided walking tour of the historic center.

At the heart of Lima’s historic center lies Plaza Mayor or Plaza de Armas. This square is historically significant, as it was here that Francisco Pizarro founded the city in 1535. Plaza Mayor is surrounded by some of the most important buildings from the colonial era, including the stunning Cathedral of Lima, the Archbishop’s Palace, the Government Palace, and the Municipal Palace. The Cathedral of Lima, with its splendid façade and impressive interiors, houses the tomb of Francisco Pizarro in its chapel.

Jirón de la Unión is a bustling pedestrian street that stretches from Plaza Mayor to Plaza San Martín. As we strolled along this historic street, we encountered an array of colonial-era buildings, along with modern shops, cafes, and boutiques.

Our guide took us inside the Church of La Merced, a lesser-known gem which was built in 1535.

Plaza San Martín is a vibrant historic landmark that beckons travelers with its colonial charm and rich cultural significance. This grand square, inaugurated in 1921 to commemorate the centenary of Peru’s independence, is a tribute to the nation’s liberator, General José de San Martín. At the center, you’ll find an imposing bronze statue of San Martín, a symbol of Peru’s enduring spirit of freedom.

We also visited the Basilica and Convent of Santo Domingo, an iconic religious complex renowned for its remarkable architectural beauty and deep historical significance. Established in the 16th century, it played a pivotal role in the spread of Christianity throughout Peru. The basilica stands out with its striking pink façade and intricate baroque details, while the interior boasts a stunning array of religious art, sculptures, and golden altars.

2. Experience Lima’s culinary delights

Lima is often referred to as the gastronomical capital of South America, and for good reason. This city offers an incredible array of flavors, blending Andean, Spanish, African, Chinese, and Japanese culinary traditions to create a world-renowned fusion cuisine.

Ceviche, which is fresh fish marinated in tangy lime juice and spiced with chili, is the national dish of Peru.

Another essential is Lomo Saltado, a savory stir-fry that combines tender strips of beef with tomatoes, onions, and Peruvian spices, served with a side of crispy fries and rice – a fusion of native and Chinese influences.

Ají de Gallina, a comforting and creamy chicken stew enriched with a blend of aji amarillo (yellow chili), nuts, and cheese, typically served over rice with boiled potatoes.

A friend told me that we needed to make sure we tried Alfajores. These beloved cookies are typically made from two shortbread-like biscuits sandwiched with a luscious layer of dulce de leche (a creamy caramel made from sweetened milk) and dusted with powdered sugar.

Chicha Morada is a traditional Peruvian beverage that stands out for its unique flavor and vibrant hue. Made from purple corn (maíz morado), a type of maize native to the Andean region, this refreshing drink is both delicious and packed with cultural significance and antioxidants.

Pisco Sour is an iconic Peruvian cocktail that is crafted from Pisco, a clear and potent grape brandy produced in the winemaking regions of Peru. The cocktail’s signature smooth and frothy texture is achieved by shaking Pisco with freshly squeezed lime juice, simple syrup, a touch of egg white, and a few dashes of Angostura bitters.

Our guide told us about Lima’s version of Chinese cuisine, called Chifa. We enjoyed trying it and comparing it to our Americanized version of Chinese food.

We didn’t attend a cooking class, but, if that interests you, it is something I would to include in your itinerary if you work with me to plan your trip.

3. Visit the modern neighborhoods of Lima

Lima’s architecture is an architectural melting pot that is a reflective mix of its colonial past and modern influences. After appreciating the grandiose colonial buildings that feature beautiful balconies and intricate baroque designs, visit some of the contrasting modern neighborhoods with their sleek, modern buildings and vibrant cultural scenes.

Our hotel was in the neighborhood of Miraflores, which boasts upscale shops, beautifully tended parks, and an array of top-notch restaurants.

The Malecón, also known as the Miraflores Boardwalk, is a picturesque coastal promenade that offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.

4. Explore Lima’s Parks

Amidst the urban expanse, Lima surprises visitors with its beautiful parks and gardens. The city is home to numerous green spaces that offer tranquil retreats from the bustling city life.

My kids’ favorite park was Parque Kennedy, which we could walk to from our hotel. One of the park’s most endearing and unique features is its thriving population of friendly cats which have become an iconic attraction. My kids fell in love with these cats which are well cared for by local volunteers and animal welfare organizations, who ensure they receive regular feedings and medical attention.

Strolling through Kennedy Park, you’ll find numerous cats lounging in the sun, playing among the flower beds, and interacting with park-goers. In addition to its furry inhabitants, the park is a vibrant social hub, often hosting small markets, art exhibitions, and live performances that add to its welcoming atmosphere.

El Parque del Amor, located in Miraflores, is a famous garden known for its Gaudi-inspired architecture and stunning mosaic walls. Having previously visited Barcelona, I immediately recognized the similarities to Park Güell.

It’s not only a paradise for garden lovers but also a haven for romantics. Parque del Amor translates to Love Park. True to its name, the park features a central sculpture dedicated to lovers, making it a favorite spot, especially at sunset.

After seeing these beautiful gardens, you might be surprised to learn that Lima is located in a coastal desert region. It is one of the largest desert cities in the world, second only to Cairo, Egypt. Despite its desert classification, Lima experiences a mild climate, characterized by high humidity and little rainfall throughout the year. The prevalent clouds and mist, known locally as “garúa,” contribute to the atmospheric moisture, often casting a gray haze over the city but rarely leading to significant precipitation. We found it fascinating because it wasn’t anything like the other deserts we’ve visited.

5. Climb the pyramid of Huaca Pucllana

I’ll be honest: Huaca Pucllana wasn’t on my radar screen before this trip. But after our guide pointed it out to us, we wanted to go back the next day and have a closer look. Located in the Miraflores district, Huaca Pucllana is an ancient adobe and clay pyramid dating back to the Lima Culture which thrived in the region from around 200 AD to 700 AD. In contrast, the Inca Empire, which is widely known for its remarkable achievements and cities like Machu Picchu, began to emerge around the early 13th century and lasted until the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. This means that Huaca Pucllana is approximately 800 to 1,000 years older than any of the major developments of the Inca civilization.

This archaeological site is in the middle of the city and offers a stark contrast to the modern buildings that surround it. It’s a fascinating juxtaposition of Lima’s ancient roots and modern culture. We enjoyed lunch in the adjacent restaurant overlooking the pyramid and then went on a tour of the complex, including a museum with artifacts found during excavations.

6. Shop at one of Lima’s markets


One of my favorite things to do in a foreign city is to visit a local market. Lima boasts a vibrant market scene that offers a delightful window into Peruvian culture, cuisine, and craftsmanship. We visited one of the most popular markets: Surquillo Market. This bustling market is a paradise for food lovers, brimming with a colorful array of fresh produce, meats, seafood, and traditional Peruvian ingredients. It’s an excellent spot for those looking to try exotic fruits or sample street food.

Just a short walk away, the Inka Market is the place to buy authentic Peruvian handicrafts. We browsed through an extensive selection of textiles, ceramics, jewelry, and alpaca wool products.

Do you want to visit Lima, Peru?

Lima is a city where history, culture, and modernity blend seamlessly, offering a fascinating experience. Each of these activities offers a unique glimpse into the city’s rich cultural tapestry and is sure to leave visitors with unforgettable memories and treasures. I can help craft a custom trip for you or find a tour or cruise with a stop in Lima. Learn about how I work with clients.


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