Don’t feel bad about it. There are actually many travellers who either overnight in Lima on their way between the airport and the Machu Picchu, or overlook it completely when travelling in Peru. In fact, Anthony wasn’t attracted at all by the chaos of the capital, so we almost did that too. So many attractions in Peru deserve all our attention, should we pay any to yet another crowded and noisy metropolis? So visiting Lima, the capital of Peru, for one day or 2 days is not that bad in the end. Look into this handful of nifty things to build up the coolest Lima itinerary you’ll ever remember.
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How long should you spend in Lima?
So we did spend a few days in the Peruvian capital in the end. And in all honesty, we thought it was great! We enjoyed Lima much more than if it was just an unavoidable stopover on our way to the north. Yes, Lima is crowded and noisy, and some districts are also unsafe; but there’s more appeal to it that any travel guide will care to admit.
So how many days do you need to visit Lima? Well, considering the attractions in the capital, and those in the rest of the country, we think that between 1 and 5 days is a good amount of time. We’re giving inspiration for a self-made Lima full day tour, that can be spread out on 2 days or more.
The city is particularly recommended for those interested in culture & museums (district of centro histórico), in bohemian street vibes (Barranco) or in high-standard going-out options (Miraflores).
7 sexy things to do for one day in Lima, Peru
If you’re visiting Lima –and Peru– for the first time, and if you only have 24 hours ahead of you, here’s a handpicked selection of activities to choose from. You won’t be able to do them all, but you can choose according to your interests.
Marvel at the paragliders in Miraflores district
…and try it yourself for 10 or 20 minutes if you feel like it.
The upscale, grassy seaside promenade of the coastal Miraflores district fills up every weekend with sun-loving yoga practitioners, slack-liners and birthday pick-nickers. It’s great for a walk on the cliffs and a rest in one of its several green parks. A short rest – you have only 1 day in Lima!
Among the best tours of Lima, the free walking tours depart daily at 9:50 am from the Tourist Information Centre in Miraflores and visit the historical part of town.
Nearby San Isidro is another upscale district with bars and restaurants. Fans of mummies and old ruins can visit Huaca Huallamarca and Huaca Pucllana, archaeological sites with ancient pyramids and museums.
Enjoy the charismatic atmosphere of Barranco district
…and stroll on the ‘Bridge of Sighs’ (Puente de los Suspiros).
The cobblestone streets of this small hippy haven right under Miraflores pulsate with a buoyant activity; flâneurs strolling, artisans selling their craft, students playing music.
There are also many terraces of alternative-looking bars and restaurants. The MATE is a cool contemporary museum set in a very pretty colonial mansion. Check out the viewpoint for a romantic, urban view of the sun setting on the Pacific ocean – and pick one of the lovely sunset quotes for your Instagram pictures!
Pose with colourful street art
…on murals around the city, especially in the Barranco district.
This is for many visitors one of the best things to do in Lima. There’s a whole journey to be had following the colourful frescoes on the walls of the city.
The bohemian neighbourhood of Barranco gathers most of them; but there are some very pretty also in the historical centre, hidden from the governmental buildings. Take a walking tour to discover the best among them.
To achieve the best result on your next profile picture, wear some colourful clothes.
Spend hours at the Lima Art Museum (MALI)
…and learn about the evolution of art in South America.
This museum has a fascinating collection on Pre-columbian art from various civilisations that flourished before the conquest. But if also exhibits works from the best Peruvian artists in times of the colony and since then. The free guided tour absolutely blew our mind, revealing so many things about who did what, when, and especially why.
Discovering the rich culture of Peru is a great way to escape from the midday sun! There’s also free WiFi inside, so really no reason not to visit the MALI. For cultural travellers, it’s among the best non touristy things to do in Lima, Peru.
Extra tip: Read our article about the Lima Art Museum on Daily Art Magazine
Sit on a bench and look at passers-by on the white Plaza San Martin
…which is charming with its monochrome colonial buildings.
All of them are absolutely precious and their white facades give a calming sensation to the tired stroller. They’re mainly banks and hotels we would never dream of entering (who needs them when you can couchsurf). In the middle of the square, the inescapable General José de San Martín overlooks the scene on a horse. If you’ve been to Argentina before, you two are now intimately acquainted.
Two blocks further on Avenida Nicolás de Piérola, full of bookshops, Parque Universitario has more of a local feel. Out of curiosity, have a quick glance at the Heroes’ Pantheon (“Panteón de los Próceres“).
Stroll in the historic city centre
…and marvel at the stunning architecture.
Beautiful buildings and churches dot this relatively small area of the city, concentrated around the Plaza de Armas, the main square. “Colonial neoclassical” is the redundant feature around here, but we swear that it doesn’t get old. (It already is.)
A guided visit of the iconic Basilica and Convent of San Francisco, with its catacombs, reveals its share of surprises. The nearby Casa de Aliaga showcases the wealth of colonial landowners, and the many churches show that of the Church. If you still have time, visit the cathedral and the adjoining Archbishop’s Palace for 20 soles ($5.70 USD / 5.10€).
If you’re in time, watch the changing of the guards at noon in front of the Government Palace of Peru. There are more things to see and do in the old city centre of Lima; but that should keep you busy for a while already.
Wonder at pre-Hispanic erotic pottery
…which makes both kids and their parents giggle.
The Larco Museum is famous for its collection of explicit pottery from the Mochica culture. The Mochica (also called Moche) developed their pottery skills to very high level. Their ceramics depicted different aspects of daily life, like people, divinities, important animals and vegetables… and sexual scenes.
There was (probably) nothing kinky about it though; sex as procreation is a symbol of fertility, a way to ask the gods for healthy children and fruitful crops. Anyway, you’ll be amazed and amused by those suggestive and diverse pieces!
Read more about the treasures of the Mochica: The tomb of the Lord of Sipán
If you need more museums on your one-day Lima itinerary, have a look at some of these:
- Museo Pedro de Osma (Barranco): artworks from the colonial times
- Comtemporary Art Museum (Barranco): yep, another one
- Museo Amano (Miraflores): Pre-Columbian textile museum
- National Museum (San Borja): history museum with archaeological artefacts
- National Museum of the Archaeology, Anthropology, and History of Peru: pretty straight-forward
How to move around Lima during the day
There’s one thing about Lima: transportation is bad. At any time of the day, traffic in the city looks like a South American version of Where’s Wally?. Public transportation is chock-a-block with passengers squeezing each other to get in and out. Life in the big city.
Good thing though: there is an extensive network of buses and what they call the Metropolitano bus system. The latter is your safest bet, in all senses of the word. It’s a fleet of large buses that use their own lane, with closed stations to board; it works a bit like an underground network, but overground. You’ll need to buy an inexpensive prepaid card from a machine at any station. There’s only one Metropolitano line unfortunately, but it links the historic centre to Miraflores; so it can come in handy for your Lima itinerary.
For short distances, walking is an option, along with the usual minivans (micros or combis) that operate in many cities. They have a fixed price and a set route that’s detailed on their windshield. They can stop anywhere along the way; so the trick is to hail them when they pass by, and then tell the driver when you want to stop.
Taxis are rather cheap in Lima, but they tend to get stuck in traffic. Make sure you agree about a (reasonable) price before getting in. It’s also important that you take an official taxi, as Lima has been known for its fake taxi scam in the past. Ultimately, a safe option is to call a taxi company or use a ride-hailing app – provided you have internet.
Fun fact: there’s also one subway line in Lima, that you will most probably not use during you day there.
The rich past of the vice-royalty
Lima might not be the most famous capital city in South America nowadays, but it used to be the richest. Between the 16th and the 18th centuries, it was the capital of the Vice-royalty of Peru, one of the two provinces that the Spaniards had set up in their American colonies. The other vice-royalty was the one of New Spain around Mexico City.
The institution of vice-royalty was created to govern the wealthy and highly populated areas of the New World; the vice-royals represented the king on the continent and possessed relatively great power over decisions. Lima quickly developed into a big metropolis and many high-ranking nobles, mine landlords and trade barons lived here.
The wealth of the city in colonial times still pops to the eyes nowadays. Admire the neoclassical architecture and the balconies that helped list the Historic Center of Lima as a World Heritage Site.
Read more: the Liberators of South America
Tours in Southern Peru from Lima
Leaving already? Damn, that one day in Lima ran fast! There are so many places to visit and things to see in Peru, we don’t blame you. If you need ideas and inspiration on where to go, feel free to check out our Peru itinerary.
Many tourist agencies offer tours to most of the highlights in the country and especially in the touristy South. There are Machu Picchu tours, tours to Cusco, Nazca lines tour, full day trips from Lima to Pisco, you name it. Some will even bring you straight to the Amazon jungle or to the Inca trail.
We really don’t think any of these is necessary. Tourism is very developed in Peru and there is public transportation to go almost anywhere. Even without a deep understanding of Spanish, it’s easy to catch a bus to any place you want to visit. You can then get an entrance ticket, and a guide if you want, directly on the spot. That will save you heaps of cash at no extra effort.
Note: It’s a tad more complex for the Machu Picchu – read here how to visit it.
We give more travel tips for a budget travel in Peru on our guide to backpacking Peru.
Oh, we’re sure you’ll have tons of fun in Lima! We just hope you choose well a handful of attractions and don’t run around like a maniac, trying to catch a glimpse of everything. That would be the best way to bring back home a nasty memory of the city. And don’t be bothered too much by the paralysing traffic, the vast amount of rubbish on the streets and the constant car horn noise. After all, this is the third largest city in the Americas, after São Paulo and Mexico City, and before New York City and Bogotá.
Do you like visiting big cities on your travels? What is the first thing you would if you had 24 hours in Lima?
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