Despite the fact that Lima didn’t exactly blow us away with intangible charm, we made the best of our time there by packing our schedule with uniquely Peruvian experiences. Here, three of the tours we loved in Lima, and how they stack up against each other in Zoe and Alex’s Extremely Official Rating System.
Lima Coast Biking Tour
Longtime readers know that I’m an avid bike-tour taker when I travel — I’ve pedaled through Bangkok, Reykjavik, and Chiang Rai, among others. So I was pretty excited to tackle the Lima Coast Bike Tour — even more so when I discovered it started across the street from our hostel at the Huaca Pucclana ruins, giving us a two minute commute!
We were surprised to discover we’d have a private tour, and also that it didn’t actually start at the ruins – we were whisked away by van to Solar Hill high in the Chorillos region. It was unlike any part of the city we’d seen so far. Slums mushroomed all the way up the hill, leading to a flat plateau topped with a Christo Redentor statue gifted from Brazil. Here, we mounted our bikes and started down the curving switchbacks leading to the boast below.
Hugging the sea, we biked from the fisherman-filled Chorillos district through to colonial Barranco — our favorite part of Lima — and eventually back to modern Miraflores. We zoomed past a military vs. navy soccer game, pedaled through lush coastal parks, and biked along Spanish-influenced squares.
While I enjoyed our guide’s insight into life in Lima and enjoyed working up a sweat pedaling through cliff-top gardens, Zoe and I both agreed that the tour seemed to emphasize that Lima is not exactly one of the worlds’ most beautiful cities — or again, perhaps it’s just the gloomy weather!
However, this tour was somewhat of a milestone for me — it was my first time using my new GoPro! For best viewing experience, be sure to change the quality of the video to HD by clicking the gear icon in the lower right hand corner.
Essential Info: We give the Lima Coast Bike Tour a 4/5, though we are willing to admit our experience may have been colored by gloomy weather. The tour costs $45, lasts around 4 hours, and ends in Love Park in Miraflores.
Market Tour and Pisco Sour Lesson
Does there exist a better introduction to a country than learning how to make its national drink? After our Lima Market Tour and Pisco Sour Lesson, Zoe and I concluded quite conclusively that no — there is not.
When we arrived at our designated meeting spot at Parque Kennedy, we realized that it would be a private tour. That turned out to be great because as we set off for the market we could ask all the questions we wanted of our guide Giovanni – critical stuff like, why are there so many cats in this damn park?
Soon we arrived at the Mercado Uno Surquillo, housed somewhat inconspicuously in a concrete warehouse. Giovanni showed us fruit after fruit that we’d never seen before – a few I was proud to recognize from the jungle! We couldn’t help but buy some oversized fresas, platanos, and mangoes, as well as some of the mystery fruits we’d never tried.
While much of the market was closed due to it being a Sunday, we also visited stalls selling vegetables, meats, spices, and other potions. Giovanni mentioned that only the poor and lower class Limeños would shop here, while wealthier residents would go to chain grocery stores. Zoe brought up an interesting point that it’s basically the opposite in the US, where going to farmers’ markets is the more expensive and bourgeoisie option — a fascinating cultural comparison, I thought.
After a short walk through a new neighborhood peppered with typical colorful Lima graffiti we ducked into a small and seemingly empty hotel in order to start our lesson. Giovanni laid out the ingredients: Pisco, ice, sugar syrup, bitters, and eggs and lemons — which looked like what we’d call limes — from the market. As he prepared the bar, our affable guide told us the history of Pisco.
When the Spanish colonized Peru, they hoped to make wine similar to what they had back home. However, the climate was too hot and they ended up with Pisco — a very strong alcohol similar to whiskey, but clear! We tried a shot of Pisco and despite Gio’s lesson on how to do a shot without getting baracho (it involved a lot of saliva) I still ended up coughing and grimacing. That stuff was strong!
After watching Giovanni go through the steps of making a classic Pisco sour –blending exact amounts of Pisco, sugar, ice, and fresh squeezed lemon juice, separating out the egg whites and adding them to the mix, then topping with a few drops of bitters – we were each able to make our own versions.
Zoe’s was strong on the booze, while mine was heavy on the sugar. We left in a giggly mood and agreed that the day was a hit – it had been a great tour, and we had consumed three sours plus a straight shot of Pisco each. When in Peru, drink like the Peruvians do…. that’s how the saying goes, right?
Essential Info: We give the Lima Market Tour and Pisco Sour Lesson a 5/5 for entertainment, quality, and value. The tour costs $26, lasts around 3 hours, and begins and ends in Kennedy Park in Miraflores. I recommend avoiding Sundays in order to see the market at its liveliest.
An Evening at the Larco Museum with Dinner
After all the boozin’ and bikin’, Zoe and I were ready for a little bit of culture. We scoured our backpacks for our most presentable outfits, and thus felt appropriately fancified as we were whisked into Central Lima — a modern and shiny part of town that we had yet to visit — in a private van.
Technically, the museum is open for anyone to visit until 10pm, but when the security guard opened the gates for us in the dark of night, it felt like the place was being opened for our own private visit — An Evening at the Larco Museum with Dinner.
Upon arrived we were handed off to a docent, who guided us through the manageable number of galleries with thorough explanations and fascinating anecdotes. Collection items I may have glanced over had I been walking through myself, such as a textile from 1000AD, had me captivated thanks to the docents’ explanation of how a piece of fabric could survive such an unbelievable test of time (it involves childrens’ urine, in case you were wondering).
Her tour also emphasized the many other empires that ruled Peru, aside from the Incas — a point we found many Limeños were quick to point out. Predictably, the galleries were filled with gold and silver, which we learned had equal value to Peruvians before colonization.
Even putting aside the quality of the collection and the docent’s encyclopedic knowledge, the museum would be worth a visit for the aesthetics of the building housing the museum and design of the galleries alone. It was quite possibly one of the most beautiful and well laid-out museums I’ve ever visited. The tour wrapped up with a spin through the erotic art gallery, where we suddenly became fully enraptured in the displays once again — and spotted the first other guests we had seen since arriving at the museum.
The tour concluded with dinner at the museum’s in-house restaurant, designed by the same famed Peruvian architect responsible for the stunning Aria ship I was sailing down the Amazon on just a week before. We were given a set menu with several options each for an appetizer, an entrée, and a dessert — washed down with, of course, a pisco sour. I started with a creamy vegetable soup, filled up on local speciality aji de gallina and finished with a perfectly guilt-free portion of chocolate mousse. Once again, we had the place to ourselves — a luxurious ending to these backpacking bestie’s big night out.
Essential Info: We give the An Evening at the Larco Museum with Dinner 4.5/5 stars. The experience was flawless, thus the remaining star is denied only due to cost — though clearly this is not an experience marketed towards backpackers. The tour costs $79 per person, lasts around 3 hours, and includes private transfers, a private guided tour, and dinner.
Which of these tours would you take in Lima?
Note: I am a freelancer for Viator and participated in these tours in order to write a review for their site. I was compensated for my time and they did not request favorable reviews on either their site or my own.