As a travel destination, Peru is often mentioned in the same breath as Machu Picchu. While on her way to visit the ancient ruins, contributing writer Margot Black stopped in Lima for a few days with her husband and young son. Together they discovered that Lima is a very family-friendly travel destination, complete with water shows, cat parks, and chocolate classes, along with historic buildings and pre-Incan ruins.
Of all the family-friendly cities in the world, I would put Lima somewhere at the top of the list. It is much more than a gateway city to the Amazon and Machu Picchu (which we were also visiting).
The first leg of our journey was long, but because we had a child—and I like to see my luggage—we intentionally took a direct flight from LAX to Jorge Chavez International airport. We flew for eight hours and arrived in Lima just before midnight.
Once there, we were met by tour guides from International Expeditions ahead of our three-night stay. It was a relief being able to hand the reins over to someone else. We got to see so much more than if we had spent three days and nights by ourselves, and I could properly relax.
A Splashy Reception
As all flights from Los Angeles arrive very late, we didn’t get to our hotel until after midnight. We stayed at the Swissôtel Lima, which is both elegant and modern and located in the heart of San Isidro, a bustling business, residential, and cultural district. It’s close to the shopping district, and also within easy reach of Lima’s historical city center.
One of my well-worn family travel tips when traveling long distances (bearing in mind we still had some way to go) is to stay in a hotel with a pool and gift yourself a loosey-goosey day. It’s a great way to de-stress and shake off the journey. Sleep late, have a leisurely breakfast, take a dip in the pool, and then stretch your legs around the neighborhood. The hotel also offers a great breakfast buffet with tons of fresh fruit, juices, and Peruvian food.
It had an indoor/outdoor pool, and since the hotel primarily hosts business professionals, we had it to ourselves most of the time. We also used the sauna, gym, and hot tub.
One of the lovely things the hotel did on arrival was to tell our son Jett that he could order milk and cookies via room service as a complimentary treat. The lady treated him like a little adult, purposely handing him the coupon and making him smile despite his midnight tiredness.
He was thrilled when we let him use the room phone the next day to place his order. When he asked for extra cookies to share with his parents, they brought him six on a plate, as well as some chocolate milk. They also had an outdoor glass bubble elevator, and we pretended that we were superheroes and took photos of each other. Some of the business guests didn’t know what we were doing but others played along. The location worked for us because the city is easy to navigate. We only had to walk five minutes to find a good restaurant for dinner, and it was a very pretty district.
The Cat Park & Magic Water Circuit
Lima has an amazing cat park called Kennedy Park. I’m not talking about big cats but domestic cats. These are not domestic because they live in the park full time. But they are very friendly and I highly recommend a visit for all families. There are cats everywhere, running around, snoozing, playing, or panhandling for affection or scraps of your picnic.
We bought lunch and ate it al fresco. I would consider it essential for a family visit if you visit Peru.
Later, we visited the Magic Water Circuit of Lima. It’s a fantastic family-friendly hangout featuring more than a dozen fountains that send water shooting into the air, all choreographed to music and light. According to the folks at Guinness, it is the largest water fountain compound in the world. The park is open Wednesday through Sunday, from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., and you should definitely go after the sun has set to properly see the light show.
Our son enjoyed the show, moving his hands like a conductor along with the music and lights. Best of all, admission is super cheap at $1.50 per person.
Colonial Lima and Chocolate
On our second full day, we decided to learn more about the history of Lima. Feeling like real “Limeños” (Lima locals) we explored the colonial and Incan architecture.
The town is beautiful and strewn with landmarks like the Paseo de la Republica, San Martin Square, Main Square, Government Palace, Basilica Cathedral, The Archbishop’s Palace, and City Hall Palace.
The Old Streets are full of charming colonial mansions and houses that feature Moorish-style balconies.
We visited the convent of San Francisco de Asis, which houses some of the most stunning colonial art in America. The main cloister is decorated with Sevillian tiles from the 16th century and the famous catacombs and underground crypts also hail back to colonial times.
We had lunch at a local restaurant, but we were careful not to eat too much because the afternoon’s entertainment came in the form of chocolate.
Our guide had booked us a tour of their Chocolate Museum, which was super fun. Afterward, we took a Chocolate Making Class. As a result, the three of us have a new appreciation for the humble cocoa bean.
Food Markets and Culture
On day two, after another hearty hotel breakfast, we paid an early morning visit to the Surquillo Food Market. It’s busy, loud, and colorful, and offers a glimpse into the real life of Peruvians.
Our son saw what markets in other countries look like and how food was prepared, handled, and sold. It was a great cultural experience and also very eye-opening. We met the “chicken lady,” and she showed us her wares (in graphic detail). Though it might be gross to Americans who are used to having produce presented clean and packaged, I highly recommend going to market in a foreign country because it’s a great learning experience.
We bought a variety of fruit, including passion fruit, custard apples, and guavas. Street food counters also sell Peruvian favorites like ceviche, arroz con mariscos, and causa rellena con pollo.
We then strolled around the Indian Craft Market, which sells everything from blankets to alpaca scarves and hand-carved gourds.
Our lunch stop at the Huaca Pucllana Restaurant was phenomenal. It’s on the site of the Pucllana pre-Inca ancient ruins in the city’s upscale Miraflores district. This adobe ceremonial center was likely built around 500 A.D., during the cultural height of Lima’s history, and although much of it has been restored, excavations continue.
The restaurant was fancy and we enjoyed walking among the ruins, along with tons of other school groups (where kids all wore track suits).
Percy and Perilous Traffic
We spent the afternoon wandering the Miraflores district, which is by the water and reminded us of Santa Monica (and also Barcelona because of its Gaudi-like architecture).
The funniest thing was that our guide was called Percy and we found this amusing because we had just read our son the Percy Jackson series. There is a famous Peruvian soccer star called Percy Olivares, who is a national hero, hence the plethora of young men named Percy.
At one point our son was cold so we bought him a Peruvian soccer jersey. So we’ve decided to continue that tradition in every country we visit.
Our very own Percy was a great guide. We felt safe in his company and he was able to answer all our questions. I have to say that driving in Lima is like a game of “I dare you”—we could not have navigated the city without him. There are three million people living in Lima, and I think they were all on the road that day.
We also saw a real target, to which my son asked, “Do they have Target here?” “No,” we told him. “That’s a real military target.” Police have a visible presence on the streets but it’s friendly.
We Love Lima
For our final evening, we transferred to the Costa del Sol Wyndham Hotel for practical reasons. I’ve never stayed closer to an airport in my life. The next morning we walked across the street and were able to make our very early flights with no fuss or stress.
Our three-night stopover in Lima not only introduced us to probably the most family-friendly city we’ve ever visited, but eased us into a new culture and time zone in the most delightful way.
The people were very friendly and the food was delicious. I was surprised and delighted. I would return in a heartbeat, but there’s no way I would let my husband drive!
- Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley & Cusco: Visiting Peru as a Family
- Beyond Disneyland: Unexpected Sights & Activities in Anaheim, California
- Family-Friendly Activities in the Florida Keys
Text and images by Margot Black for PeterGreenberg.com