Living La Vida Limeño
Lima is an amazing city for history buffs, foodies, shopping aficionados, and nightlife enthusiasts. If you’re more of an adrenaline junkie or nature lover, limit your time here. Regardless, if you’re planning to spend a bit of time in Peru, odds are you’ll be in and out of Lima a few times, so make sure you make the most of all this city has to offer with this simple guide.
About the Author: Tasha Prados served for 27 months as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Rio Grande, Ica, Peru.
What to do in Lima
- Walk/run along the malecón (sea wall) in Miraflores — gorgeous and free. Be sure to check out Parque del Amor (the Park of Love), close to Larcomar Mall, and Puente de los Suspiros (a famous bridge where generations of Limeño lovers have supposedly gone to trade whispers; there is even a desert named after it). Feel free to pack a picnic. You can also take surfing lessons down on the shore, but there is way better surfing elsewhere (Peru has the longest left wave in the world!). You can also go paragliding, but it’s very expensive.
- Similarly free and enjoyable is to take a stroll through Parque Kennedy and do some people (and stray cat) watching in the heart of Miraflores. There are often cool events here and craft fairs on weekends.
- Parque de las Aguas — an amazing water symphony complete with lights and music. Be prepared to get wet! Best enjoyed after dark. Cheap and a must-see.
- Go to the Church of San Francisco, and make sure you see the catacombs (unless you’re squeamish/claustrophobic/do not want to see human remains).
- Get coffee and causa rellena (mashed potatoes stuffed with chicken salad) next to the presidential palace in the main Plaza de Armas; generations of Peruvian presidents have enjoyed café con leche at this very spot.
- For a great primer on Peruvian history, don’t miss the Museo de la Nación. Be prepared to be depressed afterwards if you go through the exhibit on los años de la violencia, about Sendero Luminoso/the Shining Path. Museo Larco is also cool. The Museo de la Gastronomia provides fascinating insight into the origins of Peruvian cuisine in all its varieties, as well as Peruvian agriculture.
- If you’re a shopper, Lima has something for everyone. If you’re low on souvenirs, there are plenty of craft markets around Miraflores. Bargain, but expect to pay more than you would buying things outside of Lima. For a taste of the upper class limeño lifestyle, check out the shops at Larcomar Mall. For a great bargain, go to La Quinta in Miraflores; there you’ll find brand name US clothing for cheap — much of it, especially high quality pima cotton clothing — is made in Peru. If you want to get off the beaten path and see how Peruvians shop, go to Gamarra — this is a huge market/shopping area, where you can do anything from get a cheap custom-tailored suit to find authentic Peruvian costumes and chachkas from all over Peru (for cheap). Be sure to sample some of the delicious streetfood, including chocolate covered strawberries. This is NOT a tourist area. Watch your stuff even more closely than elsewhere. The same goes for Polvos Azules — a giant conglomeration of shops where you can get anything from cheap headphones to jeans; this is where Peruvians do their shopping.
- In terms of nightlife, you’ve got lots of great options; Peruvians love a good fiesta. In Miraflores, Calle Berlin is lined with fun bars, including an Irish pub with a weekly English-language trivia night. For a relaxing evening, get a fancy cocktail and do some people watching at Café de La Paz, right on Parque Kennedy, or at one of the seaside restaurants at the Larcomar Mall where you can enjoy the sunset. If you’re dying to watch an American sports game and drink ridiculously overpriced beer, head to The Corner Sports Bar and Grill. For the main tourist scene (and if you want to get picked up by a Peruvian scoping out tourists), pedestrian Calle de las Pizzas off Parque Kennedy is your go-to, but this would not be my recommendation. If you want to get your groove on and do some dancing, head to Barranco; that would be my top pick. Make sure you get to Barranco at some point, it’s Lima’s designated “hippie district.”
What to Eat
Peruvian cuisine is a rising star on the international culinary scene, and with good reason. Not sure what to order? Check out my Top 12 Peruvian dishes. For desert: tres leches (a delicious, moist “three milks” cake). For hangovers and/or emergencies: Caldo de Gallina (hen soup. It probably cures cancer). Peruvian street food is also delicious, so be on the lookout (though eat it at your own intestinal risk.)
It’s important to know that lunch is the biggest and most important meal of the day in Peru. Menu is a typical Peruvian lunch, generally consisting of a soup, salad, or small plate and an entrée (Pro tip: if you want to ask for the menu, the word is carta, not menu). To sample what most Peruvians eat on a daily basis, walk into any hole in the wall (so, not somewhere near Parque Kennedy) and order menu (Pro tip: you’ll know it’s not a tourist joint if the menu is under 10 soles).
Where to Eat
- Astrid & Gaston. Make a reservation. Expensive, but mind-blowing. Going here should be your #1 priority. The chef, Gastón Acurio, is the José Andrés of Peru, and an international superstar. Anything he touches turns to gold. Delicious, delicious gold.
- Both Astrid & Gaston and Central are supposedly among the world’s 50 best restaurants. Also pricey, but for obvious reasons!
- Another delicious place for traditional Peruvian fare is Tres Marias in Surco.
- Papachos. This is a burger restaurant, also a Gastón endeavor. I think it’s the best burger in the world, and with a delightful Peruvian twist. And amazing cocktails.
- For affordable sandwiches: La Lucha Sangucheria right on Parque Kennedy (there are two). A bit touristy, but delicious. And great milkshakes.
- Pan de la Chola is an amazing coffee shop/breakfast/light lunch place with fresh homemade bread, quality coffee, and sandwiches! Don’t miss it!
- You MUST eat ceviche while in Peru. You can do this pretty cheaply on the coast, so if you’re headed there, feel free to wait. If in Lima, there are many a cevicheria at which you can pay a pretty penny, and the title for the best cevicheria is a constant and heated battle. For a taste of the action check out one of these places.
- If you’re sick of Peruvian food (though I would not understand why), there are plenty of options. For delicious tacos, burritos and quesadillas, go to The Burrito Bar in Barranco, which also has Sierra Andina, a craft-brewed beer from Huaraz that’s hard to find in Lima. For 50 soles, get all-you-can-eat sushi in Miraflores at Magma. For fabulous Thai food (though a bit out of the way), head to Siam on Avenida Caminos del Inca in Surco.
Where to Stay
Miraflores. Other good/nice neighborhoods are San Isidro and Barranco.
- Party Hostels: In terms of a lot of factors (location, amenities, cleanliness, rooftop bar with good food) Pariwana is tough to beat. However, I have to mention that Volunteers have experienced sexual harassment and homophobia there from staff (like many hostels, the staff tend to be composed of wandering backpackers who are in and out). I have also had very positive interactions with staff there. Another great party hostel option is Kokopelli. On the other side of Parque Kennedy and next to several bars, this hostel also has a rooftop bar. Not quite as party-hardy but also well-located, complete with microbrews, a rooftop bar, and a hippie vibe, Dragonfly Hostel is a slightly chiller, but super cool, option.
- If all you’re looking for is a good, clean, simple and cheap place to lay your head, Friend’s House is perfect, and owned by a very nice family. There are two, my favorite is at 368 Manco Capac in Miraflores. It looks pretty much like a normal house. Do NOT confuse with Friend’s Home.
- Sick of the hostel scene? If you want to relax and pamper yourself a bit, try the Inka Frog B&B.
How to Get Around
- Walking is perfectly safe, especially in Miraflores, San Isidro and Barranco. Lima is also the most running-friendly city in Peru , so take advantage! There are a few bike rental places.
- Lima is the definition of urban sprawl, so you will probably be taking a taxi at some point (or at many points). Be sure to only take clearly designated taxis. Agree on the price before you get in, and bargain.
- Locals take combis, mini-busses, to get around. They are super cheap (from 50 cents to 2 soles, fixed prices), but can be a bit intimidating if you don’t speak Spanish and don’t really understand where the combi is going. Watch your stuff.
- To/From the airport: When you arrive at the airport, you will be hounded by drivers. You probably want to head to Miraflores. You’ll pay more if it’s night. Bargain, but expect to pay 30-50 soles. Pro tip: Taxis have to get a special card to enter the airport. If you want a cheaper ride, just walk outside of the airport to the main road, and catch a taxi or a combi. Make sure you take a designated taxi though. You may want to put your stuff in the trunk on the way from the airport — thieves have been known to break windows, reach in, and grab your bags. Similarly, going to the airport, you can get a cheaper ride if you tell them they don’t have to take you inside the airport. Going to the airport, especially during the day, shoot for 35 soles.
- Always watch your stuff. Do not leave it unattended! Beware of pickpockets.
- Only take legit taxis.
- Count your change.
- Collect change. You will need coins!
Have a blast! Peru is amazing!