Lima, the capital of Peru, is one of the largest and liveliest cities in South America. But before arriving, here are 10 things you should know before traveling to Lima.
1. The currency is soles
The official currency of Peru is soles (S/), and the exchange rate currently (February 2020) is around $1 USD for S/ 3.35. Dollars can be exchanged for soles easily in the city, usually in banks or casas de cambio (exchange houses). Those who are accustomed to exchanging their dollars with cambistas (money exchangers) on the street should know that in various districts it is an illegal practice.
If you want to withdraw money, Bank of America account holders may withdraw from Scotiabank ATMs without transaction fees. All other fees for withdrawing money from a credit or debit card should be verified with your bank before arriving to Lima.
2. Lima is safe (just be cautious)
Most tourists end up staying in Miraflores, Barranco or San Isidro, which are safe districts for heading out and doing some sightseeing, even at night. But of course, you should be cautious of where you go and of your surroundings. Be careful with your personal belongings at all times. In most districts you’ll find municipal police and safety guards, and locals are typically keen to help out.
Callao, where the airport is located, has a cultural scene called Monumental Callao as well as a port front, La Punta. Both are with the trip beyond Lima city limits. The area is generally safe during the day, especially when touring its cultural sites. However, it’s not a recommended zone to visit alone as a tourist at night.
3. Uber exists in Lima
Yes, Uber works in Lima. And it’s actually a really good option to travel around in the city as Lima is quite large and spread out (the historic center is far from Miraflores and Barranco). With Uber’s fixed prices, you don’t risk to pay a higher price than normal just because you are a tourist. Other options include Cabify and Beat.
4. Traffic can make you go crazy
There is always traffic in Lima, and it can be very irritating, especially if using public transportation. If you arrive at the airport in Callao around 6pm, you’ll probably spend two hours in the taxi to get to your hostel in the Miraflores area because rush hour is out of this world.
Second, you’ll probably panic 10 times during those two hours because taxi drivers in Lima come off as reckless to most foreigners. Somehow, there is order to the chaos and accidents are not as common as one would think.
It’s not recommended to rent a car and drive on your own if it’s your first time here, and you’ll understand why as soon as the taxi gets out of the airport parking lot.
5. Download Moovit for public transportation
If you want to try public transit, download the Moovit app. It has all the public transports, including the Metropolitano, which is a bus with its own highway.
A normal bus ride is around 1 sol, and the Metropolitano costs S/2.50 soles, used on a rechargeable card. If you don’t have a card, you can just ask someone at the station to pay for you with their card, and then, you pay them in cash.
6. Free tours are the best options
If you’re planning on exploring Lima, free tours are good options. Some include all the main tourist attractions, while others only take you to the city center.
It’s recommended to do this because the tours are often of really good quality and most of the guides are locals who know what they are talking about.
7. Staying in Barranco or Miraflores
Barranco, the very colorful art-filled district, and Miraflores, the more posh and tourist-centered district, are the most convenient places to stay at as a tourist. You’ll find many of the city’s main attractions (except for the historic center) and top-rated restaurants here, as well as views and access to the coast.
Barranco is great for walking, enjoying a nice atmosphere, having a few drinks, and going out to party at night. Miraflores is good for shopping, eating at notable restaurants, and walking on the Malecón (the waterfront esplanade).
8. Buy your souvenirs as you walk
If you are on the hunt for souvenirs to take back to friends and family, Lima has you covered. While there are various souvenir markets in Miraflores, don’t overlook buying special gifts from local coffee shops, bookstores, and clothing shops.
At the souvenir markets, it’s acceptable to bargain a little bit, especially if you are buying a lot of items from the same vendor. However, if you are going to Cusco and will have space in your luggage, you may find better prices there.
9. Food is absolutely awesome
Lima is a gastronomical capital of the world. Some of the greatest restaurants in South America are there, and several Lima restaurants have received rewards. If you’re planning on eating in one of the best restaurants, think about making a reservation in advance.
However, you needn’t go to the top 5 best restaurants to have a nice meal. There are plenty of delicious options citywide to suit everyone’s budget and palate.
10. Pack all kind of clothes
Lima is extremely warm and sunny during summer, but grey during winter. However, no matter the season, there are various microclimates throughout the city.
For instance, in one district, it could be raining, and in the district next to it, there will be a bit of sunshine appearing through the clouds. So, pack for all seasons because you never know what Lima will surprise you with.
This wraps up our list of 10 things you should know before traveling to Lima. Feel like there’s anything else to add? Feel free to let us know, we’d love to hear from you.
This article has been updated from its original publication on June 27, 2019.
Cover photo: Lima Tours