Lima, the capital of Peru is situated on the Pacific coast, on a series of plains watered by the river valleys of Rímac and Chillón in the middle of a vast area of coastal desert.
Lima has a population of around eight million and accounts for almost thirty percent of the total population of Peru. The majority of the Nation’s resources including the powers of the state, its workforce, educational establishments and other general services, are concentrated in Lima.
Lima is a fascinating and diverse city, it possesses beautiful districts and residential areas; its’ historic center is one of the best preserved sites in the Americas. It has preserved several pre-Columbian monuments, it boasts extraordinary museums displaying artifacts from pre-Hispanic cultures, as well as a rich and varied showcasing of gastronomic tradition, particularly when it comes to seafood.
The Spanish first arrived here in 1533, where the valley was dominated by three important Inca urban complexes: Carabayllo, to the north, Maranga, located where now the Avenida La Marina is, between central Lima and Callao and Surco, now a suburb within Lima where, until the mid-seventeenth century, the adobe houses of ancient chiefs were painted in a variety of colourful images. Now, these structures have faded into the sandy desert terrain, and only the larger pyramids remain, amid the modern concrete urbanization.
The Sixteenth Century
Francisco Pizarro founded Spanish Lima and nicknamed it the “City of the Kings”, in 1535. Evidently, recommended by mountain Indians as a site for a the capital, it proved a good choice – apart perhaps from the winter coastal fog – offering a good harbour, a large well-watered river valley and relatively easy access into the Andes.
Since the very beginning, Lima has been different from the more popular image of Peru in which Andean people are pictured on Inca-built mountain terraces. A decade later, Lima had developed a large plaza with wide Avenues with a fine collection of elegant mansions and shops run by wealthy Spanish, developing into the capital of a Spanish Empire in South America which included not only Peru but also Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile. In this time, the University of San Marcos was founded, it is the oldest in South America and Lima housed the Western Hemisphere’s headquarters of the Spanish Inquisition from 1570 until 1820. Lima was the richest, and the most alluring city in South America, until the early nineteenth century.
The seventeenth century
It is believed that the Seventeenth Century was the most prosperous era for Lima. By 1610, its population had reached 26,000, made up of forty percent African people (mostly slaves), thirty-eight percent Spanish people, no more than eight percent pure Indian, another eight percent of unspecified origin living under religious orders and less than six percent mestizo, who today account for the largest proportion of inhabitants in the city. The centre of Lima was crowded with shops selling silks and fancy furniture from as far away as China. Rimac, a suburb just over the river from the Plaza Mayor and the port area of Callao, both grew up as settlements – initially catering to the very rich, though they are now fairly run down.
The Eighteenth Century
The eighteenth century saw Lima dramatically changed by the tremendous earthquake of 1746, which left twenty houses standing in the city and killed some five thousand residents which at the time, accounted for ten percent of the population. From 1761 to 1776, Lima and Peru were governed by Viceroy Amat, who is remembered for Lima´s rebirth. Amat is responsible for the broad avenues, striking gardens, Rococo mansions and palatial salons present in the city.
The Nineteenth Century
In the nineteenth century, Lima expanded further to the east and south. The suburbs of Barrios Altos and La Victoria were formed and situated above the beaches at Magdalena, Miraflores and Barranco. La Victoria and Barrios Altos were originally separated from the center by farmlands at that time, and today are still studded with fabulous pre-Inca huacas and other adobe ruins. Lima´s first modern facelift and expansion was between 1919 and 1930, revitalizing the central areas. Under orders from President Leguia, the Plaza San Martín’s attractive colonnades and the Gran Hotel Bolívar were erected, the Palacio de Gobierno was rebuilt and the city was supplied with its first drinking-water and sewage systems.
From 300,000 inhabitants in 1930 to over nine million today, by the massive immigration of the country people from the provinces into the shantytowns now pressing in on the city. The increasing traffic has been a problem over the past fifty years, yet environmental awareness is rising as fast as Lima´s shantytowns and middle-class suburban neighborhoods, and the air quality has been improving over the last ten years for the people who live here.
Lima continues to grow, perhaps faster than ever, and the country’s economy is booming. While many of the thriving middle class enjoy living standards comparable to, those of the West, the vast majority of Lima’s inhabitants endure the struggle to put either food on the table or a roof over their heads.
Situated on the desert coast of Peru, the city of Lima is an oasis-like valley watered by the Rimac River. The Pacific Ocean is to the west and the foothills of the Andes is situated towards the east, sandy cliffs separate the Pacific from the edge of Lima city.
The port of Callao provides a harbour which for the history of Peru, provided the main connection to trading ports in Europe and Spain. Today, Callao continues to operate as one of the busiest ports in the Americas and a port of call for many South American cruise ships.
Peru is quite close to the equator, but the cold water Humboldt Current flows up from Antarctica and interacts with air temperatures to keep things cool.
The Andes Mountains are a second factor affecting the climate. The tall peaks, which begin not too far from the coast, create a rain shadow effect that prevents rain clouds, this is why much of Peru’s coast is desert. In Lima, the result is a temperate climate with high humidity around the year.
During the winter months, the city of Lima is covered by a constant gray fog called garúa. Travel some kilometers north or south of the city or up into the foothills and you’ll experience the sunny skies as the rest of coastal Peru does.
Palacio De Gobierno
The Presidential Palace – was the site of the house of Francisco Pizarro, long before the present building was conceived. It was here that he spent the last few years of his life, until his assassination in 1541. As he died– his jugular severed by an assassin, Pizarro fell to the floor, drew a cross, then kissed it; today, some believe this ground to be sacred.
The changing of the guard takes place outside the palace, it´s not a particularly Spectacular sight, though the soldiers look splendid in their scarlet and blue uniforms. There are free guided tours in English and Spanish. The tour also takes in the imitation Baroque Interior of the palace and its art collection.
The heart of the old town is Plaza Mayor – also known as the Plaza de Armas. There are no remains of any Indian heritage in or around the square; standing on the original site of the palace of Tauri Chusko is the relatively modern Palacio de Gobierno, while the cathedral occupies the site of an Inca temple once dedicated to the puma, the Palacio Municipal lies on what was originally an Inca envoy’s mansion.
Parque de la Reserva
The Parque de la Reserva, next to the Estadio Nacional, was superbly refurbished in 2007 to create the circuito mágico del, a splendid array of fountains, each with a different theme, set to go off at specific times.
Museo De Arte De Lima
A couple of minutes’ walk south of the Museo de Arte Italiano is the commanding Museo de Arte, housed in the former International Exhibition Palace, built in 1868. The museum holds interesting permanent collections of colonial art, as well as many line crafts from pre-Columbian times, and also hosts frequent international exhibitions of modern photography and video, as well as contemporary Peruvian art. Film, shows and lectures are offered on some weekday evenings (check the website, El Comercio newspaper listings or posters in the lobby).
Museo de Arte Italiano
South of Plaza San Martín, Jirón Belén leads down to the Paseo de la República and the shady Parque Neptuno, home to the Museo de Arte Italiano. Located inside a relatively small and highly ornate Neoclassical building that’s usual for Lima, built by the Italian architect Gaetano Moretti, the museum exhibits oils, bronzes and ceramics by Italian artists.
Plaza Dos De Mayo
The city’s main rallying point for political protests is Plaza Dos de Mayo, linked to the Plaza San Martín by the wide Avenida Nicolás de Pierola). Built to commemorate the Spanish fleet in 1866 – Spain’s last attempt to regain a foothold in South America – the plaza is markedly busier than the Plaza San Martín. It sits on the site of an old gate dividing Lima from the road to Callao.
Plaza San Martín
A large, grand square with fountains at its centre, the Plaza San Martín is almost always busy by day, with traffic tooting its way around the perimeter. Nevertheless, it’s a place where you can sit down for a few minutes and enjoy the atmosphere. Located in the square, is the Hotel Bolivar which is the oldest hotel in Lima.
Iglesia de La Merced
Perhaps the most noted of all religious buildings in Lima, is the Iglesia de la Merced, two blocks south of the Plaza Mayor. Built on the site where the first Latin Mass in Lima was celebrated, the original sixteenth-century church was demolished in 1628 to make way for the present building whose ornate granite facade, dating back to 1687, has been adapted and rebuilt several times.
Iglesia de San Francisco
One of Lima´s most attractive churches, San Francisco is a majestic building that has withstood the passage of time and the devastation of successive earth tremors. A large seventeenth-century construction with an engaging stone facade and towers, San Francisco’s vaults and columns are elaborately decorated with Moorish plaster.
The Convento de San Francisco, part of the same architectural complex and a museum in its own right, contains a superb library and a room of paintings by (or finished by) Zurbarán, Rubens, Jordaens and Van Dyck. To see these magnificent works of arts, take the forty-minute guided tour of the monastery and its subterranean crypt, both of which are worth a visit. The museum is inside the monastery’s vast crypts, which were only discovered in 1951 and contain the skulls and bones of some seventy thousand people.
La Catedral and Museum of Religious Art and Treasures
Southeast across the square, less than 50m away from the Palacio de Gobierno, is the Catedral, designed by Francisco Becerra, was modelled on a church from Seville and has three aisles in a Renaissance style. When Becerra died in 1605, the cathedral was not complete, with the towers alone taking another forty years to finish. In 1746, a devastating earthquake destroyed much of the building. The current version, which is essentially a reconstruction of Becerra’s design, was rebuilt throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and remodelled once again after another quake in 1940.
Mercado Central and Barrio Chino
A few blocks east of Avenida Abancay are taken over by the Central Market and Chinatown. Perhaps one of the most fascinating sectors of Central Lima, Chinatown houses Lima´s best and cheapest chifa (Chinese) restaurants. Many Chinese came to Peru in the late nineteenth century to work as labourers on railway constructions, many others came here in the 1930s and 40s to escape cultural persecution in their homeland. The shops and street stalls in this sector are full of all sorts of inexpensive goods, from shoes to glass beads to genuine Chinese supermarkets.
As far as Lima´s inhabitants are concerned, Miraflores is the major focus of the city’s action and nightlife. Its streets are lined with cafés and the capital’s flashiest shops. Larco Mar, a modern entertainment district built into the Cliffside at the bottom of Miraflores Main Street, adds to its swanky appeal. Although still connected to Lima Centro by the long-established Avenida Arequipa, which is served by frequent colectivos, another generally faster road – Paseo de la República (also known as the Vía Expressa and El Zanjón) – provides the suburb with an alternative route for cars and buses.
Casa de Osambela
The early nineteenth-century Casa de Osambela has five balconies on its facade and a lookout point from which boats arriving at the port of Callao could be spotted by the first owner, Martín de Osambela. This mansion is home to the Centro Cultural Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, which offers guided tours of the building.
Palacio Torre Tagle
The spectacular Palacio Torre Tagle is the pride and joy of the old city. A beautifully maintained mansion, it was built in the 1730s and is embellished with a decorative facade and two elegant, dark-wood balconies; typical of Lima architecture in that one is larger than the other. The porch and patio are distinctly Spanish colonial style, although some of the intricate wood carvings on pillars and across ceilings display a Native influence, the tiles also show a combination of Moorish and Limeño tastes.
Gold Museum and Weapons of the World
This museum was based upon the large Miguel Mujica Gallo private collection and includes important examples of pre-Hispanic art made of gold, silver and copper, as well as textiles. The most valuable piece in the collection is the solid gold tumi, or ceremonial knife, of the Lambayeque culture. The museum also houses necklaces, funerary masks, ceremonial vessels, nose ornaments and miniatures as well as a collection of weapons.
3 kilometres south of Larco Mar and quieter than Miraflores, Barranco overlooks the ocean and is scattered with old mansions, including fine colonial and Republican edifices, many beginning to crumble through lack of care. This was the capital´s seaside resort during the nineteenth century and is now a kind of Limeño Left Bank, with young artists, writers, musicians and intellectuals taking over some of the older properties. Only covering three square kilometres, Barranco is quite densely populated, with over 40,000 inhabitants living in its delicately coloured houses.
Rafael Larco Herrera Archaeological Museum
This is without a doubt one of the best private museums in Peru, particularly in terms of its collection covering the northern cultures, such as the erotic art of the Moche.
Rafael Larco Hoyle founded the museum on July the 28th, 1926, at the Chiclín sugarcane plantation in Trujillo and founded the collection in a Lima mansion in the 1950s.
The museum has two floors and seven exhibition rooms, as well as a vault and storerooms which are also open to the public. The erotic art room is located on the first floor and houses the largest collection of pottery of this type anywhere in the world. On the second floor, one finds the rooms displaying mummies, pottery, metalwork, stonework, textiles, as well as the cultures of Peru from 7000 BC to the time of the Spanish conquest. The vault contains a number of pieces made from gold, silver and semiprecious stones, such as ear and nose ornaments, breastplates, ceremonial vessels and masks.
Migration from all parts of the globe has been a part of Peru´s modern history. Immigrants from Asia, Europe and Africa as well as other parts of Peru have merged to create a mixture of cultures. Today most Peruvians are mestizos, meaning descendants of the mix of European and indigenous populations, traced back to the conquest of Peru.
Peruvian people are mostly polite and will greet you and leave you with warmth and friendly words. Learn a few phrases to help with your greetings.
- Good Day: Buenos Dias
- Good Afternoon: Buenos Trades
- Good Night: Buenos Noches
- Nice to meet you: Mucho Gusto
- See you later: Hasta Luego
- Goodbye: Adios
Lima is the cultural, political and economic capital of Peru. Teaming with art galleries, historical buildings, museums and markets that all contribute to making the capital a must-see on any Peruvian journey.
When you feel that you have had great service from a tour guide, driver or in a restaurant or hotel, it is nice to show your appreciation with a tip.
Explore Restaurants, Shopping and Nightlife
The district of Barranco is known for its exquisite art galleries and vibrant nightlife, while Miraflores is known for having stunning views of the ocean and excellent shopping. You can enjoy these ocean views from the cliff-hanging outdoor shopping center known as Larcomar. The cuisine in Lima is regarded as the best in Peru, so you can find a wide variety of local restaurants according to varying budgets.
Visit Ancient Temples
See the contrasts between the old and the new, visit Huaca Pucllana; an adobe temple from the 4th century surrounded by the high rise buildings of modern day Lima. See more temples in the Pueblo Libre and San Miguel districts of Lima. Not far from the center of Lima, you will find the Pachacamac temple; an important temple for many centuries.
Stroll the Seaside Promenade
On the green coastal cliffs of Lima is El Malecon, which is considered to be Lima’s most scenic landscape. For around 10 kilometres along the coast, El Malecon separates the ocean from the city. If you love beautiful sunsets this is the place to go.
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