A Spanish Colonial Heritage
Plaza de Armas in early evening The colonial era left a substantial legacy of grand churches and houses in central Lima, thanks to the wealth the city accumulated as capital of the immense vice-royalty of Peru. Since then, earthquakes, skirmishes and neglect have taken their toll on the centuries-old structures but in recent years the government has taken steps towards preserving its colonial heritage. Today, central Lima offers visitors an array of attractive colonial churches and houses, plazas and parks, museums and other interesting places worth a visit.
The heart of Lima's historic center is its handsome Plaza de Armas, or main square, adjacent to the Palacio de Gobierno where the Peruvian president resides. This plaza is within walking distance of most of downtown's colonial buildings, and is also a starting point for tours to the top of Cerro San Cristóbal, which provides great views of the city on sunny days. At the numerous colonial churches you'll find elaborate architecture, the tombs of Francisco Pizarro and the first two Peruvian saints, antique books, huge creepy catacombs, religious paintings and gilded altars. Among downtown Lima's colonial houses is one of the oldest mansions in South America and one of its most magnificent buildings, with sumptuous period-style rooms, intricately carved wooden balconies and tiled ceilings. At its museums you can enter the torture chambers used by the Spanish Inquisition, admire modern art in a grand neoclassical building and check out everything from pre-Colombian artifacts to bullfighting relics to Peruvian popular art and stamps.
For a bit of respite from the traffic you might consider heading to one of downtown's lovely parks, the largest of these containing Japanese gardens and some duck ponds, and you could have lunch at one of the city's best chifa restaurants (Peruvian-style Chinese cuisine) in the Barrio Chino, Lima's Chinatown. Right next to it is the bustling Mercado Central, a wonderful market where locals go to shop for just about anything under the sun.