The large, bustling city of Lima has many varied and fascinating spots to keep its visitors occupied. From admiring the stunning designs of its heritage buildings to surfing in the Pacific Ocean to enjoying colourful street art, Lima has something for everyone.
Plaza de Armas
The Spanish claimed Lima as their capital in the 1500s and left behind a lovely historical centre. In the city centre Plaza de Armas, also called Plaza Mayor, is a large square surrounded by magnificent Spanish Colonial buildings. La Catedral de Lima is an impressive building that takes up one entire side of the square. Beautiful white stone bell towers bookend an ornate main entry. Detailed sculptures of Jesus and the apostles move this building from pretty to unforgettable.
Attached to its side is the Archbishop Palace. This building is less grand than the cathedral, but has equally impressive designs on its façade. A unique feature on Lima’s colonial buildings are long wooden balconies such as the ones on the palace.
There are at least 1600 of these wooden balconies on colonial buildings throughout Lima’s historical centre. They add a distinctive touch to the gorgeous buildings.
Two sides of the plaza are filled with colourful yellow buildings which are used by the municipal government. On the final side of the plaza is the Government Palace of Peru. Held back behind a tall metal fence it’s not as easy to see the details in this building’s design. The security is necessary though since it is the official residence of the President as well as the seat of the executive branch of the government.
Due to many earthquakes over hundreds of years the only structure in the square that is original is the old fountain in front of the cathedral. Built in the 1650s it demonstrates how elaborate this plaza must have been. On our first visit to Lima in 2007 the fountain was a prominent feature, but in 2022 it was being restored and was hidden behind a construction wall.
In the area surrounding the plaza there are a few more colonial buildings to see. A block away we found the elaborate carvings on the entry way of Basilica of San Augusto. Further away is Plaza San Martin where there is a statue with an interesting history. On top is Peru’s liberator General Martin on a horse, but below is what is unusual. A small statue of Madre Patre (Mother of Peru) was a gift to Peru by Spain. The instructions for the artist stated that the Mother of Peru should have a crown of flames. The message got confused as the Spanish word for flame is llama. The Peruvian sculptor put a furry camelid on her head instead of a flame!
When we were in Peru in 2007 there was a nation-wide teachers strike. On this trip in 2022 it was the municipal workers who were protesting. Large groups of demonstrators walked up and down the streets surrounding the plaza waving protest signs and chanting their demands. Police closed off each entry point into the plaza only letting in a few people at a time. The result for us was a quiet plaza with a lot of room to take pictures. The protests were not violent, so we didn’t feel in danger at any time.
We stayed until dark when the lights in the plaza were turned on. The yellow municipal buildings really stood out under the well-placed lighting.
Even though we noticed an improvement in the city’s infrastructure, wealth and safety since 2007, not all parts of Lima have enjoyed improvement. This is evidenced by the colourful but run-down homes climbing up the hill above the plaza.
The most popular area in Lima for tourists is Miraflores. Most of the attention is centred around Parque Kennedy and the attached Parque 7 de Junio. This large park has manicured gardens throughout but its focal point is Miraculous Virgin Mother Church (Parraquia La Virgen Milagrosa Eglesia). At night the church and other buildings in the park are beautifully illuminated with coloured lights.
The park is also home to dozens of cats. These friendly four legged friends roam the park and neighbouring streets, sleeping on the church’s lawn, under benches and in shop window. They are taken care of by a volunteer group who provide veterinary care including sterilization as well as food and water. They also oversee adoption of the cats ensuring that they find a loving home.
Lima is the only South American capital that is set on the coast and they take good advantage of this location on the Pacific Ocean. The long coast line is bordered by tall, rugged, undulating cliffs. A great place to go for a walk is along the top of the cliffs on the 10 km long Miraflores Boardwalk. Even in the middle of a South American winter there is so much colour on this walk. The cliffs are covered in a mesh which allows vines and flowers to grow turning this otherwise brown cliff into a lovely bright green, thus earning the nickname Costa Verde. Added to this, the pathway passes through a continuous series of small flower beds, green spaces and trees. It is a very pleasant spot in the middle of the busy city.
The waves in this area form perfect curls for surfing. It was cloudy and misty when we were there. That mixed with the cold winter wind didn’t entice us to go into the water. But from the cliffs we watched dozens of surfers and SUPs enjoying the waves in the water below. After walking the length of the boardwalk we found a long stairway that led to sea level. From here we walked along the beach to return to our starting point. From the shoreline we watched Peruvian Boobies diving head first into the ocean and coming up with fish in their mouths.
The boardwalk is disjointed at the gorge between the communities of Miraflores and Barranco. In a year or two there should be a pedestrian bridge to connect the pathways. Until then you can take the long diversion up one side of the gorge and down the other to continue your coastal walk. From the boardwalk in Barranco head into this Bohemian community to see another side of Peru. Old mansions line many of the streets and have been converted into apartments or businesses. Some are in great condition while others are in disrepair. The mansions lead to Barranco Plaza with Santa Cruz Church as its focus.
There are quite a few artists living in this community as evidenced by the abundance of street art. Most of it is centered around the Bridge of Sighs. It’s name comes from a tale of unrequited love. The street art can be seen on bridges, stairways and on the sides of some businesses. It gives Barranco a unique, artsy character. This would probably be a good area to stay in Lima if there were a few more restaurants. As of now there aren’t many choices making Miraflores the more popular place for tourists.
Tourism in Peru in 2022
As of July 2022 masks are still required in almost all indoor setting, and in many place you have to wear 2 masks. Even people on the streets usually wear masks. Vaccination cards must be shown in many places from grocery stores to buses.
It’s definitely more expensive in 2022 than it was in 2007, but it’s still very affordable. To give perspective, we spend as much in a week eating in restaurants in Peru as we would on groceries and cooking ourselves in our home in Canada.
During the day it felt safe to walk around Plaza de Armas, but at night you should be cautious. Day or night keep your belongings hidden from view so as not to entice theft. There are still many areas in each city which you should avoid, but the typical tourist areas are generally safe.
Coming Next – Pre-Incan Cultures in Trujillo, Peru
To read about more of our adventures go to Destinations.
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