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Incas and lucuma in Lima, Peru

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“More dry than the Sahara,” that’s what our Lima Tours’ guide kept repeating as we followed her intrepid lead up the Huaca Pucllana.

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A pre-Incan pyramid of adobe bricks, Huaca Pucllana is located smack in the middle of Miraflores, one of Lima’s more upscale residential neighborhoods.

For too long, visitors to Peru have landed in Lima, the country’s capital and largest city – and headed directly to Cuzco or Machu Picchu. And while there is no denying the allure of these Incan repositories, more and more travelers are discovering the charms and wonders of the city founded in 1535 by Spanish conquistador Pizarro who christened it “City of Kings.”

As the second largest desert city on the planet (after Cairo, Egypt), Lima has a subtropical climate but is mild and comfortable, thanks to its proximity to the ocean. This sprawling, polyglot city located on a desert coast overlooking the Pacific Ocean is the fifth largest city in Latin America (after Mexico City, São Paulo, Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro) and home to one in three Peruvians.

As the center of Lima culture from 200 A.D. – 700 A.D., Huaca Pucllana was once used for ritual games, which included, yes, human sacrifices.

Imagine a pre-Columbian pyramid on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and you’ll have a similar sensation of coexisting between the modern and the ancient world.

Open to the public since 1981, it’s possible to walk to the top of the platforms – and look out over the city of Lima that has risen around this fifth-century structure.

Once you’re back on terra firma, head to the Restaurant Huaca Pucllana at the pyramid’s base. Back in the heyday of pre-Incan culture, the diet consisted primarily of shark meat and lucuma, a fruit with the taste and consistency of butterscotch that is often used in Peruvian desserts – but the serene and secluded restaurant (with a covered terrace) serves Nuevo Peruvian cuisine that is as thrilling as the views of the pyramid, which is illuminated at night.

For years, upheaval had become second nature to Limeños – and Peruvians, in general – thanks to earthquakes and Maoist insurgent organizations, but finally it appears that fiscal and political stability has arrived – along with an influx of international tourism.