Peru has been gaining huge popularity in tourism, mainly due to the Incan Ruins of Machu Picchu. But don’t overlook Lima as just a layover destination before heading into the mountains. This beautiful coastal city has culture, scenic views, and a huge gastro-tourism/foodie scene. If you find yourself in Lima, here are 10 things you MUST do to make the most of your visit.
1 - Visit A 1,500 Year Old Pyramid
Created in ~500 AD by the ancient people known as Lima ( reference to where modern day Lima received it's name). A 1,500 year old pyramid lives in the city center of Miraflores. The grounds are history filled and even the marking of workers handprints from the once damp mud bricks are visible to visitors. Now marked off as a historical landmark, with only a minimal entrance fee, the pyramids actually used to be used by motocross racing before the entirety of the pyramid was excavated. I suggest you spend the afternoon walking through the ruins and then grab a drink or lunch at the onsite resturant overlooking a fun piece of history.
2 - Explore the Art Scene
In the neighborhood of Barranco, the contemporary art scene is exploding. With the economic growth of Peru and in particular, Lima - the people of the city are flocking to the arts. Whether it'd be street art, museums, or modern galleries, the art scene is a sight to see on your trip to Lima. While Barranco is more of the hip/grungy side of the city (familiar to Brooklyn's Williamsburg), wonderful pieces of art can also be seen in Lima's neighborhood of Miraflores which is a little more refined and sophisticated (comparable to Manhattan's Chelsea). Make sure to stop by many of the cocktail parties hosted by the galleries on your visit.
3 - Try Coca Tea
Understandably so, coca leaves are prohibited in most parts of the world because of what a few unfortunate people do to take advantage of synthesized version of this plant. But in Peru, these leaves are a staple of the culture and way of life. Given the intense altitude of country (not Lima - since it's a coastal city), the people of Peru find themselves drinking a cup or two of this tea a day to help with altitude sickness. As someone who gets fidgety with the caffeine in a cup of coffee, but is looking for more than a punch of what a cup of green tea can provide, this is the happy middle ground.
But make sure it's only 1...or 2, these drinks are strong and pack a punch. The cocktail consist of Pisco (the local liquor drink created from grapes), whipped egg whites, simple syrup, & fresh lime juice. It's delicious and refreshing and can be dangerous since Pisco has a light alcohol content.
One of the things that amazed me most about Peru, Lima in particular, was the assortment of health food offered at the local markets. While we were planting Chia into our lawn gnomes, the people of Peru understood the health benefits and were consuming Chia on a regular basis. The same with Quinoa, this was an emerging fad health food that emerged in the states around 12 years ago, but the Peruvian people have been consuming quinoa for thousands of years. Some interesting emerging foods I learned of in my latest trip to Peru were: Goji Berries - great for Anti aging, Maca - great for female and male reproductive health, & Camu Camu Berries - which act as a Vitamin C anti-inflammatory superfood.
6 - Make A Reservation At One Of Gaston’s restaurants
What Jean Jorges and Daniel Bolud are to NYC, Gastón Acurio Jaramillo is to Lima. His culinary expertise is reflected in his handful of restaurants throughout the city (and even over the world!). While I suggest visiting all five in Lima (including a lovely sandwich shop), if you're going to make a stop at one, I highly recommend Astrid and Gaston. The ceviche is some of the best I've ever had, and where I dare say the guinea pig tasted a lot like pork belly. You're culinary palette expands at his restaurant and find yourself saying, "I just ordered that!". We were even fortunate to have Astrid (Gaston;s wife) come greet us at the table and ask how our meal was.
There's so much more to do Peru than Machu Picchu, and while yes go visit the Incan University town ruins, please venture out and explore some of the most beautiful sites Peru has to offer. Some of these include: the Sacred Valley, Rainbow Mountain, the Salt Mines, and even Pisco to see where your new favorite drink is distilled.
8 - Shop for Alpaca Wool Clothing
Comparable to the softness of Cashmere, but a more durable fiber, Alpaca Wool is sweeping the scene in Lima's fashion industry. While locals in the mountains have been wearing the fabric for centuries to offset the cold weather, the emerging economic growth has also affected the fashion and how the people of Lima dress. The trend has been sported on numerous runways making a place in fashion weeks globally. There are even a couple of high end luxury stores selling alpaca wool and astronomical prices. So beat the dollar sign and shop local. *Caveat, the clothing is still pricey in Lima given the high-end luxury product.
Did you know that Peru has 4,000 different kinds of potatoes?! I didn't either, until I took a cooking class where I was amazed at just seeing around 35-40 different kinds More than both the art and fashion scene combined, Lima has earned itself the reputation of being the hot spot in gastro-tourism. The foodie scene in Lima is phenomenal and with the emphasis they place on their sauces and curated produce no wonder everything is so delicious. So learn the ways of some of the renowned chefs and learn a few of their favorite recipes. For a recommendation, we went to Sky Kitchen and loved it.
10 - Find all the Ceviche
Speaking of Peru's food scene, it wouldn't be a proper article with out referencing all the Ceviche you should indulge in while in Lima. Being a coastal city, the freshness of the fish is made evident with each bite. Some recommendations include Maras in the Weston Hotel (go for lunch because it can be a little pricey - but where else can you see olive oil from a nitrogen can sprayed on your fish). From Gaston there's also La Mar, and for a little hole in the wall joint try Chez Wong.