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Peru Travel Diary: Lima

Better late than never they say.

Honestly, my trip to Peru feels like it was a lifetime ago, even though in reality it was just this past March. My life has changed so much since then!

I traveled to Peru for work — I was tasked with evaluating ISA study abroad summer and semester programs in Lima and Cusco. I’ll be honest, working in study abroad was a blast, especially when I got to scout potential destinations.

A quick PSA — If you or someone you know is thinking about studying abroad, please, please, consider non-traditional (i.e. non-European) options like Colombia, Thailand, and Peru!

Peru was not exactly high on my travel list, Machu Picchu certainly was, but not Peru in general. I was especially surprised by the amazing city of Lima! I spent 4 days in Lima and 5 days in Cusco and the Sacred Valley. It was honestly the perfect amount of time and I saw so many incredible sights. I wanted to share some photos, trip highlights, and my itinerary as a reference for anyone planning or thinking of planning a trip to Peru.

Like Colombia, Peru is incredibly affordable and there is not a big time change to deal with. I was lucky that the amazing ISA site director for Lima, Michelle, planned everything for us. I did a bit of my own research and some exploring independently, but having a local guide you (or in Michelle’s case an American that has lived there for more than a decade) is a game-changer. Another study abroad tip — your destination’s site director can really take your study abroad experience to the next level. Michelle was the best site director I have ever worked with. She alone is reason enough to send students to study in Lima.

What I liked about Lima was that it had it all — an internationally renowned food scene, museums, historical architecture, archeological sites, and trendy design and shopping districts. I did not love the traffic and how spread out it was, but if you are strategic, that isn’t a big issue. Another thing to be aware of is the sun. It is incredibly intense in Lima and if you are not fastidious with your sunscreen and wearing a hat, you will burn!

To give you a bit of historical background, prior to the arrival of the Spanish, Cusco was the capital of the region (then controlled by the Inca). Lima was established by the Spanish and the historic center reflects this colonial character. It also means that Lima and Cusco look and feel very different. Personally, I think you should spend equal time in both!

As a lover of historic architecture, I really enjoyed strolling the historic district and admiring all of the colorful colonial buildings and churches. My favorites were the main square and cathedral (Plaza de Armas), the pink convent and church of Santo Domingo, the very pink Torre Tagle Palace, the convent of San Francisco, the beautiful blue Casa de Osambela, and the elegant Plaza San Martin. In addition to the historic center, other charming and colorful areas worth exploring are the Barranco and Miraflores neighborhoods. In fact, we stayed in hip Miraflores area, as most tourists do.

The most important thing to do in Lima, however, is eat! The dining there is fantastic. The internationally-recognized culinary scene in Peru owes it start to one man – Gastón Acurio. Over the past 15 years, Gastón has transformed and elevated Peruvian cuisine. And his numerous restaurants in Peru are not to be missed. We often joked throughout the trip that we only ate on Gaston’s restaurants. Just to give you an idea of just how good the food in Peru is — I had the best almond croissant of my life there… at the airport! Granted it was a Gastón restaurant at the airport (Tanto), but still. This croissant was life affirming and better than any I have had in France. Below is a list of the best places I ate in Lima (don’t worry there will be a list for Cusco too).

Where to eat in Lima:
1) Amaz – Amazonian cuisine
2) Restaurant Huaca Pucllana – dine in archeological ruins!
3) Museo Larco – not only is the Museum a must-see, the outdoor dining is superb and surrounded by cascading colorful flowers
4) Panchita – a great variety of more traditional Peruvian dishes
5) Mangos Restaurante – the most incredible buffet, so you can try everything!
6) Central Restaurante – for when you want to treat yourself!

What to do in Lima:
1) Museo Larco – Pre-Colmbian art and artifacts
2) Take in the view at Larcomar
3) Explore the catacombs of San Francisco
4) Tour a historic Casa
5) Check out the Museum of the Inquisition
6) People watch in the Plaza de Armas

Have you been to Lima? What did you think of the city?