Flying over the cloud cover stretched to the horizon, you quickly understand why Lima is affectionately called “la Grisa” by locals. Do not let this put you off – Lima is full of colour, flavour, and culture. If you get the chance, spend a day discovering this rich and vibrant city.
Here is my list of must-dos and skip-that’s for 24 hours in Lima.
The Keys to Lima
Population: 9 million
Height: 5080 ft / 1550 m
December – May is “Summer” with temperatures between 25°C and 32°C
June – November is “Winter” with temperatures between 12°C and 20°C
Currency: PEN (pronounced Sol-es) is around 3.5:1 USD or 4:1 GBP. You can exchange cash in most places, otherwise, there are plenty of cash machines around the city. You can typically take out up to 400 PEN in one go.
Public transport: There is no proper system of public transport in Lima. The public relies on tens of thousands poor maintained small buses and around 200,000 taxis to get around.
- Lima is a desert city, the second largest one after Cairo in Egypt.
A third of Peru’s population call Lima home.
- Lima lies on the shores of the Pacific Ocean and limeños have been scoring top points in global surf competitions for years.
- Taxis are a cheap way to get around, but you need to agree on the price before jumping in, as they do not have metres.
- You can get from the airport to town centre for 50 PEN. There is also UBER.
- There are over 2000 restaurants and 500 cevicherias in Lima. Here you will eat like royalty at a very reasonable price.
- In September, there is a food festival called Mistura. Chefs from all over Peru come to set up camp and feed over 400,000 people! Check out the dates for next year here.
Lima is divided into 43 separate districts, all of which are their own masters but form part of the larger community. Politically, this makes decision-making very difficult. In fact, lack of formality around expansion and urban development is a major issue for the city.
If Lima is a family reunion, Barranco is the cool cousin in the corner who doesn’t give a s***. Barranco is rugged and charming. It is full of cafes and restaurants, colourful, colonial houses and enchanting alleys, dressed in intricate street art.
Start at the main square by the Parque Municipal de Barranco and make your way up Boulevard Sanchez Carrion, popping into local eateries to try Peruvian specialities. I will follow up with a post on my food tour of Barranco shortly!
Go to Avenida San Martin to see distinctly Peruvian architecture, and Avenida Migueal Grau to admire Lima’s oldest homes, some maintained and others fallen into dispair.
The Bridge of Sighs, El Puente de los Suspiros, is an iconic sight of the neighbourhood. To the left of the bridge, is the Bajada de Banos which leads you to the beach.
Beach and Surfing
Surfing is a huge part of the city’s culture. Get down to the beach either in Barranco or Miraflores and find yourself a spot to watch the surfers. Stay later and you can watch the sun set into the Pacific. If you’re visiting during the summer months, why not give surfing a go? Lessons are readily available right on the beach, and chances are, they will be taught by a real pro!
Buffets have a bad name in the West. We associate them with heaps of greasy noodles and tasteless ingredients. Well, you’re not in Kansas anymore Toto! Buffets in Peru are amazing!
Not only do buffets offer you a huge selection of local dishes to try without the wait (note: in most places, there is no rush in taking or bringing your order), they often include a glass of Pisco Sour. I highly recommend Puro Peru in Barranco.
Miraflores tends to be the first choice for tourists stopping over in Lima. Going back to the family picture, Miraflores is that aunty who had way too much work done, and now looks like something out of a Tim Burton film.
Miraflores is generally westernised, Kennedy Park has free wifi, and streets are lined with high-rises and branded shops. There is also an “Indian market” which sells the same things you will see all over Peru for a 300% mark-up.
Nonetheless, Miraflores is said to be very “safe”. I didn’t get a sense that other areas are necessarily unsafe, but it’s important to be sensible, and remember that over 35% of Lima’s population lives in squatter settlements called barriadas (shantytowns). Avoid those, and you will be fine.
Don’t get me wrong, Miraflores is pretty. But if I had only one day in Lima, this is not where I would spend it.
Downtown is overrated with its historical monuments, museums, and catacombs. Why would you want to pay someone money to see skulls? LOADS of skulls?
I made that mistake, so take it from me. Unless, of course, you’re into that kind of thing, I would suggest leaving it for the socks-and-sandals patrolling the area.
The shopping mall in Miraflores is said to be one of the “things to do” on a lot of online articles and blogs I have read. To me, that says a lot about Miraflores, and the writers who wrote those posts. If you want to go to a mall, you probably don’t need to take a 13-hour flight.
Textiles is one of Peru’s main industries. If you are travelling on from Lima, leave shopping for when you are in the highlands/ jungle/ desert.
Peru is full of boutiques, but most of these will be wrapped up in large, colourful fabrics, and strapped to the back of a friendly Peruvian lady. Often these women walk for hours from their villages to reach locations where tourists go. Buy from these humble women, not international companies with multi-million marketing budgets.
In the same vein, one of Lima’s iconic sights, are the street sellers.
They weave through the mad traffic, supplying drivers with the much-needed sugar boost, sell fruit and pastries on the roadside, and offer you trinkets for souvenirs.
Get a Lama key ring (or 3 for 10 PEN!), try an Inca Kola and treat yourself to a Sublime chocolate. Save the big spending for the rest of your trip.