Lima, the center of Spanish power in the New World for three centuries after Pizarro's conquest of Peru, is the focal point that draws the country into one land. The capital and the starting point for most visitor itineraries enjoys a considerable legacy of art and architecture from its colonial period, while its museums are bursting with artifacts of gold, ceramic and weavings unearthed from the country's ancient settlements.
The construction of deluxe hotels has boomed in the lovely residential districts of Miraflores and San Isidro, whose attractions are beautiful homes and flowering parks, cafes and restaurants, theaters and an active nightlife. Shopping in Lima is excellent. Its boutiques and craft shops are full of good buys in gold and silver jewelry, leather, pottery, weavings, soft alpaca and vicuna wool knits. Dining is also a special treat-for Peruvian cuisine is, quite simply, superb-served up in chic or cozy restaurants, in garden settings or by the sea.
Colonial era treasures are most visible around this historic square, bordered by the cathedral that houses glorious treasures and the remains of Pizarro, the Presidential Palace with the daily ceremonial changing of the guard, and the Archbishop's Palace and City Hall with lavishly carved wooden balconies. The city's colonial jewel is Casa de Aliaga, since 1535 home to the descendants of Conquistador Jeronimo de Aliaga (visit arranged exclusively through Lima Tours).
The capital's beautiful churches include La Merced, San Pedro and Santo Domingo, all overwhelmingly baroque with gold-encrusted interiors and painted ceilings. The 16th-century gem is San Francisco. The convent and cloisters are adorned with tiles from Seville and within the church is a fine Museum of Religious Art and a complex of eerie, bone-filled catacombs.
The treasures recovered from ancient Peruvian civilizations can be viewed in the National Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and the Museum of the Nation. A superb collection of ceramics, textiles, gold, silver and erotic pottery is exhibited at the Larco Museum and exquisite pre-Hispanic historic textiles are at the Amano Museum. Thousands of gold artifacts can be viewed at the Gold Museum in Monterrico. The Enrico Poli Museumhouses a unique collection of silver objects and colonial furniture.
With its romantic district of colonial and 19th-century houses, this suburb has long been the preferred residence for bohemians- artists and writers. Of particular interest are the colonial decorative arts on display in the Pedro de Osma Art Museum.
Once the largest pre-Columbian settlement on the Peruvian coast, it served as a ceremonial center for both Inca and pre-Inca cultures. The ruins lie 20 miles south of Lima, where there is an on-site museum.