Lima is the capital and largest city of Peru, as well as the core of the fifth largest metropolitan area in Latin America. This city is the main gateway to the country, hosting one of the best connected airports in the continent. Lima itself is a great introduction to Peru, with great historical attractions, as well as plenty of choices that will allow you to taste the best of the excellent Peruvian cuisine.
Founded in 1535 by Francisco Pizarro, after he had commanded the Spanish victory over the Incan Empire, Lima has historically been one of the most important centers in the Spanish America. Currently, this is a modern city that has benefited from the rapid economic growth experienced by Peru, especially in the last decade. Nevertheless, its historical center preserves beautiful examples of colonial architecture and museums that tell the history of civilizations that occupied the nation's territory. Besides, both in and outside the city, many archaeological sites let you imagine how it must have been the life of those who lived here centuries before the Europeans arrived.
The Plaza Mayor, located practically on the banks of the Rimac River, the site where the city was founded, still occupies a leading role in the capital's life. Some of the most representative buildings of the country are located around it. The Palace of the Government of Peru, built in neo-baroque style of French inspiration, is the official residence of the President. The present palace was completed in 1938 at the same place where Francisco Pizarro had built his own home in 1536, destroyed multiple times by fires and earthquakes; thanks to this, the place is still known as Pizarro House. The Metropolitan Cathedral also dates from the days when Francisco Pizarro ruled here, and he himself would have set the cornerstone of the church in 1535. The cathedral opened five years later but has undergone several reconstructions and expansions before reaching the current version, designed after the damage caused by the 1940 earthquake. Still at the city’s central square you will see the beautiful Municipal Palace, seat of the Town Hall.
The surroundings of Plaza Mayor still preserve a wide range of places of interest, among which stand two religious complexes: the Santo Domingo and the San Francisco Monasteries, both originally built in the sixteenth century. The Monastery of Santo Domingo hosted the first classes of the University of San Marcos, supposedly the oldest in the Americas, a basilica and the tomb of St. Rose of Lima, the first saint born in the Americas. The Monastery of San Francisco de Jesus, or San Francisco de Lima, three blocks east from of Santo Domingo’s and the two blocks away of the Plaza Mayor has a beautiful architecture and offers a somewhat unusual attraction: its catacombs, open to visitors, include more than 25,000 human skeletons buried between the sixteenth and the nineteenth centuries, mostly arranged in artistic patterns.
About 4km (mi) away from the center, best traveled by taxi or on a tourist bus such as the Urbanito, Cerro San Cristóbal allows for the best view of the city from the top of its 400 meters (1,300ft). Heading 3km (2mi) in the opposite direction (south) from Plaza Mayor you will arrive at the Reserve Park, featuring the Circuito Magico del Agua (Water’s Magic Circuit). This park offers a beautiful display provided by its 13 sets of fountains. During the night, they are illuminated and one of them performs an amazing light and sound show, including the projection of images and animations using lasers on the water.
Continuing towards the south for another 5km (3mi) you will get to Huaca Pucllana, one of the most important archaeological sites in the region. Discovered last century by chance and excavated since 1981, the site is completely surrounded by the district of Miraflores. Here you can visit a site museum and walk through the excavations, that include a pyramid 25m (82ft) tall and a set of squares and courtyards built by the Lima civilization between the years 200 and 700 AD. The district of Miraflores is, by the way, one of the wealthiest in Lima, being home to several high-end shops, hotels, restaurants, bars and embassies. Miraflores is located in the south of Lima, by the Pacific Ocean coast, and is a popular spot among tourists. A walk through the area between Kennedy Park and the cliff side avenues near the ocean, known as Malecóns (Malecón Cisneros and Malecón de la Reserva, for example) is a great option to relax.
Lima has a pleasant climate all year round, never too cold or too hot, although significantly cooler than might be expected from a coastal town at these latitudes, thanks to the influence of the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean. It rains very little in the city, which is the second largest of desert climate in the world (second only to Cairo, in Egypt).
Peru is a large country, and in most cases it is more convenient to simply take a plane to move to other regions of the nation. In the Andean sector, the city of Arequipa is 1,010km (625mi) away, managed in 15h by road, Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, is 1,310km (815mi), or 20h by road away, while Cusco, gateway to the Sacred Valley of the Incas, is nearly 1,500km (930mi) away from the capital, which traveled on complicated roads might make the trip last about 24 hours. The city of Tacna, near the border with Chile, is 1,230km (765mi / 18h) to the south, while the tourist city of Tumbes, on the north coast, near the border with Ecuador, is 1,270km (790mi / 19h) away. All of these destinations can be reached in flights lasting up to 2 hours from Lima. Moreover, Iquitos, the main city of the Peruvian Amazon, can only be reached by plane or boat.