Panoramic view of Villena Rey Bridge of Miraflores district at afternoon.

Your Trip to Lima: The Complete Guide

••• Christian Vinces / Getty Images

For many travelers, Lima is merely the gateway to renowned national treasures of Peru, be it Machu Picchu in Cusco or Lake Titicaca in Puno. It’s true that the capital city is home to the Andean nation’s main international airport, but Lima is worth more than a short stopover. An award-winning culinary scene, archaeological sites, and Colonial-style architecture surrounded by urbanized areas, and near-constant views of the Pacific Ocean make Lima a thrilling introduction to your Peru journey, if not the main destination.  

From the best time to visit to the hidden gems you must experience, here’s your complete guide to exploring Lima

Planning Your Trip

  • Best Time to Visit: From November to February (summer in Peru) the traffic is relatively low as many locals have migrated north or south of Lima to their beach houses, meaning reservations are easier to come by and service is improved. Plus, nothing beats a stroll along the malecón on a warm summer night.
  • Language: Spanish is the official language of Lima (and Peru) and indigenous tongues such as Quechua and Aymara are considered official languages in areas where they are frequently spoken. You may also hear English when frequenting touristy districts such as Miraflores, San Isidro, and Barranco.
  • Currency: Peruvian soles (the exchange rate varies between 3-4 to the US Dollar)
  • Getting Around: Lima traffic is notoriously chaotic, so it’s best to leave the magic of navigation to residents. Add to that the hassle of understanding the routes of public buses that run on unfixed schedules and it quickly becomes apparent that spending a bit more on a taxi is well worth it. Ride-hailing apps—such as Uber and Beat—provide fast and reliable means of transportation for moving within Lima. Plus, with fixed rates, there’s no risk of the driver overcharging you because you are a foreigner (an unfortunately common occurrence for first-time visitors). 
  • Travel Tip: While many upscale restaurants and shops in Lima do accept credit cards or even US dollars, buying something as basic as a bottle of water will require you to pay in Peruvian soles. Upon arrival at the Jorge Chavez International Airport, only exchange enough money to pay for your cab, as exchange rates are far better in the city. Cash is necessary for experiencing the city’s one-of-a-kind hole-in-the-wall restaurants and small souvenir shops.

Things to Do

When visiting a coastal city, it’s only right to spend as much time as possible by the ocean. Rent a bike or simply walk along the malecon, a paved, cliffside path that overlooks the Pacific Ocean and stretches from the Magdalena del Mar to Barranco districts. Passing through San Isidro and Miraflores along the way, you may even be persuaded to soar over the city with a paragliding session or, when heading down one of the multiple stairways that lead to the beach, take a surfing lesson. Just be sure to leave time for the following: 

  • Step Back in Time at Huaca Pucllana: A giant adobe pyramid constructed by the ancient Lima culture between 300-700 A.D., Huaca Pucllana is today surrounded by cafes, restaurants and neighborhoods that are rapidly expanding upwards; such a juxtaposing environment only adds to this site’s impressive longevity. Take a guided tour through the pre-Hispanic structure (once a ceremonial and administrative center) then lunch at the notable Huaca Pucllana restaurant.
  • Go Shopping at Boutiques in Barranco: Adjectives like trendy, artsy, and hip have all been used to describe Lima’s Barranco district, and for good reason. Extremely walkable, Barranco is full of exquisite restaurants, sweet little cafes, and some of the best shops to pick up gifts and souvenirs. Artesanias Las Pallas and Dédalo are both located on the northern end of the district and show a wide range of national artisan goods, from jewelry and clothes to ceramics and knickknacks. 
  • Walk Through MALI: A great excuse to venture towards Lima’s historic center, the Lima Art Museum (MALI) is located in the expansive public park, Parque de la Exposicion. The national historical monument has a beautiful neo-Renaissance facade (as it originally served as the 1872 World’s Fair Exhibition Palace) and houses some 3,000 pieces of Peruvian art from pre-Colombian textiles and ceramics to Colonial- and Republican-era furniture. The museum, which is a key player in the research and preservation of Peru’s art history, has a cafe and shop that are worth browsing. 

Discover what else to do in and around Lima with our full-length articles on the top 20 things to do in Lima and the best day trips from Lima.

What to Eat and Drink 

Lima’s amazing food scene is no secret—in fact, it’s internationally acclaimed. But not all travelers have the budget to dine at Latin America’s best restaurant, Maido, or celebrity chef Virgilio Martinez’s award-winning Central—and certainly not every day. Luckily, classic dishes that leave visitors raving about Peruvian food are found at every price level, be it at humble hole-in-the-walls, picanterias, or fine-dining restaurants and bistros. Carnivores will fall for lomo saltado (beef cuts stir-fried with onions and peppers and served with fried potatoes), anticuchos (skewered cow’s heart), and aji de gallina (shredded chicken in a creamy and mild aji pepper sauce). It goes unsaid that no trip to Lima is complete without trying ceviche (raw fish marinated in lime juice), and vegans can even delight in a mushroom or mango version. 

Fruits from the jungle and highlands pour into Lima markets and restaurants, meaning fresh juices are easy to come by. Amazonian fruits like aguaje and camu camu are extremely rich in vitamins A and C, while the Andean valley spoils us with creamy fruits like lucuma and chirimoya. For those who dabble in a cocktail here and there, tipping back a frothy Pisco Sour or bubbly Chilcano (pisco and ginger ale) is basically a rite of passage on a trip to Lima. The artisanal beer scene is still relatively new in Peru, but you can sip on award-winning beer at the Lima locale of Cerveceria del Valle (a brewery based in the Sacred Valley, Cusco).

Explore our articles on the 10 foods to try in Lima, the best restaurants in Lima, and 8 savory street food snacks to try in Peru.

Where to Stay 

Lima is the largest city in Peru, and it continues to sprawl out and grow upwards at a rate that the developing nation can't quite control. The result? Great variance in infrastructure, security, and even residents’ amenity towards travelers from district to district; it’s why most tourists stay in the Barranco, Miraflores, and San Isidro neighborhoods.

Barranco is home to high-end boutique hotels and comfortably priced AirBnBs that are within walking distance to some of the best cafes, restaurants, and bars in town. If you’re lucky, you might even get one with an ocean view. Many accommodations in Miraflores similarly have the advantage of being ocean-facing, with the bonus of having a few more public parks, shopping areas, and proximity to the beloved Surquillo markets. The majority of large hotels are located in Miraflores and San Isidro, with the latter being a more upscale and residential neighborhood. 

Looking to get a more local feel? Try an AirBnB in the Magdalena del Mar, Jesus María or Pueblo Libre districts. All are within walking distance to an ocean view, are relatively safe, and have an old-school charm that the more touristy districts have lost over time.

Check out our guide to the best hotels in Lima.

Getting There 

Lima’s Jorge Chavez International airport is Peru’s main airport. It is located in Callao, a port town within the Lima region. Getting to and from the airport is best done via a ride-hailing app, shuttle, or with a private taxi service arranged by your hotel. Depending on traffic, the airport is about 40 to 60 minutes from the most touristy districts in Lima. Keep in mind that rush hour is generally from 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. 

Culture and Customs 

It’s just a matter of time before a visitor to Lima understands the meaning of “Peruvian hour,” a term said in jest about the chronic lateness of Limeños. Don’t worry, if you order a car, it will show up on time. This phrase is used more so for casual meet-ups. Just give your new friend, family, or business associate a 30-minute time window before you take their tardiness personally. 

Over the years service in Lima has greatly improved, but every now and then you will run into a cringe-worthy experience. Partly to blame is the fact that tipping in Peru is not very common so the incentive for great service is not always there. But that doesn’t mean you should suddenly stop tipping. Depending on the service, give anywhere between a 10 to 20 percent tip—just be sure that it’s not already included in your bill.

It’s been mentioned that the traffic in Lima is chaotic. If the traffic becomes an issue for you to the point where you feel unsafe, avoid public transportation altogether and stick to rideshare apps or walking. If taking a taxi from the street, just be sure that the fee is agreed upon prior to getting into the cab and that the price is reasonable (if unsure, ask a local or your hotel for average fees to specific areas).

Money-Saving Tips 

  • Rideshare apps will get expensive if you are constantly darting across the city, so try to organize your day in a way that you can walk to nearby places or even rent a bike (available along the malecón and at major intersections in Miraflores). As well, keep your eyes out for free walking tours around the city to help get you acquainted. 
  • Now that you’ve tried some of the best restaurants and sampled typical dishes, picnic in a park. Pick out a few treats from your nearest district market where a block of cheese, bread, dried fruit, and wine can ring in at under US$20. Supporting the local vendors is also a money-saving alternative to grocery shopping in chain supermarkets.
  • Visit small art galleries throughout Miraflores and Barranco to get a taste of the neighborhood art scene for free.
  • Every traveler should have a better understanding of a destination’s history and the impact it has had on contemporary culture, which is why a visit to LUM (Lugar de la Memoria, or Place of Memory) is essential. Entry is free but reservations are required.
Article Sources
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  1. Congress of the Republic of Peru. "Political Constitution of Peru." Sept. 2009. Page 18.

  2. Central Reserve Bank of Peru. "Coins."

  3. MALI. "Palacio de la Exposición."