A Brief History of Lima
Francisco Pizarro founded Peru’s capital during the celebration of epiphany on January 18, 1935. The day was said to be cool and sunny.
However, like all foundation stories, there may have been a touch of poetic license at work. Those who have lived in Lima know that one of the characteristic features of the city is its grey sky and that ever-present “garúa” (meaning “drizzle” in English).
The latter never actually turns into rain, but it plunges the city into a constant humidity, lasting for several months of the year. The humidity, though, is also the reason for Lima’s beautiful gardens that contrast so dramatically with the surrounding desert.
Lima, also called the “City of Kings,” (a nod to the epiphany day origins) quickly became the most important city on the American continent. Being the only South American capital city with an extensive coastal strip, Lima quickly established a significance that remains until this day.
In 1551, the National University of San Marcos, the oldest university in the Americas, was founded here. In the nearly 500 years of its illustrious history, the university has produced no less than 21 Peruvian presidents, a Nobel prize winner for literature in Mario Vargas Llosa, and countless exceptional scientists.
In the second half of the 20th century, the city experienced an enormous phase of growth: the number of inhabitants surged from 662,000 in the 1940s to the more than nine million we see today.
This demographic explosion brought with it necessary urban growth that has forever changed the face of the city. It also increased the city’s cultural diversity, with people from all over Peru flocking to the capital. This diversity is what gives the city its unique dynamism and vibrancy today. Lima is truly a multicultural city, and it offers travelers an endless, eclectic mix of cultural experiences to enjoy.
The Historic Center of Lima
In the historic center, which has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, impressive examples of colonial architecture blend with the scenery and bustle of this ever-changing city.
In recent years, Lima has also positioned itself at the top of the international culinary scene thanks to its rich gastronomic offerings. Peruvians are intensely proud of their food culture and the capital city proudly waves the flag with mouthwatering food being served across Lima, from the street food stall to the Michelin-starred restaurant.
(Those particularly interested in uncovering Peruvian food culture should check out our range of Culinary Tours.)
Whatever kind of traveler you are, you’ll find a bounty of amazing things to see and explore on a visit to Lima. What follows are just a few of our top picks.
Our Recommendations for Your Time in Lima
An excellent start to getting to know the city at the local rhythm is participating in a Lima Walking Tour.
Like any town designed by the Spanish, the Plaza Mayor is the central spot. It brings together the main symbols of power, namely the Cathedral (spiritual power), the Government Palace (political and military power), and the Municipality (local and economic power). Immerse yourself in the city’s different worlds, starting here.
A trip to the past is always a good way to better understand the present. To do so, I recommend a stop at one of the best museums in the city: the Larco Museum. Installed in the XVII century as a viceroyalty mansion, the museum today exhibits artifacts charting the story of three thousand years of pre-Columbian history. Highlights from the permanent collection include the galleries dedicated to silver and gold artworks, and the collection of pre-Columbian erotic pottery.
Another outstanding museum is that of Yoshiro Amano, who opened his house to the public in 1964 to exhibit his collection of pre-Columbian handicrafts and textiles. Perhaps the most outstanding exhibition in the Museo Amano is that of the ceramics of the Chancay culture.
A trip out of the city can also be a good idea. The south of Lima is full of valleys formed by various rivers flowing down from the highlands to meet the sea. If you only have one day to explore this area, Lurìn and Pachacamac are the best options.
There, you will find exquisite gastronomy, renowned Ayacucho artisans (from the southern Andean region), and the famous Pachacamac Sanctuary, displaying prominent pyramidal temples. Our Artisan And Pachacamac Tour is the perfect experience if you want to explore all of the above.
The Pachacamac Sanctuary has been a sacred place for several cultures for more than 1500 years. The site was dedicated to the most important god of the coast, Pachacamac, and its importance derives from the fact that he was said to be the creator of the universe. Two highlights that stand out in the Pachacamac Sanctuary are the temple of the Sun and the Acllahuasi, both built during the heyday of Inca civilization.
Now, perhaps you’d like to discover something about Lima’s and the country’s recent past. To do that, we invite you to visit the LUM (Lugar de la memoria – place of memory). Its different rooms offer us a tour of the city of Lima during the last two decades of the twentieth century when terrorist movements were prominent and a tremendous migratory movement, mainly from the countryside to the town, was observed.
Soccer, Gastronomy, and Local Life in Lima…
Next, we suggest taking a trip to the heights or suburbs of the city with our Full-Day Authentic Lima Tour. As you journey with us on this tour, you get to meet some families who had been forced to flee violence, and had to contend with a lack of opportunities in their homeland. These people learned to use their creativity and courage to build their new reality – a fulfilling encounter to make you reflect on the complexity of our world.
While traveling in Lima, be aware that there are two things that all Peruvians share their love for: the national soccer team and their gastronomy. You will likely be asked several times about your favorite soccer club and favorite food during your trip. If you´re not sure what your favorite dish is, don´t panic!
There is no better place to learn about food than the gastronomic capital of Latin America. Lima is home to two of the world’s 50 Best Restaurants: Central and Maido. It is also home to The world’s Best Female Chef 2021, Pia León. But even beyond the accolades, Michelin stars, and celebrity chefs, the city has a vibrant foodie culture powered by a pervasive passion for fresh, exciting, lovingly-prepared food.
If you are intrigued, you can start your culinary discovery on our Street Food & Old Taverns Night Out In Lima´s Historic Center. Our tour will feature a harmonious variety of samplings and give you a real insight into the fascinating cuisine of Peru.
Concerning eating out, travelers should always consider the kind of food suitable for their budget – fortunately, Lima, and Peru in general, has such an exceptional amount of choice that all travelers will find food to fall in love with.
Street Food in Lima
At RESPONS, we like urban cuisine which you can get at street food stalls and huariques (places where you eat well, at a reasonable price, and in a homely atmosphere).
When exploring street food, you travel between different worlds, such as the Nikkei World, Creole World, the World of the Brasas (directly over the fire), the Chifas (Chinese influenced) or the Andean and Amazonian cultures. The flavors you will taste will never leave you indifferent; you are guaranteed to encounter dishes you’ve never seen or heard of before.
When it’s time for you to leave Lima for another destination or to return home, we recommend you reserve time to visit the province of Callao, where the airport is located.
This province has become one of the epicenters of a significant transformation triggered by the new urban art movement. You’ll find a large number of art galleries here. Join us on our Urban Art, History, And Gastronomy Tour if you love art as much as we do!
As you can see, Lima has a lot to offer, and the angles to approach it are many, depending on your interests. If you want to experience this city, we invite you to do so with an open mind and lots of curiosity.
Just enjoy this extraordinary place, where multiculturalism gives rise to a genuine identity, and its people are proud to label themselves as Limeños.
And should you still feel overwhelmed by the variety of options Lima has to offer, know that you can always count on our advice using our Custom-Itineraries Service.
Traveling From Lima to Other Destinations?
Lima is connected to several cities on the coast of Peru, Ecuador, and Chile by the Pan-American Highway. The Central Highway is the main travel route to various cities in the highlands and the central jungle in the east.
There are also direct flights to the country’s main cities that depart from Jorge Chavez International Airport.
The airport is located around 40 minutes from San Isidro and 50 minutes from Miraflores or Barranco.
Finally, you can take one of Peru’s high-quality interprovincial buses. Ask your travel designer about the best transportation options for your trip.
How Much Time Should I Spend in Lima?
Simply put, it all depends on your interests. With the surfers’ coast, rich gastronomy, nightlife, historic architecture, and an array of top-class museums, you’ll certainly never be short of things to do.
We recommend a minimum of 2 days for some essential sightseeing.
Look at all of our Lima Tours & Activities and see some of the activities you could enjoy in a day.
Info on the Weather and the Best Time to Travel to Lima
Although Lima is located in the middle of a desert (the second-largest city in the world, after Cairo, located as such), the climate is relatively mild.
The city has a subtropical desert climate, meaning you can expect a warm season between December and April, and cooler daily temperature between June and October. However, the clouds and fog mentioned earlier can be found throughout the year and even in the cooler months you can expect humidity.
These are our general recommendations on the Best Time To Travel To Peru.