Peru was our first stop in a five-month traverse of South America, and naturally we started in its capital and main hub. This itinerary, based on our own experiences, lays out the perfect way to explore Lima in 2 days.
While Lima has a larger city population than the likes of Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires, its main backpacker attractions are concentrated into certain areas. The city is spread across 43 sprawling districts; this itinerary focuses on the three most popular tourist districts.
Where to stay in Lima: backpacker hostels
For our recommendations on places to stay, see our article on the best hostels in Lima and a guide to the backpacker districts.
The most popular Lima districts for traveller accommodation are Miraflores and its neighbour Barranco (more on both below). We based ourselves in Miraflores, where we tried out two different hostels: Dragonfly and Hitchhikers.
Both hostels had a good social vibe without being too party, which suited us perfectly. We marginally preferred Dragonfly, which had a rooftop bar with daily offers and was located within quick walking access of nearby sites and transport points. Both offered reasonably priced dorms, and Dragonfly had private rooms available too.
Lima in 2 days: at a glance
The full details of this 2-day Lima itinerary are below. For quick reference, here are the highlights at-a-glance:
- Day one: explore Miraflores and Barranco
- Morning: take the Boardwalk along the coast
- Midday: discover Barranco by foot
- Afternoon: the highlights of Miraflores
- Evening: experience Huaca Pucllana after dusk
- Day two: Centro Histórico
- Morning: a church-spotting stroll to the riverfront
- Midday: the heart of Centro Histórico
- Afternoon/evening: parks, museums and the famous light show
Day one: explore Miraflores and Barranco
Our first day in Lima consists of a lengthy circular walk, beginning and ending in our base, Miraflores.
Morning: take the Boardwalk along the coast
A ten-minute walk from Parque Kennedy will take you to the coast and Parque del Amor, the ‘park of love’. Lined with colourful mosaic walls, the park overlooks the Pacific Ocean with glorious views up and down the coast. At its centre stands the conspicuous elevated sculpture of an embracing couple that gives the park its name.
The park is a perfect spot to sit and take in the ocean scenery. Just a few feet away, you can watch paragliders taking off from the cliff edge. We were tempted to have a go ourselves for 180 soles per person, but we decided to move on. Maybe you’ll be more adventurous than us!
Parque del Amor stands midway along the Miraflores Boardwalk, a path stretching some six miles through coastal parks and beaches. From here, make your way south towards Barranco.
About a kilometre down the coast you will reach Larcomar, a multi-level mall and entertainment complex carved into the side of the ocean-facing cliffs. Even if your budget won’t stretch to the premium outlet price tags, it’s a good spot for a drink and a comfort break.
We continued down the scenic Boardwalk to its end-point, Malecón de la Reserva. From here it’s possible to walk to Barranco either by the main streets inland or by continuing along the beaches. We chose the latter.
Midday: discover Barranco by foot
To reach the beach side it requires a somewhat dicey crossing of the coastal highway – take your time with this one – but once you’re over, the ocean walk is highly rewarding. A kilometre or so further down the coast you will reach a pedestrian bridge back across the highway to a walkway leading up to Barranco.
Barranco is a colourful neighbourhood set across oceanside hills, filled with murals, quaint churches and quirky buildings. As you ascend the walkway – ‘Bajada de los Baños’ – take a moment to admire the giant mural before reaching Puente de los Suspiros (the ‘bridge of sighs’).
Across the bridge, take a look around the gardens of Plaza Chabuca Granda and Iglesia La Ermita. At the rear side of the church there is a gorgeous ocean viewing point. We were serenaded here by a local Flamenco guitar-playing duo. Perfect!
Back across the bridge, make your way to the main square, which is surrounded by colourful buildings with a clear blue fountain pool in the middle. After a stroll through the square’s tiled walkways and greeneries you should be ready for some lunch.
Budget food tip: Barranco has a plentiful choice of food joints, from the basic to the classic. If you’re on the tightest of budgets, it’s a great place to try one of Peru’s legendary ‘menú’ eateries. During the daytime, these places offer two- or three-course meals for as little as 4 or 5 soles (typically 12 soles in Barranco). They are undoubtedly hit and miss, but are a must for a truly local experience. Check out my article about our Peruvian menú experiences here.
Afternoon: the highlights of Miraflores
If your feet aren’t too tired yet, you can walk the 3.5km from Barranco back to Miraflores via the main streets. Alternatively, you can take the local bus, ‘Ruta Troncal’, for 2.5 soles a ticket. A cab will cost around 10–12 soles.
Miraflores is a safe and vibrant district, buzzing with bars, shops and markets. Mercado Surquillo is a good place to start, an enormous local food and supplies market frequented daily by locals. Situated a ten-minute walk away from central Miraflores, it’s often overlooked by tourists, but worth a visit if only to experience the hustle and bustle.
For the complete experience of Mercado Surquillo it may be better to visit in the morning when neighbourhood residents arrive early to vie for the best produce. If you’re there in the afternoon, note that it closes at 4pm.
From here, cross the main highway and walk a few blocks to Miraflores Indian Market. This place is open until 5pm, and is a great spot for local craft and souvenirs.
Walking south from here to central Miraflores you will find many more mazy indoor artisan markets and craft shops. At the heart of Miraflores lies Parque Kennedy, a triangle-shaped greenery that features the Town Hall and Virgen Milagrosa Church.
The park’s gardens, filled with flower arrangements, are often filled with street artists and performers. We stopped at a small amphitheatre-style stepped circle in the park to watch local dancers and musicians.
Peruvian cuisine treat: a few blocks away from Parque Kennedy we stopped for dinner at Punto Azul, one of the best spots in the city to sample ceviche, the Peruvian national dish. This was the best one we had during a month in Peru, and they also do a fantastic causa, another national staple. While this was a bit of a treat on our budget, the prices weren’t unmanageable; ceviches were around 30–35 soles each.
Evening: experience Huaca Pucllana after dusk
After sundown, head back through central Miraflores to visit Huaca Pucllana, the restored ruins of an adobe pyramid some 1,600 years old. The ancient structure is so durable that it has withstood high-magnitude earthquakes that have devastated buildings all over Lima.
While Huaca Pucllana is open for day visits from 9am–5pm, it’s an extra-special experience to take a night tour. It does cost a little extra – general admission is 12 soles during the day, or 15 soles in the evening. Night tours run from 7–10pm. Check out the museum website for more info.
The fee includes museum entry and a guided tour, which lasts about 45 minutes. The restored adobe ruins look spectacular when lit up against the Lima night skyline. The site also has a shop and restaurant (albeit a bit beyond our humble backpacker budget!).
Day two: Centro Histórico
On our second day in Lima, we headed to the city’s historical centre. You can the public bus from Miraflores, a 9km journey that takes about an hour. Return tickets are 2.50 soles.
Morning: a church-spotting stroll to the riverfront
Avenida Wilson, close to the perimeter of Centro Histórico, is an ideal place to get off the bus. From here, armed with a map provided by Dragonfly Hostel, we navigated our way around the main sights.
First, head towards the Rímac River. You can stop to see various picturesque churches such as Iglesia San Sebastián and Iglesia de Santa Rosa on the way.
Before emerging onto the riverfront, turn along Jirón Conde de Superunda to Convento Santo Domingo. This magnificent pink church was originally built in the 16th century, and has undergone various restorations since. Some of Peru’s most storied saints are buried within the church grounds.
From here, continue the short walk to Park La Muralla on the river. The park features a circular sheltered stage; our visit was timed luckily as a local festival was in full swing, with costumed performers delighting the crowds.
You can take the chance to visit the park’s open air museum, which showcases the relics of ancient buildings.
Further along the riverfront you will find the best viewing spot for Cerro San Cristóbal. The famed hill is one of Lima’s most photographed features, dotted with houses of many colours. We were content with the view from afar, but if you want to see it up close there are tour buses running every 30 minutes from the Plaza Mayor.
Street food tip: Centro Histórico is bustling with street vendors selling sweet snacks such as churros and dulce de leche pastries. For only 1 or 2 soles a pop, it’s well worth indulging. We did!
Midday: the heart of Centro Histórico
Walking back into the old town from the park you will soon reach the striking yellow walls of Monasterio de San Francisco. The sight of birds swirling around overhead is a mesmering one! The monastery’s catacombs are one of Lima’s most popular attractions. The 7 soles entry fee grants access to the bony remains within, and a library of antique texts. A guided tour is included.
Plaza Mayor, the main square of Centro Histórico, is just a couple of blocks away from here. The grass centre of the plaza provides a great view of Lima’s two most iconic buildings: Palacio de Gobierno and La Catedral de Lima. The cathedral features a museum with an entrance fee of 10 soles.
Heading out of the historic centre, make a stop at Palacio Torre Tagle, one of the best-preserved examples of Spanish baroque architecture in the city. Now a government building, access is restricted, but it’s possible to enter the lower grounds and take some photographs.
The last architecture-spotting stop of our self-guided tour is Congreso de la República at Plaza Bolivar. The imposing white building is the meeting place of Peru’s legislative-power-wielding congress.
Afternoon/evening: parks, museums and the famous light show
A couple of kilometres south of the historical centre are the parks and gardens of Plaza Grau and Parque de los Museos. The extensive grounds feature several museums and galleries, the centrepiece of which is the Museum of Art of Lima (MALI). The park is the ideal stop-off on your return to Miraflores, situated right next to the main route for return buses.
Further south towards Miraflores along Avenida Arequipa is the unmistakable El Circuito Mágico del Agua. Its famous water fountains are clearly visible from the main road. After sunset the fountains are illuminated in a spectacular water show, which is well worth the 4 soles entry fee.
One final foodie tip: if you didn’t make it to Punto Azul or want an alternative to sample Lima’s famous ceviche, another great option is El Rincón de Bigote back in Miraflores. We went for one final treat before moving on from Lima, and we were not disappointed.
Further reading on Peru
Take a look at our other articles on Peru to inspire your trip:
- 28-day itinerary for Peru: land of the Incas
- How much does a Peru trip cost? Here’s what we spent
- The art of the menú: budget eating in Peru
- Hiking the Inca Trail: a complete guide for first-timers
- 24 hours in Huacachina: the Peruvian desert oasis
- Visiting Iquitos: the gateway to the Peruvian Amazon
- Flying over the Nazca Lines: a complete guide
- Ten awesome things to do in Cusco, Peru
- Colca Canyon trek: an up and down experience
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