With ecosystems ranging from the coast and plains to mountains and rainforest, Peru boasts incredible biodiversity. Its three major regions are defined by the Andes, which run north to south parallel to the ocean: the coast is a narrow, arid plain threaded by rivers flowing from the mountains; the highlands comprise the Andes themselves; and the jungle marks the Amazon rainforest.
Peru has a rich Incan past most dramatically illustrated on the saddleback mountain perch of Machu Picchu. Yet its Spanish-colonial influence is also apparent in the graceful plazas and cobbled streets of its historic cities. Peru is a representative democratic republic. Its capital is Lima, which rests on the Pacific coast.
Peru is a developing country. Travel here requires patience and openness to cultural differences. Country Walkers itineraries take you to diverse and sometimes remote regions. The most apparent cultural difference you’ll notice may be in punctuality. South America is known for its sense of mañana or “tomorrow time.” The pace may be significantly slower than you are used to, especially in terms of service at hotels and in stores. If you take time to step back, appreciate the differences, and try to get to know the individuals, you will likely walk away with some of the most memorable moments of the tour.
Language: The official language of Peru is Spanish. Two Amerindian languages, Quechua and Aymara, are spoken primarily in the Highlands (Aymara is mainly spoken in the Lake Titicaca region). While knowledge of the local language is not necessary, you may want to learn some fun and useful phrases to use during your walking tour. The effort seldom goes unappreciated and by trying some greetings and salutations with a smile, your interactions are likely to grow into rewarding exchanges. See BBC Languages for helpful hints. Country Walkers also recommends a phrase book or two in our Reading Guide that you’ll receive after you reserve.
Life in Peru
Shopping and banking hours: Shops and stores are generally open 7 days a week from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Banks are open from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Monday to Friday, and 9:00 a.m. to noon on Saturday.
Shopping and bartering: Always agree on prices in advance of purchasing goods or services. Often merchants do not have abundant cash on hand, so try to have an ample supply of small bills. Bartering in markets for clothes and crafts is an accepted and expected practice. Once in Peru, with your tour representative’s assistance, you will develop a sense of a fair price—but you can often start by offering half of the vendor’s first price.
Meal times: Breakfast is served at hotels from 7:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. In restaurants, lunch is served from noon to 2:00 p.m., and dinner is usually served from 6:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Tipping: In restaurants it is customary to leave 10 percent of the total. Some of the more upscale restaurants include a 10 percent gratuity, but an additional 5 to 10 percent can be added for the server. Taxi drivers are not usually tipped unless they provide an additional service. For luggage assistance, offer a small tip at your discretion.
Peru public holidays: Peruvian public holidays, festivals, or calendars of events may affect your travel planning. Visit the Peruvian tourist board’s website for a list of public holidays and festivals.
Photos: The indigenous people of Peru are colorful and photogenic. It is appropriate to ask via hand signals if necessary before taking their picture. In more heavily traveled regions (Machu Picchu and Cusco), it is customary to pay the person 1 or 2 soles. Bringing a Polaroid camera and film in order to offer photos back to the people allows for meaningful interactions, but offer photos to the adults rather than the children. Sharing digital photos can also be interactive.
Charitable donations to children: We recommend that you do not acquiesce to the temptation of rewarding children who beg for sweets, pencils, or spare change. As difficult as this may be, you can make a more positive impact by giving donations of school supplies or books to your guide, who will ensure that they reach one of the villages visited on the tour, or by making a donation to a nongovernmental organization working in Peru.
Typical Peruvian dishes are tasty, varied, and regional. Seafood is best on the coast, while the Inca delicacy cuy (roasted guinea pig) can be sampled in the Highlands. Specialties include beef kabobs, rocoto relleno (spicy bell peppers stuffed with ground beef and vegetables), adobo (spicy pork stew), choclo con queso (corn on the cob with cheese), rice and beans, potatoes, and a variety of chicken dishes. Meals are often washed down with chicha, which can either be a fruit drink or a fermented, mildly alcoholic corn beer. Typical Peruvian breakfasts consist of fresh juices, coffee, tea, granola, eggs, ham, yogurt, and bread. Coffee is wonderful and is served as a strong extract that is mixed with hot water or hot milk (café con leche). Please note: although vegetarians can be accommodated with advance notice in Peru, entrée choices will be limited.
You will be welcomed to Peru with the ubiquitous pisco sour—Peru’s national drink—made from pisco, a single distillation of young wine grown in Peru’s dry southern coastal valleys. The cocktail includes pisco, lime, egg white, and Peruvian bitters from the bark of a local tree—a delicious, refreshing, and intoxicating part of the culture!
Food tips: Country Walkers and our guides take great care to select and work with hotel properties and restaurants that meet our rigorous standards in food safety. Outside of these establishments, it is wise to avoid eating foods sold by local street vendors, peeled fruit or unwashed vegetables. We recommend following the simple rule, “If you can’t peel it, don’t eat it.” Avoid fresh salads, with the exception of those served in fine restaurants, and fruit juices unless they are 100 percent juice. In addition, eating lightly, especially the first few days, will help with altitude adjustment.
Water: We advise that you drink only bottled water, including for ice cubes in drinks and brushing your teeth. Bottled water (“agua”) is widely available—ask for it “sin gas” (uncarbonated) or “con gas” (carbonated). You may also wish to avoid juices unless they are bottled or freshly squeezed with no added water.
Peru is in the Southern Hemisphere, therefore the seasons are opposite those in the Northern Hemisphere, so winter is from April through October and summer is from December through March.
Peru has three geographic regions with distinct weather patterns. The Peruvian coast, including Mancora, Paracas, and Trujillo, is very dry and experiences almost year-round sunny, warm days, with maximum temperatures reaching the high 90s. The Highlands of Peru, dominated by the Andes Mountains–home to Cusco, Machu Picchu, the Urubamba Valley, Colca Canyon, Arequipa, and Lake Titicaca–have varying temperatures depending on elevation, but in general, daytime temperatures can range from the mid-60s to mid-80s with cool mornings and evenings (into the 30s). Dressing in layers of fleece or wool sweaters is strongly recommended, as are lightweight hat and gloves (which can be purchased locally).
The dry season is winter, from April through late October, with very little rainfall. The wet season, from December through March, sees rainfall mainly at night and has the advantage of greener landscapes and fewer tourists.
The Peruvian jungle, part of the Amazon River Basin, has a dry season from April to October with sunshine, temperatures reaching the 90s, and lower river levels. The rainy season, between November and March, is characterized by frequent and sometimes heavy rain, making road travel more difficult.
U.S. citizens: Passports are required and must be valid for at least six months beyond the dates of travel. Visas are not required for stays of up to 90 days.
Embarkation card: When entering Peru, you will be asked to fill out a white embarkation card. This card is very important; you will not be permitted to leave the country without a copy. We recommend that you staple it to your passport. You may also want to make a photocopy of your passport and embarkation card and any other important documents in case you lose the originals. The staff at your arrival hotel can help you with this.
For more information, see travel.state.gov.
Peru uses the nuevo sol (PEN). The current exchange rate is 1 USD = 1 PEN. Exchange rates can vary greatly month to month, so we recommend you visit oanda.com for the latest.
We recommend having a variety of payment options readily available to help you start your trip: ATM card(s), credit card(s) and some U.S. dollars to exchange. Always contact your bank or your credit-card company for details on fees and card use when traveling.
- Changing money on the street is common but risky. We recommend exchanging money at casas de cambio (money-changing booths) or banks whenever possible.
- Dollar bills with rips or tears will often be denied or exchanged at a significantly lower rate.
- Credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, and American Express only) are accepted in the cities (Cusco and Lima), but bring cash for small towns or pueblos and local markets.
- ATMs are available in Lima, Yucay, Cusco, Pisac, and Aguas Calientes, and in airports, banks, and major shopping malls.
No immunizations are required to enter Peru. Always consult a travel clinic at a local university, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, and/or your personal physician for the most up-to-date recommendations and routine vaccinations. Malaria medication, hepatitis, tetanus, typhoid, polio, measles, mumps, and rubella vaccinations are generally recommended for all travelers. For the threat of malaria, you should consult the CDC or your physician for the most current information.
Requirements and recommendations change frequently, so always check directly with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC: cdc.gov/travel; 877-394-8747), a travel clinic, and/or your personal physician for the most current information. Plan ahead for immunizations, as some require administration several months prior to departure.
Altitude: Traveling to Peru’s highest-elevation destinations, such as Cusco, which sits at approximately 11,400 feet, may cause altitude sickness. Typical symptoms may include a loss of appetite, insomnia, shortness of breath, dizziness, headaches, or other minor irregularities. Coca tea, offered at most hotels and restaurants, is a mild stimulant that may help you adjust to the altitude. Drink plenty of water (more than you feel you need) for two to three days prior to your flight to Peru and try to get plenty of rest. While walking, especially during any ascents, take your time, allow your body to adjust, and always keep your guides informed of how you are feeling. Please discuss with your doctor whether taking altitude medication would be helpful.
Sun: The highest Peruvian elevations combined with the intense sun can be potentially challenging for visitors from other regions. Dehydration can be a concern at any time of year. We recommend drinking 8 to 12 glasses of water a day (four to six 16-ounce water bottles), more if you are walking or in direct sunlight. Some symptoms of dehydration are headache, dry throat and eyes, decrease in urination (or dark-colored urine), nausea, and dizziness. We urge you to take water everywhere you go and carry sunscreen.
Bathrooms: A cultural/environmental difference with regard to bathrooms is worth noting: in most establishments toilet paper is not flushed but instead is disposed of in wastebaskets. It is a good idea to carry your own toilet paper and sanitizer, as there may be places where these items are not available.
Personal Safety: Traveling in Peru requires the common sense and exercise of above-normal precautions for personal safety that apply in many countries and cities worldwide; in addition to being aware of your surroundings, keep your valuables close and hidden while in public (avoid dangling cameras or other “tourist bait”), and avoid walking alone at night. Please follow accommodation and/or tour representative guidelines about securing valuables.
Electricity: Alternating current of 220V and 50Hz is used in Peru. Plugs are either like those in the United States or have two round pins. For a full listing of electrical outlets worldwide, see electricaloutlet.org. If you are bringing your own hair dryer or other electrical device, you will need a travel converter, available at most hardware, travel, or consumer electronic stores. For laptops or an electronic device with a dual voltage switch, you will only need the adapter plug, not the converter.
Phone: Peru’s country code is “+51.” Cell phone coverage throughout Peru is extensive, but we cannot guarantee adequate signals on all American phone models or while on walking trails or in remote areas. For more information regarding international phone use, please refer to this blog post.
Internet: Internet access is generally very good in towns and villages; however, all of the hotels used on our tours do not necessarily provide it, or they provide it at an additional cost. Details regarding Wi-Fi availability in each hotel are available in the Itinerary Overview that you’ll receive once you’ve reserved.
Peru is on Eastern Standard Time but does not observe daylight savings. For more information on worldwide time zones, see: worldtimezone.com.
A wealth of travel information is available at peru.travel/en.
International flights arrive at Lima’s Jorge Chávez International Airport. Because of Peru’s size and geography, internal flights are the most convenient way to reach smaller cities and regional destinations, most of which connect through Lima.
International Airports in Peru
- Arequipa – Rodríguez Ballón International Airport
- Cusco – Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport
- Lima – Jorge Chávez International Airport
Peru has a rail system, PeruRail, with service between Machu Picchu and Cusco and several other scenic journeys.
Other local transportation
Both long-distance buses and car rentals are available in Peru; however, due to long distances and road conditions neither are highly recommended, and the U.S. State Department discourages U.S. citizens from renting cars. Taxis are available at all major airports, train stations, and in smaller towns, and can be reserved in advance (your hotel can usually provide assistance). For more information contact Country Walkers, or go to peru.travel/en.