Explore Peru a country in South America, situated on the western side of that continent, facing the South Pacific Ocean and straddling part of the Andes mountain range that runs the length of South America. Peru is a country that has a diversity and wealth not common in the world. The main attractions are their archaeological patrimony of pre-Columbian cultures and the hub of the Inca’s empire, their gastronomy, their colonial architecture (it has imposing colonial constructions) and their natural resources (a paradise for ecological tourism).
Although Peru has rich natural resources and many great places to visit, the poverty scale reaches around 19% of the population and there exists a medium level of inequality. The rich, consisting mostly of a Hispanic (or “Criollo”) elite, live in the cities. Nevertheless, most Peruvians are great nationalists and love their country with pride (largely stemming from Peru’s history as the hub of both the Inca Empire and Spain’s South American empire). Also, many Peruvians separate the state of Peru and its government in their minds. Many of them distrust their government and police, and people are used to fighting corruption and embezzlement scandals, as in many countries. The Peruvian economy is healthy and strong with a high level of human development and an upper middle income level. Also, tourism to Peru is growing faster than any other country in South America.
The word gringo is used commonly but is not generally intended as offensive. The original meaning encompassed all white people who do not speak Spanish. Many people use the word gringo exclusively for Americans or American look-alikes. It’s not uncommon for blonde people to be called gringo. Peruvians do not hesitate to greet you with “Hola, gringo”.
Generally, people are very friendly, peaceful and helpful. When in trouble, you mostly can rely on getting help. But as with any setting, it is always good to watch out for yourself and try to avoid bad situations.
Peru is not exactly a haven for efficiency. Do not expect things to be on time, or exactly as they intend to be. Outside of the more upscale tourist services and big cities like Lima, English is uncommon outside major cities and the people, trying to be friendly, can give wrong or inexact advice, a translator can always be helpful in this cases. Plan ahead and leave plenty of time for traveling. Indeed, in recent years English is being taught in most of the schools as a requirement of the Peruvian government, most people can understand English but they do not speak it. As in other Latin and European countries, Peruvian people prefer that tourists use their language. The Mobile Technology and the internet ease the learning of the English language nowadays.
- Chan Chan — impressive set of ruins of an ancient Chimor mud city, and a UNESCO World Heritage site
- Chavín de Huántar — UNESCO World Heritage Site from the pre-Incan Chavin culture of around 900 BC
- Huascarán National Park — high mountain park in Cordillera Blanca range
- Lake Titicaca — considered to be the highest commercially navigable body of water in the world
- Machu Picchu — this UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the most familiar symbols of the Incan Empire, and is one of the most famous and spectacular sets of ruins in the world
- Manú National Park — one of the most diverse areas in Peru
- Nazca lines — world famous for its geometrical figures and giant drawings in the desert sand
- Paracas National Reservation — a popular nature reserve on the Southern Coast
- Río Abiseo National Park
- Máncora — small beach town with the best beaches and great surf, turns into a real party town on weekends and holidays
In cities and around
Inside the cities, there is usually no problem getting around on city buses or taxis. “Taxi” does not necessarily mean a car; the term also refers to bicycles, motor rickshaws, and motor bikes for hire. Taxis are divided between “formal” taxis, painted and marked as such and have a sticker with SOAT, and informal ones, that are just cars with a windshield sticker that says “Taxi”. The last ones are better left to the locals, especially if you don’t speak Spanish. Apart from the more upscale radio taxi (also the more expensive ones), the fare is not fixed or metered, but it is negotiated with the driver before getting into the vehicle. Ask at your hotel or hostal about the rate you may expect to pay to ride to a specific location to have a point of reference. There is no tipping at taxis.
Some main roads, especially along the coastal strip, are paved, but there are still a lot of dirt roads in very poor condition. In the rainy season, landslides may block even major roads.
Beside the famous Inca trail to Machu Picchu, you can do a lot of more hikes all along the Sierra, preferably in the dry season, recommend to book in advance, because there are 500 spaces available for day. If you would like to book the Inca Trail, the minimun is 6 month in advance. The hiker’s Mecca is Huaraz, where you can find a lot of agencies that offer guided tours and/or equipment to borrow. The thin vegetation in the higher Sierra makes off-trail hiking easy. Good maps are hard to find inside Peru. It is better to bring them from home. Make sure you have enough iodine to purify your drinking water. When hiking in higher altitude, good acclimatization is absolutely necessary. Take a good sleeping bag with you, since nights in the Sierra may become bitterly cold (-10°C in 4,500m altitude are normal, sometimes still colder). Beware of thunderstorms that may rise up very suddenly. Rapid falling temperature and hard rain falls are a serious danger in higher altitudes. Don’t forget that the night lasts for 12 hours year-round, so a flashlight is a good idea. When hiking on higher, but not snow covered mountains, water may be rare. Getting alcohol for stoves is easy: Either buy the blue colored alcohol de quemar or, better, simply buy pure drinking alcohol. You can get this in every town. (Don’t even think about drinking it). It won’t be so easy to find special fuel for gasoline stoves. Gasoline for cars can also be found in many hardware stores (ferreterias) sold by liters, but you can actually buy it directly on gas stations, provided you bring your own bottle.
It is also possible to tour the interior of the country by car. This gives you a chance to get “off the beaten track” and explore some of the areas that haven’t been transformed by tourism. An International Driving Permit is needed for driving in Peru.
Be sure to bring plenty of gas, as gas stations in unpopulated areas are very rare and will often times be closed. Purchasing gas late at night can be an adventure all its own, as even in more populated areas gas stations tend to close early and the pumps are locked. The owner of the station sometimes sleeps inside and, if you can rouse him, he will come out and let you fill up. Be aware of the higher gasoline consumption in the mountains.
Like in most countries, also in Peru there is a vast crowd of touts hanging around the airports and bus stations or bus terminals. It is any travelers’ wise decision not to do business with the people that are trying to sell you their stuff on the street/bus station/airport. First of all, if they would have a decent place, they wouldn’t have to sell it to non-suspecting tourists trying to drag them off from wherever they can find them. More important, it really is not a good idea to hand out money to the first person you meet upon arriving somewhere.
TIP: When you arrive in any town, be sure to have already decided what hotel you will be going to. Don’t mention this or any other information to the touts awaiting you. They will use whatever you tell them to construe lies to make you change your mind and go with them. If you’ve already picked a reasonable hotel chances are that you will be OK there and they will have any (extra) information you’d be looking for, like bookings for tours or tickets.
Like most of South America, the official language of Peru is Spanish.
English might be understood by youth in Lima and to an (even) lesser extent in tourist centers like Machu Picchu. Outside of that, you’ll need Spanish.
What to see. Best top attractions in Peru.
With 84 of the earth’s 104 known life zones, Peru is rich in wildlife diversity. The Amazon basin is home to pink dolphins, jaguars, giant river otters, primates, 4,000 types of butterflies and one-third of the world’s 8,600 bird species.
The diversity of Peru’s people and cultures is reflected in a rich tradition of festivals, dance and music. In the Andes, the plaintive wail of the flute and beat of the drum accompany songs depicting indigenous life while dancers masked as devils and spirits are a marriage of pagan and Christian beliefs. In the jungle, ceremonial music and dance are a window into tribal life. And along the coast, a blend of elegant Spanish sounds and vibrant African rhythms reflect the Conquest and later slave labor of the New World.
What to do in Peru.
Trekking is a great way to see the country. The most widely known route is the classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Other popular routes include Cordillera Blanca – Huaraz, Colca Canyon – Arequipa, Ausangate Trek, Salkantay trek, Choquequirao trek and Inka Jungle trek to Machu Picchu – an adrenaline trip to Machu Picchu.
Trek prices can vary considerably between companies, as can their respective porters’ working conditions (no pack animals are allowed, hence equipment is carried by human porters). Although there is a minimum porter wage and maximum load porters can carry (25kg/55 lb), not all companies keep to their claims!
Peru offers a big variety of adrenaline sport such as rafting, kayaking, biking, zip line, horseback riding, surfing, ATV, motocross, paragliding, canopy, canoing, sandboarding, etc.
Another popular activity to do in Peru is to visit its wildlife in the Amazon Rainforest that can be also considered as an adrenaline sport thanks to spending time among wild animals.
An up-and-coming way to explore Peru is to get to know its coffee plantations and producers. In several regions of the country including Cusco and San Ignacio there are now day and overnight tours visiting coffee farmers’ plantations, locally known as “Chacras.” For those short on time, quick 2-3 hour roasting and tasting tours are even available in Lima.
What to buy
Peru has traditions in tourism and be prepared to be viewed as a walking ATM virtually every step of the way. Everywhere they’ve seen a tourist before; they switch to “milk the tourist” mode once they see you are not local. Inform yourself well about prices, best by asking locals.
ATMs are widely available through the country. With a Cirrus or Maestro sign on it, you can withdraw cash easily. Make sure nobody is trying to see your PIN code. Some banks do not charge a fee for getting cash from their ATM’s, however most do.
In smaller towns, it can happen that there are nobody who will accept your credit card or traveler checks. For this case, you should have taken care that you have enough cash with you. Often in small towns, local shops will change money for you. If so, it will be clearly marked. Take only US$ bills in good condition since bills slightly torn or even old-looking will not be accepted.
Peru is famous for a lot of different, really nice and relatively cheap handicrafts. Keep in mind that buying handicrafts support traditional skills and helps many families to gain their modest income. Look for:
Pullovers, and a lot of other (alpaca) woollen products in all the Sierra.
Wall carpets (tejidos).
Carvings on stone, wood and dried pumpkins.
Silver and gold jewelry.
typical music instruments like pan flutes (zampoñas), skin drums.
Do not accept any handicrafts that look like (or actually are) pre-Columbian pottery or jewelry. It is illegal to trade them and there is the possibility not only of them being confiscated, but of being prosecuted for illegal trading, even if the actual artifacts are copies or fakes. Dealing with the police from the criminal side is messy and really unpleasant.
Watch out for fake (Bamba) Alpaca wool products many items sold to the unsuspecting gringo are actually synthetic or ordinary wool. Even in places such as Puno there is no easy way to tell if it is made from Alpaca, sometimes it might have a small percentage of Alpaca mixed in with other fibers. Baby Alpaca is not from baby animals but the first shearing and the fiber is very soft and fine. Generally Alpaca fiber has a low luster and a slightly greasy hand to it and is slow to recover from being stretched. Shop and compare; real Alpaca is expensive.
Bargaining is very common. If you are not used to it, respect some rules. If you intend to buy something, first ask the price, even if you already know what it actually should cost. Then check whether everything is all right. Realize that most of the products in touristy markets will be sold in nearly every other market throughout your travels in Peru and South America, so try not to worry about never again finding that particular alpaca scarf.
You have a way for bargaining without saying an exact price, and it’s saying “¿Nada menos?”, then you will be asking just if they can lower a bit the price.
If you say “No gracias” they’ll beg you to buy it and offer you a lower price. Just go around stalls bartering for a product similar to the one you have your eye on and then and you can establish an average price and a lowest price. Then go buy the thing you want well fully aware of the lowest price you can get. The whole point of bartering is caring less than they do, knowing the minimum price will help you see through their antics. Don’t feel bad for vendors, there’ll be another tourist and it’s just business. Their facial expressions during the barter are done to get you to buy.
Supermarkets can only be found in major cities and are somewhat expensive. In every town, there is at least one market place or hall, except Lima that has a dense concentration of supermarkets, malls and department stores. In cities, there are different markets (or sections of one big market) for different articles.
Stores with similar articles tend to be grouped in the same street. So, if you once know the appropriate street when looking for something special, it should be no more problem to find it quite soon.
Where to sleep
Hotels in Peru are very common and fairly cheap. They range from 1 – 5 stars. 5 star hotels are normally for package tourism or business travel, and very uncommon outside of Lima. 4 star hotels are usually a bit on the expensive side and not common, but in large cities. 3 star hotels are a good compromise between price and quality and 1 star hotels are very cheap, but don’t expect hot water or a particularly safe neighborhood.
Basic cares about hygiene and food is difficult to guarantee the security of food and drink, especially in developing countries. Nevertheless you may continue enjoying local meals; this is part of the pleasures of an international trip. Be selective. The diseases that you could get go from a small diarrhea or dysentery, to one more serious disease (e.g. Parasitic infection) that could ruin your trip. Therefore you should take certain precautions: Try to eat only cooked foods Avoid buffet or any other food that has been reheated and exposed to the contact with flies Avoid seafood in unknown places Crude fruits and vegetables are very difficult to sterilize: do not eat them unless you have the security that they have been washed in drinkable water or if they are possible to peel without touching the pulp. In the tropic the safest fruits are bananas and papayas. Be careful, you could reject any food you consider not safe, if it is necessary, ask for cooked food especially for you
Tap water. Drink water only when you are certain it is safe. Don’t drink tap water. If you are using tap water to brush your teeth or rinse your mouth, spit as much out as possible. Tap water can be made drinkable by boiling it (bringing it to boiling point in a kettle should be sufficient) or by purification methods such as iodine tablets or UV light. Bottled water is cheap and tastes better than boiled water. Check the bottle to make sure that it has not been opened and refilled.