Lima
5.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Gail Harrington
Cruise Critic Contributor

Port of Lima

Spread out over an area the size of Rhode Island with a population of almost 8 million, Peru's capital has been a city of fusion from the time the first adobe bricks were laid on the original two-story government palace -- a Spanish stronghold in the land of the Incas and far older cultures. Lima is a jumble of Renaissance architecture, pre-Hispanic ruins and museums filled with pre-Columbian artifacts that pre-date the Incas. Likewise, Limeans themselves represent a complex mix of ethnic heritage, ancient Indian cultures from the northern coast and the Andes, Spanish conquerors, and a large Chinese population that grew following immigration from China, which began in the mid-19th century.

About Lima


Pro

Take tours to must-see spots including Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca

Con

You'll have to take a cab to get into Lima from Callao

Bottom Line

Lima is a sprawling ancient city with a dazzling array of historical sites and interesting neighborhoods


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It's true that parts of Lima were inhabited more than 10,000 years ago, but let's start with the city's official beginning. Two years after taking down the Inca Empire, Spanish explorer Francisco Pizarro founded Lima in 1535 on the bank of the Rimaq River, eight miles from the Pacific Ocean. Finding a good natural harbor nearby, Pizarro also created Callao, which became Spain's main port in the New World. Until the mid-18th century, Lima was the wealthy capital of Spanish domination in South America, an enormous viceroyalty that stretched from what's now Columbia to central Chile.

The city's historic center has a generous share of Baroque-, Renaissance- and Rococo-inspired buildings with elaborate facades, balconies, ornate gates and courtyards in the area around the Plaza Mayor. Although the city has experienced numerous earthquakes, some early colonial buildings, the collaboration of indigenous and Old World craftsmen, were fortunate to survive. In 1988, the historic district became a UNESCO Heritage Site.

Callao can be either a regular port stop or a point for embarkation or disembarkation, and cruise ships call there every season, except summer (June through August). Most cruise travelers skip Callao -- the only real sights are the seaside Fortaleza del Felipe Real (a 16th-century stone fort) and the adjacent military museum. Instead, they head straight for Lima's historic center with its old homes, grand balconies, colonial churches (such as the well-preserved San Pedro and the Baroque-style San Francisco) and the Government Palace, which was built on the foundation of the original palace constructed by Pizarro.

Central Lima is surrounded by a collection of neighborhoods, each one with its own appeal, vibe, and streets off the grid: prosperous suburbs like Miraflores and San Isidro; seafront Barranco with its Bohemian vibe, colorful homes and lively nightlife scene; laid-back fishing village Chorillos at the southern end of Lima Bay; and Pueblo Libre with its small-town feel and prominent cultural sites, such as the Rafael Larco Herrera Museum and National Archaeology Museum. Lima's coast, often called the Costa Verde (Green Coast), features a string of parks along Lima Bay that runs south from Magdalena through San Isidro, Miraflores, Barranco and Chorrillos, with lush foliage spilling over the cliffs.

Clearly, there's more to Lima than can be seen in one day. If your cruise does begin or terminate in Lima, consider tacking on a pre- or post-cruise stay. Visits to the city can also be combined with tours to Cusco, Macchu Picchu and Lake Titicaca (also available as multi-day overland excursions mid-cruise).

Where You're Docked

The port of Callao (pronounced Kay-ya-oh) is about seven miles from central Lima and 11 miles from Miraflores. There's no terminal building, shopping, ATM's or Internet access at the pier; there are telephones that require a calling card (available for sale at the pier). Authorized cabs are reasonably priced and available at the port gate. Depending on traffic, the ride into Lima can take between 30 and 45 minutes and cost around $12.

Good to Know

Crime isn't a major risk if you use the same common sense you would in any large city. Stay alert for pickpockets in busy marketplaces, on crowded streets and anywhere in downtown Lima. Don't carry your wallet or passport in a back pocket. Avoid wearing expensive jewelry, and keep expensive cameras or electronic devices out of view when not in use.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

The nuevo sol is Peru's currency (currency sign S/.); check www.xe.com for current exchange rates. Most hotels, restaurants and shops accept U.S. dollars, but they'll give change in Peruvian soles. Major banks include Banco de Credito (BCP), Banco de la Nacion, BBVA Banco Continental and Scotiabank. Bank hours are Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and many are open until noon on Saturday.

ATM machines are plentiful, and it's preferable to make withdrawals in very populated areas or at ATM's that are inside banks with guards on duty. Some ATM's dispense cash only to local account-holders, so look for machines with the Cirrus or Plus logos. Credit cards are widely accepted in Lima, with VISA being the preferred card, although some businesses tack on a 12 percent surcharge.

Language

Spanish and Quechua (native language of the Incas) are the official languages. In Lima and other main cities, English is widely understood in hotels, restaurants and shops.

Shopping

Peru is known for quality alpaca goods -- blankets and throws, sweaters, scarves, hats, mittens/gloves and even rugs -- especially those made from soft baby alpaca. (This type of fur does not come from young animals but, rather, from the first shearing of the fur around the neck, which produces the softest fibers.) Run your hand over any alpaca goods in market stalls and stores, and the seller will usually claim "baby alpaca" -- this may or may not be true, as alpaca is sometimes mixed with other fibers. If the item feels like cashmere, it's alpaca; if it's silkier than cashmere, the fiber is probably a blend of alpaca and polyester; and, if it seems rough, the blend likely includes sheep's wool. Alpaca wool comes in three classifications, the best being royal baby alpaca, then baby alpaca, then a lower grade called superfine alpaca.