Peru’s Underdog: 10 Things You Miss by Skipping Lima

Lima’s got it tough. In a country where Machu Picchu dominates the average tourist’s attention, it can be hard to convince people that Peru’s capital is worth a visit. I lived in Lima for two years and am here to give you a different perspective. So, before you write off Lima, let’s talk about all that you’d be missing!

Accessible Travel Note: If you’ll be traveling to Lima with a wheelchair, head over to our post on a Wheelchair User’s Guide to Lima, Peru.

1. The Malecón Boardwalk

Visiting the Malecón boardwalk is one of the best things to do in Lima.

The Malecón runs along the top of Lima’s cliffs and offers beautiful views over the Pacific ocean.  “Malecón” translates to boardwalk in Spanish. The Malecón covers a good portion of Lima’s coast with expansions underway. 

Most commonly, you’ll hear people refer to the Miraflores district when talking about the Malecón. The Malecón is filled with park goers, runners, photographers, gymnasts, and lovers. 

You read that right. Lovers!

The Park of Love is one of the most famous attractions along the Malecón.  The “El Beso” sculpture was designed by famous Peruvian artist Victor Delfín. The story goes that the longest kiss there lasted over 9 hours!

You’ll find plenty of people around the Park of Love honoring the statue. However, don’t get too carried away with your partner…they’ve got security around making sure the area stays family-friendly.

The Park of Love in Miraflores, Lima.

Other notable sites of interest you’ll encounter on the Malecón is the Faro la Marina lighthouse towards the northernmost part of Miraflores, Grau Park (make sure to stop for coffee at Buenavista Cafe!) and a skateboard park. You’ll encounter parks of every size between these areas, all offering beautiful ocean views.

2. Larcomar Mall

If you walk south along the Malecón boardwalk from the Park of Love, you’ll arrive to the Larcomar mall in about 10 minutes.

This isn’t just any mall.

It’s an outdoor, multi-story metropolis built downward into the cliff.  The highest floor is level with the road!

Larcomar is a high-end shopping center with a mixture of boutique and brand name stores.  It’s not just about shopping, though.  The restaurant scene is booming, and you’ll have ocean views to go along with it.

My personal restaurant favorite is Mangos.  You’ll know it when you see it- it’s one of the only places with a patio on a little slice of cliff jutting out from the mall.  They’re known for their all you can eat buffet.  Yum!

You can also rent a bike on the top part of Larcomar, so that you can cover more ground during your Malecón exploration.

3. Paragliding

Things to do in Lima wouldn't be complete without paragliding.
Paragliding over the Park of Love.

It wouldn’t be right to include the Malecón on this list without mentioning paragliding.

Soaring over Lima’s cliffs is a highlight (pun intended) for the adventure lover.  The ride lasts 10 minutes and takes you along Miraflores’ coastline. 

Not only are the views beautiful from above, but you’ll also be setting the scenery for Malecón goers on the ground. Get ready to be in lots of strangers’ photos!

As of April 2019, the cost for paragliding is 260 Peruvian soles, including medical insurance and an HD video recording where you’ll get to keep the SIM card. They accept Peruvian soles, USD, and Euro- cash only, for now, but they’re working on accepting credit cards. A passport (a copy is fine) is required to sign up.

You won’t be allowed to take pictures with your own camera during the ride, so make sure to give your camera to someone on the ground. Those ground shots can be just as good as, if not better than, from above!

A paraglider over the Malecón boardwalk in Miraflores.

The instructors are certified by the Peruvian Free Flight Association (APVL).  Paragliding is regulated by the Miraflores district, so you can be sure that you’re getting certified guides and well maintained equipment.  It’s also possible to take in-depth paragliding courses outside of Lima, if you’re looking to fulfill your dream of becoming an independent paraglider.

Summer will give you the best chance to enjoy the views without Lima’s gloom; aim for December – February, if you’re able. That said, wind is what drives paragliding. Therefore, the months of June – November have the fewest weather cancellations.

Location: Antonio Raymondi Park (near the Park of Love)

Travel Tip: Don’t book the paragliding tour ahead of time.  Since tours run according to wind conditions, it’s best to arrive and sign up in the moment.  The wait time is rarely long, and the best weather is typically from 12:30pm – 5:00pm.

4. Larco Museum

Gold at the Larco Museum.

Aka…the erotic museum!

The Larco Museum has an extensive collection of gold artifacts.  However, it’s better known for its collection of pre-Columbian erotic pottery.

If you’re traveling with kids, rest easy. 

The erotic area is in a separate part from the rest of the exhibits and is discretely concealed. So, no need to worry about accidentally stumbling upon it.

Another unique experience the Larco Museum offers is allowing visitors to enter their storage facility. Here, you’ll get to see over 40,000 unmarked artifacts sitting on shelves.

The museum is open every day of the year.  This is pretty cool if you’ll be in Lima on a holiday, since the city pretty much becomes a ghost town.  Cameras, without flash, are allowed (no tripods).

Make sure to include a stop at the Museo Larco Cafe as part of your visit. This restaurant has indoor and outdoor seating overlooking Larco Museum’s beautiful gardens.  It’s known for producing exquisite Peruvian meals.  For those with a love of museums and gastronomy, you can easily spend a half day here.

The Larco museum is located in the Pueblo Libre district and is open daily from 9:00am – 10:00pm. Holidays have modified hours.

Travel Tip: The museum is notoriously busier from around 10:00am – 1:00pm. So, avoid these hours, if you’re looking to be away from the crowds!

5. Swimming with Sea Lions

Does it get any better than jumping in the water with one of the cutest animals in the ocean?

Swimming with sea lions in Lima is an incredible experience and one that is unheard of by far too many travelers.  Part of the reason is that the tour departs from Callao, which is located near the airport…aka, a 40 – 60 minute drive from the tourist area.

From Callao, you’ll take about an hour boat ride to reach the Palomino Islands.  The ride gets bumpy, so bring some Dramamine if you’re prone to seasickness.  Here, you’ll be given the opportunity to jump in the water with a colony of wild sea lions. 

The sea lions are friendly and curious.  Once they warm up to you, they may even brush against you!

Speaking of warm, you’ll be given a wetsuit since year round the water is chilly, due to the Humboldt Current.  However, if you travel during the summer (December – February) the air will be warmer.

As a word of caution…be ready for a strong smell around the islands. There are a LOT of sea lions living in the area, and all those droppings create a strong stench!

The sea lions are present year round, and as such, tours run daily, including holidays.

A popular company offering this tour is Ecocruceros.  Safety is a top priority, so you’ll be given a briefing about interacting with the sea lions.  Life jackets are provided and required.

Ready for a bonus?

The tour will also take you to San Cristóbal, where a large penguin colony lives.  You won’t get to swim with the penguins, so make sure to bring a camera with a good zoom. The boat circles the perimeter of the island, so close-up shots can get tricky.

6. Catacombs

Seeing the catacombs is one of the best things to do in Lima.
The catacombs are located beneath the San Francisco church.

What better reason to visit Lima than to be able to say that you visited skeletons? 

The catacombs are located underneath the San Francisco Church in Lima’s downtown historical district. A good fit for people who aren’t claustrophobic, the church offers a guided tour through narrow chambers. 

Don’t worry, the skeletons are hundreds of years old, so there isn’t an odor of decay.  However, you’ll notice a mild, musty smell.  After all, you are underground!

Photographers, lament.  Pictures are not allowed. 

In some areas, the bones are covered by glass and located at some distance from where you’ll be standing.  In other parts, you’ll be right up close to crates of bones, with just air separating you. 

It goes without saying that no touching is allowed, right?

There aren’t any age restrictions to take the tour, but you must be able to walk up and down some stairs in not very well lit conditions.

The catacombs are open daily from 9:00am to 8:15am.  Bonus- stop by the church, if it’s open while you’re there. 

Travel Tip: There is a plaza with pigeons outside the San Francisco Church.  You’ll find locals selling cracked corn for less than a dollar to feed the birds.  This is a thrill for both children and adults alike!

7. Surquillo Market (Mercado #1)

Vegetables at the Surquillo Market.

Lima has a lot of neat markets.  But the Surquillo Market (aka Mercado #1) is among the best.  It’s located just across the Paseo de la República (aka Vía Expresa) expressway that divides the Miraflores and Surquillo districts.

Although, in more recent years the market has been receiving more tourists, it is still very much an authentic experience.  You’ll find every produce, spice, and protein imaginable coming from different regions of Peru (and some international options, too).

The market is technically inside of a large, unmissable building you’ll see on the left hand side, if you’re walking across the bridge over the
Vía Expresa from Miraflores. However, my favorite part is exploring the market sprawl that overflows into the streets around it.

Food at the Surquillo Market

In and around the Surquillo Market, you can find menus for as little as 6 soles.  That’s right- you can get an appetizer, main course, and a drink for under $2 USD.

It’s super cool to look at and a great way to hone your Spanish food vocabulary.  If you’re there at a peak time, there’s also a good chance you’d be sharing a table with some locals. That said, the quality is lacking. I find that menus starting at around 12 soles use better ingredients.

Like so many little local menu places in Peru, eat at your own risk.  The food isn’t prepared in a friendly way for the average tourist’s stomach.

The Surquillo Market is open daily, with a special Bioferia organic market beside it on Sundays.  The Surquillo Market opens its doors daily at 7:00am.  The market is busier in the morning, but there are plenty of stands open throughout the day. The market closes at 6:00pm on weekdays and Saturdays. On Sundays, things wrap up around 3:00 – 4:00pm.

8. Barranco

Street in Barranco leading to the ocean.

Lovingly referred to as Lima’s bohemian district, Barranco sits beside Miraflores and is known for its art and historical buildings.

You can even stay at Peruvian sculptor Victor Delfín’s house.  Called Second Home, this boutique accommodation is a unique option that won’t break the bank.  Fun fact: Victor Delfín was the one who designed the statue at the Park of Love!

As with any typical Peruvian district, Barranco has a main plaza.  From there, you’ll be able to walk to the ocean, restaurants, and shops.

The nightlife scene is particularly hopping.  Lots of bars can be found on the streets off the main plaza, and craft beer shops are popping up everywhere.

If you go to only one place in Barranco, make it Puente de los Suspiros. 

Puente de Suspiros is a little wooden bridge that hovers over a cobblestone road leading down to the ocean.  You can get some great people watching in and admire some of Barranco’s best graffiti.

Visiting the Puente de los Suspiros is one of the great things to do in Lima.
Puente de los Suspiros Bridge in Barranco.

From Puente de Suspiros, head down to the cobblestone road and walk downhill towards the ocean.  You’ll have your picking of (tourist priced) bars and restaurants, if you’re in the mood for a drink or meal.

As you make your way down, on the left hand side you’ll come across a narrow graffiti-lined staircase that leads up to the hill above.  This is a shortcut for getting back to the main square, and I highly recommend it after visiting the coast!

Graffiti in Barranco.
This graffiti-lined staircase leads up to an area near Barranco’s main plaza.

As is typical for Lima, Barranco’s beaches aren’t stunning. The beaches are sandier than in Miraflores, but with that comes beach chairs and tents lining every square inch.

For the culture lover, heading down to the beach to feel the local vibe is a nice option. However, chances are you won’t be compelled to turn your Barranco visit into a beach day.

9. Kennedy Park

Also known as the cat park, Kennedy Park is in the very center of Miraflores. 

There’s never a dull moment at Kennedy park. 

Artists, park goers, cat feeders, and performers can all be found here.  You’ll also come across food carts selling traditional sweets and sandwiches. 

Why all the cats you ask?

Many years ago, a priest at the nearby church started feeding stray cats.  Word got around and people started dropping off their unwanted cats.  Before long, the park was filled with felines.

Nowadays, there’s a non-profit organization that oversees cat care and adoptions.  They also do their best to keep up with spaying and neutering the animals.

Don’t worry about seeking out the cats.  You’re bound to see at least one everywhere you turn. Take a seat, and one may even crawl into your lap!

If you want to pick up some cat food, there’s a 24 hour Metro supermarket on Shell Street, at the west end of Kennedy Park.

In the unlikely event that you’re driving a vehicle in Lima, there’s an underground parking garage beneath Kennedy Park.

10. San Cristóbal Hill

San Cristóbal hill offers viewpoints of Lima's historical district.

View seekers, rejoice!

Going up to San Cristóbal is the perfect way to get views of Lima’s historical center. 

That is, if the clouds allow. 

Aim to visit Lima in the summer, or wait it out for a (semi) clear day before deciding to take the trip.

Public buses no longer travel to San Cristóbal, due to an accident with a double-decker bus that the road wasn’t designed for.  Therefore, you’ll need to hire a taxi to get to the top. The road is fine for smaller vehicles with a responsible driver.  Nonetheless, know that there are curves and drop-offs.

Once at that top, you can enjoy views of Lima while chomping on any snack you may be enticed to buy from vendors.  You can head up to San Cristóbal day or night, depending on the kind of view you’re looking for.

My trekking friends, I know what you’re thinking.  So I’m going to stop you right there. Robberies are common on the road to San Cristóbal.  Going by vehicle is the only recommended way.

11. The Beaches…

Hey, now. 

Who caught this?

I said that this is a list of ten not-to-miss-things in Lima, not eleven. However, this is a bonus for you because I’ve seen time and time again people arrive to Lima with the wrong expectations. 

Wrong expectations = disappointment.

Lima is not a beach destination.

You’ll be tempted to think that it is when you see stairs like these leading down to the ocean:

Path in Miraflores leading to the ocean.

Lima has beaches in the sense that there’s space between where the ocean meets the cliff. However, when heading down to the water, this is what you’ll encounter…and this is on a nice summer day:

Going to the beach is not among the best things to do in Lima.

Lima’s beaches are rocky and the waves are rough making it a less than ideal beach experience.

My recommendation- set your mind on enjoying the views of the ocean from the Malecón boardwalk and not down by the water itself.  Trust me, the Malecón won’t disappoint!

Psst! If you’re itching for a beach trip while you’re in Peru, check out my post on ending the debate between Mancora vs. Paracas.

Conclusion

Although Lima is most commonly used as a means to get to other destinations in Peru, it’s worth spending time there. Have you been, or will be going, to Lima? Share your experience/questions in the comments section!