LIMA, Peru (AP) — The coastal Peruvian capital of Lima is home to a third of the country's population and most live in dusty barrios on a coastal desert where it never rains. The traffic is chaotic, the food is world-famous. Attractions include colonial and neocolonial architecture from the city's three centuries as the seat of the Spanish viceroy as well as pre-Columbian sites. The city is dotted with ancient mounds known as "huacas," which charge nominal fees, and the Pachacamac ruins just south of Lima are well worth the trip but also charge for admission. But there are plenty of things to do and see around Lima for free, from parks to plazas, starting with the Pacific Ocean.
COSTA VERDE: Lima's walkable and bikeable coast spans four districts, each with its own character. Grassy parks and a bike path separate a coastal bluff from the "Malecon" road in San Isidro and Miraflores, the wealthiest districts. Gaze at the paragliders, partake of the skate park, join the lovers at "Parque del Amor." Or take the steps down in Miraflores to Waikiki beach and watch the wetsuit-clad surfers.
The more bohemian Barranco district, studded with cafes, bars and art galleries, has more modest parks on its bluff. Its cobbled walk down to the beach from the "Puente de Suspiros," or bridge of sighs, is a nice stroll.
Working-class Chorrillos' coastal attraction is down at the water: The "Mercado de Pescadores Artesanales." It's the fish market where the independent fishermen sell their catch.
PARQUE KENNEDY: At the heart of Miraflores' commercial district, probably Lima's best people-watching venue. It is lined by cafes, restaurants, bookstores, and the Virgen Milagrosa church, a magnet for stray cats. The municipal government organizes free music, dance and theater performances evenings Three blocks north of the park on Av. Petit Thouars is the folk art "artesania" market. The website http://blogs.miraflores.gob.pe/larco400/ has a park performance schedule in Spanish.
PLAZA DE ARMAS, PRESIDENTIAL PALACE: One of Latin America's most charming central squares, the Plaza de Armas in the downtown Lima district is intoxicating at night, particularly the Archbishop's Palace. See the changing of the guard at 1 p.m. every day but Sunday at the Presidential Palace. The palace is open for free tours on Saturday mornings, including in English. For reservations call 3113908 by the previous Thursday.
FREE MUSEUMS: Also downtown, on the Plaza Bolivar, is the Spanish Inquisition museum. Yes, they tortured heretics in Lima, too. Coin buffs will like the Museo Numismatico of the central bank; also downtown is the Afro-Peruvian museum. A haunting must-see exhibit for students of recent Latin American history: At the Museo de La Nacion, created by Peru's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, is a tribute to nearly 70,000 victims of the country's 1980-2000 internal conflict, located on Javier Prado in San Borja district.
PARQUE EL OLIVAR: Some 1,500 olive trees dating from saplings first planted in the 16th century by the Spanish in a peaceful residential section of the San Isidro district. Walk a few blocks west, crossing the busy Camino Real, to the pre-Incan Huaca Huallamarca burial mound.