Lima doesn't have the best reputation amongst travelers, nor the locals living outside of the city. Stories about dangerous slums and tourists getting robbed in broad day light, circle the web. Although any large city has a mix of good and bad, we found it quite the opposite of the online opinions. Friendly faces, great food, and lot's do. This article is about all the fun things do in Lima.
MAGIC WATER CIRCUIT show at THE RESERVE PARK
This is probably the number one tourist attraction in Lima, and we shamefully have to admit that we skipped it the first time we visited the city. The second time we came to Lima, we were talked into going by our guide, and we are glad we went. At night the park truly turns into magic, with every fountain illuminated with different colors and synchronized to music. There are 13 fountains total in the park, and the biggest attraction is the light show at the Fantasy Fountain. There are 3 shows per day/except Mondays at 19:15, 20:15 and 21:30, more info here.
It's best to visit the park during the week to avoid the big crowds. People will be around, but it's much more enjoyable. About 10 minutes before the show starts at the Fantasy Fountain, everybody lines up against the railing to watch it, so make sure to get there on time. Most people choose to stand close to the railing, but we personally think it's better to sit on the benches, further from the crowd, where you get a bigger "window" to see the whole show.
There is a level of cheesiness to the show: lasers, holograms of people and the same classic songs you've heard the street bands play on the flute, but it's the kind of cheesy that make it cool. The show is about 20 minutes long and before it ended we ran to our favorite fountain in the park -"The tunnel of surprises" to take a few pictures without any people in it. It worked!
We spent the most time at this fountain, walking underneath it and looking at the cool, orange beams of water running over our heads and occasionally splashing us with water.
Make sure you allow yourself enough time to explore the park before the main show and getting there can be a nightmare because of the notorious traffic in Lima, but definitely don't miss it!
At night the park truly turns into magic
Explore Centro Historico
Head down to the historical center to start your tour of Lima. Around the Plaza Mayor you will see many colonial buildings, and the interiors are equally beautiful. In particular, the Cathedral of Lima is worth visiting as well the Archbishops palace adjacent to it. The Archbishop of Lima has a nice house to live in for sure: lavish furnishing, beautiful paintings and ornaments fill the interiors.
Just around the corner from the main square is located the Monastery of San Francisco. An interesting place to visit because of the large catacombs with neatly organized bones that create a form of morbid art.
China town in Lima
Lima is a melting pot of cultures and people: mestizo, Indian American, African and Chinese to name the biggest groups. From 1849 till 1874 approximately 100, 000 Chinese migrated to Peru. They mainly worked as laborers at sugar-cane plantations and the cotton industry. Many Chinese immigrants never left and settled in Lima.
For the most part people live in peace today, and you will see most of the cultures food represented. Walk to China town, aka Barrio chino, one of the oldest chinatowns on the west, and to try Chifa, a blend of Peruvian and Chinese food. Chifa means “eat rice in Mandarin”. Another classic Chinese dish in Peruvian cuisine is lomo saltado, a beef stir fry. It's delicious!
Below: Plaza Mayor
An impressive mansion still inhabited by one of the most prominent families in Peru, since the 16th century. Jorge de Aliaga was one of the first Spaniards, who arrived to Peru along with Francisco Pizarro. Aliaga was Pizarro's right hand and he played an important role in conquering Peru. He participated in the capturing of the Inca Atahualpa, and for his loyalty he was granted this property, next to the presidential palace in the center of Lima. Only a small part of this large estate is open to the public. The house is beautiful, but honestly the tour is very overpriced, $30/per person , to see a few rooms and a courtyard is just too much. Our tour package included it, but we would not recommend paying the full price for it on your own. They also offer a culinary experience at the mansion. A lavish dinner prepped by a chef who is a member of the family.
Convento de santo domingo
When the Spanish conquered Peru, they decided to express their beliefs by building as many churches as they could. It feels like there is a church on every corner, and they are always full of people.
Convento de Santo Domingo is a church and also as the name suggests, a convent for priests. Although the grounds of the church with courtyards and smaller chapels are very beautiful, the best part of visiting this church is actually climbing the tower to see the view of Lima.
The entrance to the tower is a bit hard to find. Look for the red staircase (pic on the left), walk up to the second floor where the church organs are, enter another door and you will see stairs leading up the tower.
Left : staircase leading to the tower
Below: View of Lima from the tower
Murals in Barranco
Barranco neighborhood started to develop in the 19th when European settlers started to move in. They wanted to be closer to the water as bathing became more fashionable. There is no better way to explore Barranco than walking. Wander through the trendy Barranco neighborhood, and experience the colorful murals this area is known for. These beautiful murals adorn walls, cafes and private houses. It seems that all residents of Barranco prefer art over simple paint on their houses.
There are lots of cool cafes and restaurants in this neighborhood, that invite you inside for a snack or a drink.
Alternative Peru tour
This is a super interesting tour that takes you to off the beaten path areas in Lima. You will see some amazing views on this tour and visit the other Lima that most of the tourist don't dare to wander to on their own. We had a lovely lunch in a shanti town and we got to talk to the locals about living there. Their hospitality was exceptional. There are more exciting locations that you will explore on this tour, but we won't give away everything. It takes a whole day, so make sure to bring comfy shoes, water and a good attitude. The guides are great and they make this tour fun!
Above: Lima, shanti town. Below: Coast of Lima
Just a beautiful view of the rugged coast. It was one of our favorites places in Lima. It is hard to imagine, but there were no hipsters around taking Instagram pictures, except us :)
(Location: Malecón la Herradura, Distrito de Chorrillos 15064, Peru)
Museo Larco and a Cafe
A fantastic museum with a large collection of pre-columbian art, and beautiful gardens.
Museo Larco was founded by a sugar lord Rafael Larco Hoyle in 1926, and it is situated in an old mansion. Inside the museum is the largest collection of Peruvian Pre-Columbian art, around 45,000 pieces. The displays of various indigenous art are very beautiful, but the truth is that most people come here to see the very graphic, erotic collection of pottery (ourselves included!).
The best Peña Music in Lima
You absolutely must go see a peña music performance, while in Lima. Pena originated in the poor immigrant neighborhoods in Central Lima. It’s a type of folk music, a blend of African, Andean and Spanish roots. This folk music was played at homes and in unofficial clubs till the word got out and nowadays no matter what your social status is, everybody loves peña.
Going to Peña at Don Porfirio was the most fun we had while we stayed in Lima. Excellent music and a dance show with a great crowd and the best Pisco sours we had in all of Peru! How Nate drank and survived 13 of them, we will never know...
This is a small place and it gets busy fast, and it would be wise make a reservation. We didn't, but thanks to the merciful hostess, she managed to squeeze us a table. They literally brought a table from the back and squeezed it between another party. 5 minutes later, that the place was so packed that they were turning people away and the doors were shut. It's a bit intimidating, because it seems that every guest is a professional dancer, but your shyness will go away after a few Pisco sours.
Pisco Sour Bar
Visit the Aforo bar at the Maury Hotel that it claims invented the Pisco Sour cocktail. Whether the story is true or not, this was a good enough reason for us to visit this vintage bar in the center in Lima and try their Pisco sour.
The hotel looks almost run down from the exterior, but the interior is vintage and classic. The original wood paneling, leather swivel chair and seasoned barman making your cocktail almost enhance the experience of this drink.
Visit the bar that it claims invented the Pisco Sour cocktail.
Where to stay
Located in the colorful neighborhood Barranco, this historic villa, turned into a boutique hotel, offers quiet and chic accommodations. Breakfast is served in the garden and the rooftop patio is perfect for an afternoon cocktail with the sunset.
We hope that on your next trip to Peru you will stop in Lima for a visit! We sure will be back, maybe next time and we will try paragliding off the cliffs!