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Did You Know … ?
- Lima’s Acho bullring is the oldest in the Americas (1760s).
- An economic boom in the mid-19th century was fueled by guano (bird droppings).
- The catacombs at the San Francisco Monastery are thought to hold up to 75,000 bodies.
- Close to a third of Peru’s population lives in the Lima metro area.
- Lima’s original, official name was Ciudad de los Reyes (City of Kings).
City of Kings
From soon after its founding in 1535, Lima was the capital of a colony that encompassed most of Spanish-ruled South America. Evidence of its early wealth and political importance survive in the colonial city center — now a UNESCO World Heritage Site — which tourists see today.
The centerpiece is the Plaza Mayor, site of the Presidential Palace, the Archbishop’s Palace and the Lima Cathedral. Numerous additional colonial-era churches and palaces enrich the vicinity. Also, a Spanish fort, Real Felipe, can be seen at Callao, the port area.
Colonial Lima offers the city’s most interesting sites and is the key reason serious sightseers linger in Peru’s capital.
But there are other attractions. Lima’s site on the Pacific coast was occupied for centuries before the Spaniards appeared. Pre-Hispanic peoples built large adobe pyramids — Huaca Pucllana in the Miraflores district and Huaca Huallamarca in the San Isidro district. They are now surrounded by modern buildings including numerous hotels. Also, Pachacamac, a large adobe complex dating back 1,800 years, sits on Lima’s outskirts. Museums — focused on things like archaeology, indigenous traditions, Incan gold, even the 1980s civil war — round out the history lessons.
For Lima’s most appealing restaurants, shopping and nightlife, visitors head to Barranco as well as the Miraflores and San Isidro districts. Tourists can shop for handicrafts representing all parts of Peru and see dance shows that also highlight the country’s variety. But, still more, the city bills itself as a fine-dining capital, and travel companies offer culinary tours here.
Although the Pacific is polluted around Lima, the city’s beaches and port offer scuba diving, surfing, plus sailings to view the area’s wildlife. Parts of Lima are on cliffs overlooking the water, cliffs that seem made for paragliding.
Because of ocean currents, the climate is fairly mild year-round. Lima receives almost no rain, but a thick mist brings moisture in winter months (i.e., summer in North America).
Parts of the city are dangerous at night, including downtown. Miraflores and San Isidro are the safest. When traveling independently, it is wisest to call a taxi to move between or within certain neighborhoods.
Things to do for Venturers
- Make yourself at home in the cliffside bohemian neighborhood of Barranco, site of art galleries, boutiques, cafes and restaurants. Also, take a must-do stroll from Barranco’s main plaza to the Pacific Ocean. Return to the quarter well after dark for its nightspots.
- Join Peruvians in their great passion, soccer, at the National Stadium.
- Travel to some tourist attractions by bicycle. For example, ride from Lima to the Pachacamac archaeological site. Or, travel across the Pachacamac complex on one of Peru’s Paso horses; the animals are well known for their unique easy-riding gait. More ambitious cycling or riding tours are available.
- Make a meal of several local specialties, such as aji de gallina, a chicken dish; lomo saltado, a beef dish, and, of course, ceviche. As for dessert, make that picarones, which are fried donuts made from sweet potato and squash and drenched with carob-fruit syrup.
- Take a flying leap off the clifftops in Miraflores — meaning a paraglider’s leap, from the Raimondi Park
- Surf at Playa Costa Verde or, for waves that can rise more than 15 feet, the Playa La Herradura. You”ll do this during the winter months up north. (The water is polluted, but that does not keep the Limenos out of it.) Or dive with sea lions at the Palomino Islands.
Things to do for Centrics
- Tour the San Francisco Monastery, allowing time to visit its bone-lined catacombs which hold thousands of Peruvian dead.
- Visit the grounds of Huaca Huallamarca, a restored adobe pyramid, dating from about 200 to 500 AD — and located amidst the city’s high-rises and private homes in the San Isidro district. Learn more at the on-site museum. Or, look for the fifth century Huaca Pucllana in the Miraflores district.
- Choose an eatery with live music or a nightspot with poetry readings.
- Before buying ceramics to take home, get thee to the Larco Archaeological Museum to see examples of ceramics produced in Peru over the centuries. Oh, yes, while on site, see the erotic pots on display there. For a different kind of buzz, see Incan treasures at the Peru Gold Museum (Museo Oro del Peru).
- Take a flightseeing day trip over the Nasca Lines, a collection of giant images etched into the pampa.
- From Callao, take a boat ride to visit and photograph sea lions and marine birds that live on the Palomino Islands. The trip could yield sightings of boobies and Humboldt penguins. You can go whale watching, too.
Things to do for Authentics
- Shop for your souvenirs at a craft market, such as La Casa de la Mujer Artesana Manuela Ramos or at one of several Indian markets.
- Sample the dining at one of the city’s high-end restaurants. Lima is billed as a diner’s paradise.
- If the timing is right, watch a religious procession on Aug. 30 (the Feast of Santa Rosa de Lima) or on any of several dates in October.
- Join a guided tour to ensure you see the highlights of colonial Lima, including the city’s Chinatown.
- See a folkloric dance program. There are several music houses that feature such performances, in downtown, Miraflores or Barranco.
- At the National Museum, be moved by an exhibit devoted to the 1980s civil war that killed 80,000 people, mostly poor peasants.
For more information, consult the Peru Export and Tourism Promotion Board (PromPeru) at www.peru.travel and choose your country and language if necessary.