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Lima: A Destination Guide - Miraflores

Lima: A Destination Guide

Introduction

Lima might not seem like an obvious choice for a city to visit – in fact, most people that come through are likely doing so as part of a trip to or from the famed Machu Picchu site further south. I’ll admit I didn’t know a ton about Lima before I visited, though I’d heard it was “the foodie capital of South America” – and people were not wrong! While Lima may not be known for anything in particular, it’s worth stopping by for a great meal, exploring the boardwalks of Miraflores, and appreciating some gorgeous Spanish colonial architecture.

Know Before You Go 

  • Currency: The local currency is the Peruvian Sol, and is pretty easy to exchange US dollars or Euros for once in Peru. One dollar will get you about 3+ soles. If you’re exchanging money at your local bank before leaving for Peru, be sure to order in advance – most banks will not have these on hand.
  • Airport: The main international airport in Lima is Jorge Chávez International Airport (LIM), located about 30 minutes outside of the city.
  • Language: Spanish is the local language in Peru, though most restaurants and hotels will have staff that speak English.
  • To/From the Airport:
    • Taxi: Depending on where in Lima you’re headed, taxis will cost about 50 soles.
    • Uber: Ubers will also cost about 50 soles depending on where you’re heading to. Know that officially, Ubers aren’t allowed to pick up riders at the airport, so if you manage to get one, you’ll have to quickly hop in. There aren’t issues with Uber drop offs at the airport though.
  • Getting Around: Public transportation options include buses and the Lima metro. We either walked or used Ubers to get around – most rides did not cost us more than 10 soles (less than $4 USD). If you end up having to take a taxi (like we did on one occasion), know that it will cost you more than an Uber would
  • Tipping: Tipping in Peru is fairly common, most will top about 10% (or more) of the bill.
  • Credit Cards vs Cash: Credit cards are accepted at most restaurants and tourist sites. Visa and Mastercard tend to be more readily accepted than American Express.
  • ATMs: The most common ATM you’ll find is probably Banco de Credito del Peru (BCP).
  • Neighborhoods – Much of the old colonial architecture (and the old city center of Lima) is located in the Centro Historico area, though many of the popular restaurants and night scene will be in the Miraflores and nearby Barranco area. The San Isidro area has become the financial district of the city, but you’ll find several fantastic spots to dine in this area as well.
  • Must-Try Food: Ceviche, pisco sour, lomo saltado, and for the daring – guay

Skip Ahead:

See & Do

The Historic Center of Lima

A UNESCO World Heritage site, the old city center is brimming with unique monuments and buildings constructed during the Spanish colonization period. At the heart of it all is the Plaza Mayor, or the Main Square, which is located where the city of Lima was founded. It’s surrounded by some of Lima’s most recognizable buildings, like the Presidential Palace, Archbishop’s Palace, and the Cathedral of Lima.

  • Palacio de Gobierno – (Presidential Palace) Built in 1541, under the direction of Francisco Pizarro, Spanish conquistador and the founder of Lima. Since Peru’s independence, it has served as the official residence to the President, as well as a government building. Free guided tours used to be held through the Palace, though these no longer are available. If you’re around at noon, be sure to catch the changing of the guard, a ceremonious ritual that takes place every day – there will be a large crowd that gathers, it’s pretty tough to miss.
  • Catedral de Lima – (Cathedral of Lima) Built in 1535 (right around Lima’s founding), this iconic Basilica is one of the oldest buildings in the city. The church is known in Lima for being the resting place of Francisco Pizarro. The cathedral is open to visitors on Monday-Saturday, but is “closed” (if you will) to visitors not attending mass on Sundays (Churchgoers are welcome of course). No fee to visit.
  • Palacio Arzobispal – (Archbishop’s Palace) Located right next to the Cathedral of Lima, the Palace is home to the official offices of the Cardinal of Peru, the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Lima, and the residence of the Archbishop of Lima. Don’t miss the intricate detail on the balconies – the building has six balconies, each with their own unique design.
L-R: President’s Palace, Cathedral of Lima, Archbishop’s Palace

Within walking distance from the Plaza Mayor is a number of places to visit – and no shortage of churches, that’s for sure. While you’ll find far more on your visit to the area, here are a few worth highlighting:

  • Iglesia y Convento de Santo Domingo (Church and Convent of Santo Domingo) – The pink church has a long storied history, and owes its unique look to the five decades it took to complete the building. Known as being the only church in Lima with a steeple, you’ll find the urn of Peruvian saints –  Santa Rosa, Lima’s Patron Saint, and  San Martin de Porres.  The church looks tiny from the outside, but once inside, you’ll find one of Peru’s most well preserved convents, not to mention stunning architecture. Admission is 5 soles, and guided tours in English and Spanish are available.
  • Convento de San Francisco (Convent of Saint Francis) – This Baroque-style church was perhaps one of the sturdiest buildings in Lima, having survived numerous earthquakes between its completion in 1774 through 1970, when it suffered a great deal of damage. Today, the church is perhaps known more for its catacombs, which were discovered in 1943 and are believed to contain the remains of over 25,000-75,000 people. Admission is 7 soles, and a guided tour (which includes the catacombs) is available.
  • Iglesia de San Pedro (Church of Saint Peter) – Built in the 17th century by the Jesuits, this simple looking church is anything but once you walk inside. The altars and interiors are lined in gold, and is a sharp contrast to the plain exterior. Open daily to visitors.
L-R: Church of Santo Domingo, Convent of Saint Francis, Church of Saint Peter

Miraflores

A popular area for both visitors and locals alike, this oceanside district of Lima is known for its great cafes, amazing restaurants, and upbeat club and bar scene. Without a doubt, there’s a little bit for everyone to enjoy.  The Miraflores Boardwalk is one of the most popular spot to pass the time in, where you’ll find plenty natural scenery (from beaches, to gardens, to jagged cliffs) to enjoy, plus some notable artwork.

  • La Marina Lighthouse – The scenic lighthouse was originally built in Ilo in the early 1900s, located in southern Peru, before being dismantled and rebuilt in Lima in the 1970s. Located in the Parque el Faro on the Boardwalk, it’s one of the most recognizable images of Miraflores – and one of the most visited in Peru.
  • Parque del Amor – This part of the boardwalk is hard to miss – from the El Beso statue to the mosaic-covered walls, it’s hard not to fall in love with this place, especially at sunset (how appropriate). My favorite? The poems peppered on the walls, spelled out in mosaic tiles, plus the heart shaped cutouts with views of the cliffs.
  • Parasailing – On a beautiful day, it’s not unusual to see parasailers/hangliders/etc fill up the Miraflores skyline. For those without a fear of heights, Aeroxtreme and Condorxtreme  are popular companies that provide flight lessons or services.
L-R: Seaside cliffs of Miraflores, La Marina Lighthouse, Parque del Amor, El Beso statue
  • Huaca Pucllana – These pyramid ruins, nestled in the Miraflores district, once served as a ceremonious and administrative center of the Lima Culture, a pre-Inca civilization. Guided tours in English and Spanish run typically once every hour. The ruins are open between 9am and 5pm daily, and admission costs 10 soles. You can also visit at night from 7-10pm (though admission will cost you 15 soles) for a different experience. While my visit to Huaca Pucllana was not my absolute favorite thing I did in Lima, it’s worth a stop if Lima is the only destination on your trip in Peru. They raise llama and alpaca on-site, and if you haven’t had a chance to see one of these creatures up close, this is a way to do so without trekking out to the mountains. If you’d like to see the pyramids without committing to a tour, there’s a restaurant at the site, Restaurante Huaca Pucllana, with an outdoor patio that looks out onto the ruins.
L-R: Ruins of Huaca Pucllana, Llama and alpaca at the pyramids, The pyramid ruins against the buildings of Lima

Drink

Thanks to a terrible reaction I have to egg whites in South America (I learned this the hard way on two separate trips), I unfortunately was unable to imbibe in the Peruvian cocktail, the Pisco Sour. If you’re more fortunate than I am, be sure to check out these bars for a great cocktail while in Lima.

  • La Calesa – Known for whipping up some great Pisco Sours, this spot also serves some great bites, plus service is known to be top notch.
    Manuel Banon 255, Lima 
  • Cala Restaurante – While this is a restaurant, was worth a mention for their great cocktails. Sitting right on the coast, this spot is a great place to watch the sunset over Lima, while enjoying a well-mixed beverage.
    Circuito de Playas, Distrito de Barranco, Lima
    http://calarestaurante.com/
  • Ayahuasca Restobar Lounge – Housed in a colonial-style building, this unusual space for a bar also mixes a great cocktail. Reviews are a toss up on this one – service can be aloof, but the drinks are delicious and the space is undeniably remarkably unique.
    Pronlongacion San Martin 130, Lima
    http://www.ayahuascarestobar.com/

Eat

I could easily write an article per restaurant that I visited in Peru – they were incredible! The food was hands down my favorite thing about Lima. What’s not to like? The country grows over 50 kinds of corn! I was bound to find something I’d love. Spoiler alert – I loved everything!

  • La Mar – I had plenty of ceviche when I was in Peru, and this spot was easily my favorite. It’s hard to say why exactly – maybe it’s the menu chock full of perfectly cooked (or uncooked, in some cases) seafood, maybe it’s the breezy, laid back feel of the space. Whatever it was – everything came out perfectly cooked and bursting full of flavor. If you don’t make it to La Mar on your visit to Lima, they have locations in other cities in South America, as well as in San Francisco and Miami. Fair warning – I visited the location in SF and did not find it to be up to par (and twice as costly)! If you find time to go, they’re only open between noon and 5:00PM Monday – Thursday, and till 5:30 on Friday.
    Av. La Mar 770, Miraflores, Lima
    http://www.lamarcebicheria.com/
L-R: Nikei ceviche, Clam chalacas, Crab and shrimp empanadas, Wood fired rice
  • Astrid y Gaston – Possibly my favorite restaurant that I visited in Lima! Everything about this place is tops – from the food, to the ambiance, to the service. From the minute I walked into the majestic property, I was warmly greeted by numerous hosts, who saw us to ous table – but not before being walked through a number of gorgeous rooms at the restaurant, each with their own personality and vibe. Since it was lunch, we were brought to a white room, lit with sun bursting from the large sunroof. We went with the prix fixe set – which I highly recommend you do as well. Everything from start to finish was fantastic. The perfectly curated plates included everything from a traditional ceviche to start, to a scrumptious beef cheek dish, to – yes – a typical peruvian dish, cuy or guinea pig. PS – if you need to pop into the restroom, definitely ask for directions – you are unlikely to find it on your own.
    Av. Paz Soldán 290, San Isidro 15073, Lima
    http://en.astridygaston.com/
L-R: Pekin guinea pig, Catch of the day,  Nikkei beef cheek, Chocolate and lemon dessert
  • Maido – This Japanese-Peruvian fusion restaurant was easily the most interesting spot we visited in Lima, where we ordered everything from a couple simple nigiri pieces (fantastic by the way), to a fish carpaccio-ceviche fusion sih. Reservations can be tough to come by, but are well worth it. I booked quite late in the game, but they were able to accommodate us at the bar (and let me know about our seating arrangement when I booked). If you arrive a few minutes before the restaurant opens for dinner at 7pm nightly, you’ll see a small crowd of eager diners forming outside the building. It looks a little out of place, a minimalist, modern looking building, nestled in the laid back Miraflores neighborhood. Everything looked perfectly and thoughtfully in place, and our server was professional yet personable and walked us through the menu. After several days of eating in Lima, we skipped on the prix fixe menu, which was a regrettable decision. We did, however, order a la carte items that were on the set menu – and everything was fantastic. The most notable dish we had (and what you absolutely must if you come by) was the Asado de Tira Nitsuke – beef braised for 50 hours, so tender when served that you can slice it with a spoon. Tried and tested by the way – they only serve this dish with a spoon.
    Calle San Martin 399, Miraflores, Lima
    http://www.maido.pe/
L-R:Tuna Nigiri, Usuzukuri, Asado de Tira Nitsuke, Taira Maki
  • Central – Ranked the number 1 restaurant in Latin America by the World’s Best Restaurants list, you’ll need to make reservations well in advance if you plan on dining here. A big mistake on my part – I didn’t try far enough in advance (about a month out) and missed out on this top eatery – don’t make the same mistake I did!
    Santa Isabel 376 Miraflores, Lima
    http://www.centralrestaurante.com.pe/
  • Panchita – This homey spot in the Miraflores district may not be the fanciest restaurant you’ll visit in Lima, but they serve up great Peruvian dishes and sizeable portions too! Start your meal with their bread and dipping sauces (8 soles per person) – you won’t regret it. If you don’t manage to fill up, kick off your meal with some of their fantastic starters – I, of course couldn’t pass up having some ceviche. The mains are the real show stopper here, though, with homemade-style dishes cooked to perfection. If you’re in the market for lomo saltado on your visit to Lima, this is a great spot to have it at.
    Calle 2 de Mayo 298, Lima
    http://panchita.pe/
  • Punto Azul – This “chain” if you will (six locations in Lima!), is a great casual spot to pop into and grab a quick bite while you’re exploring the city. They offer an extensive seafood menu, with more ways of cooking fish than you can imagine. The price is incredibly reasonable for the portions too. A fun, laid back restaurant to enjoy some calorific-eats.
    http://puntoazulrestaurante.com/
L-R: Lomo saltado at Panchita, Ceviche de pescado at Punto Azul

Stay

  • JW Marriott Hotel Lima– If you’re looking to stay in the Miraflores area, the JW Marriott is going to be the best full-service hotel you’ll find. Located just steps away from the coast, the hotel boasts gorgeous seaside views, well appointed rooms, and a fantastic location. Tough to beat, really. Room rates range from $200-350
    Malecon De La Reserva 615 | Miraflores, Lima
    http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/limdt-jw-marriott-hotel-lima
  • Four Points By Sheraton Miraflores – Another option for staying in the Miraflores area, this is a limited service property so it’ll be reasonably priced and a good option for earning SPG points (it’s currently the only Starwood property in the Miraflores area). Rooms are clean and new, staff is friendly and eager to help, and the property is located about a 10 minute walk to most of Miraflores’ best restaurants. Room rates range from $150-250
    Calle Alcanfores 290 Miraflores, Lima
    http://www.fourpointsmiraflores.com/
  • Westin Lima Hotel & Convention Center – Located in the San Isidro area, the hotel is located in the heart of the financial district, so is a great property to stay at when traveling for business (and potentially less so when traveling for leisure). Even so, it’s a gorgeous hotel, and offers numerous amenities, including an indoor heated pool – a great way to end a day of exploring Lima.  Room rates range from $175-300
    Calle Las Begonias 450. San Isidro, Lima
    http://www.westinlima.com/
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