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Lima is one of the largest cities on the South American continent, a vast agglomeration and home to an estimated 10 million people. Founded in 1535, it is a city that is rich with history, cultural heritage and culinary traditions and it is also one of the most exciting destinations in Peru. Here is a list of ten things to keep you busy while you are there.
Where better to start an exploration of Lima than in the historical heart of the city, the Plaza de Armas, also known as Plaza Mayor? Lima was once the capital of the Viceroyalty of Peru and one of the most important cities in Spanish South America, and its grandiose colonial-style architecture reflects this. Here you can visit the cathedral containing the remains of the city’s founder, Francisco Pizarro and take in the Palacio del Gobierno, rebuilt in 1938 after an earthquake, before watching the ever-popular changing of the guard.
This popular museum houses a collection of artefacts including gold and jewellery charting 5,000 years of pre-Colombian history. The museum occupies an attractive vice-royal mansion that was built on top of a 7th-century pyramid and provides a regal backdrop for visitors to learn about ancient Peru. Let’s be honest, most visitors come here to satisfy their more prurient urges and the museum’s collection of erotic pottery doesn’t disappoint.
Ceviche is a typical South American and Caribbean dish of raw fish that has been cured in citrus juices. This Peruvian food has been elevated to the status of belonging to the country’s ‘national heritage’ and Lima gives you the best choice of restaurants in which to taste it. Note that locals generally make a point of not eating ceviche in the afternoon as its high acidity can upset the stomach – you may wish to follow their lead.
Maybe you enjoyed tasting Peruvian ceviche so much, now you want to learn how to make it. There are several places that offer courses in Peruvian cooking but a four-hour course will typically involve an introduction to Peruvian cuisine followed by a visit to a market. You will be shown how to recognise and select the best ingredients before being taken back to the school to learn how to prepare typical local dishes. This gives you the chance to attempt your own ceviche to see if yours is as good as the one in the restaurant.
While in Lima, you’ll want to sample Peru’s famous cocktail, the pisco sour, so make your way down to Morris’ Bar which has a good claim to being the place where the cocktail was invented. Drinks using pisco as an ingredient have been around for hundreds of years but it was during the 40s in Morris’ Bar that pisco was supposedly first combined with lime juice, syrup, bitters and egg yolk to create the drink we know today.
Beneath the Museo de la Iglesia y Convento San Francisco lies one of the city’s most macabre attractions, an extensive network of catacombs said to contain the remains of upwards of 70,000 individuals, many uncovered and in plain view. The catacombs date back to when the city’s cemeteries were located beneath churches and if you are feeling brave and think you might enjoy the prospect of walking along dimly lit underground tunnels lined with skeletons, this might be for you.
There’s plenty to do in this arty and bohemian quarter and here you will find some good museums as well as interesting art galleries and quirky cafés where you can while away several hours. Unlike many of Lima’s neighbourhoods, Barranco is full of character, and while you’re here, you should try to visit the famous Puente de Suspiros – the Bridge of Sighs – a popular romantic spot for couples. The bridge itself is not particularly impressive but the area is attractive and the bridge gives you an objective for your wanderings in Barranco.
Lima’s large central market, located close to the Plaza de Armas, has almost everything you could wish to buy – and probably quite a lot you won’t. Livestock is sold there and you will find everything from poultry and guinea pigs right up to larger animals, and you can also buy fresh fish and shellfish. There are sections devoted to clothing and places where you will find cheap food stands serving simple but delicious Peruvian fare. Be prepared to be confronted by some rather pungent odours in the market – but this only adds to the authenticity of the experience.
Less than 15km to the west of Lima lies the town of Callao, one of the most important South American ports during the colonial period, and this makes an ideal day trip for those wishing to catch their breath away from the bustle of Lima itself. The main point of interest here is the imposing fortress of Real Felipe where visitors can join a tour to learn about its construction and history. Be aware that Callao is rougher than Lima and visitors who travel there independently should remain on their guard.
If you want to try something a little different, several operators in Lima offer the chance to take to the skies in a paraglider, affording spectacular views of the Peruvian capital. Different courses are available and if you are short of time and just want to experience the feeling of gliding high above the city, a one-day option allows you to go up in a tandem paraglider with an instructor for unforgettable vistas of Lima from high above.
Whether you are interested in soaking the unique Peruvian culture, experimenting with the food and drinks, marvelling at the architecture to get in touch with the nation’s history, or simply have an adventure, you are sure to find plenty to occupy yourself in Lima. It may be a sprawling capital city but it’s also a fun place to spend a few days taking advantage of the various activities on offer.