Lima often elicits no more than a shrug from international travellers. Its location in an arid, almost desert-like region sometimes leads to a nonplussed (okay, this is the capital of Peru) reaction. Overcast skies and sea mists don’t do the city any additional favours. Callao, the location of Jorge Chavez International Airport, is less than a reassuring introduction to the city. Worse again, from 2011 to 2016 the Ollanta presidency saw crime levels across the country spiral to new heights. Unfortunately, the perception in Peru is that this is particularly true in the capital. Delinquency in Lima is viewed as a problem for both locals and visitors alike.
The result is that travellers often see Lima as a point of transit rather than a worthwhile destination. Yet, skipping it means missing a world class food scene, great coffee and one of the best museums in South America. Add in two distinctive barrios and you may regret not spending more time in the Peruvian capital. The truth is that Lima is a city that grows on you!
Flying into Jorge Chavez airport at night is hardly a spellbinding experience. Callao, the nearby port city where the terminal is located, seems rough and even threatening. The road from the airport to downtown Lima is at best unremarkable. My arrival in the city followed a long day of flight connections. Then, there was the news that my luggage had gone on a separate trip to Madrid. Poor Lima did not exactly get off to a flying start!
Let me take this opportunity to thank BA for helping to ensure that my introduction to Lima was as miserable as possible!
Highlights of Lima
Only one city has two restaurants with top ten rankings in the list of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. That city is not Paris or New York, but humble Lima. Virgilio Martinez and Pia Leon have led the way with Central. Located in Miraflores, this restaurant uses local ingredients in order to take diners on a journey through the country’s biodiversity. The result has wowed global food critics and the restaurant consistently ranks as The Best Restaurant in Latin America. However, Miraflores is no ‘one trick pony’ and Mitsuharu Tsumura’s Maido provides Central with stiff competition. Reflecting the Peruvian-Japanese background of the head chef, the food here is a fusion of both traditions.
Beyond the initial grey, Lima has barrios (barrio means neighbourhood in Spanish) that will add some colour to your Peruvian trip. Most travellers choose to stay in comfortable Miraflores. Nevertheless, Barranco possesses a cool and bohemian vibe that some may find irresistible.
Like the city of Lima, Miraflores stretches along the coast. In fact, the district is perched on the high cliffs that meet the Pacific Ocean. True, it may lack an immediate ‘wow’ factor. However, the barrio has all the comforts that travellers enjoy. Consequently, this is where you will find many of the city’s best accommodation options.
Visit Parque Kennedy during the day and you will be greeted by an unusual urban spectacle (wild cats meet cool cats). Many of the city’s feral cats have taken up residence here and locals come to interact with them. Artists and musicians have cashed in on the phenomenon, transforming this oasis of green into a thriving centre. Around the fringes of the park, there are plenty of places to eat, drink and relax. Start and end your explorations of Miraflores right here.
Miraflores is more than one small but eclectic park. Those looking for sophisticated shopping will discover a large shopping mall built into the cliffs overlooking the ocean. Expect to see all the top brands and designer shops that you might find in a major European or North American city. Although not particularly cheap, this is a place for those who need some pampering.
Barranco has a bohemian flavour that sets it apart. Unlike Miraflores, it has kept more of its colonial character and it acts as a magnet for the city’s art scene. Pastel coloured colonial houses now host shops where you can buy paintings, jewellery and souvenirs. The main plaza has a coffee house that led the way in the development of an organic coffee scene in the city. Steep steps lead down to the seafront, resulting in a sense of connection with the ocean not felt elsewhere in the city. On Sunday afternoons musicians play vibrant Latin rhythms and locals dance along to their tunes. Lima has a reputation for being grey, but Barranco is the barrio where the city shows its true colours.
Apart from its stunning Pre-Colombian art collection, the colonial edifice that houses the museum and an excellent café make this a world class visitor experience. Some visitors rave about the quirky exhibits of erotic art. However, there is something for everyone here. Quite a few travellers enjoy the building and its gardens as much as the exhibits.
Museo Larco is open daily from 9 am to 10 pm and it is a 15-minute taxi ride from the airport or Miraflores. Entrance costs 30 soles, but there are reductions for pensioners and students.
Drinking Coffee in Lima
It all started when Romulo Bisetti, the descendent of Italian immigrants, opened a café and roastery in 1958. Over the years they focused on sourcing their beans directly from producers. Significantly, many of the owners of Third Wave cafés across the country started their careers here. Today’s Barranco outlet may or may not be to your taste. However, it is an almost compulsory starting point on a coffee tour of Lima.
Caficulto, located close to Parque Kennedy in Miraflores, has a left of centre feel. This means that it will really appeal to hipsters. Despite the central location, it is not easy to find (behind the KFC). Yet, many will prefer the down to earth feel of this café to the sleek look of Bisetti.
Remaining in Miraflores, Puku Puku Café serves great organic coffee. The staff has a friendly and open approach to customers. You may just fall in love with a café that serves great coffee with a smile.
Those who want sophistication without a political message will find it in the True Artisan Café, another Miraflores gem with a focus on serving the best Italian coffee. In keeping with its Italian emphasis, their Marzocco machine takes pride of place on the bar here.
Getting There and Away
Lima acts as a hub for flights into South America. Therefore, keep an eye on skyscanner.com and similar websites to get good flight deals. Travellers planning trips to other destinations in Peru will most likely first land in Lima. Some airlines may offer stopovers at no extra cost. The location of Jorge Chavez Airport in edgy Callao has the following implications for travellers. Firstly, it is not a good idea to explore or look for accommodation near to the airport. Secondly, if you are new to the city, take a taxi to your accommodation. The official taxi stand is in the International Terminal. Taxis to Miraflores and Barranco should cost about $16 (USD).
Walking along the cliffs between Miraflores and Barranco is generally safe during the day. However, hostels usually advise travellers to take extra precautions at night. As a result, think twice before attempting the same walk after dark. Hotels/ hostels can arrange a taxi or driver for your excursions. Alternatively, if you speak Spanish, call a taxi yourself.
It is quite easy to get a Peruvian SIM for your phone (you will be asked for official photo ID). Inquire in your hotel or hostel and they should be able to advise you. Usually, it is easy to find a mobile phone company or store nearby.
Accommodation in Lima
The historic centre has a bad reputation for crime. For this reason, many prefer to avoid staying there. Miraflores offers good options for every budget. Casa Hualpa gets the thumbs up for its helpful staff, but this is only one of the numerous cheap options. Looking for a more homely experience? Then, go no further than the Beraja Family Hostel in Barranco. Also in this area, travellers post positive reviews of the Casita Libertad Homestay.
All these options are available on booking.com
Although Lima may be pricier than other destinations in Peru, it is cheaper than other South American cities such as Buenos Aires. If you want to cut costs, walk where possible and look for busy local restaurants. The more tourist-friendly cafés and restaurants in Miraflores (particularly those facing the ocean) will quickly eat into your budget. Inquire at your hostel if you want to take cheap tours and compare prices before you part with your money. Dedicated foodies can expect to pay international prices to eat in places such as Central or Maido.
More Useful Resources
Visit Peru ( the official website has plenty of information on Lima and destinations throughout Peru)
Free Things To Do in Lima (budget travellers will appreciate this article from National Geographic)
The Lima Food Scene ( Irish travel writer, Pol O Conghaile, covers the big names of the local food scene and much, much more in an article that will have foodies salivating)