Lima’s excellent and diverse collection of museums serve as a road map to Peru’s rich historical, cultural and archaeological past. Use this overview of the best Lima museums to decide which ones to visit during your trip to Peru.
Archaeologists date ancient Peruvian society as far back as the year 9,000 BC. A colorful mosaic of cultures, sometimes harmonious, sometimes interesting in their disharmony, once inhabited and occupied the land. Today, artifacts and monuments of Peru’s ancient past scatter across different parts of the country, and trigger a sense of wonder and bewilderment in all who visit.
In most cases, journeyers to Peru first arrive in Lima. For many, this relatively modern city is simply a gateway to the Andes Mountains and Machu Picchu, but don’t rule out at least a short visit to this under-appreciated metropolis. The superb restaurants and museums are two great reasons to spend more time. Spend part of your first day at one or more of these museums and learn more about the intriguing culture you are about to experience, or, if you have an evening flight back home on your last day in Peru, take some time during that day to explore a museum or two before having dinner and heading to the airport. We often arrange for a private driver for our travelers to visit one or more museums on their first or last day in Peru. Here are some of the highlights:
The renowned and manageable Larco Museum is in Lima’s Pueblo Libre District, housed in an 18th century building that sits on the site of a 7th-century Pre-Columbian pyramid. The building also houses the privately-owned Larco Museum of Pre-Columbian Art. Visitors who pass thorough its doors travel 4,000 years of Peruvian Pre-Columbian art history.
The story of the Larco Museum unfolds in 1925, when Rafael Larco Herrera acquired a collection of 600 archaeological pieces from his brother-in-law. Herrera left his son, Larco Hoyle, in charge of the collection. Larco Hoyle purchased additional small collections, and opened a museum in Lima. The Larco Museum opened its doors on July 28, 1926.
A restaurant that serves Peruvian food, along with a gift shop selling handcrafted and llama and alpaca clothing complements the extensive galleries at the Larco Museum. Here are just a few of the museum’s permanent exhibits:
In addition to its engrossing galleries, the Larco Musuem has special conservation galleries for its ancient textiles, metals and ceramics.
Housed in a brutalist-era concrete tower (originally a government ministry building during Peru’s authoritarian period) the Museum of the Nation houses a variety of permanent exhibitions covering the full history of Peru’s major pre-Colombian civilizations including artefacts from the Chavin, Moche, and Inca eras. Compared to the exhibits of ancient cultures found in the Larco Museum (see above) and the Archeology Museum (see below), the Museum of the Nation comes a distant second.
However, on the top floor is one of Lima’s most fascinating and harrowing exhibitions; the Yuyanapaq gallery, which was created by Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission to document the long string of atrocities committed by both the government and revolutionaries during Peru’s long and dark period of internal conflict between 1980 and 2000, when the Shining Path guerrillas were active in the country.
Yuyanapaq is a must-see for any visitor to Peru interested in learning more about a trauma that is still fresh in the minds of many Peruvians. The Museo de la Nacion can be found on Avenida Javier Prado Este in the San Borja district.
The National Museum of Anthropology, Archaeology and History, established in 1945, offers visitors a glimpse of its host country’s complete cultural history. Spend part of the day wandering through its halls, and you will find exhibits ranging from prehistoric times to the present. This museum also serves as the administrative office for the National System of State Museums. Its staff members take pride in offering an archaeological showcase as well as a center for research and study. This is a big museum and it can be overwhelming, so you are best off picking a couple main periods and focusing on them during your hour or two visit rather than trying to pack it all in.
The permanent collection at the National Museum of Anthropology, Archaeology and History houses thousands of wood objects, tools, technologies, ceramics, textile, stones, metals, along with ancient musical instruments, and, on a more macabre note, remains of ancient human beings.
The museum staff skillfully arranged the collection in a thematic and chronological order, so that each culture, and each period in history has its own room. While most of the gallery space covers the pre-Columbian period, one section of the museum, known as the Liberators’ Quinta, houses an 18th-century mansion of particular historical significance to Peruvians. Their most esteemed rebels, José de San Martín and Simón Bolívar, once occupied this house.
For those with a sense of the macabre, the Museum of Inquisition and Congress lurks within an old building of the National Senate. Its basement housed some of the torture chambers of the Spanish Inquisition. In addition to its torture chamber, this disturbingly realistic museum contains:
Like in so many of the world’s civilizations, gold played a central role within Peru’s pre-Colombian cultures where it was coveted not for its monetary value, but for its sheer beauty and its resemblance to the brilliant shine of Inti, the Sun God. The Inca would gold-plate entire temples, forge religious icons from the rare metal and even weave gold threads into their textiles. The vast majority of the ancient treasure was melted down into ingots and shipped to Spain during the conquest, however some artefacts remain a few of which can be seen in the Gold Museum, in Lima’s Surco district.
South Americans seem to have a love affair with vintage cars, and Peru is no exception. The Museum of Jorge Nicolini displays 120 cars, manufactured between 1901 and 1973. These handsome vehicles were restored at the museums workshop. They now are all apparently in perfect running condition.
This is just a sampling of some of the museums to visit on your trip to Lima, Peru. Talk to the travel specialists at Vaya for more information on planning a vacation to Peru.