Peru Travel Guide – Everything You Need to Know

Peru, a land of ancient civilizations, breathtaking landscapes, and vibrant cultures, is a captivating destination for travelers. Nestled in South America, this country offers a kaleidoscope of experiences, from exploring the mystical ruins of Machu Picchu to savoring the culinary delights of Lima. With its rich history, diverse geography, and warm hospitality, Peru beckons adventurers, history buffs, and food enthusiasts alike to embark on a journey of discovery and wonder.

What’s the Best Time to Visit? 📅

The best time to visit Peru as a tourist largely depends on your interests and the regions you plan to explore, as Peru’s diverse geography results in varied climates across the country. Generally, Peru can be divided into two main seasons: the dry season and the wet season. Here’s a breakdown of the best times to visit different parts of Peru:

  1. High Season (Dry Season): The high tourist season in Peru coincides with the dry season, which runs from May to September. This is an ideal time to visit most parts of the country, including Lima, Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu. Highlights of the high season include:
  • Machu Picchu: May to September is the most popular time to visit Machu Picchu due to the dry weather and clear skies. It’s recommended to book Inca Trail permits and accommodations well in advance during this period.
  • Cusco and Sacred Valley: Enjoy pleasant weather for exploring these areas with sunny days and cooler nights.
  • Lima and Coastal Areas: Lima’s coastal regions experience mild temperatures and little rainfall during the high season.
  1. Shoulder Season: The shoulder seasons of April and October offer a good compromise between the dry season and the wet season. You can still enjoy relatively dry weather while experiencing fewer crowds than during the peak months.
  2. Low Season (Wet Season): The wet season in Peru runs from November to March, and it varies in intensity depending on the region. While this is considered the low tourist season, it can still be a rewarding time to visit certain parts of the country:
  • Amazon Rainforest: The wet season is an excellent time to explore the Amazon due to the lush vegetation, higher water levels for boat excursions, and the opportunity to see more wildlife. Just be prepared for occasional heavy rain showers.
  • Lake Titicaca: Despite some rainfall, Lake Titicaca can be visited year-round. The wet season can provide unique photo opportunities with dramatic clouds and reflections on the lake.
  • Northern Beaches: The northern beaches like Mancora are still popular during the wet season because of their warm weather and surf conditions.
  • Cusco and Machu Picchu: While it’s not the peak season, it’s still possible to visit Cusco and Machu Picchu during the wet season. Just be prepared for occasional rain showers and slippery trails.

Ultimately, the best time to visit Peru depends on your interests and priorities. If you want to hike the Inca Trail and visit Machu Picchu with the best weather, the dry season is ideal. However, if you’re interested in unique experiences like exploring the Amazon rainforest in its full splendor, the wet season may be more appealing. Be sure to check the specific weather conditions for the regions you plan to visit and plan your trip accordingly.

What’s the Best Way to Get Around? 🚌

Getting around Peru as a tourist is relatively easy, thanks to a well-developed transportation network that includes various modes of travel. The best way to get around Peru depends on your itinerary, budget, and preferences. Here are some common transportation options for tourists:

  1. Domestic Flights:
  • For long-distance travel between major cities or regions, domestic flights are often the quickest and most convenient option.
  • Major airports include Lima (Jorge Chávez International Airport), Cusco (Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport), and Arequipa (Rodríguez Ballón International Airport).
  • Airlines like LATAM, Avianca, and Viva Air Peru operate domestic routes.
  1. Buses:
  • Buses are a popular and economical way to travel within Peru, especially for shorter distances and routes not covered by domestic flights.
  • There are various bus companies offering a range of services from basic to luxury, including reclining seats and onboard meals.
  • Consider booking “Cruzero” or “Semi-Cama” buses for more comfort during longer journeys.
  1. Trains:
  • Trains are a scenic way to travel between certain destinations in Peru. The most famous route is the train to Machu Picchu from Ollantaytambo or Poroy (near Cusco).
  • Other scenic train routes include the Andean Explorer from Cusco to Puno, offering stunning views of the highlands and Lake Titicaca.
  1. Colectivos and Shared Taxis:
  • Colectivos are shared minivans or taxis that operate on set routes. They are often a cost-effective option for traveling shorter distances or to nearby towns.
  • Shared taxis also offer transportation between cities and towns, with a group of passengers sharing the cost.
  1. Rental Cars:
  • Renting a car is an option for travelers who want more flexibility and independence, especially when exploring less touristy areas.
  • Keep in mind that road conditions can vary, and traffic in major cities like Lima can be challenging. Be prepared for mountainous and winding roads in some regions.
  1. Taxis and Ride-Sharing Apps:
  • Taxis are readily available in cities and towns. Ensure the taxi is licensed and negotiate the fare before starting your journey.
  • In major cities like Lima, you can also use ride-sharing apps like Uber and Beat for added convenience and safety.
  1. Walking and Biking:
  • Exploring cities and towns on foot or by bike is a great way to soak in the local culture and discover hidden gems.
  • Many tourist destinations have bike rental services, and guided bike tours are available in some places.
  1. Boats:
  • In regions like the Amazon Rainforest and Lake Titicaca, boats and canoes are essential for navigating waterways and exploring remote areas.
  1. Hiking and Trekking:
  • If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, hiking and trekking are excellent ways to explore the stunning landscapes of Peru, especially in the Andes.
  1. Horseback Riding and Mule Trekking:
    • In some rural areas, horseback riding and mule trekking are popular ways to access remote villages and scenic trails.

Before traveling within Peru, it’s advisable to plan your routes, check transportation schedules, and make necessary reservations, especially during peak tourist seasons. Additionally, consider the altitude and terrain of certain regions, as it may affect your choice of transportation and travel plans.

What’s the Official Language?

The official language of Peru is Spanish, and it is widely spoken throughout the country. However, Peru is a linguistically diverse nation with many indigenous languages also in use, such as Quechua, Aymara, and various Amazonian languages. In tourist areas, you’ll often find people who speak some level of English, especially in hotels, restaurants, and tour operators. Here are some useful Spanish phrases for tourists to help you navigate your trip:

  1. Hello – Hola (OH-lah)
  2. Good morning – Buenos días (BWAY-nos DEE-as)
  3. Good afternoon – Buenas tardes (BWAY-nas TAR-des)
  4. Good evening/night – Buenas noches (BWAY-nas NOH-chays)
  5. How are you? – ¿Cómo estás? (KOH-moh ehs-TAHS?)
  6. I’m fine, thank you – Estoy bien, gracias (EHS-toy BYEN, GRAH-syahs)
  7. Yes – Sí (SEE)
  8. No – No (NOH)
  9. Please – Por favor (por fa-VOR)
  10. Thank you – Gracias (GRAH-syahs)
  11. You’re welcome – De nada (de NAH-dah)
  12. Excuse me – Perdón (pehr-DON) / Disculpe (dees-KOOL-peh)
  13. I’m sorry – Lo siento (LOH SYEN-toh)
  14. What is your name? – ¿Cuál es tu nombre? (KWAHL es too NOHM-breh?)
  15. My name is… – Mi nombre es… (MEE NOHM-breh es…)
  16. How much is this? – ¿Cuánto cuesta esto? (KWAHN-toh KWAY-stah EHS-toh?)
  17. Where is…? – ¿Dónde está…? (DOHN-deh ehs-TAH…?)
  18. I need help – Necesito ayuda (neh-SEH-see-toh ah-YOO-dah)
  19. I don’t understand – No entiendo (noh ehn-TYEHN-doh)
  20. Can you help me? – ¿Puedes ayudarme? (PWEH-dehs ah-yoo-DAHR-meh?)
  21. I’m lost – Estoy perdido/a (EHS-toy pehr-DEE-doh/dah)
  22. I’m a tourist – Soy turista (soy too-REES-tah)
  23. Do you speak English? – ¿Hablas inglés? (AH-blahs een-GLEHS?)
  24. Where is the bathroom? – ¿Dónde está el baño? (DOHN-deh ehs-TAH ehl BAH-nyoh?)
  25. Food – Comida (koh-MEE-dah)
  26. Water – Agua (AH-gwah)
  27. Menu – Carta or Menú (KAHR-tah or meh-NOO)
  28. I would like… – Quisiera… (kee-SYE-rah…)
  29. Check, please – La cuenta, por favor (lah KWEHN-tah, por fa-VOR)
  30. Cheers! (when toasting) – ¡Salud! (sah-LOOD)

Learning a few basic Spanish phrases can enhance your travel experience in Peru and help you communicate with locals. Most Peruvians appreciate it when tourists make an effort to speak their language, even if it’s just a few words.

Where to Stay? 🏨

Peru offers a wide range of accommodation options for tourists, catering to various budgets and preferences. Your choice of where to stay will depend on the destinations you plan to visit and the type of experience you’re seeking. Here are some popular options for accommodations in Peru:

  1. Hotels: Peru has a diverse selection of hotels, ranging from budget-friendly to luxury. Major cities like Lima, Cusco, Arequipa, and Puno offer a wide variety of hotel choices to suit different budgets.
  2. Hostels: Hostels are a popular choice for budget-conscious travelers, especially among backpackers. You can find hostels in most tourist destinations, and they often offer dormitory-style rooms or private rooms.
  3. Boutique Hotels: Peru has a growing number of boutique hotels that offer unique and personalized experiences. These boutique accommodations often feature charming, character-filled rooms and personalized service.
  4. Bed and Breakfasts (B&Bs): B&Bs are prevalent in many Peruvian cities and towns. They provide a cozy and more intimate atmosphere, often with homemade breakfasts and local insights from hosts.
  5. Guesthouses: Guesthouses, or “casas de huespedes,” are common in smaller towns and rural areas. They offer a comfortable and local experience.
  6. Lodges: In areas like the Amazon Rainforest and the Andes, you can find eco-lodges that offer a unique connection to nature and wildlife. These lodges are often all-inclusive and provide guided activities.
  7. Resorts: Coastal areas like Mancora and Paracas offer beachfront resorts where you can enjoy luxury amenities, spa treatments, and stunning ocean views.
  8. Agritourism and Homestays: In rural areas, you can experience agritourism by staying on a working farm or enjoy a homestay with a local family to immerse yourself in Peruvian culture.
  9. Mountain Lodges: If you plan to trek in the Andes, there are mountain lodges along popular trekking routes like the Inca Trail and Salkantay Trek.
  10. Historic Accommodations: In Cusco and other historic cities, you can find accommodations in beautifully restored colonial buildings with a rich sense of history.

When choosing where to stay, consider the location, amenities, and the type of experience you want to have. In popular tourist destinations, it’s advisable to book accommodations in advance, especially during peak seasons. Additionally, read reviews and check online booking platforms for the latest information and guest feedback to make an informed decision.

What to Eat? 🍽️

Peruvian cuisine is renowned for its rich flavors, diverse ingredients, and unique fusion of indigenous, Spanish, African, and Asian influences. When visiting Peru as a tourist, make sure to try these must-try dishes and culinary delights:

  1. Ceviche: Peru’s iconic dish, ceviche, consists of fresh raw fish or seafood marinated in lime or bitter orange juice, mixed with onions, cilantro, and aji (chili pepper). It’s refreshing and bursting with flavor.
  2. Lomo Saltado: This stir-fry dish combines marinated beef with onions, tomatoes, and French fries. It’s often served with rice and is a delicious fusion of Peruvian and Chinese flavors.
  3. Anticuchos: These are skewered and grilled pieces of marinated beef heart, usually served with potatoes and a spicy peanut sauce called “aji de maní.”
  4. Aji de Gallina: A creamy chicken stew made with aji amarillo (yellow chili pepper), cheese, and ground nuts. It’s typically served with rice, boiled eggs, and olives.
  5. Papa a la Huancaina: Boiled potatoes smothered in a creamy, spicy cheese sauce made with aji amarillo and garnished with boiled eggs and olives.
  6. Rocoto Relleno: A spicy dish made from stuffed rocoto peppers, which are filled with a mixture of ground meat, onions, and cheese, then baked.
  7. Causa: A layered dish made with mashed yellow potatoes seasoned with lime and aji amarillo, filled with various ingredients like chicken, tuna, or avocado. It’s often served as an appetizer.
  8. Tiradito: Similar to ceviche but with thinly sliced fish, tiradito is dressed in a spicy aji amarillo sauce and lime juice. It’s often garnished with sesame seeds and fresh herbs.
  9. Rice with Duck (Arroz con Pato): A flavorful dish where duck is slow-cooked with beer, cilantro, and spices, then served with green rice.
  10. Cuy: Guinea pig is a traditional delicacy in Peru. It’s typically roasted and served whole with potatoes and aji sauce.
  11. Chifa: Peruvian-Chinese fusion cuisine known as “chifa” offers dishes like chaufa (fried rice) and tallarín saltado (stir-fried noodles) with a Peruvian twist.
  12. Choclo con Queso: Giant Peruvian corn on the cob served with slices of fresh cheese. It’s often sold as a street snack.
  13. Quinoa: Try quinoa in various forms, from salads to soups. It’s a staple grain in Peru and is often served as a nutritious side dish.
  14. Inca Kola: The bright yellow, bubblegum-flavored soda is a national favorite and a unique beverage to try.
  15. Pisco Sour: Peru’s national cocktail is a must-try. It’s made with pisco (a grape brandy), lime juice, simple syrup, and egg white, garnished with bitters.
  16. Chicha Morada: A refreshing purple corn beverage flavored with fruits and spices, often served chilled.
  17. Picarones: Sweet potato and pumpkin doughnuts, deep-fried and served with a syrup made from figs, cinnamon, and cloves.
  18. Lucuma Ice Cream: Lucuma is a Peruvian fruit with a unique flavor, and its ice cream is a delightful dessert option.
  19. Alfajores: These are sweet cookies filled with dulce de leche and often covered in powdered sugar.

Peru’s culinary scene is incredibly diverse, so be adventurous and explore regional specialties as well. Whether you’re dining at a high-end restaurant or sampling street food, Peruvian cuisine is sure to delight your taste buds.

What to See? 🔍

Peru is a country brimming with captivating natural wonders, archaeological treasures, and cultural sites that every tourist should explore. Here are some must-see places in Peru:

  1. Machu Picchu: This ancient Inca citadel perched high in the Andes is one of the world’s most iconic archaeological sites. The stunning ruins, surrounded by breathtaking mountain scenery, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
  2. Cusco: The historic city of Cusco, once the capital of the Inca Empire, is a treasure trove of Inca and colonial architecture. Explore its charming streets, visit the Plaza de Armas, and discover Inca sites like Sacsayhuaman and Qorikancha.
  3. Sacred Valley of the Incas: This fertile valley is dotted with ancient Inca ruins and picturesque villages. Visit Ollantaytambo, Pisac, and Chinchero to explore archaeological sites and experience Andean culture.
  4. Lake Titicaca: The world’s highest navigable lake, Lake Titicaca, is a stunning natural wonder. Explore the floating Uros Islands, Taquile Island, and Amantani Island to learn about the indigenous cultures that call the lake home.
  5. Nazca Lines: These mysterious geoglyphs, etched into the desert floor, can only be fully appreciated from the air. Take a flight over the Nazca Lines to see giant figures and intricate designs.
  6. Arequipa: Known as the “White City” due to its stunning colonial architecture built from white volcanic rock, Arequipa is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Explore the historic city center, visit the Santa Catalina Monastery, and savor the local cuisine.
  7. Colca Canyon: This dramatic canyon is one of the world’s deepest and offers spectacular trekking opportunities. It’s also a prime location for viewing Andean condors.
  8. Amazon Rainforest: Embark on a jungle adventure in the Amazon Basin, exploring the incredible biodiversity of this vast and lush rainforest. Puerto Maldonado and Iquitos are popular entry points.
  9. Huayna Picchu: This towering peak adjacent to Machu Picchu offers a challenging hike with breathtaking views of the archaeological site and surrounding landscape. Permits are limited, so book in advance.
  10. Cordillera Huayhuash: For trekking enthusiasts, the Huayhuash mountain range offers some of the most stunning and remote trekking routes in the world.
  11. Huascaran National Park: Explore Peru’s highest mountain, Huascaran, and its surrounding glaciers, lakes, and picturesque towns like Huaraz.
  12. Maras Salt Mines and Moray: Visit the fascinating salt terraces of Maras and the agricultural laboratory of Moray, both showcasing Inca ingenuity.
  13. Rainbow Mountain (Vinicunca): Hike to this stunning natural wonder, known for its vibrant, striped appearance due to the mineral deposits in the soil.
  14. Paracas National Reserve: Discover the rugged beauty of the Paracas Peninsula, home to dramatic desert landscapes and abundant birdlife.
  15. Chan Chan: Explore the ancient adobe city of Chan Chan, the largest pre-Columbian city in the Americas, located near Trujillo.
  16. Kuelap: Often called the “Machu Picchu of the North,” Kuelap is an ancient fortress and city perched atop a mountain in northern Peru.
  17. Tambopata National Reserve: This pristine rainforest reserve near Puerto Maldonado offers excellent wildlife viewing opportunities, including chances to see jaguars and giant river otters.

Peru’s diverse landscapes, historical sites, and cultural heritage make it a treasure trove of experiences for travelers. Whether you’re interested in history, nature, adventure, or cultural immersion, Peru has something extraordinary to offer.

What to Do? 📸

While in Peru, there are numerous must-do activities and experiences that will enrich your travel adventure. Here are some top things to do as a tourist in Peru:

  1. Hike the Inca Trail: Embark on the classic Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu, a challenging and rewarding journey through breathtaking Andean landscapes.
  2. Explore Machu Picchu: Wander through the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu, taking in the awe-inspiring architecture, terraces, and panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.
  3. Attend the Inti Raymi Festival: If you visit in June, don’t miss the Inti Raymi, the Inca Festival of the Sun, celebrated with colorful processions and rituals in Cusco.
  4. Discover Cusco’s Historic Center: Stroll through the cobblestone streets of Cusco’s historic center, admiring the colonial architecture, churches, and Inca walls.
  5. Savor Peruvian Cuisine: Try local dishes like ceviche, lomo saltado, and aji de gallina. Explore local markets and sample street food to truly savor the flavors of Peru.
  6. Visit Arequipa’s Monasteries: Explore the Santa Catalina Monastery and the Monastery of San Francisco in Arequipa, both showcasing stunning colonial architecture and history.
  7. Fly Over the Nazca Lines: Take a scenic flight over the enigmatic Nazca Lines to see the mysterious geoglyphs from above.
  8. Paddle on Lake Titicaca: Enjoy a boat ride on the highest navigable lake in the world, visiting the Uros Floating Islands and experiencing the local way of life.
  9. Hike in Colca Canyon: Trek into the depths of Colca Canyon, one of the world’s deepest canyons, and watch majestic condors soar overhead.
  10. Experience the Amazon Rainforest: Immerse yourself in the Amazon Basin, with guided jungle walks, wildlife spotting, and boat excursions into pristine rainforest.
  11. Learn About Textiles: Discover the art of traditional weaving in the Andean villages and purchase handmade textiles as souvenirs.
  12. Visit Ancient Ruins: Explore other archaeological sites like Ollantaytambo, Pisac, and Moray to gain a deeper understanding of Inca history.
  13. Attend a Peruvian Folk Dance Show: Watch a traditional Peruvian dance performance to appreciate the country’s rich cultural heritage.
  14. Sample Pisco: Taste Peru’s national liquor, Pisco, in a cocktail like the Pisco Sour or a tasting at a local distillery.
  15. Relax in Hot Springs: Soak in natural hot springs like those in Aguas Calientes or Chivay, offering relaxation after trekking adventures.
  16. Explore the Amazon River: Cruise the Amazon River to spot wildlife, including pink dolphins, caimans, and a diverse array of bird species.
  17. Take a Scenic Train Ride: Enjoy a scenic train ride, such as the journey to Machu Picchu or the Andean Explorer from Cusco to Puno.
  18. Shop for Souvenirs: Explore local markets and shops for handmade crafts, textiles, jewelry, and unique Peruvian souvenirs.
  19. Visit Museums: Discover Peru’s rich history and art in museums like the Larco Museum in Lima, the Inca Museum in Cusco, and the Gold Museum in Bogota.
  20. Experience the Andean Sunrise: Watch the sunrise over the Sacred Valley or from a mountaintop, creating unforgettable moments.

These experiences will help you immerse yourself in Peru’s diverse culture, history, and natural beauty, creating lasting memories of your journey through this captivating country.

Culture and Safety 🦺

Culture and safety are important aspects to consider when traveling to Peru. Understanding the local customs and taking precautions for your safety can enhance your travel experience. Here are some cultural insights and safety tips for visiting Peru:

Culture:

  1. Respect for Local Customs: Peru is a country with a rich and diverse cultural heritage. Show respect for local customs, traditions, and beliefs, particularly when visiting indigenous communities.
  2. Greeting People: A common greeting in Peru is a kiss on the cheek or a handshake. Use polite phrases like “buenos días” (good morning), “buenas tardes” (good afternoon), and “buenas noches” (good evening) when addressing people.
  3. Dress Code: In cities and tourist areas, casual attire is generally acceptable. However, when visiting religious sites or rural areas, dress modestly. In high-altitude regions, it’s essential to layer clothing to adapt to changing weather conditions.
  4. Photography: Always ask for permission before taking photos of people, especially in rural or indigenous communities. Some may request a small fee in return for photographs.
  5. Tipping: Tipping is customary in restaurants, hotels, and for tour guides. It’s appreciated and often expected, so check the local custom for the appropriate tip percentage.
  6. Language: While Spanish is the official language, many people in the tourism industry speak English. Learning a few basic Spanish phrases can be helpful and show respect for the local culture.

Safety:

  1. Health Precautions: Ensure you’re up to date on vaccinations and take precautions against altitude sickness if you plan to visit high-altitude areas like Cusco. Drink bottled water, and be cautious about street food in some areas.
  2. Altitude Sickness: If you’re traveling to high-altitude destinations like Cusco or Puno, allow time to acclimatize to prevent altitude sickness. Drink plenty of water, rest, and avoid strenuous activities in the first few days.
  3. Food and Water: Be cautious with street food, especially if it’s not served hot and freshly prepared. Stick to reputable restaurants and bottled water.
  4. Crime: Peru, like many countries, has areas with higher crime rates, particularly in cities. Stay vigilant in crowded places, watch your belongings, and avoid displaying valuable items like expensive cameras or jewelry.
  5. Scams: Be wary of common tourist scams, such as fake tour operators, overcharging in taxis, and counterfeit currency. Only use licensed tour operators and official taxis.
  6. Natural Disasters: Peru is prone to earthquakes and occasional flooding. Familiarize yourself with safety procedures and follow local authorities’ advice in case of emergencies.
  7. Altitude Effects: Altitude can affect your health, so be mindful of altitude sickness symptoms like headache, nausea, and shortness of breath. Consult a healthcare professional for guidance on medication if needed.
  8. Travel Insurance: Purchase comprehensive travel insurance that covers medical emergencies, trip cancellations, and theft or loss of belongings.
  9. Legal Drugs: While some drugs may be legal in your home country, they may be illegal in Peru. Familiarize yourself with local drug laws and avoid illegal substances.
  10. Traffic: Be cautious when crossing streets, as traffic rules and pedestrian right-of-way may not be as strictly followed as in other countries.

Peru is generally a safe and welcoming destination for tourists, but like any country, it’s essential to stay informed and exercise common-sense precautions to ensure a smooth and enjoyable journey. Research your specific destination and consult local authorities or travel advisories for the latest safety information before your trip.

Conclusion

In conclusion, a visit to Peru is an unforgettable adventure filled with awe-inspiring natural wonders, ancient archaeological treasures, and a vibrant culture that leaves an indelible mark on every traveler. Whether you’re hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, savoring the flavors of Peruvian cuisine, or exploring the Amazon rainforest, Peru offers a tapestry of experiences that promise both excitement and enrichment. So, pack your bags and get ready to explore this captivating country that will leave you with memories to cherish for a lifetime.