Nearly one third of the entire Peruvian population lives in the nation’s capital, Lima. But Lima is much more than that. It is home world-renown culinary delicacies, great weather and interesting architecture, making it a great, not to mention budget-friendly, tourist destination.
Its architecture paints a historical picture of its three centuries as the seat of the Spanish viceroy as well as its pre-Columbian era.
The city is dotted with ancient mounds known as "huacas," which charge nominal fees, and the Pachacamac ruins just south of Lima are well worth the trip but also charge for admission. But there are plenty of things to do and see around Lima for free, from parks to plazas, starting with the Pacific Ocean.
COSTA VERDE: Lima's walkable and bikeable coast spans four districts, each with its own character. Grassy parks and a bike path separate a coastal bluff from the "Malecón" road in San Isidro and Miraflores, the wealthiest districts. Gaze at the paragliders, partake of the skate park, join the lovers at "Parque del Amor." Or take the steps down in Miraflores to Waikiki beach and watch the wetsuit-clad surfers.
The more bohemian Barranco district, studded with cafes, bars and art galleries, has more modest parks on its bluff. Its cobbled walk down to the beach from the "Puente de Suspiros," or bridge of sighs, is a nice stroll.
Working-class Chorrillos' coastal attraction is down at the water: The "Mercado de Pescadores Artesanales." It's the fish market where the independent fishermen sell their catch.
PARQUE KENNEDY: At the heart of Miraflores' commercial district, probably Lima's best people-watching venue. It is lined by cafes, restaurants, bookstores, and the Virgen Milagrosa church, a magnet for stray cats. The municipal government organizes free music, dance and theater performances evenings Three blocks north of the park on Av. Petit Thouars is the folk art "artesania" market. The website http://blogs.miraflores.gob.pe/larco400/ has a park performance schedule in Spanish.
PLAZA DE ARMAS, PRESIDENTIAL PALACE: One of Latin America's most charming central squares, the Plaza de Armas in the downtown Lima district is intoxicating at night, particularly the Archbishop's Palace. See the changing of the guard at 1 p.m. every day but Sunday at the Presidential Palace. The palace is open for free tours on Saturday mornings, including in English. For reservations call 3113908 by the previous Thursday.
FREE MUSEUMS: Also downtown, on the Plaza Boíivar, is the Spanish Inquisition museum. Yes, they tortured heretics in Lima, too. Coin buffs will like the Museo Numismático of the central bank; also downtown is the Afro-Peruvian museum. A haunting must-see exhibit for students of recent Latin American history: At the Museo de La Nación located on Javier Prado in San Borja district is a tribute to nearly 70,000 victims of the country's 1980-2000 internal conflict, which was created by Peru's Truth and Reconciliation Commission .
PARQUE EL OLIVAR: Some 1,500 olive trees dating from saplings first planted in the 16th century by the Spanish in a peaceful residential section of the San Isidro district. Walk a few blocks west, crossing the busy Camino Real, to the pre-Incan Huaca Huallamarca burial mound.