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The City of Kings, it’s been called, and with good reason. For 300 years, Lima stood as the seat of Spanish power in South America, a stronghold from which a king’s decrees ruled an entire continent. In those days, the Viceroyalty of Peru extended from modern-day Colombia to Argentina, and the silver and gold flowing into its coffers from the mines at Potosí made Lima one of the richest cities in the world.

Today, that colonial opulence is still on display in Lima’s baroque architecture, which is among the finest in Latin America. You’ll marvel at its complexity in visits to the Iglesia de San Francisco, with its eerie catacombs, or stunning mansions like Casa Aliaga, the oldest private house in the Americas. Above all, you’ll experience it in horse-drawn tours of the splendid plaza de armas, whose cathedral and municipal buildings positively shimmer after nightfall.

Nor is Lima’s colonial heritage all. Those who dig deeper will find a fascinating indigenous past, full of warring tribes, technological achievement, and human sacrifice. This legacy is still alive, not just in museums such as the Museo Larco and Museo Nacional de Arqueología, but in the countless huacas or sacred sites that dot Lima’s cityscape. The greatest are the Huaca Pucllana—home of one of the city’s finest restaurants—and the massive pre-Inca temple of Pachacamac, further down the coast.

Lima’s charm isn’t only historic. Seaside districts like Miraflores and Barranco offer glimpses of the dynamic, vibrant modern capital that has lately undergone a renaissance. Here superstar chefs such as Gastón Acurio and Virgilio Martínez prepare dishes like cebiche and lomo saltado in restaurants widely ranked among the world’s best. Afterwards, you can savor a pisco sour in one of the upscale bars, or stroll along the ocean, listening to the waves.

Lima is more than just a stopover on the way to Machu Picchu. Those who take time to explore this City of Kings won’t fail to discover just how regal it can be.

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