I read up on Lima when I was on my quest to hike Machu Picchu, and many reviews didn’t talk too highly of it. Lots of articles said to skip it and spend more time in Cusco which I get because Cusco is super cute with its plaza, cobblestone streets and loads of interesting history. But Lima is like the forgotten sister, and frankly, I think she needs more attention.
To be honest, Lima might lack the luxury gloss of Paris or London, but there’s an exciting underbelly richness to this city with many highlights that I think gets overlooked by impatient travelers wanting to see Cusco. Here’s a couple of things I did which I highly recommend and may change your mind on bypassing Lima if you are planning a trip to Peru to see Machu Picchu and Cusco.
Also watch the video which might inspire you to travel here even more!
1. Catacombs at the Catedral de Lima
If you’re into religion and history and spooky tales (and let’s just say I’ve been known to do the odd ghost tour in a town or two on my travels) then this is for you. The Monastery of San Francisco is a block away from the central Plaza and easy to find. Its the big beautiful yellow building with Spanish Baroque architecture.
My tour guide had worked in this church for many years, so she had some interesting stories to share. The basement under the church is made up of tunnels and crypts and the resting place of hundreds of bones from the wealthy Limenos. It sounds quite creepy, but until 1808 it was commonplace to bury the dead under the churches.
These catacombs were undisturbed until rediscovered in 1943, which is when the archaeologists sorted through all the skeletons. According to my guide, there were too many skeletons, at around 25,000 to lay conventionally. And instead, they decided to keep only the large bones being the femurs and skulls and arrange them in more aesthetically pleasing sites in circular formations. I’m not sure who actually thought arranging them in a circular pattern was less creepy and weird than lying them in rows but, hey, very fascinating just the same.
There’s also a beautiful library, with books dating back as far as the 14th century and a Spanish Bible from 1572, and a beautiful courtyard to check out.
Find it: www.museocatacumbas.com
2. Take a selfie by cool murals in Barranco
Yep, I’m a sucker for good street art, and yes, I’ll admit, I love a pic of an interesting piece of wall art. I’ve always loved the art of good graffiti, and Barranco has some fantastic displays of local artists’ work on display. Barranco is the bohemian and creative hub of this city and a wonderful place to wander, eat and discover the neighborhood. It’s vibrant and colorful and free-spirited. Take a stroll across the famous Bridge of Sighs, ( the meeting place for lovers) check out the yellow abandoned church, La Ermita Church, and buy from shops and street market vendors selling artisan goods, jewelry, ceramics, and tapestries.
Lima is full of impressive Spanish architecture. One of the things you notice in the heart of ton are all the wooden The churches, government buildings, and museums are the most obvious places to start, but a little less subtle of views is wandering the streets and discovering the old-style houses and dwellings converted into trendy restaurants and Art Galleries. My tour guide showed me some beautiful places in Mira Flores and Barranco which still have the original stained glass windows and original floor tiles from over 200 years ago. There is also some super cute colors doorways if you’re a fan of colored doors, and I know you are! C’mon, who doesn’t love a lovely blue or red door!
4. Walk the Mira Flores Boardwalk
The coastal walk along the high cliffs of Miraflores is beautiful. The beaches themselves may not be like Australian or Californian beaches with kms’ of white sand, but the whole setting upon the cliffs is unique and well worth the walk. Many restaurants and bars are overlooking the ocean, and if you take your time to explore the many parks perched high on the cliffs, you’ll be greeted with a magnificent view. The Sunset here is also well worth the wait.
5. Pisco taste testing
One of the best things I did while I was in Lima was a Peruvian cooking course in a local home. But if you haven’t got time to make it yourself, you can book to do a Pisco taste testing at a local bar. We learned all about the different regions where Pisco is distilled, how it’s made and sampled 4-5 different types of Pisco. The Peruvians are very proud of their Pisco and like to tell you that no one makes it as well as they do.
There’s an interesting rivalry between Peruvians and Chilians on who produces the best Pisco, and there’s a whole complex process on how it’s made. Much like a wine tasting, they give you different pisco’s to taste, and you can mix up a few cocktails. But Pisco is a lot more potent than traditional wine at 40% alcohol! There’s so much to learn about how they make Pisco and Peruvians are very proud of this part of their heritage and very happy to teach you about it. It’s a fun afternoon and be prepared to get a little tipsy; it’s seriously potent stuff. You’ve been warned!
6. Ancient Ruins of Pachacama Temple of the Sun
It’s easy to forget that Machu Picchu isn’t the only ancient city in Lima. Lima itself is an ancient city and was well established long before the Spanish arrived. Just 30 kms’ south of Lima, is an archeological site that looks like it could be in Egypt. The main site is the remains of a ceremonial center connected to the god Pahacamac, considered by the locals as the ‘Maker of Earth”. You can walk around the remains of the Pyramids, and remaining brick structures and still see, remains of some bones in the earth in certain places.
The ancient site, which dates back to 300 and 400 AD has survived almost unscathed because Lima is very dry and it almost never rains despite being right on the ocean. From the 360 degree views at the top, you can see all of Lima’s coastline, and back to the shanty towns and mountain hillsides. It’s an extraordinary and very underrated place in Lima that’s well worth a look and another reason I found Lima fascinating.
7. Foodie Heaven
The food scene here is pretty amazing. It’s a fusion of everything South American but Lima is known as the gastronomic city of Latin America, and you can tell why. Everything from fine dining to street food in Lima feels inspired by hundreds of years of practice and tradition. If you’re looking at getting really into a foodie tour, I’d recommend doing a Night Bites & Sites street food tour with Urban Adventures where they’ll show you the secret spots to eat and how to navigate the street foods. Best dishes to try are, of course, Ceviche, and you can check out my up and coming article on my Urban Adventures cooking course coming soon.
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