More Than a Layover: Lima in 24, 48 or 72 Hours

May 25, 2015 by

Art & Museums, City Tours & Sightseeing, Day Trips, Food, Drink & Travel, Foodie Tours, Places to Go, South & Central America, Things to Do

Museo Larco in Lima, Peru

Museo Larco in Lima, Peru

For many travelers, Lima is nothing more than a layover city or on-the-way stop to Cusco and Machu Picchu. The truth is, treating Lima solely as a stopover would be a mistake. With its contemporary museums, colonial architecture, immense culture, endless archaeology, green spaces, food scene and window into the life of the 10 million people who live there, Lima has something for everyone, even if it’s for as little as 24, 48 or 72 hours.

Lima in 24 Hours

If you are coming to Lima, the place to see and be seen is Miraflores. This centrally located neighborhood overflows with parks, hotels, bars, restaurants and activities.

Start the day by heading to El Malecón. Perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, this boardwalk winds its way through several miles of parks, cafes and restaurants.

Parque El Faro, or Lighthouse Park, boasts sprawling lawns dotted with park benches and shade-offering trees, lovely gardens and, of course, a scenic lighthouse. From there, head south on the boardwalk, taking a few moments to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells along the way: ocean breezes mixed with blossoming flowers.

Parque El Faro

Parque El Faro

Take a break once you get to Parque del Amor, the Park of Love. You’ll be greeted by a large sculpture of a couple in full embrace surrounded by flowers of all colors. Meander and take note of the quotes about love alongside the mosaic art pieces reminiscent of Barcelona’s Park Güell.

Continue south, walking over the bridge and along El Malecón until you arrive at Larcomar (Malecón de la Reserva 610, Miraflores). Built into the side of a cliff, this shopping center offers out-of-this-world oceanfront views along with national and international dining and shopping options.

By now you’ve probably built up an appetite, so enjoy lunch at Larcomar’s Tanta (order the lomo saltado), Mangos (à la carte and buffet) or other eatery.

Alternatively, hop in a cab and go to one of the capital city’s best cevicherías, La Mar (Avenida Mariscal La Mar 770, Miraflores). Peru’s most famous chef, Gastón Acurio, owns this ceviche joint, which specializes in all things seafood. If the idea of raw fish makes you queasy, fear not; La Mar offers cooked seafood and meat dishes along with a few vegetarian platters.

Delicious ceviche

Delicious ceviche

After a nice lunch, it’s time to learn about Peru’s archaeological past. Go to Museo Larco (Av Simón Bolivar 1515, Pueblo Libre) where you will encounter thousands of pre-Colombian pieces of art. Consider hiring a guide at the museum, or partaking in Viator’s Experience Lima: An Evening at the Larco Museum with Dinner tour. Guided tours bring the museum to life, giving you the history behind the sculptures, jewelry, weaponry, pottery and folklore.

If you have the time and the energy, round out the day with an evening visit to the Magic Water Circuit (at Avenida Arequipa and Paseo de la República), a water and light show set in the heart of downtown.

Lima in 48 Hours

If you have more than a day in Lima while your hotel will likely offer breakfast consider venturing out in the morning to enjoy a bold cup of local coffee with a light Peruvian breakfast and a side of people-watching. Peruvians aren’t big breakfast eaters, so expect dishes like yogurt topped with fruit and honey, a bread basket with butter and fruit spread, or empanadas filled with meat or cheese.

Afterward, head to Lima’s Historic Centre, or El Centro, as Limeños call it. Make sure you visit the Plaza de Armas, ideally at noon to see the changing of the guard; Plaza San Martín, dedicated to José de San Martín, who helped liberate Peru from the Spanish; and Iglesia y Convento San Francisco, a lovely church and convent with catacombs. While you’re in the area, take a stroll through Casa de Aliaga, a colonial-style mansion that doubles as the oldest home in the Americas (reservations required).

El Centro

El Centro

Located in El Centro is Lima’s very own Barrio Chino, or Chinatown. Chinese immigrants came to Peru during the end of the 19th century, and with them came their food and culture. Nowadays, Chinese food — known as chifa (pronounced CHEE-fuh) — is as Peruvian as pisco sours. I recommend going to Barrio Chino for lunch (it can be a bit sketchy after dark) so you can experience this fusion of Chinese flavors and Peruvian ingredients. My favorite spot is Chifa San Joy Lao (Jr. Ucayali 779, Lima). Wherever you decide to go, definitely order the arroz chaufa de mariscos o pollo (fried rice with seafood or chicken), the chancho con tamarindo (fried pork in a sweet and sour/tamarind sauce) and an ice cold Inka Kola (a bubble gum-flavored soft drink). Vegetarian options are also available.

After lunch, journey to Barranco for the remainder of your afternoon and evening. Hip boutiques, trendy cafes, quaint restaurants and bars line the streets of this bohemian neighborhood. You can find plenty to do by meandering up and down the brick-paved roads. Head over to the Bridge of Sighs (Puente de los Suspiros) for a great photo op with the ocean as your backdrop.

The MATE (Avenida Pedro de Osma 409, Barranco), a small museum featuring the work of fashion photographer Mario Testino (he’s photographed Princess Diana, Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell and Brad Pitt) is worth a visit, as is the ChocoMuseo (Avenida Grau 264, Barranco), a chocolate museum and workshop where guests can enjoy a dessert or make their own truffles.

ChocoMuseo

ChocoMuseo

The sunset from Barranco is spectacular. The show starts at 6:00 p.m. year-round. During the summer as well as the late spring and early fall the sky is ablaze with fiery reds, oranges and yellows. Watch it on the coast, or from an oceanfront restaurant. My personal favorite is Cala Restaurante (Circuito de Playas, Barranco). Sip a pisco sour or chilcano on the patio, then venture indoors for an upscale meal.

Lima in 72 Hours

A third day in Lima allows you to visit some of the bucket-list locales you may have missed on the previous two days, or take part in one of Viator’s popular guided tours or cooking lessons. Work for your meal by taking a cooking class with a local family, or eat your way through Lima’s booming food scene with a market tour, cooking class and pisco sour lesson.

A market in Lima

A market tour in Lima

Another idea is to swing by the artisanal markets that line Avenida Arequipa in Miraflores. Here, you can find handmade goods like blankets, pottery and jewelry, alongside postcards, magnets and coffee mugs. Be sure to bring cash and your bargaining skills to get the best deals.

If you want to get your history on, consider visiting one of the many huacas that speckle this urban mega city. It’s fascinating to see 1,500-year-old, pre-Incan pyramids surrounded by modern skyscrapers. My favorite archaeological site in Lima is Huaca Pucllana (block 8 of Calle General Borgoño, Miraflores). The Lima (200-700 A.D.) and Wari (500-900 A.D.) peoples both inhabited the area surrounding this massive clay pyramid, which is still an active archaeological dig. A free guided tour in English or Spanish is included in the ticket price.

Huaca Pucllana Tour

Huaca Pucllana Tour

If you want to see more ruins just outside of Lima, I’d suggest heading to the Temple of Pachacamac, a 45-minute drive from the city. If you’ve got more time on your hands, day-trip it to the Sacred City of Caral, which is a three-hour drive away. This recently discovered UNESCO World Heritage Site has been called the oldest civilization in the Americas. In fact, archaeologists are still digging and uncovering new mysteries.

Both sites give you an inside look at the cultures that called Peru home long before the famous Inca warriors took over and the infamous Spanish conquistadores arrived. You can DIY both, though I’d recommend hiring a tour guide simply because securing cabs, navigating your way, dealing with Spanish-only speakers, and tight time constraints can make the process a trying one. If you do decide to hire a guide, Viator has you covered with a Temple of Pachacamac Half-Day Tour or its Full-Day Trip to Caral.

There’s much to see, eat, experience and do in Lima, no matter how little or how much time you have on your hands.

Contributed by Terra Hall

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