Travel to Peru
Peru is a relatively small country situated on the western coast of the South American continent. It faces the South Pacific Ocean. Peru has borders with Ecuador and Colombia to the north, Bolivia and Brazil to the east and Chile to the south. Chile was once the epicentre of the mighty Incan Empire and the archaeological attractions of this lost Empire are one of Peru’s, if not the world’s greatest treasures.
The capital of the country is centred at Lima and the main language spoken is Spanish. Although one of the smaller countries in South America with reference to size, Peru surely packs in a number of attractions that are guaranteed to delight the most culturally curious tourists.
Peru is home to a number of UNESCO World Heritage sights including Machu Picchu, Chan Chan and Chavin de Huantar. The mystic beauty of the giant, geometrical Nazca lines is also a sight to behold. A number of national parks teeming with biodiversity grace the country including Huascaran National Park, Manu National Park, Paracas National Park and Rio Abiseo National Park.
We hope that this carefully prepared travel guide will ease your travel planning for your Peruvian holidays and encourage you to plan a future trip to Peru.
Visa Requirements for Peru
Citizens of several countries do not require a visa to enter Peru when the purpose of travel is tourism. These include visitors from North America, Australia, Japan, Thailand, the European Union and Russia among others.
During the time of immigration, the passport will be stamped with the number of days permitted to stay. Usually this is 183 days. If extended stay is required, then extension is not granted while in the country. Instead you may visit a border town of a neighboring country and then return the next day with a fresh visa. Alternatively you may wish to pay an overstay fine.
Please check the current guidelines, of the visa requirements for your country and ways to get a Peruvian visa before you travel to Peru.
Important Cultural Information
Peruvians are nationalists and carry great nationalist pride centering around the former glory of the Inca Empire and Spain’s South American Empire.
Peruvians in general are peaceful, friendly and will try to help tourists. If you find yourself in the midst of an argument, try to resolve the matter amicably.
The word ‘gringo’ is used by Peruvians to denote all non-Spanish speaking white people. The term is not intended to be used offensively.
The official language of Peru is Spanish. Other languages in use are Quechua, the language of the Incas and used in the Sierra countryside. On the Altiplano, Aymara is spoken, which was the language of the Tiahuanaco culture.
English usage is uncommon outside big cities like Lima and the city centers. A translator is useful in such circumstances because conversation might be misinterpreted. Alternatively, having a knowledge of frequently used phrases is useful.
Chewing coca leaves, especially in rural areas is part of the culture. Coca leaves are not illegal and are not to be confused with cocaine. However, drinking coca leaf tea might lead to positive drug tests in North America – so be aware of this fact.
Tipping in Peru is not obligatory but it might be a nice gesture to tip tour guides and tip around 10% in restaurants.
Most Peruvians are Roman Catholic. In the countryside, the pre- Hispanic religion is embraced by some people.
Banking & Money in Peru
The currency in Peru is the nuevo sol symbolized by ‘PEN’ before the amount with no intervening space. Sometimes an ‘S’ may also be affixed before or after the amount. 100 centimos make one sol.
Coin denominations are one, two or five sol and 1,5,10, 20 and 50 centimos. Bank notes are available in PEN10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 denominations. Be careful of counterfeit coins and money. Ripped notes are not usable so don’t accept them.
Cash has the best exchange rate but it’s wise not to carry large amounts of currency. The Banco de Credito (BCP) provides good rates for travelers cheques.
ATMs are found widespread throughout the country, most of them with the Cirrus or Maestro symbol on them. Banks such as MultiRED do not charge money for ATM withdrawals but most others do.
When traveling to smaller towns in remote areas remember to carry sufficient cash with you, as it’s quite probable that there won’t be any ATMs. Crisp new dollar bills are more easily changeable than travelers cheques.
Some reputable banks found in the destination include Banco de Credito del Peru, ICBC Peru Bank, Citibank del Peru and Central Reserve Bank of Peru.
Medical Emergency Information
Some Emergency numbers to keep at hand when visiting Peru include the following:
- 105 Central emergency number for police assistance like theft, violence and drug related crimes
- 116 for national fire brigade
- 106 for ambulatory service in a medical emergency
- 119 for civil defense emergency number in case of natural disasters
- 911 also puts you through to the police
Major hospitals in Peru include:
- Hospital Naval (Lima)
- Hospital Central FAP (Lima)
- Hospital de Chancay (Chancay)
- Hospital Antonio Lorena (Cusco)
- Hospital Rezola-Canete (San Vincente)
- Hospital Nacional Arzobispo Loayza (HNAL) (Lima)
- Hospital Nacional del Sur (Lima)
Make sure to get a good travel insurance for Peru beforehand. Compare options with both WorldNomads and SafetyWing.
Wi-Fi and Internet in Peru
The main cell phone operators in Peru are Claro (America Movil), Movistar (Telefonica Peru), Entel (previously Nextel), Bitel (Viettel). Prepaid SIM cards are to be purchased at the stores of the respective carriers. These can be found at shopping malls, airports or large supermarkets. All cell phone numbers need to be registered, so a passport is required to set up a SIM card.
It’s perfectly easy to recharge the SIM card. Credit can be purchased almost everywhere. Talk plans can come with data as well. Network of all providers is good in larger cities where 4G is available. There will be poorer network coverage outside the city. Check the network coverage of each provider according to the area you will be visiting.
Internet cafes are called ‘cabinas publicas’ and are ubiquitous in Peru except for the really remote countryside areas. Smaller towns should all have one with decent speeds. Make sure to use a VPN while traveling and accessing public Wi-Fi hotspots.
Arrival in Peru
The main port of arrival by air in Peru is the Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima. The airport is well connected to the rest of the world via various frequent flights. The main airlines servicing this route include American Airlines, Delta, JetBlue, Lan, LanPeru, United, Iberia, Copacabana, Taca and others.
Many cities in the United States and Toronto are connected directly to Lima by air. A few airlines provide non-stop travel to Europe as well. For flights from places farther afield in Oceania or Asia, travelers have the option of connecting through Los Angeles or Santiago de Chile.
The Airport Express Lima connects Lima Airport to Miraflores.
Road travel into Peru is possible by border crossings from Chile, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Ecuador has three road crossings with Peru at Huaquillas(Ecuador)-Aguas Blancas (Peru), La Tina (Ecuador)-Sullana (Peru) and Loja (Ecuador)- Jaen (Peru). AndesTransit is the place to check for bus travel information into Peru.
Boat travel into Iquitos in the Amazonas region of Peru is possible from Leticia in Colombia and Tabatinga in Brazil.
Areas of Peru
Peru is divided into numerous regions that are listed below. Some of the major cities include Lima, Iquitos, Tacna, Trujillo, Puno, Huaraz and Huancayo.
Peru’s Central Coast
This includes the heart of the country and includes the cities of Lima, Barranca and Huaral. Lima will be your gateway into the country if you are arriving by air.
Places of Interest: The Sacred City of Caral-Supe a UNESCO site outside Barranca
Peru’s Southern Coast
This is a well developed part of Peru with many paved roads. Ica, Nazca, Tacna and Arequipa are some of the main cities.
Places of Interest: Paracas National Reserve and the oasis town of Huacachina
Peru’s Northern Coast
Trujillo, Casma, Chicama and Huaraz are some of the main cities.
Places of Interest: Huanchaco a fishing village north of Trujillo.
Southern Sierra, Peru
The Southern Sierra has picturesque high mountains and deep valleys. Cuzco, Abancay, Cachora, Jauja are some cities in this region.
Places of Interest: Machu Picchu, Colca Canyon, Apurimac Canyon
Central Sierra, Peru
This is a mountainous region located towards the centre of the country. Huanuco and Huaraz are two cities in this region.
Places of Interest: Oxapampa – place of the Selvamonos First Music and Arts Festival
Northern Sierra, Peru
The Northern Sierra includes the Andean part of Peru. Cities in this region are Huaraz, Cajamarca and Chachapoyas.
The region of the Peruvian Andes with an elevation of more than 3500m. Cities include Lampa, Puno, Chucuito, Ilave.
Places of Interest: Lake Titicaca
This is a part of northern Peru and the main cities are Sauce, Tarapoto and Moyobamba.
Situated in northeastern Peru and consists of jungle terrain. Iquitos, Pucallpa, Yurimaguas are the main cities.
Places of Interest: Gocta Waterfalls
Madre de Dios
Tropical part of Peru located east of Cuzco. Puerto Maldonado is the main city.
Places of Interest: Manu National Park, Petroglyphs of Pusharo
Transportation in Peru
The main domestic carriers in Peru are LC Peru, LATAM Peru, Peruvian, StarPeru, Avianca Peru. Large distances between places and the poor condition of roads, means that flying is a good option in some instances. Lima to Cuzco is a popular flight route. For places like Iquitos in the Amazon region, flying is the only valid option. Search for the various flight routes on Expedia.
PeruRail, Inca Rail, Ferrocarriles Central Andino SA and Ferrovias Central Andino SA are the main train operators. They run along eight lines. PeruRail operates along the Cuzco-Ollantaytambo-Machu Picchu, Urubamba-Ollantaytambo, Cuzco-Puno lines. Inca Rail runs along the Ollantaytambo-Machu Picchu route.
The Ferrocarril Central Andino is the second highest railway in the world and stretches from Lima to Huancayo. 69 tunnels, 58 bridges, zip by in a luxurious 11 hour experience with some stunning views of Peru’s heartland.
An International Driving Permit is required to drive through Peru. RN1, RN5 and RN3 are the three roadways that run north to south. Many roads are unpacked, so do remember to drive with care. Gas stations in remote areas may be few and far apart.
Inter-city bus travel is a popular option with a popular bus company being Cruz del Sur. Buses are comfortable and have toilets. Air conditioning is available too. Peru Hop allows you to travel from La Paz to Lima with stops along the way. Check AndesTransit for bus options.
Accommodations in Peru
You will find a wide range of accommodations on your Peruvian holiday, from luxury hotels, boutique hotels, hostels and budget hotels. These range from top-notch beach resorts on the South Pacific coastline to mountain getaways in the elevated Andes. There’s a demand for accommodation in the Incan city of Machu Picchu and the ruins of Chan Chan as well as the big cities of Lima and Arequipa.
Some five-star hotels with unique features include the Palacio del Inca in Cusco. Cobbled courtyards with lofty interiors and attractive lighting definitely add to the appeal, along with sumptuous food.
The JW Marriott El Convento Cusco feels like stepping into a museum with its Incan artefacts. Fresh fruit arrangements and centerpieces in the grand lobby made of glittering Swarovski crystals take the ambience to another level.
The Hilton Lima Miraflores is conveniently located near the Larcomar shopping mall. The grand lobby features a cascading wall of water, a giant chandelier and interiors reminiscent of Lima’s architectural past.
Second Home in the capital Lima, is a stunning boutique hotel with just five rooms that have views onto the Pacific Ocean.
Some hostels to checkout in Lima include the 1900 Hostel Lima, Loki Lima, Orchid Hostels and Dragonfly Hostels.
What to Eat and Drink in Peru
Peru is spread over 8 different climate zones and the Peruvian food varies accordingly. Rice is the main staple food except in the Sierra, where it is corn and potatoes and yuca in the Jungle.
Meat is used in most Peruvian dishes. Chicken, pork, sheep and beef meat are typically used. Alpacas are kept primarily for their wool as their meat is rather tough. An unusual form of meat used in Peruvian dishes is that of the guinea pig.
Fish is eaten in the coast but also in the jungles- where the riverine system exists. Trout is a popular fish bred in certain places.
Lima is historically a Spanish colonial city and its cuisine is influenced by Spanish, African, Asian and Italian flavours.
Some unique Peruvian food, drink and snack items to sample include:
- anticuchos (spicy kebab made from beef heart)
- cau-cau (a dish using potatoes and cow stomach)
- ceviche (raw fish marinated in lime juice)
- papa a la huancaina (a dish with potato slices and boiled egg, lettuce and olives)
- aji de gallina (shredded chicken in a cheese sauce over sliced potatoes)
- mazamorra morada (purple custard)
- arroz con leche (rice in condensed milk)
Things to Do and See in Peru
Here are some of the major Peru tourist attractions. Hiking in Peru or a decision to trek Peru is accompanied by breathtaking scenery, especially on hikes like the Inca trail hike.
Machu Picchu is the spectacular ancient Inca city that is situated way up, in the lofty Andes. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s alternative name is the “Lost City of the Incas”. This is one of the main reasons people travel to Peru and is one of the best places to visit in Peru.
Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable water body in the world, Lake Titicaca is situated on the border of Bolivia and Peru. The floating Uros Islands are an interesting spot to see here.
Nazca Lines are a set of long lines, geometrical shapes and huge drawings that are embedded in the desert sand. It is the place of the ancient Nazca people whose society emerged 100 BC and survived until 750 AD.
The Chan Chan ruins are the epicentre of Peru’s largest ruins that date from the pre-Incan age. Chan Chan was an ancient Chimor mud city and is also awarded UNESCO World Heritage status.
Chavin de Huantar is another UNESCO World Heritage Site and dates back to 900 BC, of the time of the pre-Incan Chavin culture. There are several tour groups who will plan your Chavin itinerary so you can experience the archaeological site and its ruins and therefore, must feature on your Peru itinerary.
Rainbow Mountain is another spectactular sight to see.
Shopping in Peru
Some traditional items to buy in Peru are:
- Alpaca and woollen products especially ponchos
- Wall carpets or tejidos
- Silver and gold jewellery
- Pan flutes (zamponas) and skin drums
- Friendship bracelets
- Chullo hat
- Handmade artwork and postcards
- Painted wooden bowls
- Alpaca dolls
- Peruvian chocolate
Peru has a number of unique souvenirs. This is evident from the list above. There are many great markets to shop in Lima. Mercado Central is a multi-storey market nearby Lima’s Plaza de Armas where everything from pig’s heads, shellfish and quinoa are available. Food stalls abound here at this market.
Polvos Azules is a huge indoor market with stalls selling electronics, CDs and accessories.You can acquire warm winter clothing here, if desired. Terminal Pesquero has many stalls selling fresh seafood.
Féria Artesanal is a great place to pick up a souvenir to take home. Jewellery, handbags and handmade items are to be found here. Miraflores Indian Market is another place to pick up souvenirs.
If you’re in the market for vintage clothing then the flea market at Retro Féria-Mercado de Pulgas is just up your street. Even better- the market is close to a boardwalk with superlative views of the Pacific.
Lima has no dearth of bars, discos and the locals have a number of favourite places. Most of these places are located in Barranco and Miraflores. Locals head to these places around midnight and return home in the wee hours of the morning. You’ll find everything from dance floors to bars where you can sit and have a drink and chat.
Aside from pizzerias, Pizza Street has a number of bars and discos. Pizza Street can be found in Miraflores.
Ayahuasca is a colonial mansion turned into a cool bar. The interiors are lush and will help you to perfectly relax.
Head to El Dragon in Barranco for some dancing. Enjoy events with music ranging from reggaeton, local bands or ‘80s rock.
Expect to hear plenty of live music at La Noche in Barranco. Head to Red Cervecera for beer enthusiasts, whereas Barra 55 specializes in gin.
Safety Tips for Peru
A question frequently asked by tourists planning a trip to the country includes – “Is Peru safe?”.
In case of an emergency in Lima dial 105 for police assistance like theft, violence and drug related crimes.
It is best not to visit sparsely populated areas late at night on your Peru holidays. Stay away from unlit areas because they may scenes of crime. Small gangs operate in the cities and may target unaware tourists. Armed robberies do occur and mat turn violent.
If you come across scenes of crime, try not to intervene on the spot because gang members may be armed. Try not to wear flashy clothes or carry wallets stuffed with cash. Wear clothes and accessories that don’t attract attention. Leave debit and credit cards in hotel rooms when not in use. Divide up any cash you might be carrying in multiple places on your person.
Counterfeit cash is in circulation. Be careful about accepting false bills. Be in the know of what counterfeit currency might look like.
Do not accept requests to carry luggage or bags- as they may contain illegal drugs that might get you in trouble.
Peru is a wonderfully diverse country and is home to not only very varied habitats but also several ancient cultures. There are so many places to visit in Peru. In this sense, it is a traveller’s paradise. A trip to South America would surely be incomplete without some Peru sightseeing, discovering all its visitor highlights.
Peru’s ancient cultures include the Norte Chico civilization as far back as 32nd century BC and considered one of the five cradles of civilization, the Inca Empire and the Spanish Empire.
Geographically, Peru is dominated by the lofty Andean mountains, which divide the country into the costa (coast), sierra (highlands) and selva (jungle), the latter including the Amazon rainforest. Peru has a high degree of biodiversity and is in fact home to over 21000 plant and animal species.
Undoubtedly the largest tourist attraction in Peru are the ancient Incan ruins at Machu Picchu and therefore, always include the Inca trail to Machu Picchu on the itinerary. Referred to as “The Lost City of the Incas” it is the site of a spectacular set of ruins with its polished dry-stone walls, the many significant buildings- The Temple of the Sun and the Room of the Three Windows. Hiking the Inca Trail is a dream come true for many travellers but alternate modes of transport can be taken to see the ruins. An Inca trail tour might also be booked when you tour Peru.
Whatever, the reason for your visit to Peru, rest assured that a trip here will be a trip of a lifetime, with unparalleled access to nature and ancient culture.