Top Things to See in Lima
Walking around Lima is an enthralling experience. It has over 10 million inhabitants, and is one of the largest cities in South America. With its succession of pre-Hispanic cultures, the Inca, and Spanish conquistadors, Lima is steeped in many layers of history.
This list has some of the sites that deserve a spot on your itinerary. Lima has colonial centers, museums, bohemian neighborhoods, and ancient ruins – visiting this city can feel like traveling to several different cities all at once.
The Barranco District has a reputation as the place to find nightlife in Lima. This is definitely the spot for a night of dancing and pisco, but don’t overlook Barranco’s daytime charms. Barranco has attracted free-spirited, artistic residents that have given the neighborhood a bohemian style. Streets here are lined with attractive cafés and restaurants, as well as vendors peddling their authentic Peruvian crafts.
Barranco is a good destination for a scenic stroll. Walk along the Bajada de Baños walkway for a view overlooking the Pacific. The idyllic Puente de Suspiros (the “Bridge of Sighs”) crosses over this path, and is one of the most popular spots to stop in Barranco. It looks especially romantic when it is lit up at night.
Don’t let the reputation for partying fool you – Barranco District has an intellectual side. Visit Museo Pedro de Osma, one of Lima’s oldest mansions, to see a collection of colonial antiques beautifully displayed in this luxurious home. For a dose of modern Lima, visit the small gallery of the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, which showcases art from the 1950s onward. The museum itself is a contemporary work of art, with a gleaming interior and floor-to-ceiling windows that offer good views of the city.
In Lima, every historical center you visit will have a grand, colonial church looming over it. After a while, their interiors will start to blend together in your memory into a swirl of gold and Baroque religious art. Before you overdose on Spanish cathedrals, pay Lima Cathedral a visit.
Lima Cathedral is the granddaddy of colonial churches in Lima – controversial conquistador Francisco Pizarro ordered it built in 1535, making it one of the oldest Catholic churches in Peru. Inside visitors will discover a museum with some of the most unusual religious art in the city. You can observe altars decorated in strange figures made from potato flour, and a painting of Peruvian leaders that begins with Inca royalty and ends with a succession of Spanish kings. The church itself is known for housing the remains of Francisco Pizarro, and you can see the lead box that serves as his coffin in the cathedral’s chapel.
San Francisco Convent
The San Francisco Convent has a typically dramatic, Baroque exterior. But the main draw to the old convent is underground, in the church’s catacombs. Until 1821, the city buried people too poor to afford a grave in the recesses of San Francisco Convent’s underground network of burial chambers.
Bodies placed in these recesses were covered in lye, and then left to decompose. Once the bodies had reduced to skeletons, their bones were neatly stacked to conserve space. Today you can still take a tour through the vaults and admire the cases of bones.
Larco Museum was built to serve as a mansion for an 18th-century viceroy. This museum has a good selection of Peruvian history. Visitors will see artifacts from Chimú, Chancay, Nazca, and Inca people – covering many centuries and a large swath of Peru.
The exhibit of Inca mummies gets a lot of attention, but they aren’t the most unusual display. There is also a small exhibition of pre-Columbian ceramic erotica, as fascinating as it is guaranteed to elicit titters. The Larco Museum also has an impressive gold collection. On display you’ll see delicately crafted jewelry and elaborate headdresses from the Moche and Chimú cultures.
Travel just a little bit outside of Lima to see some of the area’s most interesting archeological sites.
At the ancient city of Caral, admire the ruins of a city that was built over 4,000 years ago. Caral was a busy city for many centuries, and was not abandoned until around 1800 B.C. You can still see a large, circular plaza that archeologists speculate probably served as a ceremonial center. There are also a few small pyramids nearby, although these structures have mostly crumbled.
Pachacamác Ruins are much newer, built by the Huari people in approximately 800 A.D. These ruins are named for a creator god, and probably served as an administrative center as well as religious site. When the Inca took over in 1450, they added their own buildings to the complex. These ruins consist of 17 pyramids and a number of plazas. Visitors can walk around one of the largest temples, the Temple of Sun, which overlooks the Pacific Ocean.
You will leave from the coastal neighborhood of Callao, and it takes about 1.5 hours to reach the island of Palomino. On the way you’ll pass by the island of El Frontón, which has a foreboding structure that used to serve as a prison.
Visitors come to Palomino Islands to meet its playful inhabitants – a population of around 8,000 sea lions. These animals are friendly and noisy, barking as they wriggle through the water and inspect their human visitors. Boat tours drop anchor a short distance from the coast so you can swim with the sea lions. This island also serves as a stopover for seafaring birds. You may get to see a Peruvian Pelican, a boobie, or a Humboldt penguin.