We ended up having one full day in the Peruvian capital of Lima. I know, I know…pretty bad. I didn’t mean to shortchange it (truly) but when planning my Peru itinerary, I knew that I didn’t want to scrimp on time in either the Sacred Valley or Cusco, so that left Lima. In order to maximize our time in the capital city, I decided to do something I rarely ever do in major cities, which was hire a private driver/guide. Although I normally am quite comfortable with navigating a foreign city on my own, with having limited time I did not want to spend a single moment of it having to consult maps, ask someone for directions etc. Also, even though Lima is a major metropolis, its only public transportation is buses. While I have taken buses before on my travels, they’re generally my least preferred mode of transportation (due to the fact that stops aren’t always announced, buses don’t always stop or pick up at every stop, a bit confusing all around for travelers), and after seeing how utterly mobbed Lima’s buses were at any time of the day, I was glad to avoid them.
Note: I ended up booking a private tour through Integrity Tourism & Transportation which is a local agency in Lima. I worked with one of the owners, Lisa, to design an itinerary of exactly what I wanted to see. It came out to $120 per person which included pick up and drop off at our hotel in Miraflores, entrance fees to the attractions listed below, guided tours at some of the sites, the driver, and of course the transportation between the sites. I guess I misunderstood but our driver was not our guide. At each of the sites, there was a guide (who worked at the site) that led us around. This wasn’t bad, just not what I was expecting. Also, a day or so before our tour, I was told that we would be having a different driver. I had communicated with Lisa the entire time in English and on the day of the tour, I told the driver that English would be best. However, after learning I spoke Spanish, he rarely spoke English, I’m assuming since it wasn’t so good, and I translated for D. Nothing major, but still, things weren’t adequately conveyed. Sometimes, you just don’t always want to have to translate.
So during our whirlwind tour of the colonial section of Lima, this is what we saw:
Plaza de Armas
I’m a sucker for yellow painted buildings and there is no shortage of them in the Plaza de Armas, which of course is the main square. It’s located in Lima’s colonial district, where the city originated when the Spanish first founded it. Even though the skies were dismally gray, this didn’t detract from the beautiful colonial architecture or the majestic looking palm trees. It’s a lovely area to take pictures and if you have the time, to sit on one of the benches and imagine Lima in its colonial heyday when it was THE city in the Americas. Also adjacent to the Plaza de Armas is the Palacio de Gobierno de Peru (the Government Palace) the home of the country’s president. We didn’t get to stay for all of it, but we did witness the changing of the guard (along with a musical performance) which takes place every day at noon.
Monastery of San Francisco
Due to its bright yellow exterior, this is one of Lima’s most recognizable religious buildings. The monastery and church, which was completed in the 18th century, is famous for its bone-lined catacombs. While I saw a lot of bones in Lima, it was at the Monastery that I saw the most. Why so many bones you ask? Well, for centuries people ardently believed that if they were buried underneath a house of worship, they would be closer to God and heaven. Even after it became illegal to carry out this practice (disease and all, as you can imagine), people still circumvented the law to bury their dead subterranean. Admission includes a guided tour in English or Spanish-we were on an English one. Unfortunately, just like in Cusco, photography was not allowed and this was such a disappointment as I would have loved to take pictures of some of the colonial art that adorned the walls, the striking courtyard, and of course los huesos (the bones). The Monastery is also known for its library, home to 25,000 antique texts, some that predate the Conquest but I’m not sure how you would have gone about accessing it since it wasn’t shown on the guided tour. The tour was interesting, perhaps a bit dry, but the catacombs definitely make it worth visiting. Room after room of them, walking through narrow passages with shortened ceilings-it felt straight out of medieval Europe.
Cost: Adults 5 soles/Children 15 and under 1 sol
La Catedral de Lima
It’s places like the Cathedral of Lima that make you realize not only just how major a role religion played in Spanish colonial life, but rather more importantly,, that it was life. Its size is incredible, the level of detail amazing. The cathedral is situated on the same plot of land that the conquistador Francisco Pizarro designated for the city’s first church in 1535. While its facade is baroque, the interior was redone in a simple neoclassical style in the 19th century, even though baroque touches remain throughout the cathedral. My favorite part of the cathedral was probably the wood choir which dates from the 17th century. The cathedral also contained an extremely large number of chapels,probably around two dozen. Towards the rear of the cathedral there is also a religious museum containing paintings, vestments, and a complicated sacristy. The cathedral also featured some bones on display (I have to say there is nothing creepier than gazing at bones where the teeth are still perfectly intact), although nothing to the degree of the Monastery. One of the coolest things on display at the cathedral is the remains of Pizarro. He was brutally assassinated in 1541 by other conquistadors who wished to replace him. Somewhere along the way his head was “detached” from his body and the two were not buried together for some time. It was only in the 1980s that the two were reunited after a series of tests were done to confirm the body parts and ever since then, they have been on display in the cathedral. Thankfully, photography WAS allowed inside. I plan on sharing more photos of the Lima Cathedral at a later time.
Cost: 10 soles (They do have guides you can hire to take you around and provide commentary; this is free but a tip is the norm, the amount at your discretion.)
Obviously there is a ton more one can see in Lima’s colonial section but I think the three places I listed above plus simply walking along its streets to gaze at the beautiful architecture would satisfy most people, especially if they are on a more limited schedule.
We also visited the Museo Larco but I will be writing about this in a separate post.