top of page

Cities in the Spotlight: Lima, Peru

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

In today's installment of cities in the spotlight we are going to explore Lima, Peru.


Lima City Information

Lima is the capital and the largest city of Peru. It is located in the valleys of the Chillón, Rímac and Lurín Rivers, in the desert zone of the central coastal part of the country, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Together with the seaport of Callao, it forms a contiguous urban area known as the Lima Metropolitan Area. With a population of more than 9.7 million and more than 10.7 million in it's metropolitan area, Lima is one of the largest cities in the Americas. Lima was named by natives in the agricultural region known by native Peruvians as Limaq. It became the capital and most important city in the Viceroyalty of Peru. Following the Peruvian War of Independence, it became the capital of the Republic of Peru (República del Perú). Around one-third of the national population lives in the metropolitan area. Lima is home to one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in the New World. The National University of San Marcos, founded on 12 May 1551, during the Viceroyalty of Peru, is the first officially established and the oldest continuously functioning university in the Americas.

Nowadays, the city is considered to be the political, cultural, financial and commercial center of the country. Internationally, it is one of the thirty most populated urban agglomerations in the world. Due to its geostrategic importance, the Globalization and World Cities Research Network has categorized it as a "beta" tier city. Jurisdictionally, the metropolis extends mainly within the province of Lima and in a smaller portion, to the west, within the Constitutional Province of Callao, where the seaport and the Jorge Chávez Airport are located. Both provinces have regional autonomy since 2002. In October 2013, Lima was chosen to host the 2019 Pan American Games; these games were held at venues in and around Lima, and were the largest sporting event ever hosted by the country. It also hosted the APEC Meetings of 2008 and 2016, the Annual Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group in October 2015, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in December 2014, and the Miss Universe 1982 contest.


Lima Historical Significance

According to early Spanish articles, the Lima area was once called Itchyma, after its original inhabitants. However, even before the Inca occupation of the area in the 15th century, a famous oracle in the Rímac valley had come to be known by visitors as Limaq, which means "talker" or "speaker" in the coastal Quechua that was the area's primary language before the Spanish arrival). This oracle was eventually destroyed by the Spanish and replaced with a church, but the name persisted: the chronicles show "Límac" replacing "Ychma" as the common name for the area. Modern scholars speculate that the word "Lima" originated as the Spanish pronunciation of the native name Limaq. Linguistic evidence seems to support this theory, as spoken Spanish consistently rejects stop consonants in word-final position.

The city was founded in 1535 under the name City of Kings, because its foundation was decided on 6 January, date of the feast of the Epiphany. This name quickly fell into disuse, and Lima became the city's name of choice; on the oldest Spanish maps of Peru, both Lima and Ciudad de los Reyes can be seen together. The river that feeds Lima is called Rímac, and many people erroneously assume that this is because its original Inca name is "Talking River" (the Incas spoke a highland variety of Quechua, in which the word for "talker" was pronounced. However, the original inhabitants of the valley were not Incas. This name is an innovation arising from an effort by the Cuzco nobility in colonial times to standardize the toponym so that it would conform to the phonology of Cuzco Quechua. Later, as the original inhabitants died out and the local Quechua became extinct, the Cuzco pronunciation prevailed. Nowadays, Spanish-speaking locals do not see the connection between the name of their city and the name of the river that runs through it. They often assume that the valley is named after the river; however, Spanish documents from the colonial period show the opposite to be true.


Travel to Lima

*taken from Lonely Planet*

After Cairo, this sprawling metropolis is the second-driest world capital, rising above a long coastline of crumbling cliffs. To enjoy it, climb on the wave of chaos that spans high-rise condos built alongside pre-Columbian temples and fast Pacific breakers rolling toward noisy traffic jams. But Lima is also sophisticated, with a civilization that dates back millennia. Stately museums display sublime pottery; galleries debut edgy art; solemn religious processions recall the 18th century and crowded nightclubs dispense tropical beats. No visitor can miss the capital’s culinary genius, part of a gastronomic revolution more than 400 years in the making. This is Lima. Shrouded in history (and sometimes fog), gloriously messy and full of aesthetic delights. Don’t even think of missing it.


Must See Sites

Museo Larco; In an 18th-century viceroy’s mansion, this museum offers one of the largest, best-presented displays of ceramics in Lima. Founded by pre-Columbian collector Rafael Larco Hoyle in 1926, the collection includes more than 50,000 pots, with ceramic works from the Cupisnique, Chimú, Chancay, Nazca and Inca cultures. Highlights include the sublime Moche portrait vessels, presented in simple, dramatically lit cases, and a Wari weaving in one of the rear galleries that contains 398 threads to the linear inch – a record. There’s also gold and jewels. Many visitors are lured here by a separately housed collection of pre-Columbian erotica illustrating all manner of sexual activity with comical explicitness. Don’t miss the vitrine that depicts sexually transmitted diseases.

Iglesia de Santo Domingo; One of Lima’s most historic religious sites, the Iglesia de Santo Domingo and its expansive convent are built on land granted to the Dominican friar Vicente de Valverde, who accompanied Pizarro throughout the conquest and was instrumental in persuading him to execute the captured Inca Atahualpa. Originally completed in the 16th century, this impressive pink church has been rebuilt and remodeled at various points since. It is most renowned as the final resting place for three important Peruvian saints: San Juan Macías, Santa Rosa de Lima and San Martín de Porres (the continent’s first black saint). The convent – a sprawling courtyard-studded complex lined with baroque paintings and clad in vintage Spanish tiles – contains the saints’ tombs. The church, however, has the most interesting relics: the skulls of San Martín and Santa Rosa, encased in glass, in a shrine to the right of the main altar.

Museo de Arte de Lima; Known locally as MALI, Lima’s principal fine-art museum is housed in a striking beaux-arts building that was renovated in 2015. Subjects range from pre-Columbian to contemporary art, and there are also guided visits to special exhibits. On Sunday entry is just S1. A satellite museum is under construction in Barranco.

Monasterio de San Francisco; This bright-yellow Franciscan monastery and church is most famous for its bone-lined catacombs (containing an estimated 70,000 remains) and its remarkable library housing 25,000 antique texts, some of which pre-date the conquest. Admission includes a 30-minute guided tour in English or Spanish. Tours leave as groups gather. This baroque structure has many other treasures: the most spectacular is a geometric Moorish-style cupola over the main staircase, which was carved in 1625 out of Nicaraguan cedar and restored in 1969. In addition, the refectory contains 13 paintings of the biblical patriarch Jacob and his 12 sons, attributed to the studio of Spanish master Francisco de Zurbarán.

Palacio de Gobierno; To the northeast of Plaza de Armas is the block-long Palacio de Gobierno, a grandiose baroque-style building from 1937 that serves as the residence of Peru’s president. Out front stands a handsomely uniformed presidential guard (think French Foreign Legion, c 1900) that changes every day at noon – a ceremonious affair that involves slow-motion goose-stepping and the sublime sounds of a brass band playing ‘El Cóndor Pasa’ as a military march.


Must Try Food & Drink

Salchipapas; Salchipapas is a very popular Peruvian street food staple that began as a poor man's dish. The name of the dish is derived from the names of its main ingredients – salchicha (sausage) and papas (potatoes). Sold by numerous street vendors, salchipapas is made by frying thinly sliced sausages and combining them with french fries. It is traditionally served with four dipping sauces: ketchup, aji chili sauce, mustard, and mayonnaise. The dish can be modified with additional garnishes such as fried eggs, cheese, tomatoes, or lettuce. Due to its popularity, it spread outside of the Peruvian borders and is now also often consumed in Colombia, Bolivia, and Ecuador.

Butifarra; Butifarra is the essential Peruvian sandwich that originally consisted of a crusty white bun (roseta) filled with jamón del país (garlic-infused peppery ham), salsa criolla, lettuce, radishes, and chili. Over time, some ingredients were added, while others were removed. Jamón del pais is the key ingredient in this sandwich, made from boiled pork leg, garlic, oil, ají chili, and red peppers. It is believed that butifarra was first sold during bullfights in early Republican Lima. Today, the sandwich is a staple at birthday parties and it is often served as a part of a typical Peruvian breakfast. It can also be found in sangucherías – Peruvian sandwich shops.

Picarones; Picarones are a staple of Peruvian street food, the tasty, deep-fried treats that are also often referred to as the Peruvian doughnuts. The dough is shaped into a ring and fried in hot oil, and picarones are then drizzled with a sweet cane syrup. It is believed that they were first prepared during the Spanish Viceroyalty in Lima and they were probably based on the Spanish buñuelos. The recipe was adapted by the locals who added sweet potatoes and squash to the dough, and a new dish was created. Picarones were later popularized by the nuns of Saint Claire's convent, and today they are especially popular during the religious festivities in October.

Pisco Sour; Pisco Sour is a Peruvian cocktail made with a combination of Pisco brandy, lime juice, sugar syrup, and egg whites. The ingredients are shaken with ice, then strained into an old-fashioned glass garnished with Angostura bitters. The first Pisco Sour was made in the early 1920s in Lima by an American bartender Victor Vaughn Morris. Today, there is still an ongoing debate about Pisco Sour’s origin, with Peru and Chile both claiming that their nation is the home of the first Pisco. The Chilean version of the cocktail is made with powdered sugar instead of sugar syrup, and their Pisco is typically aged, unlike the Peruvian version. Regardless of the origin, both countries have a national Pisco Sour day and celebrate it as their specialty beverage.

Ceviche; Ceviche is the national dish of Peru consisting of slices of raw fish or shellfish that is spiced with salt, onions, and chili peppers, then marinated in lime juice. Due to the acidity of lime juice, the texture of the fish changes, as does its color – from pink to white. The acidic marinade, also known as leche de tigre (lit. tiger's milk) "cooks" the meat without any heat involved in the process. For ceviche, fresh fish is an imperative, as fish and shellfish that are not fresh can cause food poisoning. Peruvians are used to fresh ingredients, so the fish will sometimes be prepared for ceviche less than an hour after being caught. Fish for ceviche can be divided into three categories: firm, medium, and soft. The dish was originally made by the natives who marinated fish and amarillo chiles in the juices of a native fruit called tumbo, which was replaced by lime juice when the Spanish brought limes and onions to the country. The flavors of ceviche are slightly acidic and spicy, with an intense aroma of the sea. Traditionally, it is served on a bed of lettuce with tiny pieces of corn, chunks of sweet potato, and boiled yuca. Cancha, a variety of popcorn made from large corn kernels toasted in salt and oil provides an ideal side dish. The dish is traditionally served at cevicherias, specialized ceviche restaurants that can be found all over the country, and it is so popular that it even has its day, known as National Ceviche Day.

Papa a la Huancaína; Originating from the Huancayo area of Peru, papa a la Huancaína is an authentic and unique salad dish consisting of a spicy, creamy, and rich cheese sauce that is drizzled over boiled yellow or white potatoes. The sauce consists of aji amarillo chilis, oil, milk, cheese, salt, and crackers that act as a thickener. It can be served either cold or at room temperature, as a flavorful side dish or an appetizer. Traditionally, the dish is garnished with parsley, black olives, and sliced hard-boiled eggs. According to locals, the dish was invented in the late 1800s when a woman from Huancayo offered her dish to the workers that were constructing a railroad connecting Huancayo to Lima. The dish became a crowd favorite, and the rest is history.


Travel Guide Books

Lonely Planet

Rough Guides


1 view0 comments


bottom of page