Travel Basics for Lima, Peru
--Amy M. Gardner
If you are traveling to Machu Picchu, you’ll almost certainly fly through Lima. Rather than rushing through, we stayed in Lima for 5 nights, and highly recommend as much time in Lima as you can spare. Below are some tips to help you get the most out of your time in Lima.
Uber is really inexpensive in Lima. Like $4 US for 20 minute ride. When traffic is bad, though, the bus can be much faster (because they travel in designated lanes) and less expensive (about 75¢ US for a ride). For rides to and from the airport, we used www.taxidatum.com, which we also used in other parts of Peru. Taxidatum is cheaper than a regular taxi and avoids the drama and stress of walking out of an airport and needing to fight through the scrum of would-be drivers, negotiate with a taxi, and get on your way.
We also walked a lot in Lima, aided by the interesting neighborhoods and great weather while we were there (60s-70 degrees).
Favorite experiences in Lima:
We did a free walking tour in Lima that was really excellent. The guide, Richard, founded the Incan Milky Way free walking tour company with his brothers, and they offer walks in Cusco and Lima. In addition to teaching us a lot about Lima, Richard met the group near our hotel and then taught us how to use the bus, then recommended a great lunch restaurant that ended up being one of our favorite meals in Lima.
Reality check: Once again, we were among the oldest participants in a free walking tour. But, the tour was interesting and as we overheard our fellow walkers talking about their youth hostels and finances, it reaffirmed that our decision to do this trip now – while we can both afford to stay in hotels and can physically keep up with a group of 25 year olds! – was the right one.
Part of why I wanted to spend time in Lima was because my Spanish teacher, Jose, had spoken so highly of it. One of the things he recommended most strongly was the Circuito Magico del Agua (The Magic Water Circuit). It’s easy to get to – less than a block from the Estadio National bus stop – and for 4 soles (about $1.33/person) was a really fun way to spend an evening. For an idea of what it’s like, check out this YouTube video.
Reality check: We had a long day the day we went to the water show, leaving the hotel at 9 am and not returning until about 10 pm. Getting on an insanely packed bus to go see a water fountain was not my idea of a good time. But I knew if we didn’t do it that night, when we would be on a bus going past the stop for the water show, we probably wouldn’t do it. So I sucked it up and we went, and I’m so glad we did – it was well worth the time and effort. And it's so much more than a water fountain!
We also visited several museums in Lima. One of my favorites was the Museum of Contemporary Art which, while very small, is well-done and has art on display in both outdoor and indoor spaces.
Reality check: This museum is tiny. As in maybe allow an hour for your visit if you want to stop by the gift shop. But the exhibits made me think and it has a nice café with foosball, where I was the victor 2/2, so that alone cemented its status as an excellent use of time in my book.
Another museum that we both enjoyed was MATE – Museo Mario Testino. This is another smaller museum, but the exhibition of photographs by Mario Testino, in particular a section of photographs about the dress of indigenious Peruvians, was interesting and well-done. We also enjoyed seeing the results of a community art project led by Katherine Bernhardt.
For people really interested in gold, guns, or just odd museums, the Museo del Oro may be worthwhile. But you have to really be interested in one of those topics.
Reality check: The Museo del Oro is weird. The first floor is packed full of guns, swords, etc., and the downstairs is a bunch of gold statues, sculptures, jewelry, and the like. After a scandal a few years ago about the fact the museum was displaying replicas and pieces that weren’t actually gold, it isn’t overflowing with visitors. And the bathrooms were, shall we say, in a state of needing attention. One stall was the stuff of nightmares. But it was interesting and in an area we wouldn't have visited otherwise.
Favorite Inexpensive Meals:
Lima has some incredibly inexpensive, and incredibly delicious, restaurants. This is definitely not a city where it makes sense to get an AirBnB so you can cook some of your own meals. I think out of 15 meals, the only ones where we spent more than $30 US for two people without alcohol were our dinner at Isolina and our incredible lunch at Chez Wong’s. (See Chez Wong: No Sign, No Menu, No Problem.)
The Cordon Blue Restaurant was described by our walking tour guide Richard as full of workers from the nearby government buildings, and that definitely seemed to be the case as we and our fellow walking tour members appeared to be the only tourists, even though it's very convenient if you're visiting the Plaza de Armas (and you should). The lunch specials of less than 20 soles (or about $6 US) included 3 courses and a beverage. Throughout Peru, I ate alji de gallina (essentially chicken and potatoes cooked in a creamy yellow sauce) whenever I could. The version at the Cordon Blue Restaurant was my favorite. (If you’re interested, here’s a recipe that I haven’t made, but sounds and looks very similar to what I ate around Peru.)
Peru’s ceviche is world famous, and the ceviche in Lima is particularly well-known. We went to Punto Azul, which is on all of the lists for best places to have ceviche in Lima. We tried two different types and both were good, though (even though they were significantly less expensive!) they didn’t compare to Chez Wong. It’s a great way to have several different options for ceviche, and there are so many locations that it’s easy to get to one. We visited the location close to the Museo del Oro.
Our hands-down favorite inexpensive restaurant in Lima was La Lucha, a chain of sandwich shops. We ate there more than once, because the sandwiches were terrific, particularly the Lomo Fino (beef shoulder with edam cheese and carmelized onions) and the pollo con piña (chicken with pineapple). All of the sandwiches can have a fried egg and/or avocado added to them. I don’t know another time when we’ve gone back to a restaurant two times in five days, let alone three. But as I write this in our hotel room in Seoul, I am pondering whether I could convince Keith he needs to start making Lomo Fino sandwiches in our kitchen in Chicago.
One random note on inexpensive food: Check out my short post on San Francisco-style churros. If you go to Lima, you must have them. Prefereably multiple times.
We didn’t know Isolina has been ranked as one of the top 50 restaurants in Latin America, or really anything about it other than that a friend of ours had eaten there in December and recommended it. Isolina’s food is described as criollo – a fusion of Peruvian, Spanish, and African influences. The Seco de Asado de Tira (short rib stew) was delicious and the perfect main dish to combat the chilly weather.
Our favorite nice meal in Lima, though, was our outing to Chez Wong.
We had initially planned to redeem points for our hotel in Lima, but there are so many inexpensive options that it didn’t make sense to do that. Instead, we stayed at the ibis Larco Miraflores, which was just two blocks from the much more expensive hotels we had initially looked at. While Miraflores is a long bus or Uber ride from the historic center, the area is great for tourists because of the Larcomar Mall, the easy proximity to the line of parks along the cliff overlooking the water, and the plethora of restaurants. Although our room was small, the price was so low and the location so good that I’d choose it again.
Reality check: “Small” doesn’t begin to describe the room. It was larger than a prison cell, but not by much. Then again, when you’re paying something like $60/night for a hotel room, who cares? The internet was solid and it was very clean. Plus, it was just steps away from a La Lucha location. Just be prepared to walk a gauntlet of taxi drivers and would-be tour guides every time you walk out of the hotel. Every. Time.
I actually felt bad for all the people who only experience Lima by switching flights at the airport. Yes, Lima lacks the wow factor of Machu Picchu, or of other world capitals. (Paris it isn’t.) But the city itself is so easy to get around, so reasonably priced, so interesting, and the people so friendly, that it’s a mistake to not spend a few days there.
Reality check: By the end of our time in Lima, I was trying to talk Keith into renting an apartment there next summer. Did it work? Stay tuned . . . . Thank you to Jose, Cathy, Narayan, and Brian for all your suggestions for our time in Lima!
Have any questions we didn’t answer? Did we miss your favorite in Lima? Please post them below and we’ll be happy to respond!