The capital of Peru is located in the middle of the country on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. Its history dates back to the Inca Empire, long before the advent of the Spanish colonists in the 16th century. Despite the fascinating colonial buildings and amazing archeological ruins found in Lima, its interest is not limited to the past. In recent years, it has become a popular tourist spot thanks, in large measure, to its cuisine. Pisco, ceviche, and blackened chicken have become ambassadors of a city well prepared to host the more than four million visitors that pay a visit every year.
Like most major colonial cities, Lima has a historical district with well conserved plazas, churches, and government buildings. It is, then, with good reason that Lima's historical center was named a World Heritage Site in 1988. Take a seat on a bench in Plaza San Martín and enjoy the neo-colonial buildings. Go for a walk down the streets in the downtown area with their striking Louis XVI-style balconies.
What is worth visiting? There are a great many museums and monuments, but two spots not to be missed are San Francisco church and Plaza Mayor. Built in imposing baroque architecture, the church houses invaluable religious texts. In colonial times, its underground catacombs served as a cemetery. Plaza Mayor has always been the site of the country's most important political events. It is surrounded by important buildings like the Presidential Palace (which is open to visitors) and the Cathedral of Lima.
Lima is also known for its parks, cliffs, and lovely views of the sea. One great way to take in the view is by visiting the Malecón of Miraflores, a six-mile-long coastal path that runs through the parks in one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in the city. The path is ideal for walking, jogging, or bike riding. From the Malecón, you can appreciate sculptures by famous Peruvian artists and parks like the famous Parque del Amor. Be sure to visit Larcomar shopping center which cannot be seen from above because it is set in a cliff. Many of the stores and restaurants in Larcomar enjoy ocean views.
A nighttime visit to the Circuito Mágico del Agua —which consists of thirteen lit-up fountains— is truly spectacular. Since 2006, the group of fountains has been located in Parque de la Reserva. The show takes place three times a day from Wednesday to Sunday.
The remains of Inca civilization are one of the main points of interest in all of Peru. The ruins at Machu Picchu and the Nazca Lines are among the most famous, but there are even some remarkable ruins in and around Lima.
Pachacámac is one of the most interesting. This Incan city is home to the remains of a number of buildings. Another interesting site is Huaca Puclluna. Now fourteen-acres in extension, this ceremonial center, which dates from 500 B.C., once occupied over forty-four acres. No need to take a long trip to get to know Huaca Puclluna: it is located in Miraflores. The best time to visit is the late afternoon so that you can stay after the sun goes down: the visual impact and atmosphere when the temples are lit up is astounding. To top it off, there is an excellent signature-chef restaurant in Huaca Puclluna. Having dinner there while enjoying the view is a unique experience.
The Puruchuco ruins are also worth a visit. Located in Ate, one of Lima's forty-three districts, it is among the most well conserved sites in the area. Puruchuco, which has been opened since 1960, is also the site of a museum with Incan cultural pieces and other objects.
These are just three of the archeological points of interest near downtown Lima.
Since food is one of Lima's greatest attractions, the list of restaurants worth visiting is vast and varied, ranging from high-end establishments to stalls on the docks where you can try freshly caught fish and seafood.
Very basically, the four major influences on Peruvian cuisine are the novoandina (products from the Andean mountains), the criolla (Spanish colonial food), the chifa (Chinese fusion food), and nikkei (the food of Japanese immigrants to Peru). These four influences, as well as the great variety of fish from the Pacific and other local ingredients (some 3000 varieties of potatoes are thought to be grown in Peru), give rise to hundreds of culinary fusions and creative dishes.
While the most popular dish in Peru is blackened chicken, the one most representative of the new Peruvian cuisine is ceviche. Traditional ceviche consists of fish cut into small cubes and marinated in lemon. It is served with purple onion, toasted chulpe corn, and camote (a kind of sweet potato). There are now hundreds of different versions of ceviche; each chef serves it differently, using different kinds of fish and techniques.
When it comes to cocktails, pisco is the most famous spirit. There are many different varieties, some of which can be consumed straight. The most typical cocktail, though, is pisco sour, which is made using pisco, lemon, sweet syrup, and beaten egg whites.
To find out where to go out to eat in Lima, visit www.degusta.com.pe, a complete online guide to restaurants in Peru.
While you're in Lima, you are certain to hear the name Gastón Acurio frequently. He is —in case you're wondering— one of the most important figures in recent Peruvian history. A chef, Acurio began revolutionizing local cuisine in the nineties, not only making it known the world over but also creating a value chain that has increased appreciation of local ingredients and producer. His contribution is more than just his signature restaurant, Astrid & Gastón —considered the best in Latin America. Though at one time there were ten branches of Astrid & Gastón in other countries, Acurio has recently decided to close all but the original restaurant in Lima.
Acurio created the APEGA (Sociedad Peruana de Gastronomía) which, since 2008, has organized Mistura, a widely acclaimed gourmet fair where you can try a wide range of Peruvian dishes and products. The ten-day event is usually held in September and if you like good food, try to plan your visit for that time.
Where to start? Acurio's restaurants are fundamental to exploring food from Lima. Astrid & Gastón, along with the more casual ceviche restaurant La Mar, are the most famous. But Acurio runs a number of other less exclusive restaurants like Tanta, which has various locations in Lima. At Tanta you can try delicious soups, sandwiches, and typical dishes like ají de gallina and tacu tacu a lo pobre. Panchita specializes in kebobs, whose traditional Peruvian version features cow heart. Papacho's is known for hamburgers and Madam Tusan for chifa fusion fare. True to the Acurio style, all of these restaurants place emphasis on local ingredients. If you have a sweet tooth, visit Melate chocolate shop, where the pastry chef is Astrid Gutsche, Acurio's wife.
Following in Gastón's footsteps, a large number of creative chefs have emerged. They flaunt their skills at upscale establishments like the increasingly popular Malabar, one of the first restaurants to use ingredients from Amazonas. At Maras, Rafael Piqueras provides a gourmet experience by creating new flavors and textures from local ingredients. Central, considered one of the fifteen best restaurants in the world, is another must for demanding diners. Its signature dishes, created by Chef Virgilio Martínez, combines food from the country's different regions. At Fiesta, another gourmet establishment in Lima, Chiclayo-native Hector Solís makes original food on the basis of the concept of "Chiclayo gourmet." Francesco, meanwhile, offers a strange combination of Peruvian and Italian cuisine.
If it's sushi, nikkei cuisine, or fresh fish you are after, you will find a good many options, from classics like Costanera 700 —which has served perfect fish for over three decades— to the more contemporary Osaka. Another must is Pescados Capitales, whose name speaks for itself.
When it comes to classic restaurants, one not to be missed is La Rosa Náutica, not only because of its extensive menu but also its location in Miraflores on a breakwater in the sea with a great view of the coast and the city.