Lima City Tour by Bus

When looking for things to do in Lima, Peru, one of the biggest obstacles to tourism is simply the knowledge of what is out there. The primary tourism district, Miraflores, is a concentration of oceanfront hotels, casinos, parks, and retail establishments, but there is much more history to this city of 10 million, than what this modern area contains.

For an overview of the heart of the city, my family and I selected the City Sightseeing tour, offered by Turibus (, a local company which offers a number of bilingual (English-Spanish) bus tours in and around the city. The destination of the tour offered depends on the day of the week. The City Sightseeing tour of downtown Lima is offered twice daily, every day. The two versions are very similar, but offer a different highlight. The morning tour offers entrance to the spectacular Cathedral of Lima, while the afternoon version gains entry into the slightly less ostentatious, yet still magnificent Cathedral of San Francisco, along with its ancient catacombs.

On the afternoon in question, we headed down to the main level of Larcomar Mall in Miraflores, a medium-sized commercial center built into the side of cliffs overlooking the endlessly crashing sea about a hundred feet below. Turibus has a small ticket kiosk, where I forked over 220 Peruvian soles, or about $80 USD, for the four adult tickets we would need, as both my children are over 8 years old. We went back up to the street level, where we would wait for the modern, double-decker tour bus. We stocked up on bottles of water from a street vendor at a sol apiece.

Once the bus pulled away from the curb, we immediately lost sight of the ocean and headed into downtown Lima Central. As the bus lumbered through Lima’s notorious traffic, our guide explained various buildings and sights as we passed by. A 1200-year old archeological dig flanked the street at one point, and we passed numerous 16th century houses and apartment buildings, each with its own story. Chile, Argentina, and a handful of other nations maintain their embassies in this district as well. St. Peter’s Basilica, founded in 1638, a hundred years after the city itself, is nestled between other historic buildings, in streets made to feel more narrow by our viewpoint from the upper deck of the bus. We passed by Lima’s main Museum of Art, as well as the Museum of Italian Art, the only one if its kind in South America. One of Lima’s most unique attractions, the Parque de Aguas, is a collection of 13 different fountains, and is worth a return visit after dark, when colored lights projected onto the fountains add a whole new level of depth to these moving works of art.

Following the move through the Plaza of San Martin, the streets narrowed even further, as we passed by scores of historic wooden balconies, dating back centuries. We made mental notes to return here if we were ever looking for a place to spend an hour exploring.

Finally, we arrived at the edge of the main attraction, the Plaza de Armas, or Plaza Mayor. This is Lima’s huge central square, flanked by large, official looking buildings surrounding various statues and monuments to past war heroes. The square is dominated by the Cathedral of Lima, and the adjacent Palace of the Archbishop, two of the oldest buildings in the square, dating back to 1535. Many of the Plazas buildings are painted bright yellow, and appear a bit more modern. We learned that most of the yellow buildings date back to the 1940s, when a major earthquake leveled most of the older buildings in the Plaza.

Just a block away from the Plaza by foot lies the Cathedral of San Francisco. Vendors line the street selling locally made trinkets and jewelry. One of the more popular wares are various pastel or charcoal sketches depicting the indigenous peoples undergoing activities of their daily lives. While most of it appears to be produced in large quantities, many of the artists are quite talented. The asking price of most of the works is about s/30, or about $11 USD.

By stepping into the monastery itself, we managed to escape the vendors, and along with them, the last 350 years. The Cathedral of San Francisco contains a courtyard surrounded by covered walkways, many of which contain original oil paintings and murals from the 16th century. The tile work there is intricate as well, much of it a gift from a local Inca princess to the builders of the monastery.

A few steps downward into the building itself, and we found ourselves ducking into the tiny doorway entrance into the catacombs. These tunnels entomb at least 25,000 bodies, according to our guide. The upper levels consist of display areas, but after decomposition, large bins were used to sort bones by type. Following this sorting and cleaning, the bones were arranged artistically into brick-lined pits over 50 feet deep, layer upon layer of skulls and long bones, each perfectly placed in respect of those long forgotten. A morbid place, for sure, but one that left me with a feeling of peace. We returned to the 21st century as we exited the building, and a few more vendors sought to close a sale on us as we walked back to the bus.

The sun set rapidly, and we were able to enjoy the same sights on the return trip, lit up by the ghostly lights of the city. The guide was silent.

We took this trip back in May, which is not the warmest time of the year in Lima. The cool ocean breeze chilled us a bit more than I found comfortable, so I sought refuge on the lower level of the bus out of the wind. A light jacket or coat is advisable.

We dismounted the bus right next to one of Miraflores’ more well known parks, the Parque de Amor, or Lover’s Park. Two huge statues depict a couple lying next to each other near the ocean. All around, day or night, real couples are trying to imitate it.

The trip had taken just less than four hours, but we already had a long list of places we wanted to go back and see in more detail on another day. For those here for a limited time, and looking for things to do in Lima, it is a great way to get an overview of the many different sights and sites the city has to offer, but with one caveat – I recommend this trip during your first days in Lima, not your last – else you leave longing to have seen more.

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