The city of Lima was founded by Francisco Pizarro in 1535, but the area around it was settled by indigenous populations for thousands of years before the arrival of Spanish conquerors. Today, the modern city has expanded in all directions.
Peru’s earliest human settlements found hospitable ground in the fertile soils of the river valleys within the present-day department of Lima. Along the Río Chillón, not far from Lima city, archaeologists have excavated stone tools dating from approximately 7500 BC.
3500-1800 BC – El Paraiso is occupied as an economic and religious center in the Chillon Valley several kilometers from present-day Lima.
1500 – 300 BC – The Chavin culture flourished in an Andean valley in modern-day department of Ancash. They build several huacas (temples) using a distinctive architectural style and motifs.
100 to 650 AD – The Lima culture built the Maranga pyramid complex in what are now the districts of Cercado, San Miguel, and Pueblo Libre. Lima ceramics display a distinctive style with white, red, and black colors and marine animals like fish and octopus. The Lima culture also built Huaca Pucllana in what is now Miraflores.
800 to 900 AD – The Huari culture, based in modern-day Ayacucho and the southern highlands, briefly expands to the coast.
900 to 1470 AD – The Ichma (or Yschma) culture was a loose confederation of curacazgos (chiefdoms) that occupied the Lurin and Rimac valleys. They were conquered by the Inca Empire in 1470, during the reign of Pachacutec.
1535 – After the fall of Cusco, conquistador Francisco Pizarro establishes a new city on the banks of the Rimac River, 13 kilometers east from Callao.
Founded on the date of the Feast of the Epiphany, the city was known as Ciudad de los Reyes, or City of Kings and was planned with a central plaza, church, and surrounding streets laid out in a rectilinear grid pattern.
1536 Siege of Lima – Coinciding with the siege of Cusco, Inca rebel forces surround the Spanish settlement for several months. With the help of native allies, the Spanish soldiers are able to repel the attack. Manco Inca retreats with his forces to Vilcabamba, where he and his successors continue to resist Spanish rule until 1572.
1542-43 – The Viceroyalty of Peru is created, but not officially recognized until Viceroy Francisco de Toledo arrives in 1572. The Real Audiencia is created to represent the Spanish king in the administration of the colony.
1551 – The National University of San Marcos is founded; still in operation today, it is the oldest university in the Americas.
1600s – As the center of an extensive trade network linking the Americas to Europe and Asia, Lima becomes the wealthiest city in the Americas.
1684-1687 – Lima city walls are built.
1700s – The Bourbon Reforms, a series of political and economic measures intended to restore the power of the Spanish crown and reduce the influence of native-born elites, lead to the eventual decline of the Viceroyalty of Peru.
1746 – A major earthquake demolishes Lima and the port of Callao. Many of the oldest buildings in today’s Lima date to this period of post-earthquake reconstruction.
1821 – South America’s struggle for independence from the Spanish Crown begins in the early 1800s. However, the political and religious elite of Lima are beneficiaries and dependents of the colonial system, and they remain loyal to the Spanish Crown. In July 1821, Argentina’s General Jose San Martin sails into the capital in 1821 and declares the independence of Peru on the 28th of July. The war does not formally end until the final defeat of royalist forces in the Battle of Ayacucho in 1824.
1850s – After independence, Lima experiences an economic lull. But at mid-century, guano exports revive the city’s coffers and provide funds for the construction of public buildings, markets, hospitals, and prisons. The first stretch of railway in South America, between Lima and Callao, is built in 1850.
1881-1883 War of the Pacific against Chile – In a dispute over territory and natural resources, Chilean forces occupy the capital of Peru for 3 years and loot many of the city’s treasures during that time.
1890s-1920s urban renewal and expansion – Lima’s most iconic buildings were constructed during this time, often in an ostentatious, neoclassical style that recalls the wealth and prosperity of the early colonial period. Big avenues are constructed to connect to coastal settlements such as Miraflores and Barranco.
1930s – 1990s – Industrialization and rural migration spark a demographic explosion in Lima. The population increases from 600,000 residents in 1940 to 1.9 million residents in 1960, 4.8 million in 1980, and 6.4 million in 1993. Settlements expand outward from the historic center and from the coastal areas, eventually filling the space in between.
1990 – Alberto Fujimori is elected president, partly in response to the rise of violent guerrilla movements and economic turbulence. Fujimori maintains power for 10 years until he is forced to resign in a bribery scandal in 2000.
In the 21st century, Lima is enjoying a prolonged period of political and economic stability. In 2015, Lima’s metropolitan population was estimated at 9.8 million residents, representing about 1/4th of Peru’s total population. The most populous districts are located north and east of the historic center of Lima.
Situated on the desert coast of Peru, the city of Lima occupies an oasis-like valley watered by the Rimac River. The Pacific ocean is to the west and the foothills of the Andes to the east. Sandy 70-meter-tall cliffs separate the Pacific shore from the westernmost edge of Lima city.
The port of Callao provides a natural harbor which for many centuries provided the main connection to trading ports in Europe and Spain. Today, Callao continues to operate as one of the busiest ports in the Americas and a port of call for many South American cruise ships.
The elevation of Lima city gradually increases in proportion to distance from the Pacific shore. Average elevations for key districts and places:
- Miraflores – 79 m
- Barranco – 65 m
- Lima Centro – 161 m
- Jorge Chavez Airport – 34 m
- Callao – 7 m
Peru is quite close to the equator, but the cold water Humboldt Current flows up from Antarctica and interacts with air temperatures to keep things cool.
The Andes Mountains are a second factor affecting the climate. The tall peaks, which begin to rise not too far from the coast create a rain shadow effect that prevents rain clouds from forming. This is why much of Peru’s coast is desert. In Lima, the result is a temperate climate with high humidity around the year.
During the winter months, the city of Lima is covered by constant gray fog called garúa. Travel some kilometers north or south of the city or up into the foothills and you’ll experience the sunny skies that typify the rest of coastal Peru.
Lima is not just the political capital and economic headquarters of Peru, it is also a cultural mecca. Art galleries, historical buildings, museums and even markets all add different threads to the story of Peru’s creative and artistic development over the course of centuries.
Peru has a long history of migration from other parts of the world including Asia, Europe, and Africa. Add to that recent internal migration from the Andes, Amazon and coastal regions to the capital city. The result is a true melting pot of backgrounds and cultures, which you’ll see gathered in Lima. The majority of Peruvians are mestizos, descendants of couplings between European and indigenous ancestors going back to the conquest of Peru.
Peruvians can be exceptionally polite and make it a point to acknowledge people when joining or leaving a group. Learning some simple phrases can help you show respect for the culture.
- Hello/Good day = Buenos dias
- Good afternoon / night = Buenas tardes / noches
- Nice to meet you = Mucho gusto
- See you later / Goodbye = Hasta luego / Adios
When is the best time to visit Lima?
Lima is a year round destination. Summer (December to March) is the best time to enjoy the outdoors or one of Lima’s famous sunsets. It’s also an ideal season if you wish to travel further down the coast to Ica and Paracas. Winter (June to September) is overcast and humid, but this doesn’t interfere with visits to the city’s top historical and cultural attractions.
Is Lima safe?
Like in any big city, you should take standard precautions to stay safe while exploring Lima. Some areas of Lima city are safer than others, but the most highly touristed areas are fairly safe, especially in daylight hours. In the evening hours, stick to well-lit major streets for extra safety.
What is the population of Lima?
According to UNData, the population of Lima in 2007 was 8.473 million, almost 30% of the total population of Peru. The INEI (Peru’s National Statistics Institute) the population of Lima in 2015 is estimated to be 9.752 million.
When is Mistura?
First celebrated in 2008, Mistura is now renowned as South America’s biggest food festival and it takes place annually in September (exact dates vary). It’s a must-see event for anyone who loves food. Even if you miss Mistura, the city of Lima is the best place to be to sample widely of Peru’s best dishes.
How far is the Lima Airport from ____?
The Lima airport is located in the province of Callao.
- to/from historic city center: 7.5 mi /12 km
- to/from Miraflores: 12 mi / 19 km
- to/from Barranco: 14 mi/ 22 km
*Drive times vary on traffic conditions.
What can I expect at the Lima airport?
The Lima airport is fairly easy to navigate. The first step after landing is to go through immigration. To enter Peru, your passport must be valid for at least 6 months after the date of your arrival. At airport immigrations you will get your Tourist Visa (a stamp in your passport). Tourists are given 90 days, although you can ask for up to 183. It is not possible to extend your tourist visa once you have entered Peru.
Pick up any luggage at baggage claim and continue through a final luggage check at customs. If you are traveling with Peru for Less, one of our representatives will be waiting for you here. Look for the person holding a sign with your name on it.
Departure tax: As of 2011, the departure tax is included in most international flights. If it’s not, the airline agent will tell you to pay an additional tax and will direct you to the teller window. In Cusco and Lima, departure taxes range from $5 for domestic flights to $31 for international flights.