With most tourists dashing through Lima on their way to see Peru’s famous Machu Picchu ruins, the country’s capital has long flown under the radar as a destination in its own right.
And many aren’t seeing the city at its very best: northern hemisphere travellers typically make the mistake of visiting the city in July or August.
“[In those months], the garúa (sea mist) hangs over the city making everything cold, grey and damp,” said Dan Clarke of Real World Holidays, who lived in Lima for a year and travels back often with his company.
“By contrast if you’re there in the southern hemisphere summer [December through February], you find Lima transformed. In fact my then-girlfriend, now-wife, visiting for the first time said she felt like she was in California rather than Peru.”
With its Pacific views, hippy vibe and fresh food, the mix-up is understandable.
With nearly 10 million residents, Lima is South America’s fourth largest city, trailing just behind São Paulo, Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro, and that energy infuses the music and nightlife as well.
“There are always things to do,” said Karen G, a Lima native and guide for Your Local Cousin, a travel startup that matches travellers with locals. “Everyone is super friendly and there is always a ‘hood’ party and good food available.”
Residents won’t stop raving about the quality of the food. “Peruvians are passionate to an Italian degree over their ingredients and their cuisine,” Clarke said. “You simply won’t eat better seafood anywhere.”
In fact, Lima has more restaurants listed in the San Pellegrino World 50 list than any city outside of Tokyo – and that includes Paris, London and New York.
Haute cuisine doesn’t necessarily come with outrageous prices either. “You can still pop into any neighbourhood cevicheria [seafood restaurant] or chifa [Chinese restaurant] and you’ll find fantastic food for absolute peanuts,” Clarke added.
Where can you travel?
Tourists may hop the quick one-hour flight to Cusco to get to the famous Incan ruins, but plenty of other interesting destinations can be reached without ever stepping on a plane. Set in a mountain valley, Lunahuana, 184km south of Lima, attracts both locals and tourists alike for its white-water rafting along the Cañete River. The area also recently became the first in the Lima region to offer a pisco trail, which includes five nearby wineries.
Cieneguilla, just 40km east of downtown, and Marcahuasi, 20km south of downtown, are both easy spots for outdoor getaways with plenty of camping and hiking spots.
Other South American cities can be reached via direct flight, including Rio de Janerio in five hours and Buenos Aires in four hours. Central American cities like San Jose can also be reached in less than four hours.
Is it affordable?
Though the city is growing more expensive, especially in comparison to other cities in Peru, Lima is still much more affordable than cities in its fellow South American countries.
According to price comparison site Expatistan.com, Lima is about 25% less expensive on average than Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires for food, housing and transportation, and about 60% less expensive than New York City in those categories.