7 Things to Do in Lima's City Centre

27 Jul 2018

Lima, Peru. This foggy jungle, traffic jams and all, is a wondrous convergence of modernity intertwined with history and heritage. The 'History' part is what we're exploring today. Follow me...

If you're travelling around Peru it's likely that you'll have to stay in Lima for a few days. Luckily Lima is a destination in its own right and has lots to offer. From ancient, coastal boardwalks, to fantastic art museums and historical sites. And let's not forget: Lima's is the capital to the 'most renowned culinary scene in the world' (as voted by the world).

There are three main areas to explore in Lima if you're on a short stay. Miraflores (the fun-loving district), Barranco (the bohemian-artsy district) and the historic centre.

Today we're exploring the historical centre (Centro Histórico).

1. Basilica and Monastery of San Francisco & Catacombs

In the morning we head to the Monastery of San Francisco, a 25-minute taxi ride from Miraflores. This church is an impressive architectural feat of the 17th century, with baroque gilded side altars and a beautiful cupola decorated with heavy Spanish and Arabic influence. The church houses a fine library containing books as old as time as well as a collection of paintings from Colonial and Republican times. A few feet beneath the nave of the church lies Lima's first cemetery, the Catacombs.

There are guided tours in English and Spanish often, and they last little over an hour. You can check the opening times and entry fees here. In May 2017 the fee was S/10.00 ($3 / £2.30) and it includes the guided tour price for the church and catacombs.

2. Parque de la Muralla

Coming out of the Monastery take a right and follow the road for 20 seconds (literally) until you reach the Parque de la Muralla (The Park of the Wall). This 'park' was built over an old rubbish/garbage landfill as an ancient wall that surrounded Lima city, built was discovered and partly restored to show how it might have looked back in the 17th century when it was built to safeguard Lima from Pirate attacks.

The place has some pergolas and fountains but we're only here to check it out briefly. If you stand at the top, you get a glimpse of how the other half live. It's a good place to see that Lima has a lot of different faces.

We have a leisurely five-minute walk around it and read a few of the plaques. There's a small gallery showing some artefacts dug up on the site as well as a library for children with thousands of books and comics. Under the Balta bridge, there's also a gym with a cost per hour (about a dollar / just under a sterling pound an hour).

3. Government Palace and the Changing of the Guards

Coming out the park, follow Jiron Junin towards the Government Palace, the official residence of the President. We get there at noon as the band plays a medley of popular songs and traditional marching songs as the guards, clad in red and white, march in different styles under the watchful eyes of military commanders.

As we leave the Palace gates and move towards the centre of the square, the Plaza de Armas, we can appreciate the beautiful Cathedral of Lima, the Club de la Union, the Palacio Municipal, the Casa del Oidor and the Palacio Arzobispal (Bishop's Palace), which point heavily at the massive Catholic influence and following we have in Peru.

4. & 5. Lunch at Museo del Pisco & "Jironear"

Tummies are now rumbling and there's no better place than Museo del Pisco on Jiron Carabaya 193 to stop for a bite and of course, a Pisco Sour. If you've already tried Pisco Sour, get a Passionfruit Chilcano instead, another Pisco-based cocktail. Order a ceviche if you can handle the heat or a Lomo Saltado or Chicharron and don't forget to try the desserts!

When you're bellies are full, step out again to explore the old architecture from Colonial times, when the Spanish ruled, scattered around the "Jirones". A Jiron is a Peruvian street that has smaller streets in between blocks. They are full of restored buildings and we explore them at a slow pace, looking at the colours, the architecture, the way they've stood the test of time.

There's the Old Train Station (now free Casa de la Literatura), Pasaje del Correo Central, now a Parisian-style passage, home of the National Archives. If you follow Jiron de la Union to the North, you can have a look at the Rimac River.

See if you can spot the old Bar Cordano in Jirón Ancash. It's one of the oldest surviving bars in Lima. If you don't believe me, look at how many door coats of paint it's been through:

Nearby is Casa de Aliaga, which was given to Captain Jeronimo de Aliaga, a friend of Francisco Pizarro (founder of Lima) shortly after the foundation in 1535. Since then, seventeen generations of Captain Aliaga have lived there. You can visit the inside (which remains beautifully restored) by making an appointment and paying a fee of about S/.30.00 (as of May 2017) or $9/£7.

6. Pre-Columbian Treasures at Museo Larco

If you visit only one museum, make it Museo Larco (Avenida Bolivar 1515, 15-minute drive from Miraflores or the City Centre) - a private museum of pre-Columbian treasures of old Peru.

The museum itself is set in an old mansion from the Virreynato, Colonial times. Its international-quality perfectly curated rooms allow you to fully immerse yourself in over 5000 years of Peruvian history through artefacts, art, tools and more. The stories from the very knowledgeable guides are short and interesting enough that even the most museum-skeptical will be fascinated. 

Seeing it all at slow pace will take between 2 - 3 hours, but a guided tour covers the highlights in 45 minutes. You even get access to the storerooms where you can explore artefacts not currently being exhibited - you will find true gems here.

The museum labels explain what you're looking at thoroughly but if you prefer a more interactive experience, you can join a guided tour or even better - get a fully customised guided tour by the team of curators, according to your likes and interests. If you want to do this, you can email curaduria@museolarco.org

A visit to this museum is truly essential if you're in Lima, as it will give you a close connection and understanding of this beautiful land. When you're done looking at the pre-Incan wares, stroll through the peaceful gardens and then rest your feet in their lovely cafe. The entry fee will set you back S/.30.00 (as of May 2017) or $9/£7.

7. Magic Water Circuit at the Parque de la Reserva

When the sun's gone down (essential!) jump in a taxi heading in the general direction of Miraflores (where you'll likely be staying) but stop at the Parque de la Reserva. This park was renovated in 2007 to reclaim it for public use, and a massive exhibition of water displays and fountains was installed. It even holds a Guinness Record for the largest public space with a fountain display!

It might not sound like much, but it's a lovely, lovely and truly stunning display and a great way to spend an evening before heading for dinner. Tours are free and entry costs a mere S/.4.00 / $1.20 / £1 (a pound!!!). You can even buy snacks and local traditional sweets inside if you get peckish.

This ends our tour of Central Lima. There's plenty more to see of course, so if you're here for several days be sure to check out the Mali (Museo de Arte de Lima) and do enter the Casa de Aliaga and the Casa de la Literatura.

For now, head back to Miraflores. Even better, jump in a cab straight to a tiny hole that makes Anticuchos: La Grimanesa. They make some of the best marinated grilled beef skewers in town. Pro tip, don't find out what part of the cow it is. Just enjoy it. ;)

If you enjoyed this list don't miss out on my free PDF guide to Peru. It has everything you need to know in only 1 page! Find it here

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