Before Machu Picchu: Don’t Miss Our 5 Favorite Lima Experiences

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.

The stunning stained glass dome in the lobby of the historic Gran Hotel Blolivar in Lima, Peru. Built in 1924 in the Spanish Baroque style on Plaza San Martin, it attracted Hollywood stars such as John Wayne and Orson Wells in the 1940s and 50s.

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 recent political struggles.

“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, 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.

Pisco Sour

And don’t forget the national drink, the pisco sour. Well actually, you won’t forget it.

Larcomar 2

4. Explore Miraflores and Larcomar. After seeing the Historic District, 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 what a great opportunity for some entertaining people watching. And El Malecón, a scenic clifftop walkway along the coast, provides the perfect setting to rent bikes and work off all that food.


5. Admire the Iconic Balconies of Lima. There’s a secret story behind these galleries. They weren’t just a beautiful architectural feature, but served to keep the women of town under the thumbs of jealous men.

Peaceful Trails,
Terri & James

Last updated January 19, 2020

Iglesia Merced

Photo Credits: 10. Herwig Reidlinger 12. HugoMon 13. Dtarazona


We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

18 thoughts

    1. Beth, Lima is truly a city of contrasts, but for first-time visitors it really is a must-see. Many parts of the city require a visual filter, and it takes patience and undersanding, but the Peru experience isn’t complete without it. ~James

  1. I went to Machu Picchu on an organised tour so sadly my time in Lima was brief. I would have loved to have spent more time there and done the city justice. I do remember going to a seafood restaurant in Miraflores on the waterfront that used to be a favourite hangout of gangsters or something along those lines.

    1. Fi, Lima and Miraflores are good pair of cities to see because they are so different. Lima takes work that’s for sure, but as the capital, it has the museums, monuments, and cultural history to put the country in perspective, so it’s a really good idea to visit. Miraflores was just a cool walk-around and we stayed in a wonderful little family hotel that enhanced the experience. I hope all is going well for you and all the best for a fun 2020. ~James

    1. Curt, these masks were at the national museum, and as you’d expect, that had a dandy collection. I’ve always found it interesting that cultures all over the world independently developed and used masks in their ceremonies. ~James

  2. I always believe that when I go to Peru one day I’ll have to spend a few days in Lima — which is one of the reasons why I still haven’t gone because I know I need two weeks at the very minimum to see the country’s highlights. Thanks for these recommendations, Terri. They will certainly come handy when I finally plan a trip to Peru.

    1. Bama, Lima has many big-city similarities to Jakarta. It’s a colonial city that’s bursting at the seams with people and all the hustle-bustle that accompanies that hectic life. But it’s a microcosm of the country that new visitors should see. I hope you can make it there. ~James

  3. The best ceviche we’ve had in Peru was not in Lima, but in Puno. Well, one should avoid eating in the tourist areas🙂
    Strolling in Lima is indeed best thing to do, in all their 3 famous districts. We learned so much about their troubled past.

    1. Christie, Lima has had its share of problems for sure, but it also has a deep, rich history which shows in its art and architecture. And all it takes to enjoy it is a bit of planning, an open mind, and as you say, “strolling around.” ~James

    1. Laura, we had to pass through Lima anyway, so no matter what travel writers say, we have a hard time ignoring a country’s capital if we’re spending any time there. ~James

  4. I spent 4 days in Lima, and concur with your list. I did see the Larco Museum and it was very worth it (even before I hit the erotic collection!) The one thing I would add is paragliding off the cliffs of Miraflores.

    1. Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to the Larco Museum, but I’m glad to see that not all museum curators are stuffy and conservative. We really enjoyed our short time in Miraflores, but paragliding off cliffs is a bit beyond my comfort zone – but good for you for giving it a go. ~James

  5. Hi Terri and James, I enjoyed Lima when I was there about three years ago. Did you visit the archeological site Huaca Pucllana in Lima? It’s quite amazing to see.

    1. Thanks for the comment Natalie and for dropping by the blog. Not sure why, but I’ve never heard of Huaca Pucllana, and even though we visited Miraflores, we didn’t manage to see it. From the photos it looks way cool. I read that it was in a residential neighborhood in Miraflores as well. Bummer that we didn’t visit. Thanks for letting me know, and maybe next time we can make it. ~James

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