Lima, Peru: The Perfect 5-Day Getaway
For my last major excursion of 2018, I spent five days in Lima, Peru. Since moving to Mexico, I’ve always wanted to visit because a friend from college named Paula lives there, and it had been over two years since I last saw her. She was such an amazing host who knew all the best places to visit in and around the city; I’m so thankful that she and her family were so hospitable and welcoming!
Initially, Lima felt a lot like Mexico City: tall buildings, congested roads, and residential suburbs stretching for miles. The one obvious difference is that Lima has a long coastline, which Mexico City does not. However, the truly unique thing about Lima is that it’s surrounded by desert. The sandy hills can be seen from some of the suburbs of the city, but you have to travel out of the city a bit to truly experience it.
If you’re curious about what Lima has to offer as well as how you can take a day trip out to see the desert, then you’re in the right place!
Things to Do in Lima
1. Explore the Coast in Miraflores
After landing at Jorge Chávez International Airport (LIM) on the north side of the city, most visitors will probably see Lima’s beautiful coast while taking a taxi or Uber to their destination. This is because one of the city’s major highways (Circuito de Playas) runs adjacent to the coast for many miles.
The most striking thing about this highway is that it on one side is the Pacific Ocean while on the other are massive rocky cliffs. On top of these cliffs, rows of luxury condominiums and high-rises extend as far as the eye can see.
Both on the beach level as well as on top of the cliffs, there are tons of parks and other public spaces. No matter where you stay in Lima, you won’t be far from the water, so go for a walk or relax at these beaches or green lawns.
One of my favorite parks was Antonio Raimondi Park, which is home to a lighthouse as well as the takeoff point of paragliders, which is fascinating to watch. Next time I’m here I’d love to do that, because it looked so fun to float over the city like that!
A quick look at Google Maps reveals that there are dozens of parks along the coast, so I would just recommend making your way to the waterfront and exploring on foot. The best part of the city for this is probably the Miraflores District, which is where most visitors will want to find lodging as well.
2. Learn About the Ancient History of Lima at the Huaca Pucllana
This unusual archaeological site is located right in the center of Lima, so be sure to check it out! Although you could go see it during the day, there are also tours offered at night. The nighttime tour is interesting because the structure is lit up with spotlights, and the shadows and contrast are great for photos.
What is the Huaca Pucllana?
Like all archaeological sites, the Huaca Pucllana is surrounded by a certain amount of mystery. However, historians do know that this pyramid-like structure was built by the Lima Culture (not the Incas) and that it served a number of purposes. It was a religious and social center, and it has such a distinct look because the builders added on layer after layer over many generations.
The Huaca Pucllana Restaurant
Once you arrive, you can purchase tickets to go on a guided tour in English and Spanish. However, the other main attraction here is a restaurant which is a great place to eat after the tour. The restaurant has a massive dining space looking out over the ruins, but we ended up eating in an indoor dining room.
The restaurant had an upscale vibe and was a bit pricy, but everything we had there was delicious. For my entrée, I tried alpaca meat, which I was expecting to be very gamey. Weirdly enough it ended up tasting like beef! They had a wide variety of other Peruvian options.
3. Take a Break in San Miguel de Miraflores
One of my favorite parks which happened to be a bit more inland was the Parque Central de Miraflores. Even though it didn’t have an ocean view, this park had the prettiest flowers as well as a ton of cats.
Along the park’s south side is a beautiful church as well.
This area is also home to a massive open-air craft market which is a great place to pick up souvenirs. There are also numerous restaurants, cafes, and other interesting things nearby, so this is a great place to just explore on foot if you have a few free hours.
Day Trip to Reserva Nacional de Paracas
This was the one and only day trip we took from Lima, and it was absolutely beautiful. This desert park was about a three-hour drive from the south side of Lima, so be sure to get up early if you want to make this a day trip like we did. I’m not sure if a bus runs from Lima to Paracas, but even within the park, the various sites are pretty spread out. Therefore, a rental car is probably the best way to get down here unless you can find an organized tour.
This trip is interesting from the very beginning. As soon as you leave Lima, you’ll find yourself driving through a sandy desert. The landscape may be barren, but it’s still fascinating and it changes gradually as you continue driving south.
We stopped for lunch at a restaurant in Chincha Alta, a little town about two hours away from Lima and one hour from the National Reserve. I ended up ordering pork with spaghetti, and we tried a number of other local dishes.
Upon arrival to the town of Paracas, a sleepy seaside village that looks like it sees a lot of tourists, we prepared to enter the reserve itself. The most stunning parts we saw were the shoreline as well as the beautiful sand dunes and hills. In particular, the red-sand beach should not be missed!
The National Reserve is many square miles, so if you have a bit more time, I’m sure you could find many more beautiful spots. Despite the clear skies, this area was actually really cold, so be sure to bring a jacket or coat!
I’ve been on a number of excursions this past year that took me to remote areas, but the Reserva Nacional De Paracas was definitely one of the most unique and memorable. If you can manage to arrange a rental car or have a local friend who can take you, be sure to come here for a visit!
The food in Lima was undoubtedly a highlight, and every meal was a treat! There are a huge variety of options and everything I tried here was packed full of flavor. Although the food from the Huaca Pucllana restaurant was delicious, Lima also has delicious dining options for any budget. Below are some suggestions!
This is Peru’s number one dish that you absolutely have to try! For those who’ve never had it, ceviche is basically any type of raw fish or other seafood marinated in acidic juices served with diced veggies. And for those who’ve eaten it in other Latin American countries, be sure to try it here too! At least compared to the ceviche I’ve had in Mexico, the Peruvian variety is a bit more spicy and has its own unique flavor.
The place we ended up having these dishes was called the Canta Rana (Singing Frog). It was a cozy little sports bar and restaurant with a large menu of traditional dishes. However, you should be able to find ceviche everywhere in the city without much trouble.
Another restaurant I really liked is called Panchita. They specialize in Peruvian creole food, which in this context refers to what might be called home-cooked meals. Everything we had here was great, including the variety of breads they brought out at the beginning of the meal!
For our main dish, we ended up ordering “La Jarana Criolla,” a massive platter with eight sampler dishes that were much bigger than they looked. I loved trying all the different options, but this was definitely a dish for more adventurous eaters: it included things like chicken blood, gizzards, and other unusual meats. However, Panchita has a large menu that includes more familiar dishes.
An interesting thing about Lima is that there is a substantial portion of the population with Chinese and Japanese heritage, and this is also reflected in the cuisine. Compared to other countries, these Asian influences have changed and merged with local dishes and truly reflect the diversity of Peru. A very popular type of food called Chifa is basically a Peruvian take on Chinese food; Chifa restaurants can be found on practically every city block.
In Lima’s Chinatown, you can also find more traditional Chinese food. I really liked the duck with vegetables and dim sum we ordered at one of the restaurants there.
Last but not least, Lima has a lot of options for foods that would be considered typical in the US or Europe. We ended up having burgers, milkshakes, cocktails, and sandwiches among other things.
Some local delicacies like pollo a la brasa (rotisserie chicken) and salchipapas (sausage with potatoes or fries) would fit right in among American favorites. If you want to try a local liquor, keep an eye out for pisco: it’s a strong, relatively sweet spirit made from fermented grapes.
Although I think you could get a sense of Lima in a three-day weekend, the long flight times from North America make it hard to justify going for such a short time. I spent five days and four nights here and felt like we were able to explore the city without being too rushed.
In terms of weather, Lima was much more mild than I expected it to be. As you can probably see from many of the pictures in this post, Lima was cloudy almost the entire time I was there. I would recommend checking the weather before you go (since the seasons are inverted from the Northern Hemisphere), and prepare to bring a light jacket when you go out.
If you only spend time in Lima like I did, you’re going to want to come back to see more of Peru. From east to west, the country appears to have a ton of different landscapes and geographical features. I think backpackers could easily spend two or three weeks here exploring various Peruvian regions without getting bored.
Peru was the 23rd country I visited, and although I’m starting to get a sense for Latin American culture as a whole, each country I’ve been to in Central and South America has offered an undeniably unique experience. It’s nice to step off a plane now and not be totally disoriented by a new language or cultural atmosphere, and it’s been fun to discern the more subtle differences between say, Ecuador and Peru (including different Spanish accents).
On the other hand, I haven’t been to a country in a while that caused complete culture shock, the way that Morocco did. And that culture shock is definitely part of the fun of traveling, so I’m hoping to take some trips to some truly unique and remote parts of the world in 2019.
To finish off 2018, I’m headed to Corozal next, a small village in Belize only a few miles south of the Mexican border. I think that’ll be an interesting look at one of Central America’s most fascinating countries, and hopefully the first of multiple visits there. After that, I’m off to the gorgeous-looking resort town of Puerto Vallarta on Mexico’s Pacific coast. Lastly, I’ll be heading back home to Seattle to celebrate the holidays.
Thanks for reading! Have you ever been to Lima? Have any thoughts to share about other destinations in Peru? Leave a comment below and let me know what I should see next time I’m there!