Peru was one of the countries that surprised me the most up until now and it was where I lived some of the greatest adventures of my life. Peru truly is the land of the thousand landscapes and it was where I found a little bit of everything: beaches, deserts, mountains, jungle, snow… I surfed, I rode a Buggy in the middle of the desert, I had the chance to be side by side with Sealions and Penguins on their natural habitat, I saw millenarian runes, I saw traces of some of the biggest mysteries in the world, I slept in the house of a local family, which was located in the middle of the highest navigable lake in the world and I discovered Lima, its capital, with the help of some locals. It is, without a doubt, one of those places that will remain in my memory forever.
Below you’ll find a Peru Travel Guide filled with useful tips to help you have an experience just as good as mine (or even better).
Peru is located in South America and is surrounded by Ecuador and Colombia to the North, Chile to the South, Brazil and Bolivia to the East and by the Pacific Ocean to the West. Its capital is Lima, located in the central coastal part of the country.
Even though the official language of Peru is Spanish (spoken by about 84% of the population), there are some locals that speak other native languages, such as Quechua and Aymara. Quechua, which used to be the official language of Peru during the Inca Civilization period, is the second most spoken language in Peru (about13% of the population speaks it) and its presence is more noticeable in the South and Center areas of the country. Aymara is a language spoken almost exclusively by the people of the deep south, by the border with Bolivia and at Lake Titicaca.
English is spoken almost exclusively in the most tourist areas of the country so I would recommend practicing your Spanish a little bit before you go, in order to enjoy Peru to its fullest. Personally, I thought that the “Peruvian” accent was much easier to understand than the accent from Spain. I didn’t have much trouble understanding or getting myself understood when I was there, in spite of my spanish not being absolutely perfect.
Deciding what to pack when you’re going to Peru is not an easy task, because over the course of a few days, or even in the same day, you’ll experience several different seasons. Peru’s climate changes as much as the number of landscapes that it has. In one moment, you are in the middle of the snow, at the top of the Andes, and in another moment you will find yourself under a scorching heat in the middle of the dunes of desert in the south. However, in a general way, we can say that the best time to visit Peru, or at least most of the country, is from April to October.
Below you will find a description of the climate according to the several regions of the country.
The mountainous areas, near the Andes, are divided into 3 areas: The North area, with a low altitude and higher humidity, the Central area, with a higher altitude and the South area, known for having a large extension and also known as Altiplano. There are 2 seasons here: Summer, that goes from April to October, characterized by its sunny days, with temperatures that can go up to 24º, not too much rain and cold nights that can get as cold as -3º, and Winter, from November to March, that is known for its long rainy periods.
On the Central and Southern Coast, from November to March, during Summer, temperatures can go up to 30ºC and humidity levels are quite low, in opposition to the more wet and cloudy climate that you’ll experience during Winter, from April to October. In the North Coast the climate is quite different – warm during most of the year with some rain during the period of November / December.
Although there’s a considerable level of humidity throughout the year, the climate in the jungle area of Peru is also characterized by 2 different seasons: Summer, that goes from April to October, and Winter, that goes from November to March, featuring long periods of rain.
Peru’s official currency is the Peruvian Sol (PEN) which divides itself into “cents”. It’s used in day-to-day transactions, such as meals in restaurants/cafes, grocery shopping, transportation and so on. The dollar is also a widely used currency in the country, and it’s possible to obtain it directly at the ATM’s that are spread throughout the country, even though it’s more used to pay for hotels rooms, tours, etc. At the Lima airport I also found cafes where the prices were presented in dollars. You can check the exchange rates here.
You can find ATM’s scattered all over the country. If you want to withdraw money, you will have to pay a commission (in addition to the commission that your bank already charges you). This rule doesn’t apply to the BCP Bank, which means that you should always try to withdraw money from these ATM’s in particular.
You can exchange money directly at the airport as soon as you arrive, in hotels, banks and official exchange offices. I always prefer to exchange money directly at the banks simply because it’s safer. I actually did exchange money once with a street exchange dealer in Nazca. People say that you can get good exchange rates with these exchange dealers but you need to already have an idea of the current official and negotiate until you reach a fair value. I would not recommend exchanging money at the airport, due to the fact that exchange rates are usually not very good here. If you don’t have other options and really need to do it at the airport, then make sure to exchange the smallest amount as possible.
Pay close attention to the counterfeit notes that circulate in the country, especially those of higher value, like 50 or 100 soles. Tourists are very likely to be deceived (I was). Always check whether the note has an official watermark or not. Also check the coins since it’s pretty easy to be deceived (2 soles and 5 soles coins are very similar). And make sure that every note that is given to you is in good condition. Don’t accept teared notes, because you will risk not being able to spend that money because no one will accept it.
- 1 meal in a local restaurant: 8 to 15 PEN
- 1 meal in a tourist restaurant: 20 to 60 PEN
- Short taxi ride (inside the city): 5 to 20 PEN
- Bus ticket: 26 to 200 PEN
- Small water bottle: 2 to 5 PEN
- Low budget accommodation fare: 25 to 60 PEN
- Medium accommodation fare: 100 to 300 PEN
Visa for Peru
Citizens from North America (USA and Canada) and most European countries do not require a visa to enter Peru for stays up to 183 days (not extendable).
If there is one thing not in shortage in Peru it is taxis, in all forms and shapes. However, none of them have a taximeter which means that you will have to negotiate the taxi fare before getting into one to go to your destination. You should always ask in your hotel, for example, how much the trip that you are about to do usually costs, so that you’ll already have an idea of the fair price you should be paying. This way you will avoid being tricked or deceived as easily, which is something that frequently happens with tourists in Peru. If possible, try to always ride in a licensed taxi, since there are some unlicensed taxis in Peru that are known for being responsible for tourist thefts. Licensed taxis usually have some sort of documentation on their window or near the dashboard. Oh, and by the way, get ready to be have some flashbacks of your life going through your eyes while driving (or being driven) in Peru. The way they drive is absolutely chaotic, I don’t know how they are able to ever avoid accidents!
When you arrive in Peru, just before you leave the airport, you’ll find several counters from several taxi companies. I recommend Taxi Green. The trip to the center of Lima (Barranco or Miraflores, for example) will cost you 60 soles. This trip is made in a very comfortable car, with very professional drivers that will get you to your destination safely.
As an alternative, you can always call an Uber. Just make sure that when you call an Uber you call a private car, otherwise a regular taxi might appear, as it happened with me.
There are several bus companies in Peru that allow you to travel more comfortably than many planes do. Cruz del Sur takes the number one prize – you will travel in an extremely comfortable armchair (yes, and armchair, not a normal seat) which tilts 140º. You are offered a blanket and a pillow for an even more comfortable ride, as well as a snack. Each passenger has access to a small screen with a vast selection of movies, TV shows, music, etc.
One other bus company that I used in Peru was Peru Hop. It’s a safe and practical alternative for those that have little travel time and/or travel alone. You can acquire passes for different circuits, depending on what you are looking to visit in Peru. Peru Hop also offers the possibility of booking tours directly with the guide inside the bus or interesting discounts when booking a tour from one of its partners. It also includes some free tours where they pick you up and leave you directly at your hotel. The only cons are: the seats are not as comfortable as the ones from Cruz del Sur; sometimes the schedule might not be very convenient; the trip will be a bit noisy because of the type of passengers they carry (young backpackers).
Here’s a list with some of the main bus companies in Peru:
One of the easiest ways to get to Machu Picchu from Cusco (or from one of the railway stations half way) is by train. The two main railway companies that do this route are Peru Rail and Inca Rail. If you depart from Cusco it’s important to know that during the high season (that goes from March to December) the train doesn’t leave from Cusco, it leaves from Poroy, 13km away. You will have to get a taxi or a bus in order to reach Poroy. During the low season (January to April) the train departs from Pachar. Peru Rail offers a special service that includes a bus ride to Pachar or Poroy and a train ride to Machu Picchu. The price of these tickets varies depending on the type of train/carriage chosen: the most expensive is the Hiram Bingham which costs around $350 per person (one-way ticket), followed by the Vistadome that costs around $86 and the Expedition that costs $75. For more info check out the Peru Rail Website or the Inca Rail Website.
Another way to travel inside the country is by plane. LATAM, StarPeru and Avianca are the 3 airline companies operating in Peru. LATAM flies to 13 different destinations within the country: Arequipa, Cajamarca, Chiclayo, Cusco, Iquitos, Juliaca, Piura, Pucallpa, Puerto Maldonado, Tacna, Tarapoto, Trujillo and Tumbes; StarPeru flies to 7 different destinations: Ayacucho, Cusco, Huanuco, Iquitos, Pucallpa, Puerto Maldonado and Tarapoto; Avianca flies to 8 different destinations: Arequipa, Chiclayo, Cusco, Juliaca, Piura, Puerto Maldonado, Tarapoto and Trujillo.
The price of the tickets for LATAM flights are usually higher than those of the other 2 companies, but it offers you more security when traveling. I flew with Star Peru and although I paid considerably less for this ticket than I paid with Latam, my flight from Cusco to Lima had a delay of 1 hour.
Healthcare in Peru
There are no mandatory vaccines to visit Peru, however there are certain recommended vaccines, such as the Hepatitis A and the Typhoid fever. These recommendations do not exempt you from resorting to professional advice through a Pre-Travel Consultation.
Some important recommendations:
- Use plenty of repellent when you are in jungle areas, such as Iquito or Puerto Maldonado
- Always drink bottled water and avoid any juices that contain water
- Peel the fruit before eating it, especially if the fruit has been bought on the street
- If your meal consists of fish, make sure the fish has been properly cooked before eating it.
I recommend you to acquire travel insurance before leaving to Peru. From the terrible road conditions, to the crazy driving of bus drivers and the chaotic traffic in gereneral to the high chance of getting stomach infections (it happened to me on my second day in Peru and I ended up in the hospital): there is a high probability of having some type of incident during the trip. I usually recommend the World Nomads’s travel insurance, which is one of the most complete insurances out there.
What to eat in Peru
It’s impossible to go to Peru and not eat the famous Ceviche, made out of marinated raw fish, lime, chili peppers, coriander, sweet potato and onion. Causa is a mixture of mashed potatoes with lime and chili that can be stuffed with meat or tuna salad, for example. Quinoa is an ingredient that you will frequently find everywhere in this country. Make sure you taste the amazing quinoa soups. Last but not least, for dessert try some Picarones, which is a type of donut made with sweet potato, anise and cinnamon, covered with sugar cane syrup.
What to visit in Peru
Peru’s capital, Lima, is full of surprises, and I only got to know it better at the end of my trip, with the help of 2 local Peruvians. In addition to the Historical Center and its Plaza Mayor, you should venture through the Miraflores Neighborhood and through the bohemian Barranco neighborhood. Do not miss out on the chance to visit the Mercado nr1 in Surquillo and indulge in an amazing Ceviche for lunch. The second time I stayed in Lima I slept at a locals’ home, but during my first visit, I stayed at the Chaski Lodge, in the Miraflores area (the most touristy area), which I recommend!
Paracas’ beauty lies in its natural surroundings. Located by the coast, it’s very usual to see yourself sharing the beach with a huge pelican and other birds that you don’t see very often. This is the departure point of the boats that will take you on a trip to the amazing Ballestas Islands, the natural habitat of animals such as dolphins, sea lions, several types of birds and penguins.
You will also be able to see the “Candelabro”, a drawing made in the sand thousands of years ago whose origin remains a mystery to this day. Take the opportunity, while you are in Paracas, to go on a tour through the Natural Reserve where you will be able to visit the Playa Roja (spanish for Red Beach) and its red sands. In Paracas I stayed in a private room at the Paracas Backpackers House, where I was very well taken care of by all their staff and in particular by the owner of the Hostel, a truly lovely man called Alberto.
The Huacachina oasis is the perfect place for those who enjoy a little bit of adrenaline in their life. When you observe this city from the top of one of desert sand dunes that surrounds it, this city looks straight out of an arabian fairy tale. One of the biggest attractions of Huacachina is the buggy tour through the dunes with sandboarding. I admit that I skipped the sandboarding part, but I loved riding the buggy through the dunes and to be surrounded by nothing but sand.
In terms of accomodation, I recommend the Desert Nights Ecocamp hotel, made of several incredible tents, located near the entry to the desert. I loved it!
Nazca is sought essentially by the curious and interested in the mysterious Nazca Lines, these very straight lines, drawn on the arid floor of the city’s surrounding area. The origin of these drawings is still undetermined (despite many theories). In order to see them properly, you have to do it from the air, with one of several airline companies that can be found at the airport. I was able to get a very interesting price because I booked a last minute flight. One small tip: if you tend to be nauseous due to intense movement, you should take some anti motion sickness pills before boarding. The plane does some acrobatic manouevers in the air to allow you to see the lines, which might cause you to not enjoy the experience to its fullest.
Another place worth visiting is the mummy cemetery, which is located about 30km away from Nazca called Chauchilla Cemetery.
In Nazca I stayed at the Nazca Travel One Hostel, which I recommend.
Arequipa is one of the loveliest cities in Peru. It is filled with imposing ancient buildings of colonial architecture and it was a pleasure for me to walk through its streets with my camera always ready to go. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Santa Catalina Monastery, a beautiful place which is extremely well preserved that looks like a city of its own on the inside.
There are some tours that go from Arequipa, such as the Colca Canyon Trekking Tour, which is one of the deepest canyons in the world (with 3 270 meters of depth!). You can buy these tours beforehand, at any of the travel agencies located near Arequipa’s Plaza de Armas, but make sure you understand everything that’s included in the tour, because the agencies can be a little bit vague about it. I booked my tours (Colca Canyon, Lake Titicaca and Machu Picchu) through the Mistianos Tours agency.
In Arequipa I stayed at Los Andes Bed & Breakfast, which is very well located and has very comfortable private rooms that I recommend!
Lake Titicaca, located in the Andes, is the highest navigable lake in the world, at an altitude of 3812mt. 60% of its area belongs to Peru and the other 40% belong to Bolivia. In order to get there, you will need to go first to Puno, where you will leave on a boat tour through the Lake that will introduce you to the Islas de los Uros (floating Islands), the Amantani Island and on the next day, the Taquile Island.
Don’t miss the opportunity to stay in the house of a local family in the Amantani Island. I bought a tour that included accomodation, but if you prefer you can book your stay directly with the family that I stayed with (which I loved!): Dona Aurelia Mamanicalcin’s family (Phone: 0051 995814889 – Aurelia; 0051 98465483 – Yeny). If you don’t book directly, you will be assigned to a random local family.
Cusco is, like Arequipa, one of the most beautiful cities in Peru. It’s also filled with old buildings with traces of Spanish colonial architecture and there is a piece of history and tradition in every single corner of the city. It’s also the ideal place for those who are looking for nights filled with fun and entertainment and the departure point of tours that take you to the biggest attraction of Peru: Machu Picchu. By train, mini-van, bus or car, or even by foot, thousands of people leave Cusco every day to go to one of the 7 Wonders of the World, which, I can guarantee, definitely deserves the designation.
Puerto Maldonado / Iquito
Peru is the land of the thousand landscapes and, as such, the Jungle had to be included. The Amazon Rainforest can be accessed through Iquitos in the north, near the border with Colombia, or through Puerto Maldonado in southeastern Peru, near the border with Bolivia. Several tours, which will allow you to have an unforgettable experience in the Amazon Rainforest, leave from these 2 places on a daily basis.
Trujillo is located on the northern coast of Peru and is the 3rd most populous city in the entire country. Nicknamed the “city of culture”, Trujillo was the birthplace of countless writers and thinkers and it retains many of its tradition and culture to this day. This is the place from where several tours depart to visit some important archeological runes such as the Huacas del Sol y de la Luna runes, Sipan, El Brujo and the Chan Chan city. This is also where you can find some of the best surf beaches in the world, with constant waves and clear skies practically all year round, with Chicama, Mancora and Huanchaco as its flagpoles.