Lima, Peru: Tips for Expats and Travelers
Lima is a city that is overlooked by many travelers to Latin America. While it may not be as picturesque as Rio or have the almost European feel of Buenos Aires, Lima has slowly been appearing on more tourists’ radar. Whether you are a first time visitor to South America, veteran expat, or a digital nomad looking for a new place to set up shop, Lima may be just the spot you’re looking for your highest truth.
For most tourists, Lima serves as the stepping stone to popular tourist spots like Machu Picchu, the Amazon jungles or Lake Titicaca. What the tourist throngs miss is that Lima is a vibrant city of 10 million with endless options for nightlife, culture, history and dining. It will take stay of at least two months to really get sense of what this city has to offer.
Obviously Spanish is the most commonly spoken language in Lima. English is not widely understood except in restaurants or places specifically aimed at tourists. Peruvians however are generally accommodating of foreigners who make an effort to learn a few words and knowing some basic Spanish will go a long way.
One bit of good news is that Peruvian Spanish is spoken very clearly and slowly compared to that other Spanish-speaking countries. For this reason, Peru is considered one of the best places in the world to learn Spanish. If you’re still learning, you will find the local dialect easy to understand.
Where to Stay
Lima is enormous, and like many large cities in Latin America, you will see extreme income disparities depending on which city district you are in. Generally speaking, the districts on or adjacent to the shoreline like Miraflores or San Isidro will be more upscale with lower crime, while those in the interior will be more dangerous (avoid Surquillo district!). Miraflores is hands-down the best neighborhood to stay in for foreigners, particularly if you cannot speak Spanish. Logistics-wise you will be within walking distance of the beach, shopping and nightlife options, and tourist buses which can take you to nearby attractions. Other good choices would be Santiago de Surco, a wealthy suburban community, or the artsy bohemian neighborhood of Barranco. However if you’re new to Peru or Latin America in general, do yourself a big favor and just stick with Miraflores.
Short-term rentals can be found on Airbnb, beginning at around 50 USD per night. Flipkey.com tends to have lower prices, but fewer options. Reserve a spot prior to your trip for minimal headaches. You can also find MUCH cheaper options on craigslist or local apartment listings. Don’t be afraid to negotiate with a landlord for a lower rate. If you have not reserved a room in advance, you can try staying in a hostel nearby while doing your research. Kokopelli Backpacker Hostel on Calle Berlin is recommended for those seeking a balance between liveliness and peace and quiet.
Attractions in Lima
Take one of the daytime Mirabus tours of Lima. You’ll get a nice view of Miraflores and San Isidro neighborhoods, as well as the historic sights downtown like the Plaza de Armas and notable colonial-era buildings, churches and museums. Take in the incredible view of the coastline along the Malecon and visit the Larcomar- a mall with stores, restaurants, discos and even a cinema built right into the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Lima’s one arguable weakness is its’ beaches. With the possible exception of the Barranco neighborhood, Lima is not known for having the prettiest beaches in the world. While they look gorgeous when viewed from above, most are quite rocky with large waves. The water can be also be surprisingly cool- the ocean currents which make Lima’s climate mild for its’ latitude also make the water quite crisp. If surfing is your thing, Lima’s beaches can be a great choice. If you prefer swimming, some of the nearby beaches mentioned below are a better option.
Check out the spectacular remains of Caral- about 2.5 hours outside of Lima and at 5,000 years old, the most ancient ruins in the Americas. If the beach is more your thing check out Punta Hermosa, the Asia district (popular with Peruvians on summer vacation) or the sleepy town of Paracas about 3.5 hours away by bus, where you can take in some sun and see the famous Ballestas Islands (commonly referred to as “the poor man’s Galapagos”). Just outside of Lima is the city of Callao, where you can visit the Real Felipe Fortress, the BAP Abato- a decommissioned submarine of the Peruvian Navy which is now a museum. Be sure to try an incredible chicharrón sandwich in the Mercado del Callao.