The history of Peru is vast. The country’s geography, which includes an expansive coastline, the Andes Mountains and their foothills, and the Amazon Rainforest, has proven to be vital and influential in promoting cultures in the Americas. The city of Caral may have been inhabited as early as 4700 BCE, making it the earliest complex civilization in the Americas. The Chavín and the Paracas, the Moche and the Huari; all these cultures have contributed to the invaluable artifacts that are found in Lima.
Peru is so much more than just its humanities, however. The cultural crossroads it is often associated with has allowed for more natural studies, including those of the jungle and rainforest, and the dispersal of information along coastal trading routes. Nowhere on earth has such a compelling web of civilizations, especially ones as sophisticated as Peru. Agricultural advancements (which include terraced farming and irrigation canals), handicrafts and textiles, and spiritual endeavors have all garnered necessary means to revisit and preserve the innumerable wonders of Peru.
With such an illustrious history, there is much to discover, learn, and preserve in its borders. Lima’s role as capital city and cultural hub makes it the perfect location to exhibit the historic timeline of South American humanity. The volume of content chronicles the story of humankind, and Peru has unique museums dedicated to distinct areas of its history. If you want to learn about the history of cocoa, there is a museum to study where it comes from. If you are curious about antiquity, there are multiple museums to delve into the past. If you want to see how contemporary artists are changing the world of art today, there are hundreds of galleries to peruse.
Here are the best museums and art galleries in Lima to discover essential Peru!
Housed in an elegant colonial mansion in the Pueblo Libre neighborhood, the Larco Museum is committed to presenting the connection of ancient Peru and today. Adorned with breathtaking flora and replete with tranquil gardens, the entire experience is quintessential Peru. Named after founder and archaeologist Rafael Larco Hoyle, the museum was originally established in 1926 on the northern coast. In 1962, it moved to Lima in its current location. With over 45,000 pieces accessible to the public, including their large reserves, it revolutionized the way museums can share their works. The Larco has even provided online access to its entire collection for additional transparency and access.
The Larco Museum is best known for its ancient Peruvian artifacts, spanning the generations and cultures of the country. Beginning with his first collected object, a Moche portrait piece, Rafael Larco Hoyle embarked on curating a collection dedicated to the study of ancient Peru. The Larco has a keen eye on the relationship between Peruvian cultures and the natural world has informed the collection. Presentations, on display by frieze and through interactive exhibits, detail the many cultures from across the country, including the Chimu and Cupisnique on the northern coast, the Paracas to the south, and the Chancay and Chavin. The permanent collection features works that showcase the Andean worldview, providing insight into how the ancient civilizations developed over time. There is also an impressive pottery collection – more than 30,000 artifacts in total, as well as a gallery of erotic pre-Columbian art. The volume and quality of the pieces, ranging from the Moche portrait vases to textiles and ceramic statues, make the Larco an absolute must for all culture enthusiasts.
The Museum of Art of Lima, known as MALI, is in the heart of Lima, located in the Palacio de la Exposicion. The museum prides itself on allowing visitors to learn about Peru’s variety of artwork, its production, and its influence, from multiple perspectives. It stands at the forefront of culture and art, broadly engaging and collaborating with the public locally and beyond. The history of the country is never lost within the museum and its pieces, from the Amazon and the Altiplano to the streets of Lima; MALI displays the wide-ranging collection of Peru over time, with creative interpretations informing research and public programs. Specifically, its vision is to preserve and share local art and arts deeply rooted in a shared reflection of Peru’s history.
Architecturally stunning and profound in its creation, the building which houses MALI was built for the World’s Fair of 1871. The museum itself was officially inaugurated in 1961 on these beautiful grounds. Including a façade designed by famed Italian architect Antonio Leonardi and utilizing a cast-iron structure of Gustav Eiffel, the area surrounding the museum has a plethora of stunning features – gardens, lakes, fountains, and historic buildings. Within the museum itself, you can view art from Peruvian painter Teofilo Castillo, as well as Francisco Fierro and Jose Sabogal. With the largest collection of Peruvian art, MALI holds treasures endemic to Peru and South America. Beginning with pre-Columbian works, like pottery, the immersive wings provide chronological context of the country, walking the line of time through poignant moments in life – consider “The Three Races” by Francisco Laso and 20th century “indigenismo.”
Perhaps most notable is the commitment to new exhibitions, highlighting local, national, and international artists. The temporary expositions feature texts, images, paintings, and other nuanced pieces from diverse creators, such as Giuseppe Campuzano and Sandra Gamarra. With such an extensive collection and fascinating assemblage, one day may not be enough to entirely appreciate MALI, its art, and its continued impact on Peru and the world.
The museum with the most focused and vigilant dedication to contemporary art and artists is the Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC). Created in 2013 and housed in the Barranco neighborhood, it is quickly evolving into the heartbeat of critical thinking and exposure for modern works and their place in the world. It includes temporary exhibitions to promote new and upcoming artists and further a dialogue embedded in the diversity of Peru and its people. Statues and fountains adorn the grounds, with terraces and parks that offer events and engagements. The intellectual creations of its artists are designed to support art, science, and technology in many forms – this includes graffiti and murals.
One of the current exhibits is Rivers can exist without water but not without shores, a collection of works from indigenous peoples of the Wampis, Ashaninka, Tikuna, and so many more, peering into the Amazonian ideas and conceptions of the people who have lived there and learning new ways to consider them. Another is the cooperation of 29 women artists from the Non Shinanbo women’s collective, directly from Lima; their pieces focus on health and crises from their mindset over the last two years. Fabric and canvas painting, embroidery, and collage are all utilized to perform artistic community healing and share it with the greater public.
This engaging and captivating medium for art is equal parts cathartic and moving – guests are encouraged to enjoy in-person and online courses – for both children and adults – to further education and involvement in the art world as it pertains to current culture. This symbiotic understanding is paramount to the vision of MAC and nurtures a positive space for emerging artists to gain visibility while keeping a finger on the pulse of Peru and its communities.
Adorned with the relics of saints and built in the 16th century, the Santo Domingo Convent Museum is stunning in structure and application. Monks still live in the monastery, and five cloisters remain of the original 12. Its history includes founding the first university in Peru and the Americas, the University of San Marcos. It is open to visitors who are making pilgrimages to Saint Martin of Porres or just perusing the massive library of more than 25,000 books.
The azulejos are elaborate and informative, dotting pillars around courtyards and in the church. From the leatherbound volumes on the shelves, to the bossage near the bell towers, and on to the remarkably decorated apse in the church, the museum is a testament to the amazing, beautiful history of Lima and Peru.
Part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site-Historic Center, the San Francisco de Asis Convent has long played an important role in Lima. With its own library of over 25,000 pieces, it has gorgeous courtyards and cloisters open to the public. A one-of-a-kind wooden dome was built in 1546 and rebuilt after an earthquake in the 17th century, designed in the early Iberian mudejar style.
The catacombs of San Francisco, operating until 1810 and rediscovered in 1951, is the final resting place of nearly 70,000. The detailed classification of the bones, as well as the lore of connecting corridors to government buildings, make it a captivating tour for visitors. There are plenty of magnificent art pieces in the gallery and sacristy, but the most notable piece of San Francisco is the Last Supper, replete with plated guinea pig.
This adobe and clay pre-Incan pyramid set in the Miraflores neighborhood is vital to understanding the Lima, Huari, Ichma cultures. Though urban in setting, it does exhibit the ceremonial rituals and traditions of Peru’s developing peoples. The museum puts ceramics and fabrics on display while also performing lifestyle reenactments for spectators and visitors.
The ceremonial offerings, including pits and large pots used as “vessels,” provide insightful glimpses into some of the central coast’s early cultures. The Lord of the Unkus was discovered almost completely intact, and other tombs revealed sacrificial dressings and the body of a child. Courtyards and plazas offer space through which to navigate Huaca Pucllana as well as room to view the ruins in a greater city context.
Built above the colonial remnants of a 16th century Jesuit foundation, the Bodega Y Quadra Site connects two segments of Lima’s past at the time of its modern inauguration. Within the archaeological findings are ceramics and pottery belonging to the Chancay and Incan civilizations, following the chronological progress to the colonial period and the importation of worldly artifacts. This includes Ming Dynasty porcelain.
The museum displays many items, such as jewelry, candlesticks, tableware, and silverware. Metal and wood artifacts sit side by side the clay pots of earlier times, providing visitors the opportunity to understand the crossroads of Peru’s capital. Festivals and conferences frequently take place at Bodega Y Quadra, making this a central point of culture in the city.
The Museo de Oro del Peru (Gold Museum) showcases the pre-Incan gold works of an astounding number of cultures. The delicate craftwork that went into the creation of earrings, bracelets, and other jewelry, as well as weaponry, and the dedication inhabitants had in creating such pieces. With nods to other regional locations of research, it offers guests a look into how important gold work was to social cues and status, including rituals and burials.
While other items are on display, including silver, copper, and other mineral-formed pieces, like ceramics, the most popular mineral is the museum’s namesake, and the exhibit “Armas de Mundo” displays a large collection of weapons not only from Peru, but from the world. Guided tours help provide thoughtful consideration of the pieces and further understand their cultural impact.
At Andres del Castillo, textiles and ceramics take a backseat to the minerals that have helped develop Peru. Minerals played an important role in providing rich natural resources for the country, and this collection displays them in many forms. Built around a unique compilation of crystalized Peruvian minerals, Chancay cultural items and pre-colonial utensils are also explained in detail, regarding weaving practices and even sculptures.
To add to its intrigue, the museum is housed in Casa Belen, an historic mansion located next to the Plaza San Martin. Centrally located in this magnificently restored home, Andres Del Castillo Minerals Museum is a well-curated option for Peruvian artifacts.
With one of the most organized collections of artwork, the Museum of the Central Reserve Bank of Peru takes pride in the efficient timeline of its exhibitions. With successive displays of pre-Columbian articles and Republican paintings, this museum is credited with an extraordinary numismatic collection. These coins and currency are a captivating way to explore the history of a country, and Peru has such a deep well of civilizations that make this particularly rewarding. Archaeological pieces also housed in the museum include goldsmith items and textiles.
Many cultures are included in the collection, including the Chavin, Moche, Chimu, and Nazca. An art gallery from Manuel Moreyra Loredo informs guests on the differing styles and traditions of Peruvian paintings; from their position in history to their geographical location, the Museum of the Central Reserve Bank detail the importance all of these played on the artists. Workshops and tours round out the experience, increasing public engagement and encouraging an ongoing dialogue with history through art.
Andean Experience is committed to the truest essence of Peru, creating unforgettable itineraries and scrupulously curated experiences. Our central location at Atemporal – a casa elegantly designed within one of Lima’s original 1940s mansions – allows us to personally create a museum and art tour centered around your specifications. From the moment you arrive in Peru, we can direct a trip to LARCO, MALI, MAC, and more, helping you discover the city, region, and country through its art. With personalized transport, museum guidance, and other cultural excursions at your fingertips, we allow you to experience the artistic integrity of Lima and Peru at your leisure convenience. Whatever your desires, we are eager to make your most carefully planned ideas become reality.
Regardless of your imagined culture trip in Lima and Peru, we are ready to help you every step of the way. Should you need an intensive visit to a single museum, a more inclusive journey to multiple art galleries, or just a general idea of where to start in the appreciation of Peru, its history, and its contribution to the art world, our central location and all-encompassing services will provide everything you need for an unforgettable time. No task is too great or small in sharing the invaluable artworks and artifacts that make Peru so special.
Now that summer has begun in Lima, why not start your day right? Isabella Ossio, yoga and cycling instructor, took us through a series of yoga movements to warm up the body, ideal to re-energize first thing in the morning. Start with a guided meditation, progress slowly to stretching and releasing the tension, and treat yourself with a special outdoor white tablecloth brunch when you finish class.
Lima’s role as capital city and cultural hub makes it the perfect location to exhibit the historic timeline of South American humanity. The volume of content chronicles the story of humankind, and Peru has unique museums dedicated to distinct areas of its history.
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