It's easy to overlook chaotic Lima -- Peru's main international airport -- as a mere stopover on the way to exotic destinations such as Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca. But to skip the city would be a mistake; these days, Lima's standing out in its own right. It has an exploding food scene, it's become one of the leading economies in the region, and it ranks among the top cities to live on the continent. Here's why the city deserves a few days of your time.1. The value here is incredible.
In 2014 and 2015, the U.S. dollar has been the strongest it's been against the Peruvian Nuevo Sol in many years. That means the much-acclaimed 17-course tasting menu at Central -- currently the number three eatery in all of South America -- will only set you back about $125. Taxi rides between most areas of the city are between $3 and $10 each way, and a baby alpaca scarf at a reputable shop makes for a lasting souvenir at just $40. If you're looking to do vacation right without having to worry about watching your pennies, this is the place and time.
2. The food is to die for.
Nowhere is the exponential growth of Peru's trendy gastronomic scene as evident as in the capital of Lima, where nouveau chefs have been going back to their roots and then introducing their own flair. You can try their creations at countless top restaurants like IK, Astrid y Gaston, El Mercado, Amaz, and Rafael. Meanwhile, for the traditionalists, countless holes-in-the-walls throughout the capital continue serving what they have always done best -- classic Peruvian or international favorites that are as indulgent as they are comforting. Another reason to foodie out in Lima? Ceviche is traditionally made using Pacific seafood off the coast of Lima, and all the commercial routes leading to Lima means finding thoroughly comprehensive ingredients and cooking styles in the city (from the coast to the Andes to the Amazon Rainforest).
3. You'll inevitably fall in love with its green spaces.
Although Lima is the second largest desert city in the world (Cairo wins the grand prize), it can be easy to forget this fact, thanks to the ubiquitous green parks. Especially in the central parts of the city, the powers that be have carefully prioritized green areas as part of overall urban development. The cliffside boardwalk of Miraflores overlooking the ocean, La Pera park where children love to fly kites and adult children fly model airplanes amid gorgeous views, and the immense Campo de Marte park near the historical downtown are just a few examples of places to take a break from the metropolis that surrounds.
4. History buffs can go beyond Incan culture.
Tourism marketing might have you convinced otherwise, but Peru is more than just the former playground of the Inca Empire. Ancient civilizations such as the Moche, Wari, Mojica, Pachacamac, and Lima all once called these lands their home. Save the Inca explorations for your time in Cusco and the Andes, where they ruled most, and discover pre-Inca and pre-Columbian worlds at some of Lima's most impressive museums such as the Larco Herrera Museum, Gold Museum, and Huaca Pucllana pyramid museum.
5. You can groove to Live Music...
Latinos love to dance, and Peruvians are no exemption. In Lima, treat your ear to all kinds of Peruvian music by from artists around the country. You can catch a classic peña show with Afro-Peruvian beats or go to a rock concert at venues such as Sargento Pimienta or La Noche. Or dance to the electronic mixes at Noise club, or swing to salsa and chicha tunes at the open-air performance circles on Chabuca Granda boardwalk, open-mic style. The choices are endless.
6. ...and generally stay out late.
Speaking of entertainment, if you like to take every trip to the max, Lima, like other big cities, never sleeps. While smaller cities and towns generally close up shop by the late evening, night owls can visit top galleries during late hours on the regularly hosted Museum Nights, grab a cocktail at any of the many bars, or have their pick of shows to attend.
7. There's more than enough ocean to go around.
With the Pacific hugging the entire western coast of Peru, it would be silly to simply look at the ocean. Lima has the best waves for sea sports like paddleboarding, kayaking, fishing, and parasailing. You can even go on a private yacht cruise with your closest friends and family for an afternoon -- a popular option for special occasions and group trips.
8. The weather is pretty much always perfect.
Forget having to check the weather forecast daily -- or at all. In Lima, winters call only for a t-shirt, with perhaps a light jacket at most. In summer, you can bet that it's always warm enough for the beach. (As a desert city, Lima has no distinct springs or autumns to speak of).
9. Plenty of active urban adventures await, too.
Lima is a fine example of the developing metropolises in this region of South America. To see the evolution in action, there are countless fantastic urban walks and biking routes to embark on. (Bicycles can be rented by the hour or day from local companies such as Lima Bikes and MiraBici.) Go down Arequpia Avenue to see residential neighborhoods merging with the commercial center; along the coast to soak in the scenic views; and through Barranco district to find the newest and trendiest cafes and boutiques.
10. You can shop for fine goods to your heart's content.
Though many handicrafts come from provincial areas such as Cusco or villages in the mountains or Amazon, there's no place like Peru's capital for finding fine and luxury goods made by top Peruvian designers. Clothing, accessories, fine art, furniture, and home goods range from native to contemporary. You'll find boutiques and galleries just about everywhere, but some of our favorites include Dedalo Arte, Las Pallas, Andrea Llosa's showroom, Escudo showroom, and Entre Sillas.