The swanky beachfront suburb of Miraflores is one of Lima’s most sought-after zip codes.
Miraflores is where you’ll find Lima’s best restaurants, shops and hotels, plus the waterfront mansions and high-rise towers of the city’s movers and shakers. It’s also home to lovely parks and gardens, beaches and promenades.
Some ancient history remains in Miraflores, including the Huaca Pucllana, the remains of a pre-Inca mud-brick temple.
Paragliders come to Miraflores to leap off the area’s rocky cliffs over the sea. The beaches are popular, but the coast tends to be rocky rather than sandy and the better beaches lie further south.
Located just up the coast from Lima, the seafront town of Callao has been Peru’s most important port since the colonial era and remains the capital’s principal cruise port, receiving thousands of annual visitors. With easy transport links to the center of Lima, most cruise travelers find themselves heading straight into the city, but there are still a few worthwhile attractions to visit in Callao itself.
Explore the imposing Real Felipe Fortress, built during colonial times to protect the shores from pirate invasions and named after King Felipe V of Spain; hit the beach at La Punta; or discover Callao’s rich maritime history with a visit to the Abtao Submarine Museum and the Naval Museum. Callao is also the starting point for cruises to the Pacific islands of Palomino, Cabinzas and El Frontón, renowned for their variety of birdlife and sea lion colonies and a popular day trip from Lima.
The Magic Water Circuit, located within the Parque de la Reserva, provides a fun and family-friendly option for those looking for something inexpensive to do in Lima. The municipal project—a series of 12 fountains choreographed to music and lights—was inaugurated in 2007 and has since become a favorite attraction in the capital city among locals and visitors alike.
While the fountains are open Wednesday through Sunday, beginning in the late afternoon, they’re undeniably most impressive at night, when the lights and laser effects are most visible. Each of the fountains has a different theme, and some are interactive (you’ll get wet), making them a huge hit with kids. The Maze of the Dream (Laberinto del Ensueño) is a major highlight of the Magic Water Circuit and challenges visitors to find their way to an inner circle through a maze made from vertical walls of water. After dark, the Fantasia Fountain (Fuente de la Fantasía) entertains with a choreographed show.
Dedicated to Lima’s lovers, Love Park (Parque del Amor) understandably attracts couples who come to enjoy the Pacific Ocean views, especially around sunset. Located in the Miraflores district, the park bears a resemblance to Park Güell in Barcelona, thanks to the colorful mosaic walls displaying quotes on love spread throughout.
At the center of the park stands a sculpture by Victor Delfín entitled El Beso (The Kiss), unveiled in 1993 and still the best known work by the Peruvian artist. If you’re in Lima for Valentine’s Day, head to Love Park to watch young couples compete in a longest kiss contest staged by the statue.
The modern city of Lima is dotted with historic ruins and sacred sites, known as huacas, and the imposing archeological site of Huaca Pucllana is one of the city’s largest and most important ancient monuments, located in the coastal Miraflores district. Built around 500 A.D, the complex was once an administrative and ceremonial center of the indigenous Lima Culture civilization, constructed from hand-made adobe bricks and dominated by a 22-meter tall central pyramid.
The impressive pre-Incan ruins are now a popular tourist attraction, affording unique views from the top of the central mound and dramatically floodlit in the evening hours. There’s also an on-site museum displaying artifacts like tools, ceramics and textiles unearthed during excavations, a workshop area displaying ancient textile and ceramic making techniques, a small park growing key plants used by the Lima Culture people and a spectacularly sited restaurant that looks out over the ruins.
The 40-plus floating Uros Islands are perhaps the most photographed attraction on Lake Titicaca, famously constructed with springy totora reeds. The reeds are collected from around the shores of Lake Titicaca, and used to replenish the fragile islands every three months or so, as the bottom of the two-meter (6.5ft) totora mat slowly rots back into the lake. Thus, the islands change shape, size and even number as the centuries pass, anchored to the lake bottom but in many ways a completely separate world.
The Uros people are an ancient race, predating the Incas by millennia and, according to local legend, even the sun and stars. The “People of the Lake,” as they call themselves, once said that they did not feel the cold, thanks to their “black blood.”
Lima’s Plaza Mayor (main square) is central Plaza de Armas, the city’s historic heart and birthplace.
Landscaped with palm trees, elaborate lampposts, flower beds and greenery, the square’s focus is the 1650 tiered bronze fountain in the center and the statue of Francisco Pizarro on horseback nearby. Visit at 11:45am to watch the changing of the guard, or visit any time to find an empty seat and watch the world wander by. There’s plenty to look at, with the cathedral on one side and the beautiful balconies of the Palacio Arzobispal next door. Several other attractive buildings with balconies and arched porticoes line the square, including the City Hall and Government Palace.
Downtown Lima’s most lively and colorful street is pedestrianized Jiron de la Union.
Lined with boutiques and stores for window-shopping, restaurants and cafes for bar-hoppers, and thronged with locals for people-watching, taking a stroll along this atmospheric thoroughfare is the best way to experience Lima in a nutshell. Taking up five blocks of prime city-center real estate, Lima’s most important boulevard was planned by Pizarro back in 1535, when the city was founded. A walk along this thoroughly commercialized car-free route takes you past City Hall, monuments, squares and the La Merced Cathedral, with its pretty square in front.
The pepper-pot belfry of Santo Domingo, one of Lima’s most historic churches, makes a rococo statement on Lima’s skyline. The interior has a neoclassical design in turquoise and sumptuous gold.
The church was completed in 1599, though it’s been rebuilt over the centuries following several earthquakes. The grand church has three naves, several altars, chapels and shrines, and Peru’s oldest choir stalls. Paintings and Seville tiles decorate the main cloisters surrounding the tranquil central gardens. Many visitors make the pilgrimage to the Iglesia de Santo Domingo to pay their respects to the Americas’ first black saint, San Martin de Porres. Santa Rosa de Lima also has a chapel in Santo Domingo.
The Iglesia and Museo de San Francisco is a spectacular example of Moorish-inspired Spanish baroque colonial grandeur, but the real highlight is the spooky labyrinth of catacombs underground.
One of the best preserved churches in Lima, the Convent of San Francis of Assisi also has a remarkable library of antique texts and a tranquil cloistered garden. A guided visit to the Museum and Convent takes you through the buildings’ history and architecture, before venturing into the underground passages lined with the bones of 25,000 Lima citizens from over 200 years of burials. Bones were interred here until 1808, when Lima’s cemetery was established, and the catacombs lay undiscovered until 1943. A visit is not for the fainthearted, but those who do make the journey will be surprised to see the various skulls and thigh bones arranged in decorative patterns.
Sacsayhuaman is the largest and most impressive of four archaeological ruins on the outskirts of Cusco, Peru. Built by the Incas, it served an important military function and was the site of a major battle with the Spanish in 1536. The name itself can be translated as “speckled head” and some say that the city of Cusco was laid out in the shape of a puma, with Sacsayhuaman forming the head.
The complex was constructed out of massive stones, some weighing as much as 300 tons, cut to fit together without the use of mortar. Today, many of the outside walls, built in a tiered, zigzag formation, remain, as do several tunnels and the “Inca’s Throne.” The latter is a series of large rocks with well-worn grooves used by many visitors as slides. A large, open plaza holding several thousand people was once home to ceremonial activities and continues to be used today – most notably for the annual celebration of the Inti Raymi festival in late June.
Stretching between the Plaza de Armas and Plaza San Martin, and bisected by the principal boulevard of Jirón de la Unión, the historic center of Lima is still the focal point of the modern-day city. Today, the UNESCO-listed area forms the basis of most tourist itineraries, with the majority of attractions within easy walking distance and a wealth of elegant buildings, churches and monumental statues dating back to the colonial era.
The Plaza de Armas makes a popular starting point for walking tours, home to a cluster of landmarks including the Presidential Palace, the Municipal Palace (City Hall) and the Palace of the Union, as well as a bronze fountain bearing the coats-of-arms of Lima. Famously the site of the foundation of the ‘City of the Kings’ in 1535, the Plaza de Armas became the city’s first public square and was later the site of the declaration of the Republic of Peru in 1821.
To help you get your head around Peru’s centuries of history and culture, visit the well-regarded Museo Larco Herrera in Lima.
The chronological overview of 3,000 years of history takes you through pre-Inca cultures and pre-Colombian art, to present-day interpretations of pre-Hispanic ceramics.
The museum is structured in a series of galleries, and its highlight is the fine collection of Inca gold and silver jewelry and artifacts, studded with prized lapis lazuli, turquoise and amethyst.
Painted pottery vases and tools are also displayed, along with elaborately fashioned metal ware, cotton and feather textiles. A unique feature of the museum is that visitors are granted access to the storage area, where 45,000 objects are arranged and cataloged.
The museum is housed in an 18th-century vice-royal mansion, built over a 7th-century pyramid and surrounded by leafy gardens.
The mighty Amazon River and its enormous, thickly forested basin are the heart of South America, the lungs of the world and the guardian of one fifth of the Earth’s fresh water. This river is the reason for Iquitos’ very existence and though it flows past the northern tip of the city, a bit beyond the river walk, the Rio Itaya, its influence is felt by everyone.
While its origins are much contested—any of the big river’s innumerable tributaries has a legitimate claim to the title—the “Birthplace of the Amazon” can be said to lie at the confluence of the Ucayali and Maranon Rivers, accessible from the Port of Nauta, 90km (56mi) from Iquitos on the newish paved highway. It is the quintessential daytrip, allowing travelers to ascend a 30m (100ft) observation tower that offers the region’s iconic photo op. There are several ways to experience the Amazon and its unparalleled biodiversity, all of them beginning with a boat trip.
The closest archaeological site to Lima is Pachacamac, a pre-Inca collection of sand-blasted pyramid temples and palaces spanning 1,500 years. Over the centuries the now-ruined city developed into one of the Inca’s most important religious and administrative centers.
Though all that remains is largely the rubble of walls and stepped foundations rising from the surrounding dusty desert, there are excavations and reconstructions to see, including a rebuilt Inca complex called House of the Chosen Women.
The site was inhabited by the Huari people prior to 800 AD, and later by the Inca, who built their Temple to the sun on the main square. Itshma was the name given to the state surrounding Pachacamac and the religious ceremonial temples built to honor the coastal deity, Pacha Camac.
Puno’s most enigmatic attraction lies 35km (21mi) from the port city, overlooking Lake Umayo with dignified mystery. Tours are easily arranged; consider coming around sunset, and staying to enjoy the starry skies.
The Chullpas of Sillustani are a collection of striking burial towers, among the finest examples of such architecture in the Andes. Though no one can be sure of their age, they appear to have been under construction just prior to the Inca conquest of the local Aymara-speaking Colla people, around 1300 AD. They most resemble, however, the neat stonework of the Tiwanaku people, who controlled the southern shore of the lake from about 500 AD to 1100 AD.
More advanced than even the Inca’s finest masonry, these towers reach with neatly squared geometric regularity toward the clear, high-desert sky. The tallest are 12 meters (40ft) high; others probably exceeded that, but have long since been dynamited by tomb robbers.
Kennedy Park in Miraflores is literally the cat’s meow. Aside from being a well-kept park in Lima’s most popular district, the park is known for the dozens of cats that live in the cushy grass. If you’re a visitor who’s missing your pet back at home—or just want a cuddly experience—sit in the grass and wait for a cat to jump up and sit in your lap. Aside from the friendly Peruvian felines, Kennedy Park is also known for its collection of musicians and artisans—many of whom will gather on weekends to display and sell their work. Impromptu, upbeat music performances will occasionally enliven the park, and it’s a gathering spot where expats and locals mingle in Miraflores. Surrounding the park are the teeming amenities of Peru’s modern capital, including shopping, restaurants, numerous cafés, banks, and city bus lines. To escape the hectic Miraflores buzz, visit the Church of Virgen Milagrosa inside of Kennedy Park.
Built on an authentic Inca foundation, this humble museum in the heart of Cusco houses an impressive collection of Incan artifacts. Hundreds of examples of handmade goldwork, pottery, textiles and queros line the halls of this truly memorable spot and offer travelers a rare look into the nation’s ancient past.
Visitors will find plenty to explore inside the Inca Museum, but its outdoor courtyard, where Andean weavers showcase their skills, is also worth checking out. Travelers can purchase handmade items directly from the artists, who provide demonstrations of old-school techniques and answer questions while they work. It’s a chance to experience ancient artistry in real time and take home a piece of the tradition, too.
With its atmospheric location on the Miraflores waterfront and an unbeatable selection of shops, restaurants and entertainment, the Larcomar Shopping Center is one of Lima’s premier shopping destinations. The newest and most fashionable of Lima’s modern shopping malls, Larcomar is notable not only for its range of stores, but for its dramatic architecture and unique setting. Built into the coastal cliffs and offering expansive views along the Costa Verde beaches, the mall’s sweeping canopies and futuristic curves were designed to mimic the surrounding rock formations and even the interiors are unique, with its open-air terraces, market area and food court maintaining a village-like feel.
Shopaholics will be in their element at Larcomar, but along with over 160 shops and boutiques, the shopping center is also home to a multiplex cinema, bowling alley, and amusement arcade, as well as a number of hip bars and discotheques.
A gigantic adobe pyramid set amidst the office blocks and residential apartments of San Isidro financial district, the archeological site of Huallamarca stands in startling contrast to its surroundings. Also known as the Pan de Azucar (Sugar Loaf), after the farmlands that once covered the ruins, the existing structure has been extensively rebuilt and restored, but was originally constructed as a sacred burial temple, or ‘Huaca’, between 200 and 500 CE.
Although much of the site’s long history remains shrouded in mystery, the Huaca Huallamarca is believed to have served a number of roles over the years, from pre-Columbian burial site to Inca settlement. Today, visitors can climb to the pyramid’s upper platform where the views expand over San Isidro or explore the on-site museum, which displays a number of items excavated from the site, including Ichma ceramics, funerary masks, musical instruments, weaving equipment and even a well-preserved mummy.
The history of Founder’s Mansion dates back to the early days when the Spanish first occupied Peru. Originally owned by Arequipa’s founder, Garcí Manuel de Carbajal, it was purchased by Spaniard Juan Crisóstomo de Goyeneche y Aguerreverre and used as a country estate for ecclesiastical and civil dignitaries of the era. As the years passed, the building became dilapidated, until 1981 when it was purchased by a group passionate about Arequipa’s heritage. Visitors can still take in 16th-century architecture, and the mansion is predominantly composed of ashlar stone and thick walls with artwork, numerous vaults, antique furniture and colonial-style rooms.
This Peruvian Amazon establishment is a haven for orphaned and injured manatees. Established in 2007 and run by the Institute for the Investigation of the Peruvian Amazon (IIAP) in partnership with the Dallas Aquarium, the Manatee Rescue Center educates visitors and allows for interaction with these endangered animals.
Visitors can see rescued adult and baby manatees in natural pools and witness their rehabilitation. It is also possible to volunteer with the center and even bottle feed a baby manatee. The staff members take great care to teach about the importance of preserving the species and the present dangers to their habitat, as many local manatees are poached and babies captured to be sold as sold as pets, often with a high mortality rate. Tours are conducted in both English and Spanish.
Located four miles southeast of Arequipa is Sabandia Mill, the area’s first stone mill. Built in 1785, the structure fell into a dilapidated state until it was restored in 1973 by architect Luis Felipe Calle. In fact, Calle was so proud of his work that he purchased the building and opened it to visitors. The site provides an excellent example of sillar stone architecture, which is typical of Arequipa. Moreover, visitors can view stone grinding wheel techniques used to process wheat. Most people come here to picnic in a relaxing atmosphere amongst pristine gardens and the Paucarpata countryside. A pool, hiking trails, horseback riding, a petting zoo, a cafe and clear views of El Misti are also featured.
If it isn’t a vacation until you go shopping, Dedalo Market in the Barranco district will make the visit official. Here at this bohemian, coastal plaza, visitors can find everything from designer jewelry to contemporary Peruvian art. The items you’ll find at Dedalo Market are different than you might find in Cuzco, and there isn’t as much Incan or “traditional” heritage at this finer, higher-end market. Instead, shelves are filled with colorful blown glass and handmade ceramic bowls, or elegant wood and stone carvings you’d use to decorate a home. Prices are fixed at most of the stores and the setting is modern and comfortable, so there isn’t the haggling or pressure to buy that accompanies goods on the street. To take a break from the souvenir hunt, relax at the small coffee shop on the plaza’s inside patio, or cross the street for a view of the coast and the smell of salt on the breeze.