When people plan a trip to Peru it is usually to visit the bucket-list destination of Machu Picchu. Tourists often fly into Lima just to get on the next available connection to Cusco without exploring the highlights of the city.
Having spent two and a half years in Lima I know there is much more to do here than wait for the next plane to Cusco. Sadly, like many other airports in the world, the area around Jorge Chavez Airport doesn’t give a fair idea of what Lima has to offer the curious tourist.
Here are my 13 best things to do in Lima:
1. Swim With Sea Lions
My absolute favorite thing we did in Lima is actually quite close to the airport. Ecocruceros offers half-day cruises that depart from La Punta Beach and go to Los Palominos Islands, home to thousands of sea lions.
The exuberance of the sea lions was both scary and exhilarating. It seemed they were just as excited as us. They approached us with angelic faces and bulging eyes full of curiosity. The weirdest part of their behavior was their attraction to feet. We were advised to float on our backs and told they might touch us. It seemed to us that they were smelling our feet and even occasionally licking them. Their fixation on some feet even stretched to waiting in small groups of three or four to successively smell the same foot!
Swimming with the ever-growing pod of sea lions, the noise was overwhelming. A cacophony of loud, wild sea lion noises intermingled with exclamations and the squeals of delight from the tourists. Our 45 minutes in the water disappeared in what seemed liked seconds.
The supplied wetsuits are essential, even in summer. The icy water of the Humboldt Current is perfect for the sea lions but absolutely freezing for humans!
The tour also includes passing a colony of Humboldt penguins that sensibly have their rookery on a different island–penguin is a delicacy on the sea lion menu.
A simple snack is served after the swim. If you’ve worked up an appetite with the swim, you can dine at the Yacht Club Peruano waterfront restaurant, which has a delicious Peruvian-style menu, located about 330 feet from the Ecocruceros wharf.
2. Magic Water Park
You can spend a pleasant afternoon wandering through the acres of manicured gardens and water features of the Magic Water Park, but it is when the sun goes down and night falls that the true magic comes to life.
Circuito Mágico del Agua (Magic Water Circuit) is a circuit of 13 different water features built in the Parque de la Reserva (Park of the Reserve). When it opened in 2007, the Magic Water Circuit was celebrated in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest water fountain complex in a public park.
Each feature is computer timed for water and color changes. The main show, presented twice a night, is a spectacular laser light show projected onto changing curtains of water sprays that depicts Peruvian culture, history, and music.
Perhaps the most popular water features of the park are the three interactive areas. TheTunnel of Surprisesis a perfectly-formed tunnel of water arches you can walk under. The surprise? Occasionally the perfectly formed arches squirt sideways as you walk through the tunnel!
Another interactive water feature is a large area of paving peppered with holes that intermittently spurt water vertically to drench anyone standing above them. This is quite exciting and can become quite chaotic with people dashing from one spurting area to another. The kids have not been forgotten with another similar area strictly for children under 12.
Many tour companies run guided tours, but if there is a group of you, it is cheaper to share a taxi (approximately $5 from the popular tourist area of Miraflores). The entrance fee is only about $1. Of course, the other advantage of taking a taxi is that you can spend as much time as you like at each attraction.
3. Learn to Cook Peruvian Food
Peruvian food is unique. Chef Hector Aguilar Valle runs classes for small groups in his al fresco Peruvian Cooking School. Presented as a culinary skill class, you will learn the knife skills and special techniques needed to create restaurant-quality dishes like conchas a la parmesana (parmesan scallops), causa de langostinos (a layered potato dish with prawns),and of course ceviche.
There are four menus to choose from including a vegetarian option. You receive the recipes so you can make the dishes again at home. In our class of six wannabe chefs, there were two with coeliac disease, so Hector also gave us easy gluten-free ingredient alternatives.
And the best part? We got to eat everything we made. Scrumptious!
4. Visit a Peruvian Market
Peruvian markets are like an Aladdin’s cave. They are crammed full of interesting bits and pieces.
There are several artisan markets located in Av. Petit Thouars between blocks 52 and 55. Here you can purchase genuine Peruvian souvenirs such as leatherwork and alpaca goods. Baby alpaca fleece is very fine and more expensive. Vicuña fleece is even finer and more expensive but usually only found in exclusive shops.
By day Parque Kennedy in Miraflores is a sprawling green expanse where children play but by night it becomes an open-air market with lots of small stalls of handmade souvenirs.
Food markets such as Market Surquillo No. 1 are also worth a visit. You can wander through on your own or visit as part of your tour with Chef Hector before your cooking class.
5. Learn to Speak Spanish
Lima is a perfect education destination. People who want to combine a vacation with a learning experience will find exactly what they are looking for at Peruwayna Spanish School. Courses range from Survival Spanish for Travelers to Super Intensive Immersion or Spanish for specific professions. You can choose one-on-one classes or to be part of a small group. If required, accommodation can be arranged with homestay families or private furnished apartments.
So that’s education covered, what about the vacation? Peruwayna offers
Peruvian cooking classes, salsa dancing, bike tours, group dinners, and weekend excursions to destinations such as Huacachina, the adrenaline tourism capital of Peru.
I took a refresher Spanish course with Peruwayna and found them friendly and thoroughly professional; I recommend them.
6. Dar un Paseo–Take a Walk in the Olive Park
With paths wandering through over 1600 ancient olive trees, the descendants of trees brought from Spain in 1560 by Antonio Ribera, this park is the perfect setting for a peaceful stroll.
The gnarled trunks of the trees are perfect for photography, and you will often see brides or quinceañeras (girls celebrating their 15th birthday) posing in their flowing gowns.
Remember to take your binoculars. Peru is among the most biodiverse countries in the world, and the Olive Park attracts over 30 different bird species.
7. Learn to Make Pisco Sours
You cannot visit Peru without trying their national drink, Pisco Sours. Invented in Lima by Victor Vaughen Morris in the 1920s, you will find them in every bar and restaurant. They are often offered as a welcome drink.
Pisco sours are a tangy shaken cocktail with lemon and egg white. They come in three sizes, classico, medio, and the monster catedral. Today you will also find many variations such as maracuyá (passionfruit) or azul (with blue Curaçao).
There are many ways to learn the secrets of this special cocktail. Demonstrations are usually offered during food tours and many bars and restaurants offer classes.
There are several sites of archaeological significance in Lima. About one hours’ drive south of Lima on the Pan-American Highway will take you to the most important pre-Inca sacred site, Pachacamac. Settled in 200 AD, the ruins extend over 2.3 square milesin the valley of the Lurin River. You may either walk or drive around the 1.8-mile circuit, but you are required to have a guide.
The buildings were built with millions of adobitos, or mud bricks. Severely damaged by an earthquake in 2007, extensive preservation work is being done to maintain the ruins.
There is also an extensive, well-displayed collection of artifacts including pottery, textiles, and gold statues in the Pachacamac Site Museum, opened in 1965.
9. Dpaso Horses
About twenty minutes’ drive from Pachacamac takes you to the Dpaso Hacienda (ranch).
Starting with their signature blue pisco sours catedrales, you can then indulge in an elaborate Peruvian buffet lunch while enjoying a cultural performance. First up is an Incan-style dance in a tribute to the history of the area. The many performances transition to more modern dances, each in different elaborate costumes.
After lunch, with another monster catedral in hand, visit the tiered seating around the horse arena for an uninterrupted view of the performance. Mounted cabelleros lead their horses in intricate dances to flirt with coquettish, barefoot ladies in elaborate traditional dresses.
After the performance, patrons are invited to go into the arena to have their photos taken with the performers.
10. Dining With a View at La Rosa Nautica
With many of the top chefs of the world in Peru, you are spoiled for choice with dining in Lima. Situated at the end of a pier that extends out into the Pacific Ocean, La Rosa Nautica specializes in fine dining seafood.
Arrive early as, even though you pre-book, your waiter will take you to the three main dining areas to choose your own tables and those nearest the water always go first. La Rosa Nautica is perfect for a special occasion or romantic dining. Every lady receives a red rose as they leave.
11. El Christo
A drive up the steep winding road to El Christo del Pacifico, on the highest point of Lima, will reward you with a panoramic view over Lima and the Pacific Ocean.
Built in 2011, the 121-foot statue of Christ was inspired by the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro.
12. Bridge of Sighs
Hold your breath as you dash across La Puente de los Suspiros (The Bridge of Sighs). Situated in Barranco, in the heart of the artistic, Bohemian center of Lima, it is surrounded by many art galleries and restaurants.
Legend has it that if you can make it across the 100-foot bridge in one breath, you will be granted a wish (usually of a romantic nature).
If luxury shopping is your tourist pleasure, Lacomar in Miraflores is the ideal location. Built on the side of a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean and surrounded by parkland, you can’t see it from the road.
Down the escalators are dozens of international shops. Best visited late in the afternoon, you can enjoy the sunset over the water while sipping pisco sours or dining on Peruvian delicacies in one of the many restaurants.
Lima is the center of Peru’s innovative gastronomy and with so much to do it is definitely worth including the city in your Peruvian holiday itinerary.
Last Updated on November 3, 2020