As far as multifaceted travel destinations go, you'll be hard pressed to do much better than Peru. Between its Pacific coastline, rich cultural heritage, glacier topped mountains, high altitude lakes, raging rivers, world famous landmarks, and vibrant, diverse cities, this South American country has earned its reputation as being one of the most adventure packed tourist destinations in the world.
Most first time visitors will do well to observe the obligatory sunrise over the Lost City of Machu Picchu, or sip Pisco Sours in a crowded bar in Barranco, but were you aware that Peru is considered second to none for both Andean mountain climbing and white water rafting? And with alluring sites such as the Cotahuasi Canyon (planet earth's deepest crack), Lake Titicaca and La Huacachina Oasis (a sand-boarder's paradise) at your disposal, you may find yourself wondering why you didn't plan for a longer visit.
So grab the hiking boots, brush up on your "Cuanto cuesta" and "Donde estan los baños," and board your flight to bustling Lima, historic Cuzco, or breathtaking Arequipa. Rest assured that, wherever you touch down, you'll inevitably experience an incredible South American adventure like only Peru can deliver. Vamos!
US citizens, as well as citizens from most European, North American, South American and Oceanic countries can enter Peru with either a passport or, in some cases, just an ID card for stays of up to 90 days. Check the map to see if your country makes the list.
Peruvian currency is called the nuevo sol, abbreviated PEN. Exchange rates for travelers from major economies are generally favorable, including: .36 USD / .26 EUR / .22 GBP. To see where your currency stacks up in real time, click here.
Peru’s most recent dabble in democracy started in 1980 and, after a turbulent and bloody conflict, began to settle down around the turn of the 21st century. Its current government is stable enough to minimize threats of residual turmoil, but some safety concerns to still exist (see below). As for how things work, the president of Peru, along with his appointed Prime Minister, heads up the executive branch of the country’s representative democratic republic. There is a single-chamber Congress responsible for drafting and/or passing national legislation, as well as a Corte Suprema de Justicia that presides over the judicial end of things.
Peru is a Spanish speaking country, though in mountainous Andes regions you’ll likely come across Quechua - a language spoken by a collection of native groups including the ancient Incas. English is generally spoken, to various degrees of fluency, throughout the service and tourism industries, so as long as you’re flying right from Lima to Cuzco and then straight to Machu Picchu you should be fine. But for those craving a more authentic experience here, you’d best practice at least some basic Spanish. Not only is it culturally appropriate, but it will allow you to explore way more of the country (and trust us, there’s a LOT to see). Don’t know where to start? Try here.
Crime is a continuing problem throughout much of Peru, ranging in severity from petty theft and pickpocketing to armed robbery, express kidnapping and assault. We know that’s not exactly encouraging news, but them’s the facts. So what’s a traveler to do? Well, in major urban areas like Lima it’s always good to travel in groups whenever possible, especially if you’ve been engaged in some night-time bar hopping. Keep valuables like cash, bags and electronics close to your person, and exercise caution when utilizing street taxis (as opposed to phone-summoned services). When venturing off the beaten path to explore some of the country’s incredible jungles, canyons and mountainous regions, be sure to ask local guides about the possibility of guerrilla groups or bandits operating in the area, and never hesitate to utilize the State Department or your national embassy for information.
We need to emphasize the fact that the majority of travelers to Peru experience no crime or safety issues whatsoever, and that it’s entirely probable your visit here will go off without so much as a hiccup. It’s just good to be aware of the risks in order to minimize the potential for any problems along your journey.
Due to a geography that includes dense jungles and plenty of elevation change, getting around Peru by land transportation can be a time consuming process. There are two railway lines serving northern and southern Peru, as well as vast system or roadways that has given given rise to a popularly cheap, if long and uncomfortable, public bus network. The Pan American Highway, relatively unused by most travelers, stretches north to south along the country’s Pacific coastline, connecting Piura, Lima and Arequipa. Feeling a road trip coming on? It’s doable, but driving personal automobiles can be a risky alternative as Peruvian drivers are often unpredictable and night driving is strongly discouraged.
For anyone on a 1-2 week visit, flying is by far the most convenient way to cover ground here. Peru has around 20 airports with consistent scheduling, 5 of these accommodating international flights. Expect one way city-to-city tickets to run anywhere from $80 to $200 depending on the season. Once in a city, public transportation is dominated by buses, minibuses and taxis, though Lima is home to the country’s only metro system.
Due to its drastic changes in elevation and geographic regions, weather in Peru varies greatly depending on your location. In general, summer months on the coast (December - March) feature hot, dry weather perfect for hitting up Lima, Arequipa and the country’s vast stretch of beaches. For much of the rest of the year, cloud cover known as the Panza de Burro (donkey’s belly) dominates. If you’re heading inland to check out Cuzco and the surrounding Andes, May through September are your best bets for dry weather and sunshine. This is also the dry season for Peru’s southern Amazon Rainforest. The jungles around Iquitos to the north, however, have no such season and can be counted on for heat and rain pretty much all year round.
When dining out in Peru, tipping etiquette depends entirely on where you eat. Mid-range and upscale restaurants often charge a 10% service fee on the bill, but tacking on another 5-10% isn’t uncommon if the service is particularly good. Bear in mind that serving tables isn’t the most lucrative job out there, so anything extra will likely be greatly appreciated by the recipient. At bars and small, informal eateries, a couple nuevo soles will suffice. Keep in mind that lunch is the main meal of the Peruvian day, and dinner usually takes on a European time frame between 8 and 10 pm.
Multiple day guided tours are commonplace in the mountains and jungles of Peru. For these activities, where cooks and porters are often a part of the team, it’s not unusual for expected tips to range from 15-20% of the entire trip. If you’re uncertain, don’t hesitate to ask up front so as to avoid any awkwardness at the end of your journey.
18 is the legal drinking age in Peru, and penalties can be pretty inconvenient for anyone caught drinking, or supplying alcohol to persons, underage. Best not to test limits, especially when you’re a visitor. For those of age, there are a few distinct beverages you’ll likely want to try while in the country. The first of these is definitely pisco - a kind of grape brandy that’s ubiquitously served throughout Peru, most commonly in a drink known as the “pisco sour.” If you’re in the market for a native corn-brewed beer, try chicha de jora, which dates back to the Incas and various centuries-old Andean cultures. There are also several quality nationally brewed beer options, including Cusqueña and Cristal.
Additionally, though Peru’s wines enjoy neither the quality nor the reputation of some other South American varieties, some good options are available around the coastal Ica region south of Lima. Makes for a cool daytime road-trip possibility on the Panamerican Highway.
Yellow underwear salesmen rejoice! For one day of the year, Peruvians will make yours the most lucrative business venture in the country. Why? Because amongst other traditions thought to bring good luck at the turn of the new year, the most important is the wearing of a new pair of yellow panties or briefs. This is no joke. Custom dictates that you must don your new undergarments just before the clock strikes 12 am, and they MUST be new. Don’t have a pair? No worries. Street vendors will be out en masse selling them in all shapes and sizes leading up to the night’s revelries.
Peak season:May - August (Mountains), December - April (Coast)
Currency:Nuevo Sol (PEN)
Religion:Predominantly Roman Catholic
Like most every Central and South American country, Peru celebrates Carnaval nation wide in style. Dates change annually, between February and March.
Dias de Los Santos y Los Muertos
All Saints Day and the Day of the Dead are closely related and follow one after the other on November 1st and 2nd. While the former celebrates the Saints canonized in the Catholic church, the latter pays homage to all the deceased, taking on a more secular feel in some areas. Similar to Halloween.
Santa Rosa de Lima
Held in recognition of Lima's quasi-eponymous saint, August 30th is one of the most important festivals observed in Peru's capital, marked by parades and a day of Catholic observances and celebration.