The Coastal Capital of Peru
Cathedral in the old city Peru's capital and largest city is much more than the vast polluted, traffic-choked, overpopulated metropolis that first meets the eye. Founded by the Spanish on a site once inhabited by various Amerindian groups on the arid Pacific coast, Lima was formerly the continent's richest and most important town. Grand colonial buildings still bear witness to its former glory, just as numerous pre-Hispanic ruins remind us of the alluvial plain's more ancient past. Riddled with exciting dining, entertainment and shopping establishments, this sprawling cosmopolitan city nevertheless has its feet firmly planted in the 21st century. It may take on a dreary aspect most of the year thanks to a thick veil of clouds and coastal fog, but the Limeneans' friendliness and conviviality more than make up for the weather, and during the sunny summer season everyone makes a beeline to the long stretches of beach that hug the city's coastline to the north and south.
The city of Lima occupies approximately 310 square miles of mostly flat terrain in the valleys of the Chillón, Rímac and Lurín rivers along Peru's central coast. It forms a contiguous metropolitan area with the port of Callao and consists of thirty densely-populated districts centered around the historic city center, which lies 9.3 miles inland along the Rímac River. The district of San Isidro is the city's financial hub, Miraflores is known for its upscale hotels, shops and restaurants and Barranco for its bohemian character and nightlife. The less affluent northern and southern zones of the city were settled by Andean immigrants in the mid- and late twentieth century. Its subtropical desert climate is mild and humid year-round, falling to a low of 54°F (12 °C) in the wintertime (May-November) and rising to a high of 84°F (29 °C) in the summer (December-April). Winter days are predictably overcast and accompanied by mist or drizzle, while summer days are consistently sunny. The city receives almost no rain.
Parque del Amor in Miraflores Lima is the nucleus of Peru's political power, economic and financial activity, and institutions of higher education. With some eight million inhabitants (Callao included), it accounts for approximately one-third of the country's entire population and nearly half of its GDP. The country's largest and most important airport is located in Callao, as is its most important sea port, and its network of highways links Lima to each of Peru's neighboring countries.
The dry desert lands where Lima now stands were originally inhabited by various Amerindian groups that were conquered by the Incas in the 15th century. Two years after the Spanish invasion, Francisco Pizarro founded the city on January 18, 1535 as the City of Kings, and it soon developed into the flourishing capital of a Spanish vice-royalty and extensive trade network. In 1687 and 1746 Lima suffered devastating earthquakes and the independence of Peru was declared by General José de San Martín on the city's main square on July 28, 1821. As the capital of Peru, Lima was looted by Chileans during the 1879-1883 War of the Pacific and later underwent a period of expansion and industrialization that sparked an unprecedented upsurge in the population in the 1920s.
Over the centuries, Lima has received immigrants from around the globe and is now a complex mix of racial and ethnic groups. While the majority of its inhabitants are mestizo, of mixed Amerindian and European descent, there are also many Amerindians, Europeans, Asians, Jews, Middle Easterners and Afro-Peruvians. This mingling of cultures has given rise to gastronomical traditions so unique and diverse that the city is now known as the Gastronomical Capital of the Americas. A visit to Lima wouldn't be complete without sampling the tempting fare of its abundant criolla (creole) restaurants, chifas (Sino-Peruvian restaurants), cevicherías (restaurants featuring ceviche, a dish of raw seafood marinated in lime juice) and pollerías (restaurants featuring rotisserie chicken).
Lima's Costa Verde Lima's historic center, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, boasts some remarkable gems of colonial architecture, such as the Monastery of San Francisco, the Cathedral, the Convent of Santo Domingo, the Palace of Torre Tagle, the House of Aliaga, and the House of Goyeneche or Rada. The city's Plaza de Armas, or main square, lies at the heart of this area, right in front of the Government Palace where the president lives. Downtown Lima also features a number of attractive parks and squares, including the Park of the Reserve (home to the world's largest fountain complex), Park of the Exposition, Campo de Marte, University Park and Plaza San Martín. South of downtown Lima you'll find the Villa Swamps ecological park as well as the city's most impressive pre-Hispanic ruins at Pachacamac. The finest museums in all of Peru are located within the city and are devoted to subjects like art, pre-Columbian cultures, natural history, science and religion. The Museo Nacional de Arqueología, Antropología e Historia del Perú, Museo de Oro del Perú, Museo Larco and Museo de la Nación are among the most fascinating.
Thanks to the city's attractions and its close proximity to the country's principal international airport, the Jorge Chávez International Airport, Lima receives an immense number of tourists every year. As a result, tourist-oriented hotels, shops, entertainment venues and restaurants have proliferated. Most of these hotels are located in central Lima, Miraflores and Barranco, with the latter two offering the best and liveliest nightlife. Some of the country's best handicraft markets can also be found in Lima.