For many Aussie travellers, Lima is just a place to fly into and then quickly leave on the way to Peru’s more famous attractions: the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu, the surf beaches of Mancora, the nightlife and trekking of Cuzco, the ‘white city’ of Arequipa or the jungle areas near Iquitos. But Peru’s capital has its own special charm, especially for travellers keen to settle down for a month or two in a friendly, cosmopolitan city known for cheap prices, reliable weather, good infrastructure and the best cuisine in South America.
In Lima, the area around the Miraflores district (pictured below) is the most popular choice for most visitors. It’s safe and friendly and there’s plenty to see and do, from free concerts and local craft markets in Parque Kennedy to brisk walks along the famous Malecon.
This paved walking trail follows the clifftops along the Lima coastline and leads straight to Larcomar, one of the most beautifully situated shopping malls on earth, perched high above the blue Pacific. It’s just the place to sit with a glass of wine and watch the sun set.
Base yourself in Lima while investigating other parts of the country, too. I took a break from my two-month stint here to check out the jungle town of Tarapoto, only an hour inland by plane. Tarapoto is surrounded by cloud forest and mountain waterfalls.
If beach life is more your thing, head north or south of Lima to find scenic surf beaches, tranquil fishing villages or lively party towns, whichever you prefer.
Lima has decent Internet, superb restaurants, well-stocked supermarkets, quality gyms, tons of activities and a buzzing nightlife. Go on a bike tour, take a cooking class, try paragliding, visit a jazz club or play chess against the hustlers in the park. Lima is never boring. You will have to buy bottled water though as the tap water in Peru isn’t potable.
Lima is super-affordable and the longer you stay here, the more budget-saving tricks you’ll learn.
Here are just some of the ways I’ve made savings on my stay…
Pick Your Accommodation Early and Carefully
AirBnB is a handy option, especially if you stay in one place awhile and get a monthly discount (as much as 40% off). I stayed in two different apartments in the heart of Miraflores and each worked out to less than $43 a night, even in the busy summer period (Jan-Feb). If you find a flat in one of the adjacent suburbs like Surquillo or Aurora Este where it’s quieter but less touristy, the prices will be even lower.
Grab the Airport Express Bus to Miraflores
To get from Lima’s airport to Miraflores, the Green Taxis are a good option but even better is the Airport Express bus. It runs 35 times a day and is clean, modern, WiFi-equipped and costs only about $12. It stops at several convenient locations in the heart of the Miraflores tourist district.
Shop at the City Markets, Not the Supermarkets
Every district in Lima has its own city market. These offer an authentic shopping experience where you can buy fresh meat, fish and produce at a fraction of the cost of those huge, air-conditioned supermarkets in the tourist areas. Both my Lima apartments came with a blender so I’d often hit the markets, stock up on fresh goodies for a pittance (around $20 for as much as I could carry) and then head home to make my own nutritious smoothies or soups.
Eat Where the Peruvians Eat
Avoid the tourist strip if you want to eat more cheaply. There are some brilliant cevicherias (fish restaurants) and parrillas (specialising in grilled meat) in local neighbourhoods so ask around – or just look for places packed with non-tourists. At lunchtime, you’ll save money by choosing the daily ‘executive menu’. It features a soup, main course, drink and beverage for a fixed low price. I had dozens of tasty lunches in this city for no more than $6.
Hop on the Local Buses
Taxi fares in Lima can seem quite cheap compared to Australia, but there’s an even more frugal option: a local bus. Schedules can be pretty hit and miss and they’re not always the cleanest or most modern vehicles but you can’t complain when a single 25-minute ride takes you right across town for two Peruvian soles (about 85 cents). Make sure you carry exact change, it’ll make life easier.
Some of my most pleasant experiences in Lima involved getting together with people I’d recently met to visit a sunny park, share a family barbecue, cram into a car to hit the beach or head out at night to find the city’s best dancing venue.
Just strolling through Parque Kennedy is a social experience, day or night. Visit Lima’s cinemas on Tuesdays for a discounted rate or head to Parque de la Amistad in Surco to enjoy a picnic or a pedal boat ride on the weekend. Time your visit to coincide with a festival.
The biggest lesson I learned from Peruvians is that you don’t need much money to have an awesome time in Lima!