How to Spend 24 Hours in Lima, Peru
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Lima is home to outstanding Peruvian cuisine, impressive coastal cliffs, one of the largest fountain and light shows in the world, and a rich history. You will more than likely need to fly through Lima on your journey to or from Machu Picchu. This modern city has enough to offer visitors a reason to spare a day in the beautiful highlands, rainforest or deserts of Peru. We spend a day in Lima coming from Lake Titicaca on our way back home. Lima is a lively city with amazing restaurants and nightlife, but also with plenty of parks and a long stretch of beach that offers visitors a chance to relax.
One day is all you need to visit all of Lima’s highlights and eat yourself full. The weather in Lima is warm all-year round, typically in the high 70s F (25ºC) during the day and 60s (17ºC) at night. While it almost never rains, it is typically foggy in the winter. On the day we visited, the sky was overcast with a few sprinkles.
Breakfast time! Most likely you will be staying near the Miraflores or San Isidro neighborhoods. If passing on breakfast at your hotel, stop by Market 770 for a breakfast buffet or Crepes & Waffles. Both places have a mix of Peruvian and more western breakfast foods.
Take advantage of the quiet mid-morning streets and parks, and walk through Miraflores and its cliffside parks. Stretching along the upper cliffs of Lima are a series of well-landscaped parks, called El Malecon. Walk the 2km path through the Miraflores parks from the Skate Park to Parque del Amor (Park of Love). The entire length of the parks is 10km. Off to one side is the beach below and expansive ocean. The other side has interesting sculptures, sports courts, a lighthouse, and locals enjoying the weather. If the wind is good, you can watch people paragliding off the cliffs.
The Park of Love, out of all the parks along this scenic coastal strip, is the most famous. It is covered in colorful mosaic sculptures and seats, reminiscent of Barcelona. Vibrant flower beds complete the space. The focal point and namesake is a sculpture of two lovers wrapped together sharing a kiss. Quite a passionate kiss. Go ahead and try to recreate the pose, but you might get some strange looks.
If you have an extra night, consider coming back to these parks to watch the rich Lima sunset.
After taking in the beautiful scenery of Miraflores’ cliffside parks, journey out to explore the rest of the neighborhood. Leave the Parque del Amor towards inland with the striking Mellizo bridge to your right. Continue along that road until you reach Parque Kennedy. Kennedy Park’s claim to fame is the dozens of cats that roam this small public space. You will find cats relaxing in the shade of a tree, hidden in the flower beds, play fighting with one another, and begging for pets near the benches. All of the cats are well taken care of, both in terms of being feed and spayed/neutered. With the climate of Lima being constantly warm and free from storms, these outdoor cats do not have to worry about the problems facing stray cats elsewhere. Even if you are not so into cats, there is plenty more worth seeing in Kennedy Park. You can watch salsa dancers, try some traditional street food, buy art and antiques from local vendors, and enjoy your lunch while people watching.
If you are into shopping, Larcomar Shopping Centre is where you want to go. This mall is cliffside, providing spectacular views of the ocean in between visiting the shops.
If you are not visiting the rest of Peru and want to experience a bit of Pre-Spanish Peruvian culture, Huaca Puccllana is perfectly located in the center of Miraflores. Huaca Pucllana is the remains of a pre-Incan pyramid dating from 200-700 A.D. The site also includes a museum and tours included in the price of admission (S/15 or $4.50 USD).
12:30 pm - Lunch
If you are choosing to visit Huaca Puccllana, there is an excellent restaurant on site with views of the ruins (Restaurant Huaca Puccllana). You will likely need to get reservations in advance.
If you are dead set on eating in the world-famous Central Restaurante, lunch may be an easier time to get a reservation for. Central has consistently ranked in the 6 Best Restaurants in the world since 2015. Other award-winning restaurants (read expensive and hard to get into) in Lima include Astrid y Gaston and Maido.
Time to head to Lima’s historic district. The easiest way to get there from Miraflores is by Taxi. Prior to arriving in Peru, we were a bit concerned about Taxi safety after hearing a few horror stories. We took 2 Taxis and 2 Ubers while in Lima, all were great experiences. We found the Ubers to have a lot fairer of prices (even after significant haggling with Taxi drivers), but Taxis are easier to get in busy squares as it can be hard to locate your Uber driver.
The historic center includes the Plaza de Armas and it’s neighboring blocks. Like all other towns in Peru, Lima has a central square called the Plaza de Armas. The square is surrounded on its four sides by the Presidential Palace, Cathedral of Lima, Lima’s City Hall, and a strip of shops. The Presidential Palace has daily Changing of the Palace guards at 11:45 am. The Cathedral of Lima has paid entry (S/.10) which isn’t uncommon for Peru, but it also includes a small art museum. We passed on visiting the interior of the Cathedral. The square itself is a historic site, being where the city was founded in 1535 by the Conquistador Francisco Pizarro.
5 blocks away from Plaza de Armas is the Plaza San Martín. This square is even grander than Plaza de Armas. Lots of old European style buildings, plenty of traffic circling around the square, and a large statue of San Martin on horseback in the middle.
To visit the historic center with the least amount of walking, have your Taxi/Uber drop you off near Plaza San Martin, then walk to Plaza de Armas, then the Convent of San Francisco.
The Church and Convent of San Francisco is just a couple blocks away from Plaza de Armas. The way is pathed with numerous souvenir shops for a quick peruse, all of which are selling pretty much the same exact merchandise.
Being one of the more popular tourist attractions in Lima, the main draw for this church are the catacombs below its floors. It is estimated that over 30,000 people were buried in the catacombs. By burying, I mean bodies were thrown in large pits below the church until 1808. The catacombs weren’t rediscovered until 1943 when archeologists found mountains of bones.
A visit to the Church of San Francisco is by guided tour only (S/.15) that takes you around the convent and catacombs. You are not allowed to take pictures inside, even if you turn off your flash. There are security cameras in each of the rooms, which our guide said was to catch people taking photos, but nothing ever happened to the few in our group sneaking shots as the guide was walking. It is not worth taking the risk of not seeing the full tour. Prior to visiting, I was a bit put off that we weren’t allowed to walk freely, but the guide (a history professor) was fascinating.
The catacombs themselves were unbelievable. The archeologists left some of the bones in large piles the way the found them, some sorted by category, and others were neatly arranged into quirky patterns.
By this point you might be feeling a bit tired, take a couple hours to relax at your hotel or a park nearby before dinner.
6 PM - Dinner
Lima has countless amazing restaurants, so it is hard to even start to provide suggestions. Along with the suggestions for lunch, other incredible restaurants in Lima include Nanka (Peruvian/Mediterranean fusion), Rigoletto Lima (Italian/Peruvian fusion), Panchita (Peruvian), and Sushi Cage (Japanese).
The Magic Water Circuit at Parque de la Reserva was an unexpected joy and ended up being one of my favorite experiences in Lima. With admission just at S/.4 (about $1 USD), it is possibly the biggest bargain in Peru. It has won a Guinness World Record for the largest fountain complex in a public park. The park has numerous fountains, 13 of which light up with music. At three times throughout the night, the huge Fantasy Fountain has a captivating laser and projection show.
There is a wide variety of fountains throughout the park, including a few interactive ones. Additionally, if you want to forgo a sit-down dinner, there are a few food trucks serving food inside. We visited on a Sunday night and the park was packed! It was still easy to maneuver around, but we were pleasantly surprised by the number of locals that visit the park on a regular basis. We saw very few other tourists.
Grab a map on your way in to make sure you don’t miss any of the fountains and be sure to go through the tunnel to see the other half of the park. It will probably take an hour or two to fully see it all.
Where to Stay
Lima is a massive city with over 43 districts, navigating where the best place to stay for visiting sights and safety can be difficult. We recommend looking at 3 neighborhoods: Miraflores, San Isidro, and Barranco.
As an upscale area, this neighborhood is incredibly safe with great parks, restaurants, and nightlife. That also means it is a bit expensive. There are options for almost every budget, but for the quality of the hotel itself, you can find better deals elsewhere.
San Isidro neighbors Miraflores and is just as upscale as Miraflores, if not more so. Many of the famous restaurants are found in this area. As with Miraflores, the safety and beauty of this neighborhood come with a bit of an up-charge.
Barranco is just south of Miraflores and is known as the bohemian or hipster district of Lima. It is a great area for walking around during the daytime or enjoying the vibrant music scene at night. It is a bit cheaper than the previous two neighborhoods, but not as safe at night.