We’ve already told you about Top Museums in Lima and Archaeological Sites in Lima, but there are still many more things to do in Peru’s cosmopolitan seaside capital city including neighborhood crawls, a historic city park, and an emerging art mecca.
What to do in Lima, Peru
A good city park is a gift. One with history (and an ancient olive orchard) is even better.Tranquil Parque Bosque el Olivar, in the San Isidro neighborhood of Lima, was created in 1560 when Spanish conquistadors planted three olive trees and then just kept planting. Today, more than 1,500 olive trees live in the 57-acre (23 hectare) park which is a magnet for families, dog walkers, and those looking for a hit of nature in the city. The grove was declared a Peruvian National Monument in 1959 and the olives are still harvested for their oil. Don’t miss the original wooden press that the Spanish used to extract olive oil. Much of the city of Lima is on a bluff overlooking the Pacific. Along this bluff you’ll find a long and pleasant oceanfront walkway. Different stretches of the walkway take on different official names as they pass through different neighborhoods, but if you cobble them all together you can walk for about 5 miles (8 km) above the coastline from San Isidro in the north, through Miraflores, and on to Barranco, and Chorillos in the south. Don’t miss highlights including a large concrete sculpture by Peruvian artist Victor Delfin. Called El Beso (The Kiss), the work was unveiled on Valentine’s Day 1993 in an area of the Miraflores neighborhood now known as Parque del Amor (Park of Love). This walk will also take you through Parque Maria Reiche. Named for an archaeologist who devoted her life to Peru’s famous Nazca Lines, this park has lawns and gardens with topiary and ground designs that are evocative of the Nazca Lines. A more adrenaline-filled way to experience the seaside cliffs of Lima is by air. Get a bird’s-eye view of the city’s distinct coastline and skyline by booking a tandem paragliding trip. Aeroxtreme has been offering tandem paragliding (called parapente in Spanish) in Lima for nearly 30 years. Plan to visit Lima in early September and you can also add the annual Mistura food festival (which is put on by the Peruvian Society of Gastronomy) to your itinerary. In a country as crazy about cuisine as Peru, this open-air gathering of the best chefs, cooks, and street vendors serving up the best regional specialties is a beloved event. See the foody madness for yourself in our post about the Mistura food festival in Lima.
And here’s a bit of dark trivia: At the southern end of the city you may notice a very large illuminated cross on a hill. That cross was installed to mark Pope John Paul II’s second visit to Lima in 1998 and it was constructed from debris created during conflicts with the Shining Path guerilla group.
Exploring the neighborhoods of Lima, Peru
Lima, a city of more than 9 million, is a sprawl of distinct neighborhoods (more than 30 of them). Strolling through the architecture, art, and attractions in these historic, hip, and arty neighborhoods will take you deeper into the personality of this complex city.
Exploring the historic center in downtown Lima
The spot where Lima, Peru is located was inhabited by a number of different cultures before Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro founded what has become modern Lima (which he dubbed the City of Kings) on January 18, 1535 after abandoning plans to make Juaja in the Andes the capital. The central downtown area of Lima is the oldest and most historic part of the capital and continues to be the city’s political heart.
The historic center of Lima, which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988, revolves around the Plaza de Armas aka Plaza Mayor (Main Plaza) which is large and airy and studded with palm trees and anchored by an imposing Renaissance fountain that was completed in 1651. During colonial times, this plaza was the site of bustling markets and even bullfights.The Metropolitan Cathedral faces the Plaza Mayor and is the third cathedral to exist on the spot which was originally an Incan shrine. The structure you see today was built between 1602 and 1797 in the Renaissance style with Neoclassical elements. The carved stone facade is particularly eye-catching when it’s lit up at night. The interior is lavish with plenty of carved wood and gold leaf. Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro is buried in the cathedral which now also acts as a museum where visitors can see colonial religious art and artifacts. The church requires a fee to enter at all times except on Sundays at 10 am when all doors are open for mass. Next door is the striking Baroque Archbishop’s Palace. The Government Palace, also facing the Plaza Mayor, was built by Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro in 1535 and is also known as the House of Pizarro. The original structure was renovated and enlarged in the 1920s and again in the 1930s with elements of Neo-Baroque architectural styles. The Government Palace is the official residence of the sitting President of Peru. Ceremonial guards stand at attention in front of it day and night. The Santo Domingo Church (10 soles or about US$2.75) dates back to 1540 and is home to relics of three important religious figures. Arguably, the most important of them is Santa Rosa de Lima (this church is also known as the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary of Lima). Born Elizabeth Olivia Flowers in 1586, she started fasting and performing penance as a child. In her 20s she developed a commitment to bettering the lives of indigenous people. She took a vow of chastity and wanted to become a nun but her father wouldn’t allow it. Instead, she hid herself away only emerging to tend to the spiritual and medical needs of members of marginalized cultures. In 1615 she is credited with praying away an invasion of the city. After many more years of penance and piety, Rosa (as she’d been renamed) died of tuberculosis in 1631. She is buried in this church. In 1671 she was beatified as a saint and Santa Rosa now has an annual holiday named after her and she appears on Peru’s 200 soles note. Don’t miss the peaceful cloister with exterior hallways covered in Seville tiles made in 1606. The distinctly yellow San Francisco Church is home to more than 25,000 antique books and its catacombs hold bones from 70,000 bodies. The structure dates back to 1564 when it was quite modest before going through a series of devastating earthquakes and periods of repair, reconstruction, and expansion. Today, this Franciscan church, which was made a minor basilica in 1963, is an enormous structure (some call it a Monumental Complex) with notable architectural elements including towers, naves, religious art galore, cloisters, choir areas, and much more. The 15 sole (about US$4) entry fee includes a mandatory guide (English and Spanish). Guided tours last about 45 minutes. Another Spanish conquistador has an enduring presence in the historic center of Lima as well. After being gifted a piece of land near the Plaza Mayor by Francisco Pizarro, Jeronimo de Aliaga built a mansion there and since then it’s been inhabited by 17 generations of the Aliaga family (and counting). Casa Aliaga is now also a museum. Get the details in our post about Top Museums in Lima. If you’ve worked up a thirst during your tour of the historic center of Lima, there are two noteworthy bars at your fingertips. Bar Maury, in the lobby of the Maury Hotel, claims to be the birthplace of Peru’s beloved pisco sour. This old-school bar (think lots of wood, brass, and leather) has bartenders who seem even older. For a more modern take on pisco, visit the Museo del Pisco, on a corner of the Plaza Mayor, where you can get a pisco sour for sure, but the cocktail menu also includes other inventive pisco-based concoctions. Food is served here as well.
Exploring the hip Barranco neighborhood
Barranco is the right mix of artists, long-time locals, pleasantly crumbling architecture, and a growing chic set and that’s why this is our favorite neighborhood in Lima. Thanks to the surrounding hills, Barranco and neighboring Chorrillos enjoy a drier and warmer microclimate than the rest of Lima. This led to the area becoming a fashionable beach resort in the 19th century for members of Limeño high society and this neighborhood’s streets are filled with small mansions from this time. Many have been beautifully restored but some seem beyond repair.Technically speaking, there’s really only one actual attraction in Barranco. It’s called the Puente de los Suspiros (Bridge of Sighs) where, legend has it, if you can hold your breath for as long as it takes you to walk across the bridge you will find love. There are also three notable (and very different) museums in Barranco. Get the low down in our post about Top Museums in Lima. For economic and creative reasons, Barranco is home to some of the city’s most daring artists and some of them use the neighborhood itself as their canvas. Wander the streets of Barranco and you’ll find outstanding examples of street art on nearly every block. As followers know, we are not big shoppers. However, there are two notable shops in Barranco. If you’re looking for a gift for someone back home or a keepsake for yourself, you’ll find a wide range of very high-quality arts and crafts (textiles, ceramics, jewelry, and much more) at Dédalo. Head to Cooperative La Zapateria for handmade shoes and bags for men and women. Designs are funky and many styles are made using up to 80% recycled or repurposed materials. You can also customize a pair just for you.
Exploring an artistic revival in the Callao neighborhood
What happens when you open locals-focused studio spaces and galleries and foster street art in a notoriously rough area? You get Monumental Callao.
Callao is technically its own city, though its borders blend with Lima’s northernmost edge. Callao is home to Peru’s main maritime port and, until recently, was also well-known as one of the most dangerous places around Lima.That started to change in the mid-2000s when an organization called Fugaz launched a social project rooted in the idea that the arts (and the self-esteem, tourism, and financial benefits the arts enable) can bring a neighborhood and its residents back from the brink.
Fugaz started by transforming Casa Ronald, a crumbling structure built in the early 20th century. Its six floors, high ceiling, and dramatic marble columns were saved and used to anchor gallery spaces on the ground floor and studio spaces above.Local artists (some of them thugs on the mend) and regional artists worked and exhibited in Casa Ronald. Tours were offered to the public including the chance to buy original art. Soon independent art galleries moved into the neighborhood which attracted more visitors which, in turn, attracted shops, cafes, and restaurants. Today, there are more than 60 outdoor murals by Latin artists in the blocks surrounding Casa Ronald and Fugaz continues to keep the gallery and studio space vibrant with changing exhibitions and programs like graffiti classes. Tours of the neighborhood are also available, often lead by chalacos (as people from Callao are called).
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