How to spend a day in Lima, Peru

The Peruvian capital is more than just a place to change planes en route to Machu Picchu. Stay a while to absorb the city's buzzing beach barrios, grand historic structures, edgy artworks and reinvented industrial spaces.

By Michael Parker-Stainback
Published 11 Jun 2020, 08:03 BST
Street scene in Barranco, a neighbourhood that's home to an increasing number of boutiques and galleries.

Street scene in Barranco, a neighbourhood that's home to an increasing number of boutiques and galleries.

Photograph by Karolina Wiercigroch


8am: Parque El Olivar

Spanish colonists laid out olive groves that still flourish in San Isidro’s beloved and tranquil public park. In addition to the trees — which merit your sincere admiration — El Olivar is great for jogging, strolling or just plain meditation. Lima’s misty climate is part of the fun, swathing specimens in romance, tempting you to stray. All around lies a gracious, old-money neighbourhood and its swank, pseudo-baronial architecture.

9am: Surquillo Market

Across a hellacious expressway from Miraflores (once an Inca road to the sea) lies this traditional market. A scrappy, much-loved, happy hunting ground for top restaurateurs, it’s filled with tropical produce you’ve got to try, plus head-still-on butchery. Vociferous lady fishmongers tend counters at its rear, serving up half-a-dozen ceviche varieties plus yummy fillets cooked as you like them; generous portions of off-colour humour and questions about your foreign provenance served on the side.

11am: Pachacamac

The 40-minute trip south from Barranco is worth the hassle to reach the Pachacamac archaeological site: the ruins of a city variously occupied by Lima, Wuri, Ychma and Inca peoples after AD 200. Traditionally home to an oracle, it attracted pilgrims from all over the Andean region and reached its zenith just before the Spaniards hit in 1533. Remains from stunning courts, palaces and pyramids attest to antique greatness and punctuate the now-silent, otherworldly desert surrounding it.

Surquillo Market sells a dazzling array of fruit and vegetables, dry goods, meat, poultry and spices.

Photograph by Karolina Wiercigroch


12pm: Chifa Wa Lok

Start out before lunch and gird your loins for a dive deep into Lima’s Barrio Chino, a frenetic and congested Chinatown. Sweat not the queue — tables turn fast — then settle in for mass portions of the Chinese comforts locals crave at Wa Lok, especially much-adored chaufa fried rice. Or slog through the bible-like menu for every possible Sino-Peruvian veggie, pork, beef, chicken, duck or seafood iteration. Good local beer is available, but almost everyone will be drinking a sugar-shock, sunshine-yellow Inca Kola.

Every Sunday, around a dozen peddlers gather on quiet Avenida Alfonso Ugarte for this sidewalk showcase of vintage dishware, furnishings, artworks, tchotchkes, books, vinyl and other treasures. Wheeling, dealing and genteel haggling abound but the sale is closed with lots of friendly banter from merchants.

Lunch at Huaca Pucllana, in Miraflores, a restaurant that serves a mix of contemporary and classical Peruvian dishes.

Photograph by Karolina Wiercigroch


8pm: Huaca Pucllana

It’s in every guidebook, but the experience is exquisite. Huaca Pucllana is a five-star restaurant splurge in Miraflores, right next to the namesake Lima-civilisation archaeological site. A terrace adjacent to its adobe pyramid and surrounding plazas, patios and chambers serves as a brilliant dining room for stellar people-watching and haute Peruvian cuisine. The latter includes impeccably turned-out quinoa salads, tiraditos and ceviches, plus fish and shellfish from the Pacific and nearby rivers. More adventurous palates savour delicacies like alpaca and guinea pig.

10pm: Cocktails at Bar Inglés

After a full day of Lima intensity, shake off any dust (physical or psychological) with a stiff, old-school cocktail in the Bar Inglés at the Country Club Lima Hotel. That bonedry martini, heart-warming manhattan or piquant negroni, mixed to five-star standards, is the perfect attitude adjustment, especially in a fine, wainscoted barroom that rides the line with genuine Britannia fakery. 


4am: Late-night supper at Siete Sopas

A soaring industrial space, awash in neon and favoured by post-nightlife refugees, the Surquillo branch of Siete Sopas (open 24/7) has diners clustering at long, shared tables that quickly lead to bonhomie. Nightly limited fixed menus (sandwiches, pasta, chicken) showcase one of seven soups that are Peruvian regional classics, including a sui-generis minestrone, a stick-to-your ribs beef and bean potage, or sancocho, an originally Caribbean stew that’s packed with meat, potatoes or cassava and corn on the cob.

Published in the May/June 2020 of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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