We've found that a lot of people see Lima as just an airport on the way to Cuzco or Huaraz, but we disagree. The city has an astonishingly rich culinary tradition, with Spanish, Inca, Chinese, Japanese, African, and other influences. Peruvian cuisine is a constant surprise and delight. As the third largest city in the Americas, after Mexico City and Buenos Aires, Lima is vast, and it doesn't really have a focused center. But it does have some wonderful museums that pay tribute to Peru's 6,000 years of civilization. Here are some of the places we like in Lima:
The Larco Museum: This is certainly a highlight. A beautifully designed museum that has a fabulous collection of the greatest of Peruvian pottery and gold work, with a gorgeous garden and a really nice restaurant as well. What's not to like? This is a top attraction, and we think it is worth a special trip to Lima just to see it. Once you've finished seeing the main exhibits, take a few minutes to walk into the other arm of the museum, where they have the rest of the 45,000 examples of Peruvian pottery that are NOT in the exhibits. Mind-blowing.
The Huaca Pulcllana: one of more than 100 ancient ruins within the city limits of Lima, this one dates back to the Dark Ages of Europe. It is run by the local MIraflores community, which is why it seems to be better organized than most tourist attractions in Lima, and is open every day of the week. (Most cultural sites in Peru are closed on Mondays.) It's a huge site, and the only access is via a tour. But those tours are given regularly in English or Spanish, and are very good.
The Museum of Archeology, Anthropology, and History: This is in Pueblo Libre, another neighborhood of Lima, and we loved the Plaza Simon Bolivar that sits in front of the museum. It's a step back in time, to a colonial and much more intimate era. The museum itself is quite nice, with good collections of artifacts (including textiles) from many of the different cultures that have prospered over 6,000 years in Peru. And we liked walking around the plaza and seeing the local restaurants. This is a small, but fun spot to explore in Lima.
The National Museum of Peruvian Culture: This one is not in a great neighborhood, and it is smaller and less imposing than the others we visited. But we were able to walk there from the Plaza de Armas (not a scenic nor attractive adventure!) and found a small museum with some nice exhibits that combined ancient artifacts with elements of current indigenous culture in Peru. We're glad we visited. And when we learned that the museum doesn't have a café, we ate in a local restaurant just a couple of blocks away that was a wonderful adventure, great food, and cost us $7 for lunch. Ceviche was divine!
The Plaza de Armas, Cathedral, and Bishop's Palace: If you want to get a sense of how the church played a key role in the suppression of Peru, this is your spot. A massive complex on the side of the central Plaza de Armas, these buildings and their collections really depressed us like nothing else in Lima. Instead of a celebration of local culture, these were monuments to the heave-handed imposition of an external culture on Peru, and the dreary and imposing portraits of unsmiling bishops seated on thrones and draped in finery spoke volumes.
Hotel recommendation: We stayed at the Peru Star Apartments in San Isidro--close enough to things that we never paid more than about ten Soles for a cab ride to any of the above destinations. There are two kinds of rooms here, and we asked for what they call a "kitchenette" which has a sitting room/kitchen and a bedroom--a kind of suite. Very nice people who really went out of their way to help us on many occasions, and clean, comfortable rooms with plenty of space. It's not surprising that this is top rated by tripadvisor...