Home to ancient cultures long before the Spanish reached its shores, Lima blends the past with the present, making it an inviting city to visit. Peru’s capital and largest city is the place to learn more about pre-Columbian life at a time when humans were sacrificed to appease the gods. The city is filled with museums, some on colonial buildings, others in modern buildings. Visitors who desire a break from antiquities can enjoy a stroll along the beach or chow down on typical Peruvian food at a neighborhood case. And when night falls, visitors can partake of the disco scene or enjoy a magic show featuring dancing water fountains.
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The Torre Tagle Palace is a stately looking building that blends several architectural styles in downtown Lima. The building blends Moorish, Andalusian, Asian and Criollo features, with even some materials coming from Spain. Two dark wood balconies grace the front of this Spanish Baroque building, while the interior features high ceilings and Sevillian tiles. The palace was built in the early 1700s s a home for the nobleman who served as treasurer for the Royal Spanish fleet. Today, it houses the offices of the Peruvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, meaning it is generally not open for public visits.
Groundbreaking for the construction of the original Lima Cathedral took place in 1535, and was expanded over the years. After it was destroyed several times by earthquakes, it was demolished and a totally new cathedral built several centuries later. The current cathedral is based on the 1746 cathedral. With additions over the years, the cathedral represents architectural styles from baroque to neoclassic. Located in historic Lima, the ornate cathedral has 13 chapels; the cathedral’s main altar is gold-plated. Saints, virgins and apostles are carved into the choir stalls. The Spanish explorer Francisco Pizarro, who conquered Peru, is buried here. The cathedral is even more impressive when it is lit up at night.
Centuries ago, Barranco was a sleepy fishing village. Now it is a coastal district that once was the playground for wealthy Limans. In the 20th century, however, writers and artists began moving in, giving the district a bohemian flavor. This picturesque district is dotted with brightly painted Art Deco houses accented with blossoming trees. During the day, Barranco offers a slower pace of life than Lima, but action picks up when the sun goes down. People flock to the Parque Municipal, dine in small restaurants serving typical Peruvian fare, or dance the night away in discos and nightclubs.
Safely hidden in a side street is Casa Aliaga, one of the lesser-known attractions in Lima. As old as Lima itself, the house stands on land given in 1535 to Jerónimo de Aliaga, one of Pizarro’s followers, and which has been occupied by 18 generations of his descendants. Casa Aliaga may not look like much from the outside, but the interiors are lovely, with vintage furnishings and tile work. Jerónimo’s descendants currently live in a modern extension, while much of the original main house is on display.
If ancient monuments appeal to travelers, then Huaca Pucllana is the place to go; it’s considered one of Lima’s most important monuments. Located in Miraflores, this adobe pyramid was built around 500, but was later covered up and not rediscovered until the mid-20th century. Based on their excavations, archaeologists believe Huaca Pucllana was the ceremonial and administrative center for the early Lima culture. Many artifacts, including textiles, ceramics and animal remains, have been found here to support this theory. At one time, human sacrifices took place here. The complex includes the pyramid and a small museum filled with artifacts.
The Monastery of San Francisco, which dates back to 1673 when it was consecrated, is famous for its Spanish Baroque architecture. This graceful, stately complex is a landmark in historic Lima. It honors Jude the Apostle; on his feast day 40 people carry about a silver stand weighing 1.5 tons. The monastery is famous for its library, which contains 25,000 antique texts, including a Bible printed in 1571. The monastery is just as famous for what lies beneath it: catacombs in which anywhere from 25,000 to 70,000 people were buried. Today their bones are arranged in artistic designs.
The Museo Larco is a must-see for travelers interested in pre-Columbian art. The private museum, founded by Rafael Larco Herrera, is located in an 18th century building that was built over a seventh century pyramid. The museum’s collections, representing 5,000 years of Peruvian history, are arranged chronologically. The museum’s total collection numbers thousands of pieces. It is especially famous for its collection of pre-Columbian erotic pottery, which includes humans performing sex acts not only with each other but with gods and the dead. Equally impressive is the Gold and Silver Gallery, which includes objects such as funeral masks and jewelry worn by priests and rulers.
The Parque de la Reserva is a lovely park by day, but transforms itself into a spectacular water, sound and light show at night. The park’s 13 fountains are turned off during the day, but spring to life at night at this family-oriented tourist attraction in Lima. Visitors who stroll the Magic Water Tour are awed by the fantastic displays that transform ordinary fountains into wondrous eruptions when combined with laser lights and music, including classics and Peruvian melodies. The Guinness Book of Records says the Magic Water Tour is the largest fountain complex in the world.
The Plaza de Armas is where the city of Lima was born. Also known as the Plaza Mayor, it is the heart of the city, located in its historic district, with streets radiating out in a grid. The location was picked by the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro in 1535. Though not one original building remains, at the center of the plaza is an impressive bronze fountain erected in 1650. Today the plaza is flanked by the cathedral and several palaces including Palacio Arzobispal, which boasts some of the most exquisite Moorish-style balconies in the city.
Miraflores is one of Lima’s more exclusive neighborhoods and definitely one of its most scenic since it sits on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It is THE beach resort and entertainment center in Lima. The beach is very popular with surfers and paragliders. Miraflores oozes with upscale shopping opportunities, but travelers interested in Peruvian arts and crafts will head to Avenue Petit Thouars. Miraflores also is a magnet for people who like to party in its bars, clubs and casinos. As a residential area, it blends the charm of colonial housing with today’s high rises.