Lima is often overlooked by visitors to Peru: with so many world-famous sights like Lake Titicaca, the Nazca Lines and Machu Picchu on the horizon, travellers are naturally eager to head into the Andes, the Amazon or along the desert coast. If you have time to devote to the capital though, I promise you, Lima will not disappoint – even if you just stay for the food! Here is what I recommend you do...
After a hearty breakfast head to Lima’s colonial centre, best visited in the morning when it’s fresh and the traffic is not too heavy.
To see some of Lima’s best-preserved colonial legacy head to the Plaza de Armas – the city's main square – flanked by the 18th century cathedral, the President's Palace, the Archbishop's Palace, and the Torre Tagle Palace that was built for the treasurer of the Royal Spanish fleet and considered to be the most striking of Lima's 18th century mansions. Another building that borrows its architectural style from Baroque and Moorish Spain is the Monastery of San Francisco with its fascinating library and grisly Catacombs. Not far is the old central post office, a true philatelist’s dream.
Once you've worked up an appetite, head across town to the Larco Herrera Museum to enjoy a peaceful lunch in the museum's pretty walled gardens and sample one of the best ceviches in Lima. The museum houses an amazing collection of beautifully modelled pottery, unique gold and silver work, mummies and ceramics from pre-Inca civilizations. Not to mention the erotic collection!
In the evening Barranco, Lima’s bohemian district, comes to life, brimming with folkloric shows and bars featuring spirited live performances by Peruvian bands. For a light dinner of barbecued beef hearts (anticuchos) join the locals at Tio Mario’s near the evocative Puente de Los Suspiros (whispering bridge). Alternatively Cala restaurant, which overlooks the ravine, offers all the Peruvian classics like aji de gallina (mild chicken curry) and seco de cordero (coriander lamb stew), but in a refined setting. And if you haven’t sampled Peru's famous Pisco Sour cocktail yet, now’s your chance.
This morning you’ll experience the day-to-day life of the limeños. Head to Surquillo food market with its diverse variety of fish and vegetables for sale, where you'll have a chance to taste some of the delicious local fruits such as lucuma, chirimoya (custard apple) and pacay. Now that you've whet your appetite, choose either Pescados Capitales restaurant on Avenida La Mar, Miraflores, or Segundo Muelle on Avenida Conquistadores in San Isidro for a superb seafood lunch.
In the afternoon you can either opt to do some shopping around Miraflores – you’ll find some lovely antiques and silverware on Avenida La Paz – or head to the lovely residential suburb, San Isidro, to visit Huaca Pucllana – an ancient pyramid that pre-dates the Incas. To cool down, there’s a fantastic ice cream parlour called 4D which is located just around the corner – try the tumbo flavour (similar to passion fruit).
If you have the energy, try and get out to Parque de la Reserva near the centre. From Wednesday to Sunday there’s a Magic Water Show (Circuito Magico del Agua). The show lasts about 45 minutes with performances starting at 19:15, 20:15, 21:30 and 22:30. Expect an exceptional display of fountains choreographed to music, accompanied by a spectacular light show behind the swirling, twirling water.
For dinner, Astrid y Gastón offers one of the best upmarket dining experiences in Lima. For a more modest option with bags of atmosphere I really like Mangos in Larcomar, Miraflores. Its location overlooking the Pacific Ocean is second to none, and the lomo saltado (stir-fried beef with rice and chips) is delicious.
EATING IN LIMA
Peruvian cuisine is known throughout South America for its ability to incorporate influences from different times and cultures. The result is a culinary palette that has a depth of taste and colour that is unrivalled in all of the Americas, and the capital is its showcase. In my opinion, Lima is easily one of the world's best places to dine.
For more restaurant recommendations than you could possibly fit into 48 hours (though trying would be pretty enjoyable), don't miss the Culinary Guide to Lima by restaurateur Martin Morales, and my wife's blog post, Eating Between the Lines.
HOW TO GET THERE
Fly return to Lima via Madrid with Iberia starting from £640pp. Alternatively you can now combine Peru with Brazil by flying with Iberia into Lima and British Airways out of Rio starting from £645pp.
As of 4th May 2016, there will be a direct flight with BA from London Gatwick to Lima operating on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, making travel from the UK to Peru easier and more accessible.