The Backpacker’s Guide to Lima, Peru | 2023

The lively capital of Peru is a city that often gets skipped by travelers. With Peru boasting so many natural wonders, archaeological sites, and otherworldly destinations, it’s understandable. However, there’s a high chance that you’ll be passing through Lima at some point on your Peruvian adventures. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Lima, usually as a hub to catch up on work and life after long stints out in the mountains. Let me tell you, after spending six weeks of hiking in Huaraz, Lima felt like paradise. Vegan restaurants, fancy supermarkets, bumping nightclubs, and a little taste of much-needed luxury taught me to love Lima.

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Table of Contents

Things To Know Before You Go

Peru is one of my favorite destinations in the world. It’s a country that caters to both newbie backpackers and seasoned travelers. No matter how well traveled you are, it’s good to know a few things about your destination before you go. Here’s a few quick facts on Peru.

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Currency and Money

The currency in Peru is the Peruvian sol, which is usually stable at around 3.25-3.75 sol per U.S. dollar. There are money exchanges in the touristy areas and big cities, but I’d recommend just withdrawing cash from an ATM. There are tons of ATMs in Lima, including at the airport, so you’ll have no issue taking out cash before you head out adventuring.

Language Barrier in Peru

Peru speaks Spanish and several indigenous languages. In Lima, Spanish is the main language, although many people also speak English, younger people especially. It helps to know some Spanish, and it can transform your experience entirely if you are able to stray away from the typical tourist crowds and attractions. Many travelers visit Lima and have no issues getting by without knowing Spanish, though. I wouldn’t be concerned about a language barrier.

Entry Requirements to Peru

Foreigners can stay up to 90 days visa-free in Peru, and I’ve never been asked for proof of an exit flight. Once your 90 days are up, it’s as simple as leaving the country and coming back the next day. I accidentally overstayed my visa by one day once, and just had to pay 3 soles ($1) when leaving the country. There’s not much else you need to know about getting in and out of Peru. Double check with your embassy to make sure, but getting i and out of Peru shouldn’t be an issue.

Oh, and before you go, make sure to have good travel insurance handy while you’re off adventuring across the world. I use SafetyWing to keep me covered throughout my travels for as low as $40 a month.

Is Lima Worth Visiting?

From a backpacker’s perspective, Lima usually serves as a quick stopping point en route to Peru’s other marvels. Like many big cities in Latin America, travelers usually find themselves grazing over the city and getting out. Everyone passes through Lima because that’s where you fly in or out of, but is it actually worth spending time in?

It’s a tough call, because travelers have different tastes and preferences. If you’re on a fast-paced backpacking itinerary, I’d recommend a day or two in Lima. Any longer than that, and you’re taking time away from Peru’s multitude of marvels. For digital nomads, Lima might be more attractive. I’ve lingered in Lima after long stints in the mountains when I need to catch up on work, eat good food, or dance the night away. Long story short, I wouldn’t go out of my way for Lima, but if you’re already going to be in the city, make the most of it. Two days in Lima should be enough for a typical backpacker.

lima peru travel guide things to do

How To Get To Lima

Lima is most likely the starting point for your adventures in Peru. Flying in is the best way to get to Lima internationally, and flights can be pretty affordable. I caught a one-way flight from New York City to Lima for a mind-bogglingly low $134, with an extra $45 for a checked bag. From other big cities in South America, like Bogota or Medellin, it can be even cheaper. If you’re a backpacker on a budget, use Skiplagged to find the cheapest flights possible. It’s free to use and I’ve saved thousands of dollars on flights since I started using it religiously.

Once you get to Lima’s airport, I’d hop in an Uber to Barranco or Miraflores. It’ll cost about $10 to either district. Getting around Lima is pretty easy, and you have a few options. Public transportation can take you pretty much anywhere in Lima, but is often quite crowded. I was fine walking most places, but if you want to head to the Centro Historico, public transportation is a good way to get there. Ubers are affordable, too, especially if you are splitting the cost with other travelers. Lima also has city bikes that you can rent.

Where To Stay in Lima

Miraflores and Barranco are the two main areas to stay in Lima. A one sol bus ticket will get you from Miraflores to Barranco and vice versa. A 30-minute walk along the ocean will accomplish the same. It goes down to personal preference. Miraflores is livelier and has the big city feel to it. You’ll find tons of great restaurants, bars, and clubs here. Barranco is more cultural, filled with street art and more local spots. It has more of a small town feel to it. I go into more detail in this post comparing the two neighborhoods, but like I said, it comes down to personal preference.

For hostel recommendations, here are a few that I’ve stayed at and enjoyed.

Kokopelli Barranco – A stunning property in Barranco with a generous free breakfast and top-notch amenities. Great location in a good neighborhood. The place feels more like a palace than a hostel.

Black Llama Hostel – A great party hostel in the heart of Miraflores’ nightlife district. The bar on the top floor is one of the most lively spots in Lima.

Pariwana Hostel – Located right along Parque Kennedy, and always a safe bet for a good party if Black Llama is full.

Selina Miraflores – A huge hostel separated into three buildings. You know what to expect from Selinas. Great amenities and facilities, and popular among digital nomads.

best hostels in peru lima selina

The historic center of Lima is another option. It’s where most of the museums and historical sites are, as well as bustling plazas and urban parks. 1900 Backpackers Hostel is the best hostel in that area, although a bit far from the actual historic center’s main plaza. You’ll be right next to a big park with lots of museums, though.

The Best Things To Do in Lima

I’ve always considered Lima to be a rest stop before, after, or between all the adventuring you’ll be doing in Peru. After exploring the Amazon, hiking to Machu Picchu, or trekking the Cordillera Huayhuash, you won’t want to do much while you’re in Lima. Treat yourself to amazing food, party the night away in Miraflores, or wander along the beach. Don’t expect to go on crazy adventures in Lima, but here are a few suggestions to keep you busy.

Roam Through Colorful Barranco

where to stay in lima peru

If you aren’t staying in Barranco, it’s well worth visiting this vibrant neighborhood. You’ll find lots of beautiful street art, quaint cafes, and lively plazas. Barranco is right along the coast, and you have no shortage of beautiful restaurants or bars with ocean views.

Explore Lima’s Centro Historico

lima peru christmastime

The historic city center of Lima is where you’ll find the more traditional colonial feel of Latin America. It’s bustling and hectic, but much more authentically Peru than either Miraflores or Barranco. To experience the real Lima, be sure to stop by. Churches, museums, lively plazas and parks are littered all throughout the historic center. One can wander aimlessly for hours here.

Convento de Santo Domingo and the Catacombs

This church is one of the highlights of the historic center. The inside is absolutely stunning. It used to be a convent, so it’s much bigger than just the main cathedral area. There are also catacombs below the church. It’s a creepy little activity roaming through those underground tunnels while you’re flanked by hundreds of skulls and bones, but definitely one of the most unique things to do in Lima.

Parque La Muralla

Another highlight of the historic center is Parque La Muralla just a short walk from Lima’s Plaza de Armas. It gives you a beautiful view of the colorful barrio on the hillside overlooking Lima. I have yet to explore that barrio, which boasts a lot of similarities to Comuna Paraiso in Bogota and Chualluma in La Paz. It must be a requirement for all Latin American capital cities to have a neon-colored neighborhood in the hills these days.

Plaza San Martin

This is another highlight of the historic center. This beautiful plaza is known for being where most of the protests in Lima happen. It’s quite lawless, so enter the plaza with caution. However, the buildings surrounding the plaza are gorgeous and reminded me a lot of Buenos Aires. A pisco sour at Hotel Bolivar is a must, as it claims to be the original pisco sour in Lima.

Go Paragliding Above the Cliffs

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Looking for a quick thrill? Look no further. Paragliding is a popular activity for visitors to Lima. If you’re walking along the cliffs of Miraflores, you’ll likely see dozens of paragliders soaring above you.

Take a Relaxing Beach Day or Go Surfing

Despite having a long coastline, Peru isn’t renowned for its beaches. With good reason, to be fair. You won’t find turquoise waters or white sand anywhere in or near Lima. If you’re just looking to soak up some sunshine or go for a quick dip, there are a few beaches in Lima that one can check out. Locals have told me that Playa San Bartolo is the best beach near Lima, but I haven’t personally checked it out. Pray for some good weather, because when Lima is overcast, it might be one of the bleakest coastal cities out there.

But hey, the surf can sometimes be good! Surfboard rentals line the beach along Miraflores. Lima is by no means a world-renowned surf destination, but it can be a fun way to spend the day. The village of Huanchaco is the surf mecca of Peru, if that’s your thang.

Kick Back At Parque del Amor

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This small, Gaudi-esque park is worth a quick visit, or longer if you want to catch a beautiful sunset. It’s in Miraflores along the coast, nestled cozily upon the sheer cliffside.

Play with Cats at Parque Kennedy

This is the lively central park of Miraflores. It’s a nice hub of activity surrounded by restaurants, bars, and lots of little shops. Best of all, there are dozens upon dozens of stray cats that call Parque Kennedy home. That’s basically the selling point of this park.

Other Things to Do in Lima

Nightlife in Lima

When I came to Lima after over a month spent trekking in the Cordilleras of Ancash, I knew exactly where I was going. I hit up Hostel Kokopelli right in the heart of Miraflores, spun the wheel to get my free drinks, and started throwing back chilcanos on their rooftop terrace. Just like I did three years prior on my first ever backpacking trip. That night ended with a 6 AM walk home from Bisarro where I bounced back and forth between the reggaeton dance floor and the house dance floor. An absolutely wild night that was much needed after being devoid of proper nightlife for much longer than ~ the partying traveler ~ should have been.

Kokopelli’s been bought and rebranded as Black Llama Hostel, but besides that, everything remains the same. Their rooftop is still the most vibin’ hostel in Miraflores. Bisarro is still the late-night spot to dance.

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Barranco is great for cozy bars and quiet drinks with friends. There are also plenty of dance clubs and discotecas throughout Barranco but few with the production value of a Miraflores megaclub. Sargento Pimienta is a big salsa and live music club where you’ll usually find a local crowd looking to party. Barranco Bar is another popular spot to party in Barranco, especially on the weekends.

You’ll have plenty of options for partying throughout Lima.

Safety in Lima

As with most big cities in Latin America, you’ll need to keep your wits about you in Lima. While I wouldn’t consider Lima to be particularly dangerous, it definitely has some sketchy neighborhoods. My best advice would be to follow these rules.

Be Extra Careful on Public Transportation

Uber is pretty affordable in Lima. However, if you insist on taking public transportation, always keep an eye on your stuff. Keep your belongings strapped to you at all times. When walking through crowds or on public transportation, wear your backpack on your front, no matter how corny it may seem. All it takes is for someone to grab your phone out of your hand or pocket and run out the door before it’s gone forever.

If something or someone gives you bad vibes, step away from the situation.

I stepped out of the airport at 2 AM and immediately had half a dozen taxi drivers trying to drag me to their car. I had the Uber app open, and when one of them noticed that, he pulled out his phone, showed me the Uber app and beckoned me to follow him. I hadn’t slept in 24 hours, so part of me was tempted for simplicity, but then my instinct kicked in and decided to not follow a stranger into the darkness at 2 AM in a foreign country. If a situation is sketchy, or if someone seems off or ill-intentioned, try to step away from the situation as soon as possible.

Stick to well-lit and busy areas at night, and try not to be alone

There’s safety in numbers. All it takes is straying down one dark, empty street for you to be separated from your belongings, or worse. Lima is a city where you’ll always find people out and about, even late at night. Use that to your advantage when walking around at night. You’ll be less likely to be a target if there are people within shouting distance in case any trouble arises.

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Lima isn’t a favorite for travelers, but with a good attitude and open mind, it doesn’t have to be all bad! Like I said, I enjoyed my time in Lima, but I’ve also been told that I’d be able to find fun in an office supplies store. Lima is understandably a quick stopover for most travelers, but hey, make the most of it! Lima can be a great time, with enough highlights to keep you busy for a few days.

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