Lima: Palaces and pisco in Peru's capital

A stroll through the 'Garden City' reveals flower-filled squares and decadent spots to sink cocktails, discovers Alasdair Baverstock

Once the centre of the continent-spanning Spanish viceroyalty, Lima hasn't let post-imperial history get in the way of its colonial sensibilities. Peru's "Garden City" shows off rich layers of emerging-economy flair, multi-national heritage and decadent colonial antiquity stack up to create one of Latin America's most multifaceted cities. A slice through Lima's historic centre affords the best cross-section of Peru's all-round capital.

Jump-start your senses with a morning visit to the Mercado Central, a two-tiered market selling everything from leather jackets to miracle herbs. Order a juice from one of the kiosks at the northern end, guayaba (guava) and guanabana (soursop) are two delicious options. Exit via the south side and you'll find Lima's Chinatown, where chifa restaurants are ubiquitous, serving up the Chinese-Peruvian fusion that has become a symbol of Limeño pride.

Two blocks north of the market is Plaza Bolívar, where you'll see the monolithic National Congress building. On the south side of the plaza is the Museo de la Inquisición (00 51 1311 7777;, which looks at Lima's past as the continental headquarters of the Spanish Inquisition, and features life-sized mannequins undergoing torture techniques used by the zealous Spaniards. Entry and tours are free, although if you want to be shown around by an English-speaker you should give them 24 hours' notice.

Two blocks north and one west is the Convento de San Francisco (00 51 1719 7188;, a 350-year-old monastery where a small community of Franciscan monks still resides. Tours take in the intricate Moorish-style lattice dome and the catacombs below the church itself. About 75,000 people are estimated to be buried down here and their femurs (the longest-lasting of human bones) sit stacked in open graves. The 40-minute tour costs 7 Peruvian sol (S7/£1.70).

Make your way west to Plaza Mayor for 11.45pm, when the changing of the guard ceremony outside the Palacio del Gobierno (Presidential Palace) features a military band playing jazzy tunes. Intricately carved wooden balconies protrude from the buildings around the plaza, contributing to its Unesco World Heritage status. On the eastern side, Lima's fortress-like cathedral, whose elaborate façades are prime examples of Spanish Baroque architecture, showcases its art collection in the Religious Art Museum (00 51 1427 9647) as well as the grave of Francisco Pizarro, the city's founder.

Head south along pedestrianised Jirón de la Unión, the city's main commercial artery, where you can admire Neo-Classical and Art Deco architecture while satisfying all shopping needs.

The street leads to Plaza San Martín, but before you reach it, head two blocks west along Jirón Moquegua to Los Manglares de Tumbes (00 51 1426 5056), a fun and colourful cantina that's the best place to sample ceviche (seafood cured by the acidity of lime juice) of which the sabor a manglar option for S30 (£7) is a good introduction.

Head south to the flower-filled Plaza San Martín, a pleasant square, lined on all sides with Baroque architecture, where locals lounge on the benches. On the north-western corner stands the Hotel Bolívar (00 51 1427 2114;, where you can sample the definitive pisco sour (pisco, lime juice, sugar syrup, egg white) in the decadent surroundings of El Bolivarcito bar, "the cathedral of the pisco sour". There's also a fantastic view from the Planeta rooftop bar on the same corner at Jirón de la Unión 892 for a drink later in the evening.

Two blocks east of the plaza, the Parque Universitario is the founding spot of San Marcos University, the oldest university in the Americas. The park contains a small amphitheatre where street performers regularly put on shows, offering an interesting insight into the Peruvian sense of humour. On the south side of the park, the Centro Cultural San Marcos (00 51 1619 7000; is an oasis of calm with pretty colonial courtyards and seasonal student exhibitions; entry is free.

Head south until you hit Avenida Roosevelt, which you should follow west to the top of Plaza Grau (below the Sheraton hotel). Walk south along here, admiring Lima at its expansive best before reaching Mali, the Museo de Arte de Lima (00 51 1204 0000;, where entry costs S6 (£1.50). This art gallery features contemporary exhibitions from Peruvian and international artists. The stunning colonial building has had a modern revamp inside, including a white-tented roof above the open courtyard.

The museum stands at the northern extremity of the relaxing Parque de la Exposición, a charming area of greenery, open-air art exhibits, a large amphitheatre (ask at the ticket kiosk outside for what's on), and plenty of benches where you can get off your feet, take in the surroundings and plan your next pisco sour.

Fresh cuts

The Circuito Magico del Agua (00 51 1424 0827;; closed Mondays and Tuesdays) was once neglected industrial lland, but now holds the Guinness World Record for the largest collection of fountains in a public park. Come after dark for the light show; entry costs S4 (£1).

Larcomar ( is a new mall perched on a cliff-top in Lima's Miraflores district. It's worth spending an afternoon on one of the stunning terraces, kicking back above the rolling Pacific with a coffee or cocktail. Come at night to see the new Christ the Redeemer statue lit up.

Travel essentials

Getting there

With no direct flights between the UK and Peru, the quickest journey involves a stop in a European airport. The widest range of UK departure points are via Amsterdam on KLM (0871 231 0000; or Paris on Air France (0871 663 3777; British Airways (0844 493 0787; and Iberia (0870 609 0500; fly from Heathrow via Madrid. BA and its partner American Airlines (0844 499 7300; fly from Heathrow via Miami.Air Europa (0871 423 0717; and LAN (0800 977 6100; both fly from Madrid, with UK connections.

Staying there

Hotel España (00 51 1428 5546; is a converted colonial mansion, with high ceilings, classical artwork and friendly staff. Doubles from S60 (£14), room only.


Go guided

Peru Fantasy (00 51 652 6995; runs three-hour walking tours of Lima for S25 (£6) per person.

More information

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Ashdown Group: Print Designer - High Wycombe - Permanent £28K

    £25000 - £28000 per annum + 24 days holiday, bonus, etc.: Ashdown Group: Print...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Travel Consultant

    £20000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in London, Manches...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer and Brand Manager

    £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer and Brand Manager required for ...

    Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator

    £25000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator A...

    Day In a Page

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent