For most people, a trip to legendary Machu Picchu begins with a flight to the gateway city of Lima, capital of Peru. Guidebooks will try their best to convince you to skip Lima and hop on the next plane to Cusco … but they’re wrong.
With a population 9 million strong, it’s the poster child of polarity. Mansions and high-rises rub shoulders with shanties and Pre-Incan ruins.
Lima is a city of stunning contrasts. It’s built in a desert, yet its many parks and water features have earned it the affectionate nickname of the “Garden City.” Both politically and seismically volatile, Lima has faced serious challenges in its recent past – from the ravages of earthquakes to the struggles with the Shining Path.
“Positive first impressions are hard to come by in the midst of Lima’s coastal fog, belching buses and general air of big city chaos. If you reserve judgment for a day or two, however, you might find yourself falling for the so-called “City of Kings,” and there are certainly enough things to do in to warrant an extended stay.” –Tony Dunnell, About.com Guide
For the Intrepid Traveler, it’s a fascinating place to explore before launching your journey to Machu Picchu. Here’s the list of our 5 Favorite things to do in Lima:
1. Stroll the Historic District taking in the classic architecture of the Plaza de Armas.
Then saunter another block to the beautiful Convento de San Francisco, where a detour to the catacombs will bring you face to face with artfully arranged stacks of bones from 75,000 bodies. Yes, seriously.
2. Visit the Museums and Galleries in the City Center and Bohemian Barranco. We enjoyed the Museo de la Nación, particularly their collection of folk art masks. However, I could definitely have passed on the photo exhibit of gruesome war atrocities on the top floor. But it seems we missed the superstar of museums, the stylish Museo Larco of pre-Columbian art, housed in a former mansion. One of their big draws is their Gallery of pre-Coumbian Huaco Erotic Pottery … and we’re not talkin’ PG! It’s on our list for the next trip.
3. Eat, Stroll, then Eat Some More. Limeños, the people of Lima, are passionate about their food, and nothing makes them happier than a nice, fresh ceviche – the national dish. If raw fish isn’t your thing, other choices are abundant. Trust me, you won’t go hungry.
And don’t forget the national drink, the pisco sour. Well actually, you won’t forget it.
4. Explore Miraflores and Larcomar. After seeing the Historic Disctict, you won’t believe how different Miraflores feels. Perched on the coastal cliffs with spectacular views, this stylish district boasts trendy Larcomar – a restaurant and shopping complex built into the cliffside below Miraflores.
We found it too rich for our blood, but the people watching was terrific. And at the base of the cliffs is El Malecón, a gorgeous seafront strip of parks where you can rent bikes and work off all that food.
5. The iconic Balconies of Lima are so incredible they deserve even more attention. So until tomorrow …
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like others in our Peru Series:
Mysterious Machu Picchu: City of Chosen Women or Royal Palace?
The Train,Terrain, and Rain at Machu Picchu
Ollantaytambo: A Living City of the Inca
Art: The Secret Language of the Andes
Cusco: Navel of the Inca World
Lima’s Major Domo
Lima’s Luscious Balconies: A Tale of Jealousy
9. Plaza de Armas by MaSii Wikimedia Commons
10. San Francisco Monastery by Herwig Reidlinger
12. Ceviche by HugoMon via Wikimedia Commons
13. Pisco Sour By Dtarazona via Wikimedia Commons