Cities

What to do in Lima: a two-day guide

With a population of over 9 million, Lima is South America’s second-biggest city. Despite its magnitude, we found the Peruvian capital’s highlights easy to navigate in just a couple of days.

Peru was our first stop in a five-month traverse of South America, and naturally we started in its capital and main hub. When planning what to do in Lima, we found the best strategy was to break it down by district.

While Lima has a larger city-limit 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; we only visited three of them.

Where to stay in Lima: backpacker hostels

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.

For more accommodation options in Lima, check out booking.com.

Day one: explore Miraflores and Barranco

Our first day in Lima consisted of a lengthy circular walk, beginning and ending in our base, Miraflores.

What to do in Lima: Barranco is one of the most popular districts for backpackers
What to do in Lima: Barranco is one of the most popular districts for backpackers

Morning: take the Boardwalk along the coast

A ten-minute walk from Dragonfly hostel took us 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 was a perfect spot to sit and take in the ocean scenery. Just a few feet away, we watched paragliders taking off from the cliff edge. It was tempting to have a go ourselves for 180 soles per person, but we decided to move on.

What to do in Lima: Parque del Amor on the Miraflores Boardwalk
What to do in Lima: Parque del Amor on the Miraflores Boardwalk

Parque del Amor stands midway along the Miraflores Boardwalk, a path stretching some six miles through coastal parks and beaches. From here, we made our way south towards Barranco.

About a kilometre down the coast we reached Larcomar, a multi-level mall and entertainment complex carved into the side of the ocean-facing cliffs. While our budget couldn’t really stretch to the premium outlet price tags, it was 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 required a somewhat dicey crossing of the coastal highway – take your time with this one – but once we were over, the ocean walk was highly rewarding. A kilometre or so further down the coast we reached 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 we ascended the walkway – ‘Bajada de los Baños’ – we stopped to admire a giant mural before reaching Puente de los Suspiros (the ‘bridge of sighs’).

What to do in Lima: street murals on Bajada de los Baños, Barranco
What to do in Lima: street murals on Bajada de los Baños, Barranco
What to do in Lima: Iglesia La Ermita, Barranco
What to do in Lima: Iglesia La Ermita, Barranco

Across the bridge we had a good look around the gardens of Plaza Chabuca Granda and Iglesia La Ermita. At the rear side of the church we found a gorgeous ocean viewing point, serenaded by a local Flamenco guitar-playing duo.

Back across the bridge we made our way into the main square, surrounded by colourful buildings with a clear blue fountain pool in the middle. After a stroll through the square’s tiled walkways and greeneries it was time 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

We decided to keep up the exercise and walk from Barranco to Miraflores via the main streets. If you’re not feeling the 3.5km walk, 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. We started with Mercado Surquillo, 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.

What to do in Lima: check out the Indian Market in Miraflores
What to do in Lima: check out the Indian Market in Miraflores

We crossed the main highway and walked 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 we came across 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 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 did 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.

What to do in Lima: try the ceviche at Punto Azul, Miraflores
What to do in Lima: try the ceviche at Punto Azul, Miraflores

Evening: experience Huaca Pucllana after dusk

After sundown we headed 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.

Our fee included museum entry and a guided tour, which lasted about 45 minutes. The restored adobe ruins looked spectacular when lit up against the Lima night skyline. The site also had a shop and restaurant, albeit a bit out of our price range.

What to do in Lima: take a guided tour of Huaca Pucllana at night
What to do in Lima: take a guided tour of Huaca Pucllana at night

Day two: Centro Histórico

On our second day in Lima, we headed to the city’s historical centre. We took the public bus, a 9km journey that took about an hour. Our return tickets were 2.50 soles.

Morning: a church-filled stroll to the riverfront

The bus dropped us on Avenida Wilson, close to the perimeter of Centro Histórico. From here, armed with a map provided by Dragonfly Hostel, we navigated our way around the main sights.

First we headed towards the Rímac River, stopping at various picturesque churches such as Iglesia San Sebastián and Iglesia de Santa Rosa.

What to do in Lima: explore the streets of Centro Histórico
What to do in Lima: explore the streets of Centro Histórico

Before emerging onto the riverfront we turned 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 we made 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. We also took some time out to visit the park’s open air museum, which showcases the relics of ancient buildings.

What to do in Lima: the famous hill of Cerro San Cristóbal
What to do in Lima: the famous hill of Cerro San Cristóbal

We walked further along the riverfront to 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!

What to do in Lima: try a sweet street food snack!
What to do in Lima: try a sweet street food snack!

Midday: the heart of Centro Histórico

Walking back into the old town from the park we soon reached the striking yellow walls of Monasterio de San Francisco. The sight of birds swirling around overhead was 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, with a guided tour included.

A couple of blocks away we made it to Plaza Mayor, the main square of Centro Histórico.

The grass centre of the plaza provided 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; we were happy with the view from outside.

What to do in Lima: La Catedral de Lima in Plaza Mayor
What to do in Lima: La Catedral de Lima in Plaza Mayor

As we headed out of the historic centre we stopped 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 we were able to enter the lower grounds and take some photographs.

The last building-spotting stop of our self-guided tour was Congreso de la República at Plaza Bolivar. The imposing white building is the meeting place of Peru’s legislative-power-wielding congress.

What to do in Lima: inside the lower grounds of Palacio Torre Tagle
What to do in Lima: inside the lower grounds of Palacio Torre Tagle

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 was the ideal stop-off on our return to Miraflores, situated right next to the main route with regular 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:

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With a population of nearly 9 million, Lima is South America’s second-biggest city. But despite its size, we found the Peruvian capital’s highlights easy to navigate in just a couple of days. Our experiences provide a handy guide for planning what to do in Lima.

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40 comments

  1. This is a great itinerary! You really described the layout of the city very well and suggested wonderful spots to enjoy and explore! Very helpful post! Cheers 🥂

  2. I knew about Lima due to the Climate Change conference that happened a few years back. But after reading your post, i know it’s a beautiful city and has a lot of heritage attached to it. The mural “Bridge of Sighs” looks amazing and shows that the city is colorful and wonderful to visit!

    1. I would definitely go back and hope to do so in the next couple of years. A very good friend of mine from the UK lives there, and he loves it!

  3. I had no idea that you could find all of this in Lima! The street art in Barranco looks so stunning. Great job of putting this together!

  4. I know Lima from the stories of my brother traveling on business but this is actually the first time I see some pictures. Looks very colourful and tempting. That travel bug keeps biting! Thanks for this post! -Marcella

    1. We did enjoy the pisco sours! It was a close call on which we preferred between the Peruvian and Chilean versions 🙂

  5. I am planning a trip to Peru in august so this will come in handy! I have pinned it as well so I can come back to it later! Great tips I hope I can squeeze in while in Lima!

  6. We have some friends from Peru and they told us that they already miss a lot their country. They are always telling us many things about Lima. We are looking foward to visit this city some day. We’ll see next years with our friends.
    Very nice post and very useful.

  7. Well it was the first of your 5 month trip, but Lima is going to mark the end of our 5 month South American adventure next week! We are actually spending exactly 2 days there so I’m going to use all of your tips! Did you feel safe in Centro Historio? I’ve heard quite different accounts. Seeing Huaca Pucllana at night looks like something we are going to have to do!

    1. Centro Historico felt pretty safe when we were there – we did hear some stories before we went so we were careful not to flash our valuables around. There were lots of tourists and plenty of police around. Glad you found the article useful – hope you have a great time in Lima!

  8. Ugh! I lived in Lima for a year and you really made me remember some great places I went… The next time you go I definitely recommend you going to Calle de Los Pizzas in the evening to watch a soccer match or dance some salsa at Son de Cuba there! That’s where the party is in Miraflores. Rústica is also a really great restaurant there. 🙂

  9. Great blog post! I’d love to make it to Peru someday. It wasn’t really high up on my radar until recently!

  10. Thanks for sharing this post! A buddy of mine spent a year in Lima and seeing El Beso of Victor Delfin made me remember his stories about this city. I’d love to see the monument in person. Did you managed to visit Lima’s flea markets?

  11. I’d never thought of Lima as a place to visit but your blog post has put it on my wish list! Lovely old buildings, great cuisine and lots to do! Thank you for an informative post with lovely pics.

  12. Wow!! I didn’t know that Lima was so colorful. I love that yellow church!!! I also heard that the Peruvian food is amazing!! I would love to go someday!! Thanks for sharing this guide!! Sounds like the perfect one to explore the city.

  13. I am going to Lima next month to visit a friend from school and this post is a great first read seeing as I haven’t done any research yet! The Huaca Pucllana looks amazing, I will definitely have to check that out!

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