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When people discuss great cities in South America, one that is often overlooked is Lima. But ’s capital can hold its own against its neighbors. It has an oceanfront setting, colonial-era splendor, sophisticated dining, and nonstop .

It’s true that the city—clogged with traffic and choked with fumes—doesn’t make a good first impression. But wander around the regal edifices surrounding the Plaza de Armas, among the gnarled olive trees of San Isidro, or along the winding lanes in the coastal community of Barranco and you might find yourself charmed.

In 1535 Francisco Pizarro found the perfect place for the capital of Spain’s colonial empire. On a natural port, the so-called Ciudad de los Reyes (City of Kings) allowed Spain to ship home all the gold the conquistador plundered from the Inca. Lima served as the capital of Spain’s South American empire for 300 years, and it’s safe to say that no other colonial city enjoyed such power and prestige during this period.

When Peru declared its independence from Spain in 1821, the declaration was read in the square that Pizarro had so carefully designed. Many of the colonial-era buildings around the Plaza de Armas are standing today. Walk a few blocks in any direction for churches and elegant houses that reveal just how wealthy this city once was.

The walls that surrounded the city were demolished in 1870, making way for unprecedented growth. A former hacienda became the graceful residential neighborhood of San Isidro. In the early 1920s, with the construction of tree-lined Avenida Arequipa, people pushed farther south to neighborhoods like bustling Miraflores and bohemian Barranco.

Almost a third of the country’s population of 28 million lives here, many of them in poverty-stricken pueblos jóvenes in the outskirts of the city. Many residents of these “new towns” come from mountain villages, desperate for any kind of work. The lack of jobs led to a dramatic increase in crime during the 1980s and ’90s.

Things have improved. Residents who used to steer clear of the historic center now stroll along its streets. And many travelers who once would have avoided the city altogether now plan to spend a day here and end up staying two or three. Not surprising, since Lima has the country’s finest museums, swankiest shops, and most dazzling restaurants. It turns out that there really is a reason to fall in love with Lima.

Lima Reviews

Lima isn’t lacking for lodging—you can’t go far before you see the flurry of flags above a doorway indicating that international travelers are welcome. If you have some money to spend, the capital has some astonishing accommodations. For something special, pass by the towers of glass and steel and head to such charmers as the Miraflores Park Plaza, the Country Club Lima Hotel, or the Gran Hotel Bolívar.

There are plenty of low-cost lodgings in Lima, many of them on quiet streets in the mostly residential neighborhoods of Miraflores and San Isidro. These areas are safe, so you don’t have to worry about taking a stroll during the day, and they’re quick cab rides to El Centro.

Although the historic center is much safer than it once was, it still has few decent hotels. If you decide to stay near the heart of the city, remember that you really can’t go for a stroll at night. You’ll also have far fewer options in terms of bars and restaurants than in other neighborhoods.

Lima Nightlife

Lima may not be the city that doesn’t sleep, but it certainly can’t be getting enough rest. Limeños love to go out, as you’ll notice on any Friday or Saturday night. Early in the evening they’re clustered around movie theaters and concert halls, while late at night they are piling into taxis headed to the bars and clubs of Miraflores and Barranco. Ask at your hotel for a free copy of Peru Guide, an English-language monthly full of information on bars and clubs as well as galleries and performances.

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