Lima, the sprawling capital of Peru, is a vibrant city that combines the old and the new, offering a taste of all the contrasts that make up the country. Set on the arid Pacific coast, Lima is a city of contrasts with its mix of architectural styles, cultures, and traditions.
Lima: The Capital of Peru Known as the City of Kings
Most people know that the capital of Peru is Lima. However, they may not know that the history of the country’s capital city is long and complicated. In this article, we will look at the different iterations of the capital of Peru, from its earliest days as an Inca city to its current status as a bustling metropolis.
Lima, traditionally known as “The City of Kings,” is the country’s largest and most populous city. It is situated along the country’s coast and is the capital of Peru.
Where is Peru Located?
The Republic of Peru is located in western South America. It borders Ecuador and Colombia to the north, Brazil to the east; Bolivia to the southeast; Chile to the south; and the Pacific Ocean to the west.
The country has incredible biodiversity, from the Pacific coast's arid plains to the Andes' peaks and the tropical Amazon rainforest. Peru is the 19th-largest country in the world and the third-largest country in South America. It's also home to ancient civilizations such as Caral, Mochica, Nazca, Chimu, and the Inca Empire. Each of these great civilizations had its capital or important cities. Nowadays, Peru is a multicultural country with many languages and ethnic races.
The most important cities in Peru, historically, are Cusco and Lima.
What is the Capital of Peru?
The capital of Peru is Lima, which is also the country's largest city. The metropolitan area of Lima is home to more than 10 million people, making it one of the most populated cities in South America.
From the 14th to the 16th century, the Inca culture dominated most of South America. It was not only Peru; the Inca Empire, also known as Tawantinsuyo (the four provinces of the sun), conquered a vast territory from Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and the north of Chile. Cusco was the center of this great empire and the most important city in South America. Nowadays, Cusco has the title of the historical capital of Peru.
The New Capital of Peru
Francisco Pizarro, the Conqueror of the Inca Empire, founded Lima City. In 1535, Lima was founded as the City of Kings because its date of establishment was January 6, the date of the Epiphany. The name was soon abandoned, and Lima became the city's first choice. The city is located on the coast of central Peru, about halfway between the equator and the Andes Mountains.
Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu 4 days – Find out more.
Where is the capital of Peru Located?
Lima, the capital of Peru, is located at an elevation of 528 feet (161 meters) in the Central West part of Peru. The city center is located around 8 miles (13 km) inland from the Pacific Ocean in Peru's coastal desert.
Although the "City of the Kings" was initially founded at the Rímac Riverbank, nowadays, it extends to vast desert areas from north to south, including 11 rivers and many valleys. Lima city has grown so fast in the 80s and 9os due to the immigration from the countryside and terrorism.
Today Lima is considered the fifth-largest city in South America and the Caribbean, including Mexico.
History of Lima – Peru
Lima Before the Incas
Before the Incas, the area now known as Lima was inhabited by various indigenous cultures that left significant archaeological evidence of their existence. Among the most important cultures are:
- Caral-Supe Civilization: Caral-Supe, also known as Norte Chico, is the oldest known civilization in the Americas and one of the six places in the world where civilization independently arose. Its existence was around 3000 to 1800 BC. This civilization is known for its impressive architecture, including large pyramid-like structures and complex residential buildings.
- Lima Culture: The Lima Culture was an indigenous civilization that existed in modern-day Lima, Peru, from about 100 to 650 CE. Their most significant architectural work is the Huaca Pucllana, a great adobe and clay pyramid located in the Miraflores district of central Lima, Peru. The Wari Empire eventually absorbed the Lima culture.
- Ichma Culture (Yschma/ Ishma): The Ichma culture emerged around 1100 CE, after the collapse of the Wari Empire. They established their capital at Pachacamac, just south of present-day Lima. The Ichma were known for their adobe architecture, which included both temples and pyramids. By the mid-15th century, they were incorporated into the Inca Empire.
- Wari Empire: The Wari Empire, also known as Huari, was a political formation that emerged around 600 CE in the central Andes, well before the Inca Empire. The Wari are particularly noted for their stone architecture and textile art.
These cultures were part of a long history of complex societies in the Andes before the rise of the Inca Empire. They each contributed to the development of the region's social complexity, architectural traditions, and agricultural practices.
Lima During the Inca Empire
Around the 15th century, the Inca Empire, based in Cusco, began its expansion and gradually took control over the area of present-day Lima. By the time the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, the region was firmly under Incan control. Here's what we know about Lima during the Inca Empire:
- Pachacamac: This site, located about 40 km southeast of present-day Lima, was an important pilgrimage site even before the Incas arrived. Once the Incas took control, they incorporated it into their own religious system. They built several structures at the site, including the Temple of the Sun.
- Inca Trails: As part of the Inca Empire, also known as Tahuantinsuyo, the Lima area was integrated into a vast network of roads, agricultural terraces, and administrative centers. The Inca road system, known as the Qhapaq Ñan, facilitated transportation, communication, and trade throughout the empire.
- Administration: The Incas divided their empire into 4 provinces, or Suyus, which met at the capital, Cusco. The area of Lima was part of the coastal province known as the Chinchaysuyu. As part of this administrative system, the inhabitants of the Lima area would have been subject to the mita labor system, in which they were required to provide labor to the state for projects such as construction, agriculture, and mining.
Influence on Local Cultures: In Lima, the local god Pachacamac was syncretized with the Inca sun god, Inti. The Inca rulers also established yanaconas, loyal servants who were moved to new lands to ensure loyalty to the Inca state.
Lima During the Conquest of Peru
Lima played a crucial role in the Spanish conquest of Peru. The Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro founded the city of Lima on January 18, 1535, and it served as the base for the Spanish colonization of the region. Here are some significant points about Lima during the conquest of Peru: Below is a briefing list of the most important events during the Conquest of Peru.
- In 1532, the Inca King Atahualpa was captured in Cajamarca by the Spanish conquistadors led by Francisco Pizarro.
- In April of 1534, Francisco Pizarro founded the first capital of Peru at Jauja, a city in the Andes with nice warm weather.
- In December 1534, Francisco Pizarro ordered the transfer of all treasures from Jauja to Lima, a city located near the sea and the main port of Callao.
- On January 18, 1535, Francisco Pizzaro established Lima's city (City of the Kings) as the Colony's new capital.
- On May 6, 1536, Manco Inca's rebellion began. He sent Captain Quizo Yupanqui with his troops to siege Lima. In September, the Inca troops arrived in Lima, where Captain Qizo Yupanqui was killed, and the Inca Army retreated into the mountains.
- Francisco Pizarro was killed on June 26, 1541, by a group of people called Almagristas. They were led by Diego de Almagro el Mozo.
Lima during the Colony
During the colonial period, Lima served as the capital of the Viceroyalty of Peru, making it the center of Spanish power in South America. This period, lasting from the mid-16th century until the early 19th century, saw Lima grow in both size and importance. Here are some key points about Lima during this period:
One of the most notable events took place on November 4, 1780. Túpac Amaru II was a leader of an indigenous uprising in 1780 against Spanish oppression in the Viceroyalty of Peru. While his rebellion was unsuccessful, he became a mythical figure in the Peruvian struggle for independence and the indigenous rights movement and is considered a national hero. Here are some key points about Lima during this period:
- Establishment as the Capital: After its founding by Francisco Pizarro in 1535, Lima quickly became the administrative, political, and economic center of the region. The Viceroyalty of Peru, established in 1542, oversaw a vast territory that extended from present-day Panama to Chile and Argentina.
- Architectural Development: The city experienced significant architectural growth. Buildings were constructed in the Spanish Baroque style, with a touch of local influence. Notable structures from this period include the Cathedral of Lima, the Monastery of San Francisco, and the Torre Tagle Palace.
- Cultural Hub: Lima became a significant cultural center. The University of San Marcos, founded in 1551, is one of the oldest in the Americas. Many important literary, scientific, and philosophical works were produced in Lima during the colonial period.
- Economic Importance: Lima was South America's most important commercial center during the colonial period. The Port of Callao, which served Lima, was the main point of export for silver from the mines of Potosí (in present-day Bolivia) to Spain. Lima was also a critical stopover point for trade between Spain and the Far East.
- Social Structure: Society in colonial Lima was highly stratified, with a rigid class system in place. Those born in Spain (peninsulares) occupied the highest social echelons, followed by those of Spanish descent born in the Americas (criollos). Next were the mestizos (of mixed Indigenous and Spanish ancestry), with Indigenous people and enslaved Africans at the bottom of the social ladder.
Revolts and Uprisings: Despite Spanish control, there were occasional uprisings by the Indigenous people and mestizos. One of the most notable was the rebellion led by Túpac Amaru II in the late 18th century.
Lima, during the Republican era
The Republican Era in Peru officially began in 1821 when Peru declared its independence from Spain. Lima, as the capital, played a significant role during this period. Some of the most important events and changes in this period are:
- Independence: Peru declared independence on July 28, 1821, and Lima became the new republic's capital. José de San Martín made the declaration in Lima's Plaza Mayor.
- Conflicts and Changes in Power: The early years of the Republican Era were marked by internal conflicts and changes in power, including struggles between those who wanted a centralized government (known as the "centralists") and those who advocated for more regional autonomy (the "federalists"). Lima, as the capital, was often the center of these conflicts.
- War of the Pacific: Between 1879 and 1884, Peru was involved in the War of the Pacific against Chile. Lima was occupied by Chilean forces from 1881 to 1883, which had significant economic and political impacts on the city.
- Economic and Infrastructure Development: Despite conflicts and political instability, the Republican Era also saw economic growth and development, particularly in the export of guano and other natural resources. This wealth allowed for the modernization of Lima, including the construction of new public buildings, the introduction of public transportation, and the expansion of the city.
- Cultural Development: Lima continued to be a major cultural hub during the Republican Era. The city grew, and new districts were established. The city's architecture also began to diversify, with French and Italian influences becoming more prominent.
- Population Growth and Migration: The Republican Era saw significant population growth and migration. People from the countryside moved to Lima in search of better opportunities, leading to the expansion of the city.
- Late 20th Century Conflicts: In the late 20th century, Lima experienced significant challenges due to economic crises and internal conflict, particularly the violence associated with the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) guerrilla group.
- Post-Conflict Era: From the 2000s onward, Lima has seen significant economic growth and development, though the city continues to grapple with issues such as economic inequality and urban planning challenges.
- Lima was the site of the 2019 Pan American Games, the biggest sports event the country has ever seen.
Lima during Covid 19 Pandemic: Lima, the most populous city in Peru, was heavily affected by the pandemic. The city witnessed a high number of COVID-19 cases, leading to the implementation of strict measures to control the spread. These measures included lockdowns, curfews, and restrictions on non-essential activities.
What are Lima's main Tourist Attractions?
Lima has a long history, dating back to the Inca Empire, and there are many ancient sites to see. The Plaza de Armas is the city's main square, surrounded by colonial-era buildings, including the Cathedral of Lima. Other important landmarks include the Huaca Pucllana, an ancient pyramid; the Monastery of San Francisco; and the Larco Museum, which has an extensive collection of pre-Columbian art.
Lima is also a great place to enjoy Peruvian food. The city has many traditional restaurants, such as Ceviche, Lomo Saltado, and papa a la huancaina. There are also plenty of opportunities to try new foods, as Lima is home to several fusion restaurants. In addition to its historical sites and delicious food, Lima is also known for its beautiful beaches. The Costa Verde (Green Coast) is a stretch of coastline with cliffside beaches, rocky shores, and lush vegetation. Miraflores is one of Lima's most famous beach districts and is home to several hotels, restaurants, and shops. Visitors can also find plenty of activity options in Miraflores, including surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, and kayaking.
Pachacamac: The Pre-Inca Site in Lima
Pachacamac is Lima's largest and most important archaeological site, located in the Lurin district. It covers an area of 465.32 hectares with a circumference of 12925.41 linear meters and is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture. It has a museum with the same name, with a collection of more than 6,500 pre-Hispanic pieces of various materials such as ceramics, wood, metal, and textiles. One of the most emblematic pieces is the idol of Pachacamac.
Pachacamac derives from the Quechua words Pacha, meaning "earth," and Camac, meaning "creator." The site was especially popular with pilgrims from Cusco, who would travel to Pachacamac to consult with the oracle. The oracle was thought to be able to predict the future and offer advice on important matters. The site includes the Temple of Pachacamac, which was built in honor of the god Pachacamac.
The Lima Culture initially occupied Pachacamac; they built important temples and oracles that people from all over the Andes visited. From 600 to 1000 AD, it was occupied by the Wari culture, where the temple of Pachacamac became very popular.
By 1470, the Incas had conquered and occupied the region. By 1533, Pachacamas was the most important religious site in the coastal part of Peru; this was mentioned in the chronicles of the Hispanic conquistadors.
Sacred City of Caral-Supe
The Sacred City of Caral-Supe, a 5000-year-old, 626-hectare archaeological monument, is located 182 kilometers north of Lima in the province of Barranca, overlooking the lush valley of the Supe river. It is the oldest civilization in the Americas.
This ancient city is believed to be the oldest known settlement in the Americas, dating back some 5,000 years. Though not as well-known as other ancient sites such as Machu Picchu or the Nazca Lines, Supe-Caral is an important part of Peru's rich cultural heritage. The place was first discovered in the early 20th century and has since been extensively excavated, yielding a wealth of information about early Peruvian life. Today, visitors to Supe-Caral can see the remains of temples, pyramids, other public buildings, and several private residences.
Caral was listed as a World Heritage site in 2009.
Rafael Larco Herrera Archaeological Museum
The Larco Museum is a privately owned pre-Columbian art museum in the Pueblo Libre District of Lima, Peru. The museum is located in an 18th-century vice royal building. It displays galleries arranged in chronological order and can provide a comprehensive overview of Peru's pre-Columbian 5,000-year history. It is famous for its erotic pottery galleries from the pre-Columbian period.
The Larco Museum (officially known as Rafael Larco Herrera Archaeological Museum, in Spanish: Museo Arqueológico Rafael Larco Herrera) is one of the largest museums in the world dedicated to pre-Columbian art. The museum houses a collection of over 45,000 pieces of art from across the Americas, dating back to the ancient cultures of the Moche, Chimú, Nazca, Inca, and Inca, and other cultures. The museum is located in Lima, Peru, founded in 1926 by Rafael Larco Herrera. The museum's collection is housed in a 17th-century colonial mansion and includes various artifacts from different periods and cultures. One of the highlights of the museum is its collection of pre-Columbian pottery. The pottery on display ranges from simple utilitarian vessels to elaborate ceremonial pieces. The museum has many gold and silver objects, stone sculptures, and carvings. Visitors can also view several temporary exhibitions on display throughout the year.
The Larco Museum is one of the most important museums in the world for understanding the history and culture of the pre-Columbian Americas. The Larco Museum currently gives a portion of its collection to its daughter museum in Cusco, Peru, the Museo de Arte Precolombino (Pre-Columbian Art Museum).
The Water Magic Circuit
One of the most significant metropolitan projects, the Magical Water Circuit, was opened on July 26, 2007. It has since become a landmark of Lima city and a symbol of the recovery of Lima's public spaces. The opening ceremony took place on July 26. It has thirteen cybernetic fountains that are powered by the most advanced technology. These fountains blend music, water, and sound with laser lights to create extraordinary, one-of-a-kind displays.
Lima Main Square
The main square of Lima, also known as the Plaza de Armas, has been the center of the city since its founding in 1535. It is located in the historical center of Lima, surrounded by important colonial buildings such as the Cathedral, the Presidential Palace, and the City Hall. The square is a popular gathering place for locals and tourists and is often the site of festivals and other events. The Plaza de Armas was initially built as a fortress to protect the city from attack. Over time, it has been expanded and redesigned several times. In 1746, a significant earthquake caused damage to many of the buildings around the square, including the Cathedral. The plaza was rebuilt after the earthquake and has undergone several changes over the centuries. Today, the Plaza de Armas is a beautiful space well-loved by Lima residents. It is a great place to people-watch, relax in the shade of the trees, or view some of Lima's most iconic buildings.
Lima's main square is where Jose de San Martin declared Peru's independence on July 28, 1821. Peruvian independence from Spain was declared on July 28, 1821, by José de San Martín, the leader of the independence movement. This date is now a national holiday in Peru, celebrated as Día de la Independencia Nacional. San Martín had been fighting for independence in Argentina and Chile before coming to Peru. He arrived in Lima in 1820 and quickly gained the support of many Peruvians. His main goal was to drive the Spanish out of South America so all the countries could be independent. He succeeded in this goal and declared Peru's independence on July 28, 1821. This was a turning point in history, not just for Peru but for all of South America.
Tours in Lima and nearby
Lima City tour
You can explore the best of Lima's historical center on a half-day or full-day tour. We recommend hiring a tour company that will transfer you to the center of Lima by private transportation and allows you to explore with a local tour guide. You will visit Plaza San Martin, Museo Convento San Francisco y Catacumbas, Plaza de Armas (Plaza Mayor), Museo Larco Herrera, and many other beautiful sites.
Swim with sea lions at Palomino's Island
The Palomino Islands are located in the province of Callao. These famous touristic islands are home to many sea lions and seabirds. To arrive at these islands, you need to travel to Callo first, then travel by boat for 40 minutes to arrive at the area.
A full-day tour to Caral
You will need a whole day to visit Caral with a private van and a tour guide. First, you must drive for 3.5 hours to the Valley of Supe, where Caral is located. You can visit Huacho for lunch and the beach on the way back.
Peru is one of the best culinary destinations globally, and Lima is home to a few of the world's best restaurants. Spend a beautiful morning exploring the local markets and preparing the most famous Peruvian dishes like ceviche.
Lima, City Tour By Night + Magic Water Circuit
You can explore Lima Center at night and visit the Magic Water Circuit.
FAQs about Lima – Peru
What is the Location of Lima?
Lima, the capital of Peru, is located on the Pacific coast's central part, flanked by coastal deserts, and extends to the Chillon, Rimac, and Lurin river valleys. It covers an area of 2,672 km2 (1,031 sq mi).
What is the average altitude of Lima City?
Lima is a sea-level city; the average altitude of the historical city center is 528 feet (161 meters).
What is Lima's population by 2021?
Lima's population is estimated at 9,751,717 by 2021, including Lima Metropolitana and districts. The population density is 3000 people per kilometer or more than 7000 people per mile. This equates to nearly 30% of the Peruvian population.
What is Lima's predominant religion?
The dominant religion is Christianity. However, Peru is traditionally related to religious fusion, originating from Catholicism and the ancient Inca religion after the Spanish conquest. It is also becoming common for Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam due to immigration in recent years.
What is Lima's climate?
Even though Lima is in the tropics and a desert, it has a mild climate because it is close to the Pacific Ocean.
During the summer, from December to April, the daily temperature ranges from 18°C (64°F) to 22°C (72°F) and from 24°C (75°F) to 29°C (84°F). During this time of the year, the days are sunny and warm.
During the winter, from June to October, temperatures range between 14 °C (57 °F) and 16 °C (61 °F), with the lowest being 14 °C (57 °F) and the highest being 16 °C (61 °F) to 19 °C (66 °F). The sky is usually grey during this time, with morning drizzle and high humidity.
May and November are transition months where we see sudden changes in the weather.
What is Lima's main currency?
The main currency in Peru is Nuevos Soles; in most local markets and stores, you will use only soles. However, banks will allow you to transact in soles or USD. Cars, houses, and real estate transactions are always in USD.
What is Lima's primary population?
Lima's population consists of various ethnic groups. The most numerous groups are Mestizos, Europeans (Spanish, German, Italian, and French descendants), Afro-Peruvians, and Asians (China and Japan).
Thanks to this complex mix of racial and ethnic groups, Peru is now one of the world's best culinary destinations. Chinese and Italian cuisine has helped create unique Peruvian dishes.
How to get to Lima?
The Panamericana Highway crosses the country from south to north, connecting with all the cities in the coastal area and other countries like Chile in the south and Ecuador in the north. We also have access to highways in the east that connects us with the Andes cities and the jungle of Peru.
From the International Airport of Peru, Jorge Chavez, located in the province of Callao, 30 minutes away from Lima center. You can take flights to any city in Peru or any other country.
The Best Way to Travel from Lima to Cusco
The best and fastest way to travel from Lima to Cusco and vice-versa is by flying from Jorge Chavez's Airport in Lima to Alejandro Velasco Astete Cusco. The duration is about a 1-hour flight.
For travelers who like to explore more of the country, you can take a bus from Lima through Abancay to Cusco for 20 hours. Also, take a bus from Lima via Arequipa to Juliaca with a 24-hour bus ride.
What is the official language of Lima, Peru?
The official languages of Peru are Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara! However, many other languages are spoken in the country, including Quechua, Aymara, and various indigenous languages. The Spanish language has been present in Peru since the 16th century when Spain colonized the country. Around 80% of the population is estimated to speak Spanish as their first language. Quechua is another widely spoken language in Peru. It is an indigenous language passed down through generations of Peruvian people. Around 13% of the population is estimated to speak Quechua as their first language. Aymara is another indigenous language spoken in Peru. About 3% of the population is estimated to speak Aymara as their first language. Several indigenous languages are spoken in Peru, including Shipibo-Conibo, Asháninka, and Awajun.
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