By Laura L.
Lima is a South American gem, often overlooked or underrated by tourists on their way to Machu Picchu. However, this city has a lot to offer in and of itself, from its storied history to its world-renowned food scene.
Lima served as Spain’s capital in the Americas for over 300 years. It was known as a city of riches, where people could access exotic gold, silver and artifacts to bring back to Europe. The city’s historic center, Centro, features the most architecture built during this time: neo-Gothic or Baroque churches, palaces and grand hotels.
Travelers usually stay in the Miraflores district with many shops and restaurants, located right along the Pacific coast. Taking a walk along the tall, green cliffs to take a look down at the beach and paragliders below is a must. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can take a 10-15 minute paragliding ride yourself for about $100! It’ll give you a 360-view of the city, the coast and mountain ranges in the distance.
Nearby, Barranco is a great area to explore for dinner, with large gas lamps, open walkways and many restaurants built in historic homes with wrap-around porches. This is a great place to get dinner or drink local pisco in the evening.
Now, let’s talk food! The food scene in Lima is large and varied. The first thing any visitor has to try is a plate of fresh ceviche, usually a whitefish dish served raw after being soaked in lime, salt and other ingredients, served over lettuce with boiled sweet potato and corn on the side. Even if that doesn’t immediately sound appetizing to you, the flavors in this dish are delicious and unforgettable.
Next up, coffee. Peru has excellent coffee, like much of South America, whether you order it at a small street café or at one of their finest hotel restaurants. The coffee is rich, full-bodied and strong. Order an espresso, Americano, cappuccino, frappe—really, whatever you like—it’s going to be delicious in Lima (and very affordable). Plus, it’ll usually come with a little cookie or tiny snack.
And finally: chocolate! Peru is a proud worldwide producer of excellent cocoa and processed chocolate alike. They export it internationally, but you can also, of course, sample it in Lima. One of the best places to learn about the process of refining raw cocoa beans into the polished chocolate bars we’re all familiar seeing in our grocery stores at home is by visiting the Choco Museo in Centro. (They also have alternate locations in Miraflores, if you’re interested in not straying quite so far.) This “Chocolate Museum” offers visitors a visual explanation of the cocoa refinery process, as well as a great place to pick up everything from 100% cocoa dark chocolate bars to bring home, to chocolate soap, jewelry and more.
All in all, Lima is a great city to spend not just a few days, but potentially a week or longer. The locals are extremely nice and always have a lot of suggestions for what guests can do. If you plan well, you can also take a day trip or a few days to visit the Nazca Lines or Cusco.