With its top restaurants and leading cultural museums, you might never tire of the fast-paced metropolitan lifestyle found in Lima.
But step away from Peru’s capital city for a day and there’s plenty more to see, from roaring rapids to ancient archaeological sites. These are the best day trips from Lima.
1. Explore the Lomas de Lucumo
Only 34km from the capital city, the vast Lomas de Lucumo (Hills of Lucumo) are a far cry from the manicured parks of Lima. The ocean mist gets trapped within the soft hills here, painting the landscape with verdant green vegetation during the typically gray winter months (June-October).
Depending on your pace and route, an undulating trek through the sea of green can last anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours.
Guides are available to hire from the base of the Lomas. They can point out the caves and wildlife that dot the area. If you want to go it alone, simply pass the grazing cows and begin your ascent.
How to get to Lomas de Lucumo: It’s a 70-minute drive by private car to Lomas de Lucumo. Head south on Panamericana Sur, taking the exit to Lurin, and then continue towards the Pachacamac village. Keep an eye out for the Quebrada Verde bridge where signs will lead you to the site. If taking a taxi, ask the driver to wait for you as it is difficult to find a ride back.
2. Visit the archaeological wonders of Caral
Built at the time of the Egyptian pyramids, the massive Norte Chico civilization settlement of Caral, 186 km from Lima, pre-dates the Incas by some 4000 years.
Tours of the once-thriving metropolis cover its plazas, temples, residential areas, and amphitheater which were ‘lost’ beneath the desert dunes until archaeologist Paul Kosok came across the city in 1948.
Excavations continue at the site nicknamed the ‘Cradle of Civilization’ with plenty of musical instruments to see but no signs of war.
Despite its significance, few visit Caral, likely due to its remote location. But this archaeological site, listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site, is well worth hitting the road at sunrise for.
How to get to Caral: It can take about 3 hours to get here. Catch an early ride with a bus agency that offers direct transportation, such as Movil Bus. By taxi or private car simply follow the Panamericana Norte for 184km until you reach the town of Supe, from which Caral is a mere 3km away.
3. Get high in Marcahuasi
Marcahuasi is a high Andean plateau, 80km east of Lima, that’s noted for its mystic stone forest made up of dozens of ancient rock sculptures that depict anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures. Discovered in the mid-20th century, a lot of excavation still needs to take place here.
Most traveler visit for the challenging 4km trail which takes up to three hours to complete. But the views from the top reach out across mountain peaks and the Colchón de Nubes (Mattress of Clouds) that hovers at eye level. Pack a warm jacket and prepare for a change in altitude with coca leaves.
If you have an extra day, the plateau’s Amphitheater campsite is ideal for stargazing.
How to get to Marcahuasi: If going just for one day, take a taxi or rent a car as it can take 3-4 hours due to the wide and ascending roads. Head east to Chosica, then onto dirt roads to San Pedro de Casta where the trailhead is located.
4. Retreat to the Cieneguilla countryside
Barricaded by barren desert hills, Cieneguilla is a peaceful countryside resort that’s a favorite with Limeños. The restaurants here serve up barbecued or roasted meats and sticky-sweet picarones (a traditional pastry) local to the area.
As well as inclusive green areas (soccer fields, playgrounds), outdoor seating, and pools, Cieneguilla is great for picnicking and sunbathing. If you have time, check out the Huaycan de Cieneguilla, an ancient administrative center connected to the Qhapaq Ñan trail.
How to get to Cieneguilla: Buses direct to Cieneguilla leave from Av. Javier Prado. It’s 90 mniutes by car (or taxi). Head down Av. Javier Prado towards the district of Ate, and turn onto Golf los Incas at the Ovalo Monitor. Continue onto Avenida La Molina until you can turn right onto Nuevo Toledo.
5. Get an adrenaline rush in Huacachina
Near the city of Ica, where many of Peru’s best piscos are distilled, large sand dunes act as a barrier to a mystical desert lagoon and serve as a jumping board to adventure sports like sandboarding and dune buggy riding.
One of Peru’s most unique destinations, it is not uncommon to see more tourists than locals in the tiny village of Huacachina. Restaurants and hostels stand in the shadows of palm trees here that line the oasis’ green waters.
Take the earliest bus ride you can find and head southwest of Peru’s capital city for a full day of pure adrenaline and desert sun. If you want to make the most out of your trip, indulge in a tasting at a local vineyard in Ica or visit the Ballestas Islands in Paracas (an hour by car).
How to get to Huacachina: One of the easiest and most direct services is to use PeruHop, which can take you from Lima to the entrance of Huacachina. It’s about four hours by bus or car.
6. Take a pilgrimage to Pachacamac
A pilgrimage site for many ancient Peruvian cultures, Pachacamac is a large pre-Columbian ruin that dates back to 200 AD. Spread across the coastal desert of the Lurin Valley, this archaeological site takes its name from the creator god, Pacha Kamaq.
Long before its rediscovery at the end of the 19th century, the site suffered from destruction and looting. Yet, archaeologists have continued to find secrets of the past hidden amongst the temples, plazas and pyramids. A guided tour will allow you to understand the evolution and transformation of this historical site.
How to get to Pachacamac: Just over an hour by car, head down the Panamericana Sur, taking the exit at Lurin. On the Antigua Panamericana Sur, look for signs pointing towards the archaeological site.
7. Sail away to Callao & La Punta
The only reason to go to Callao, the old joke went, was to get to Peru’s Jorge Chavez International Airport. However, Lima’s seaside neighbor is slowly gaining the attention it deserves.
After perusing the art galleries and murals at Monumental Callao, cross the street to the city’s port. From here you can visit Peru’s Naval Museum, the country’s most comprehensive military museum, or catch a boat to Las Palominas Islands.
You can even swim with sea lions here and it’s a great alternative to Ballestas Islands in Paracas.
How to get to Callao and La Punta: Just 10 km from Lima, Callao is easily reached by taxi. It takes around 45 minutes. Buses go from Av. Javier Prado. For La Punta, take a bus from Av. Javier Prado and ask if it goes to ‘todo La Marina’. Alight at Real Plaza San Miguel and catch another Callao/La Punta bus to Fortaleza Real Felipe, a few blocks from Callao docks. The buses take an hour.
8. Explore family-friendly Chancay
Some 75km north of Lima is Chancay, the heart of a pre-Hispanic civilization (roughly 1000AD-1500AD) of the same name. Today, this charming coastal town continues to host a certain kingdom or at least a castle – the daughter of a national viceroy constructed cliffside Castillo de Chancay in the 1920s.
Renovations over the past few decades have left the medieval-style castle a tad kitschy but the onsite museum houses some fascinating Chancay relics. The large public pool overlooking the ocean is a fun addition for families too.
If you have time, head 20 minutes north to Lomas de Lachay where walking trails lead you away from the traffic and amongst the local wildlife.
How to get to Chancay: By private car take the Panamericana Norte to Chancay (just under 80 km north of Lima) – it’ll take about 90 minutes. From the Plaza Norte bus terminal in Lima, catch a bus heading to Huacho, as it will pass through Chancay.
9. Get sporty in Santa Eulalia
Located in the district of Huarochirí, Santa Eulalia is a picturesque valley that’s ideal for connecting with nature. But don’t let the rolling hills and tranquil creeks fool you – Santa Eulalia is an adventure sports hotspot.
The surrounding mountains and cliffs are ideal for thrillseekers interested in mountain biking, rock climbing, and even bungee jumping.
Meanwhile, extensive trails for all levels can take you to lookout points over the Santa Eulalia River (keep an eye out for soaring Andean condors), towards archaeological sites, and to the foot of the Autisha waterfall.
How to get to Santa Eulalia: This trip takes bout two hours by car. Head towards Chosica by way of the Carretera Central (Central Highway). At 38km, a left turn will bring you to the town’s main plaza in a matter of minutes. For public transportation, take a taxi to Ovalo Santa Anita to find a bus heading towards Chosica. Get off at Parque Echenique and take another taxi or moto-taxi to Santa Eulalia.