If you are planning on coming to Peru, you will undoubtedly spend some amount of time in Lima. We didn’t come to Lima to drop high dolla$$$ on Michelin star restaurants, but we did spend a decent amount of time in Lima and really enjoyed it! If you’re looking for a budget travel guide with tips on things to do, where and what to eat, and where to stay, read on.
Lima in a Nutshell
Lima is a massive city, amongst the most populous in South America, and there are options that cater to tourists of all classes and interests. If you’ve read our posts before, you know that we’re two twenty-somethings on a backpacker budget. We like free-ish experiences, like food markets and tip-based walking tours. If you’re main point for coming to Peru is NOT Lima, and yet you’d still like to get to know this buzzing metropolis and capital, read on.
Tourism is Peru’s third largest industry (per my quick Google search), you may notice that Lima and Peru in general are both a lot more attentive to tourists than other cities you have visited. This is not to say that, because more Peruvians live off of tourism, the quality of service is excellent (we did not find that to be the case), but that you will have lots and lots of options to contribute to the local economy via tourist taxes of all varieties — extra charges to check in early, extra charges for using hostel common spaces after checking out, expensive cab rides — you never really know. While we love contributing to the local economy, we prefer doing so on our terms. That’s one reason why we prefer a more local (or expat) approach to getting to know a place, one that prefers the less touristy expat-haven neighborhood that may be just a little more out of the way. So while this post covers some tourist attractions in Lima, it focuses more on things to enjoy outside of those main attractions. (Confession: we didn’t visit a single museum in Lima.)
Things to Do
Lima is separated into neighborhoods that can be explored on their own or combined. In a crunch, you can explore el centro and el barrio chino in one day, and Miraflores and Barranco on a second day. We preferred exploring Miraflores and Barranco on their own, as there is a lot to enjoy in these neighborhoods (and we prefer #slowtravel).
Explore el Centro
You can take a walking tour or explore el centro on your own. We took a tip-based free walking tour with Inkan Milky Way. Unfortunately, we would not recommend this tour to anyone, though it could have just been our specific guide; we left half way through and decided to wander on our own. LIma’s center is filled with churches and plazas, and… a Chinatown. (We were surprised, too.) Weave together a few parks, plazas and churches (making sure to go to Plaza de Armas and nearby Alameda Chabuca Granda) to build your own walking tour. Lima has over a dozen churches and convents in its historic center representing the different sects within Catholicism. If you’re big into churches (which we’re not), I’m sure you can find a specific tour; otherwise you can visit Convento de Santo Domingo and check churches off the list.
To get to el Centro from Miraflores, you can take a 30min cab or a nice 2 hour stroll. We prefer walking, as you’ll see so much more of the city. If you choose to walk from Miraflores, be sure to stop by our favorite restaurant cafe in all of Lima, El Pan de la Chola Dasso, and also walk through Bosque El Olivar, a retired olive oil farm that is now a national monument. After El Olivar, take Avenida Arequipa down to the Centro, and you’ll walk by several parks, plazas and sculptures along the way. Veer right on Paseo Colon to pass through the Museo de Arte and continue on your way to Plaza de Armas stopping by Plaza San Martin along the way.
Explore el Barrio Chino
Once you’ve had your fill of historic buildings, it’s a 12min walk from Plaza de Armas to el Barrio Chino. This is the oldest china town in Latin America, and it gets very crowded. Your level of comfort with crowds may determine how long you stay in this area. It is an EXPERIENCE.
Miraflores is the more upscale part of Lima. It is touristy and highly commercialized, but it is definitely enjoyable. Parque Kennedy is likely the epicenter of tourist activity in Miraflores. Start there and head north along Avenida Arequipa to the Indian Market for some arts and crafts shopping. (Or you can go to any one of the countless other arts, crafts and souvenirs shops.)
While in the area, head east and cross the highway to get to Mercado 1 de Surquillo, where you can stock up on fruits and veggies, meat, or trail mix. Or choose one of the buzzing food stands inside the market for fresh Peruvian ceviche.
Head back to Miraflores (you can drop off any new purchases at your hostel) and head west to the shoreline. The park along the shoreline is the most extensive beachfront park we have ever seen – it’s impressive!. Along the walk, you’ll find a lighthouse, many open-air gyms, statues, poetry, soccer courts, tennis courts – even Nazca lines!
Barranco’s main attractions center around its two plazas – Parque Federico Villarreal, which is where Iglesia La Ermita and Puente de Suspiros are, and the main plaza. Both are within a 5min walk of each other.
From either plaza, take the stairs down to Bajada de Baños to get to the beach. You can walk along the beach in either direction. South will take you to a small flintstones gym where you can also observe surfers.
Barranco offers a boho-chic alternative to Miraflores. It’s full of plazas, nice restaurants, cafes and bars, and street art. We really enjoyed it. You’ll still see tourists, just not as many. It also has extensive park space along the shoreline, just not as vast as the parks in Miraflores.
While you can definitely explore Miraflores and Barranco in one day, both neighborhoods have a lot to offer. On our first visit to Lima, we visited both in one day, and stayed in Miraflores. But it wasn’t until our second trip to Lima that we stayed in Barranco and absolutely fell in love. I wouldn’t stay anywhere else. Many of the restaurants we recommend below are in Barranco and were frequented by mostly locals during our visit.
How to Get There
You will most likely fly into Lima, and there’s only one airport. To get to Miraflores from the airport, there is a good bus service called Airport Express that runs routinely. It’s S25 per person for a comfortable bus with free wifi. No need to buy tickets in advance; just purchase them at the airport at their blue stand just outside of baggage claim. Also, if you log into the free airport wifi, you will see their advertisement. Take a screenshot (1 per person) to get 10% off.
Airport Express only drops off in Miraflores, so if you are staying in Barranco, you will have to take a cab down from Miraflores (~S10) or walk (20-30min). Just let them know when you buy your ticket, and they’ll arrange for you to get dropped off at the southern-most point.
Where to Stay
Most tourists stay in Miraflores. If you’re only in Lima for two days, this may be your best option as Miraflores is slightly closer to the airport and to Lima’s historic center. While Miraflores is a great neighborhood and the parks along the shoreline are amazing, we prefer the feel of Barranco. Located just south of Miraflores (a 12-15min cab ride away), Barranco offers all of the amenities tourists like without being overly commercialized or touristy.
Where to Eat
Lima has so many good restaurant options. El Pan de la Chola in Miraflores was our favorite restaurant in Lima, but we didn’t go to any Michelin acclaimed spots.
What to Try
- Anticucho (beef heart)
- Anticucho de pollo (chicken heart)
- Lomo saltado (stewed beef)
- Chifa or Chaufa – There are a million chifas to choose from. Honestly, the Peruvian Chinese fusion that we tried didn’t taste much like fusion. It just tasted like other Chinese food we’d had before.
- Ceviche anywhere & everywhere – see section on Mercado 1 de Surquillo
- Isolina is a trendy higher-end casual restaurant in Barranco, just near Iglesia La Ermita. At about $30 USD per person for dinner (sans-drinks), it’s a treat! Lunch is also a great option and slightly cheaper.
- La Lucha Sangucheria Criolla is a fast-casual deli with multiple locations in Miraflores. After a few days in Lima, you’ll notice that Limeños love their sandwiches. Come here to find out why!
- Raw Cafe is a vegan restaurant with multiple locations in Lima, including in Miraflores. Think acai bowls, wraps, juices, ayurvedic dishes, and more. They also have a small health store on-site. They also serve menu del dia, which is just the plate of the day without accompaniments, slightly cheaper than the listed price on the menu.
- Germinando Vida is a veg. restaurant in Barranco, just off the main square. Don’t be fooled by the days-of-the-week sign out front, there are no specials here. The food is excellent!
- La Bodega Verde is a veg.-friendly cafe in Barranco, facing Iglesia La Ermita. I cannot recommend the food here (didn’t try it) and the smoothies are waaaay too sweet, but it has the loveliest patio to sit, enjoy a coffee or tea, and read.
Bakeries & Cafes
- El Pan de la Chola Dasso (Miraflores) – This was our favorite restaurant for the quality of food.
- La Panetteria (Barranco)
- Tostaduria Bisetti (Barranco)
- Cafe Vitoria (Barranco)
Where to Go Next
From Lima, you can explore all of Peru. Take an overnight bus to Huaraz for some hiking. (Go to redbus.pe for bus options. Choose a bus leaving out of La Victoria and make sure to book a bus cama so you can sleep in an ultra reclined comfy chair!) Or head south for an epic roadtrip that will take you through Paracas, Huacachina, Arequipa, ultimately leading to Cusco where you can hike the infamous Macchu Picchu!
- All prices and durations are as of October 2019.
- We do not claim to have know the in’s & out’s of this town nor of its every restaurant or hotel. There are so many things you could do that would work perfectly fine.