As Peru’s capital city, Lima is packed with things to do – but if you’re looking for something off the beaten path, you’re in the right place. Nowhere else can you bike along the shore, take surf lessons from the locals and end the night sipping on a pisco sour and singing along to música criolla (Peruvian polka). From the spooky catacombs under San Francisco de Lima Basilica to partying in Peña La Oficina, these are the weirdest and wackiest things to do in Lima.
Watch the Circuito Mágico del Agua
During the day, Parque de la Reserva is a fun place for families to hang out, friends to meet up and the perfect place to take a first date. At night, the park’s 13 fountains light up, creating the Circuito Mágico del Agua, or the “Magic Water Circuit.” Some are interactive – you can run through a water tunnel or test your luck in the moving Dream Maze fountain – while others include music, lasers and presentations covering Peruvian culture and the story behind the park’s name.
Bike along the waterfront at Miraflores
Miraflores used to be a sleepy surfer town, just south of Lima proper. Now, it’s a hip, cosmopolitan neighborhood that runs along the Pacific coastline. Grab a bike – if you’re staying in Miraflores, most hotels have them for rent – and cruise along the seaside Circuito de Playas. Once you’re ready for a break, catch your breath at Parque Kennedy and meet some of the locals – the feline kind. Close to 100 cats have taken up residence in this urban plaza, which also houses a market.
Sip coffee at Cafe Express Virgen de Guadalupe
This romantic cafe in Barranco is housed in a converted rail car, the perfect spot for a pick-me-up or a late-night pisco sour. Many pop in for a quick café, but also try out the vegetarian buffet, sandwiches, pizza or opt for just desserts. If you drop by at night, you just might catch some live music played by the locals.
Surf at Playa Waikiki
Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned surfer, you’ll want to dive into the waves at the laidback Playa Waikiki, which has become a regional hub for surfers in recent years. Plenty of locals along the beach will rent you a wetsuit, surfboard or even teach you to hang 10. Stick around until the sun goes down, and you may even see some dolphins swim by.
Party at Peña La Oficina
If you want a true Peruvian experience, a stop at a peña is a must. The bar-restaurant combos are known for playing música criolla. Few authentic options are left these days – that’s where La Oficina comes in. Order up classic dishes like lomo saltado (beef stir fry) or cau-cau (tripe stew) for dinner, or head straight to the bar for national beers and music that’ll pull you straight to the dance floor.
Go underground at the Basílica y Convento de San Francisco de Lima catacombs
When Europeans arrived in Lima in the 16th century, they brought over diseases like smallpox and leprosy. The Catholic Church ordered the construction of tunnels below religious buildings in downtown Lima, so the clergy and privileged families could bury their dead. Nowadays, you can visit the catacombs under the Saint Francis Monastery, where at least 25,000 bodies were buried until it closed in 1810. These catacombs are the second-biggest after those in Paris.
Explore the Presbítero Maestro at night
Inaugurated in 1808, Presbítero Maestro became Lima’s first pantheon. Hundreds of beautiful mourning sculptures made in marble decorate the 766 mausoleums and 92 monuments, many belonging to historical Peruvian figures like the heroes from the War of the Pacific. Although Presbítero Maestro only opens as a museum nowadays, you can still see people visiting their ancestors – rumor has it that you can catch curanderos (shamans or witch doctors) practicing black magic. There are even night tours and an outdoor theater for those who are looking to go on a spooky journey into Peru’s Republican past.
Revisit Lima’s terrifying past at the Museum of the Inquisition and Congress
During the Spanish Inquisition, those who committed crimes or acts against Christianity were burnt at the stake in Lima’s main square. Fortunately, the Spanish Inquisition was suppressed in 1834. At this museum, you can learn about the entire process heretics went through. Visit the old torture chambers and courthouse where public hearings took place – mannequins have been placed in torture machines to show how painful it would have been for those who defied the church. Legend says that the chambers are haunted.
Before drones made it onto the market, paragliding was the only way to get an astonishing view of Costa Verde, a road that follows the Pacific coast atop Lima’s cliffs. To experience this bird’s eye perspective, book a 10- to 15-minute paragliding session with an instructor. Soar over the rooftops of Lima and spot people surfing in the waves below. You’ll even come away with an HD film of your flight. Ideal for those who like extreme sports and are not afraid of heights.
Marvel at the Lord of Miracles Procession
The biggest Catholic procession in the world takes place every October in downtown Lima. It’s a celebration of the Lord of Miracles, an image of Jesus Christ that was painted on a wall by an African slave in 17th century. It’s believed to grant miracles and protect Peruvians from earthquakes. Streets get so crowded that a rope is used to keep devotees from getting too close to the image. People dressed in purple tunics cry and even pass out as the image comes close to them. Religion aside, watching people’s faith and fervor is a phenomenon that will give you the chills.
Manuel Orbegozo contributed additional reporting to this article.
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