Lima rises above the cliffs of the Pacific coastline where paragliders soar above the foggy shore. Historic colonial buildings are nestled amid contemporary high rises. There are stunning museums, a UNESCO World Heritage site, legendary cuisine and a beachfront boardwalk. Many travelers scurry through this sprawling metropolis on their way to Machu Picchu, Cusco or the Peruvian Amazon, but Lima is a worthy destination on its own. Here are a few reasons why you should explore this dynamic city.
Housed in an 18th century viceroyalty-era mansion, Museo Larco is the place to learn about ancient Peru. The Cultures Gallery showcases pottery, stone and wooden pre-Columbian artifacts depicting more than 5,000 years of Peruvian history. A Ceremonial Vessels Room displays collections of bowls, cups and vases used in the sacred rituals of the ancient Peruvians. The stunning Gold and Jewelry Gallery is filled with gleaming precious jewels worn by the priests, priestesses and rulers of ancient Peru. The separately housed Erotic Art Gallery displays a collection of pre-Columbian erotic pots with detailed illustrations of all manner of sexual activity between men, women and beings from other worlds. Not to be missed is the vitrine that depicts sexually transmitted diseases.
Inside the walls of the Museo Larco, the charming Caf del Museo is the perfect spot to have lunch. The terrace overlooks a garden draped in brilliantly colored bougainvillea. The Peruvian fusion menu offers a selection of small plates as well as more substantial meals and the ceviche is a must.
Plaza de Armas
Limas historic city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was the heart of the 16th century settlement established by Francisco Pizarro. There are a number of significant structures surrounding the plaza including the colonial style Archbishops Palace built in 1924 with some of the most exquisite Moorish-style balconies in the city. The baroque-style Palacio de Gabierno occupies an entire block and is home to the president of Peru. A uniformed presidential guard is always on hand and there is a ceremonious changing of the guard every day at noon.
San Francisco Monastery
Monasteries, convents and churches erected in honor of patron saints are a major part of Lima's historic landscape. The bright yellow 17th century baroque-style San Francisco Monastery consistently surrounded by pigeons is one of the most interesting. San Francisco has a stunning lattice dome, gilded side altars and a library that resembles something out of a Harry Potter book filled with an astounding collection of books dating back to the first Spanish priests to arrive after the conquest of the Incas. In the catacombs of San Francisco there is an impressive albeit creepy collection of bones. There are approximately 75,000 bodies buried under San Francisco and many of the remains are exposed and separated by bone types - femurs, tibia and so on. A large circular stone pit filled with skulls sits in the center of the dark, claustrophobic passageways.
In the center of the affluent Miraflores district of Lima there is a great adobe and clay pyramid built from seven staggered platforms. Named from the Quechua word "pucllay" which means a place for ritual games, it served as an important ceremonial center of Lima culture between the years of 200AD and 700AD. At night the ruins are illuminated casting a golden hue over the site. It is truly spectacular and the best place to view it is from the terrace of the Huaca Pucllana restaurant. The cuisine showcases Peruvian flavors at their best and stands out for its devotion to the use of locally sourced products. The food is unforgettable as is the experience of dining beside a centuries old pyramid - in the middle of the city.
In the 1920s the Barranca district of Lima was home to the rich and famous, but as the city grew the rich moved away and Barranca fell into disrepair. This once deserted district overlooking the cliffs of the Pacific is now gentrified. Today the streets are lined with brightly painted art-deco houses and brilliant blossoming trees. There is a thriving artistic community, galleries, and museums. Small "ranchos" built into the cliffs house tiny bars and restaurants.
Inaugurated on Valentines Day in 1876, the "Puente de Los Suspiros" (Bridge of Sighs) is the district's most famous landmark. The wooden bridge survived the War of the Pacific and a few earthquakes. In keeping with tradition, young couples still meet on the bridge. Legend says that anyone who makes a wish and then crosses the bridge for the first time without taking a breath will have his wish fulfilled. Don't miss the church of La Ermita after crossing the bridge. It's a bit dilapidated but still beautiful and for some reason a favorite of vultures.
Parque del Amor
Located along the Miraflores coast, the Parque del Amor (the Love Park) is a favorite destination for all types of lovers. There are quirky mosaic sea walls, colorful flowerbeds, towering palm trees and Victor Delfins famous sculpture "El Beso" (The Kiss). The Miraflores Boardwalk runs along the shoreline overlooking the rugged coastal cliffs. Try your luck at paragliding or rent a bike and cycle along the coastline.
Have you been to Lima? What was your favorite experience?
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