The capital of Peru is famous for many things: Its magnificent Spanish colonial city center, amazing cuisine, and outrageous museums, among others. Although Lima lies right on the coast, few international travelers plan to spend time on its broad Pacific beaches.
This isn’t entirely an oversight. If the Peruvian coastline is famous for one thing, it is the Humboldt (Peru) Current, a cold and nutrient-rich-blast of Antarctic water that flows swiftly up the South American coast to Piura, a natural headland north of Lima. South of that sweet spot, Peru’s arid beaches can be quite chilly, and often darkened by the misty gray marine layer that transforms what would otherwise be a tropical climate into a temperate one.
Thus, Lima’s shores usually boast the type of weather that makes travelers want to reach for a Pisco sour, rather than the sunscreen. This keeps the so-called “Seven Beaches of Lima” (there are actually many, many more) from enjoying international acclaim.
From December through April, however, the sunny Southern summer brings Limenos out in vast and festive crowds to enjoy these broad crescents of sand, lined with restaurants and clubs. On weekends in particular, the Costa Verde can be as fun as any beach scene in the hemisphere. The most popular are south of Lima along the Circuito de Playas (Beach Circuit) beneath the cliffs, linking Lima with San Miguel, Magdalena, San Isidro, Miraflores, Barranco, and Chorrillos. It may not be Rio, but there are plenty of perfectly pretty, if not quite world-class, places to walk, swim, surf, socialize, and maybe even tan. These are just a few of your options:
1) Miraflores: A Stone’s Throw from the City
The most accessible beaches are at the foot of Lima’s posh Miraflores district, a fun mix of surfers, sunbathers, and revelers enjoying the dove-gray swaths of sand and smooth pebble shores beneath the cliffs. Stroll the Malecon Barranco to enjoy eight of the best, some rather isolated and others lined with little restaurants, bars, piers, and shopping centers. Parks and other attractions along the way offer wonderful views. Keep in mind that access to the water is not always easy. Surfers head straight to the four best beaches: Makaha, La Pampilla, Redondo and Waikiki.
2) Chorrillos: Lima’s Original Beach Resort
The city’s best beaches, wrapped with dramatic cliffs, fringe this scalloped headland at the end of Lima’s Circuito de Playas. Even pre-Inca civilizations built a pretty city, Armatambo, by the sea, and La Herradura was Lima aristocracy’s most exclusive seaside destination during the Spanish colonial era. There are several beaches worth visiting, including La Herradura, now more popular with surfers; Agua Dulce, with good swimming and a lovely malecon to stroll; and Playa Pescadores, famed for its breezy seafood restaurants. You could also climb to the top of El Morro Solar, with great views; visit the exclusive 1875 Club de Regatas yacht club (some restrictions apply); or check out Pantanos de Villa, a 2000-hectare (5000-acre) wetlands preserve loved by boaters and birders alike.
3) Port Callao: The History Lover’s Choice
The smooth and beautiful pebble beaches that roar with every crashing wave won’t satisfy serious sun worshippers, but the important port city of El Callao that surrounds them its own appeal. Just 19km (12mi) from central Lima, Pizarro founded this port in 1537 to take advantage of the gorgeous natural bay, now a major naval base, cruise stop, and commercial port. Day-trippers come to see the 1747 Castillo del Real Felipe, a massive Spanish fortress designed to repel pesky pirates, and the fascinating Naval Museum; they stay to see the sunset over the bay. Be sure to book a boat tour out to several tiny islets populated by colonies of Humboldt penguins, sea lions, and other wildlife, and topped with historic lighthouses, abandoned prisons, and naval bases old and new.
4) Punta Hermosa: Surfer’s Paradise
Waveriders continue south to an impressive strand of surf spots surrounding pretty Punta Hermosa, 39km (25mi) south of downtown Lima. The most famous breaks are at Cerro Azul and Pico Alta, but there are dozens of other uncrowded spots to catch a wave. Just north, Playa El Silencio is considered the region’s most beautiful beach, an epic expanse of white sand curving for kilometers; it gets packed on sunny summer weekends.
5) Santa María del Mar: Weekend Escape
You could certainly make a day trip of your visit to this laid-back beach community 50km (31mi) south of Lima. The thing to do, however, is rent an apartment or condo—widely available in lieu of hotels—and relax into this sculpted collection of white-sand beaches and rocky promontories for days. Founded in 1953 as a resort town, the harmonious, whitewashed collection of modern architecture flows toward lovely white sand beaches: Playa Grande, Playa Chica and calm Playa Embajadores, perfect for families with kids. In the evening, stroll the flawless malecón past the yachts and restaurants. If you can get into posh Club Esmeralda, you’ll enjoy its famed seawater pool, cleverly constructed where rock for the malecon was originally excavated.