If you book your flights to Lima expecting to arrive a quaint Andean village, think again. The capital of Peru is home to about one third of the country's entire population and is a startling mix of new and old. In the heart of the city, the Jiron de la Union pedestrian precinct will lead you into the Plaza Mayor where boutique retailers contrast with centuries-old facades left over from the days when Spanish Conquistadors ruled the roost. Apart from being the gateway to wider Peruvian adventures, Lima is a major destination for the gastronomically inclined – Lima's foodie culture is currently seeing an awakening with a heavy Asian influence adding to its repute for freshness and creativity.
Blending grunge and cosmopolitanism, the top things to do in Lima are squirreled away between pre-Columbian temples and Colonial estates. Lima's architecture is an attraction on its own merit – see the neo-Baroque Palacio Arzobispal, the Archbishop's residence, the custard-yellow Municipal Palace (City Hall) and the grand Lima Cathedral, especially beautiful glittering against the nightscape. If you're up for a cultural excursion, visit the Museo Oro del Peru, also known as the gold museum, or the Museo Larco which houses treasures from ancient Peru. The Inca archaeological sites are one of Lima's biggest draws – visit Puruchuco, Pachacamac or Huaca Pucllana, or make the journey to Peru's Cusco Region to see the most iconic site of all, Machu Picchu.
Lima is the best place to sample authentic Peruvian cuisine. Peru's sprawling west coast, edged by the cold waters of the South Pacific Ocean, produces quality seafood which most Lima restaurants base their menus on. On the top of your to-try list should be the national dish, ceviche. Made from raw fish 'cooked' by the acidity of citrus juices and spices, ceviche is slightly chewy, light on the palate and is usually served with sweet potato or toasted corn. Other dishes to sample on your Lima holiday include cuy (guinea pig; a staple of the Peruvian diet) and causa (casserole of potato, lime and avocado). To drink? Try a Pisco Sour cocktail.
Where to Stay
The metropolitan area of Lima is divided into 43 districts, 30 of which are city districts while the others are urban or rural provinces. Among the nicest areas to stay in Lima are San Borja, Miraflores, Barranco and San Isidro. San Isidro is Lima's main financial district and is noted for its many green spaces, galleries and quality restaurants, while San Borja is your best option for close proximity to the museums. If you are after a beachside break in reach of the surf, consider staying in the Punta Hermosa, Punta Negra or San Bartolo districts. With so many areas to choose from, there are plenty of hotels in Lima to suit every traveller.
You can easily spend your nuevo sol in the artsy Barranco district in between cafe breaks, but one of the best ways of shopping in Lima is to head to market. Av Petit Thouars in Miraflores showcases a wide range of traditional Peruvian crafts like colourful garments made from Alpaca wool, ornate silver jewellery, handmade pottery and Peruvian folk instruments. Likewise, the Av La Marina markets in the Pueblo Libre neighbourhood are a great place to pick up an authentic and heartfelt souvenir. Bargaining is encouraged at local markets so if you aren't comfortable wearing your haggling hat, consider pairing up with a local guide to help you score the best bargains.
Lima like a Local
Lima may appear a little rough around the edges. It's true, the city is not polished, but that's exactly what makes it appealing. Lima is all about authentic experiences – take in a spoken-word poetry jam at a local park, get down at a 'salsoteca' for some sweaty salsa dancing and learn a little more about the ancient Incas at the National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology and History. The colourful houses climbing up the mountainside are a great contrast to the neat Miraflores coastal strip and the groovy, bohemian Barranco district, but all are beautiful in their own right. And just for reference, it's pronounced lee-ma like the creature, not lime-a like the citrus.