Introduction to Peru
Brightly colored textiles, dancing devils, llamas, pink dolphins, coca leaves, Inca ruins, colonial cities, huge snow capped mountains, long winding rivers, surf filled beaches and of course delicious food! And that’s not even close to describing this fascinating country.
Peru is the third largest country in South America and one of the most geographically diverse. With the Andes running down the middle and the Amazon basin and desert Pacific coastline on either side, Peru boasts an exciting mix of glaciated mountains, steamy jungles and sandy beaches that are just begging to be explored. Although often known as the land of the Incas, there are so many more ancient civilizations. The wealth of archeological sites dotted all across the country is truly mind blowing. From Machu Picchu to Chan Chan, from Kuelap to the tomb of Lord Sipan – there is just so much to learn about! And don’t forget the colonial legacy that can be seen in much of the architecture throughout the country.
Modern day Peru is a country full of contrasts. You can see huge wealth and abject poverty, a strong Catholic faith mixed with indigenous beliefs or global brand names coexisting with local produce and enterprises. There is an amazing mix of cultures throughout the country that has produced a remarkable amount of art, folklore and dances – as you will see if you are lucky enough to experience one of its colorful festivals! The people are strong, hardworking and incredibly friendly. You will be made to feel really welcome here.
And we have to mention the food! This is a topic that Peruvians will never tire of talking about and you will understand why once you have tucked into your first ceviche, lomo saltado, ají de gallina, arroz con pato or tacacho con cecina…you get the idea – the food is mouthwateringly good! And we haven’t even started on the pisco sours…
From trekking to sightseeing, from adventure sports to lying on a beach, from ruins to rainforest – there is something for everyone in Peru, and so much to choose from that you might just have to plan a second visit!
Highlights of Peru
Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas, is quite possibly the reason you chose to come to Peru in the first place! It was recently voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and we guarantee that this magical spot will not disappoint you. Find out more…
Cusco is the jump off point for a trip into the surrounding Sacred Valley to the less visited ruins and brightly painted churches of the southern valley en route to Puno or to crop circles and Inca salt pans…and of course to the World Wonder of Machu Picchu! Discover more…
The Sacred Valley
Nestled deep within the Peruvian Andes, the Sacred Valley is home to charming Inca towns, impressive archaeological sites and traditional local markets. It is also one of the best areas in Peru for a wide range of adventure activities. Continue reading…
Known as the ‘City of Kings’, Lima is a city of contrasts. A mix of the old world and the new; modernity and tradition…Lima is a chaotic yet fascinating capital city. As well as being Peru’s capital, it is also the capital of gastronomy for all of the Americas! Keep reading…
Puno & Lake Titicaca
Legend has it that the children of the sun god, Manco Capac, and his sister, Mama Ocllo, rose from the depths of Lake Titicaca to build the Inca Empire. Explore the floating Uros Islands made from totora reeds and, discover the region’s authentic folklore. Read more…
Arequipa & Colca Canyon
With snowcapped El Misti, Chachani and Pichu Pichu Volcanoes towering above, rolling green campiña and sunshine all year round; Arequipa is one of Peru’s most stunning cities. It is also perfect as a stop off before going to admire the huge Condors of the Colca Canyon. Read on…
The Peruvian Amazon
Early morning bird watching, late night jungle walking, fishing for piranhas, or a visit to the world’s largest macaw’s clay lick where hundreds of birds meet to feed – a truly colorful sight! There’s nothing like the wildlife that thrives in the Peruvian Amazon! Find out more…
Ica, Paracas, & Nazca
Situated on Peru’s arid desert coastline, this region boasts an interesting mix of ancient local culture, spectacular natural beauty and adventure sports. Ica, Paracas, and Nazca makes a great stop off or break point on a coastal ride towards Arequipa. Read more…
Trujillo & Chiclayo
North of Lima, lie Peru’s ancient Mochica and Chimu territories. Trujillo, the City of Eternal Spring, is a charming city filled with stately mansions, colonial balconies and cobbled streets. Chiclayo acts as the base for visiting the archaeological site at Sipan. Read on…
Nestled between the Andes and the jungle, Chachapoyas, described by some as Cusco 30 years ago, is a friendly colonial town with outstanding natural beauty and cultural richness. Chachapoyas is an extremely special place and well worth exploring! Read more…
Surrounded by jagged snowy peaks, glaciers and turquoise blue lakes, Huaraz is the heart of Peru’s adventure sports and if you’re looking for an adrenaline rush this is the place to be! You can also enjoy exploring local ancient cultures and quaint villages. Read on…
When to travel in Peru
Best times to go
Due to Peru’s dramatic landscapes, it has different temperatures and climates depending on where you are traveling to, so the weather you’ll experience really depends on where you want to go! In general terms we could say that it is best to visit the mountains and jungle between May and November because this is the driest season. The coast has its summer between November and May, but in most destinations there is sun all year round. We have included specific information on each destination in our travel guides, so make sure you check those out for more details to help you plan your trip.
Peru is generally safe but there are pickpockets, especially in the bigger cities. Be sensible, as you would anywhere in the world. Remember you’re foreign and so will stick out already. Keep a close eye on your belongings and don’t wear lots of eye catching jewelry or flash expensive cameras, laptops or iPhones around. Don’t venture into unsafe areas. If travelling by bus, don’t leave belongings unattended.
Vaccinations: No mandatory vaccinations are required to visit Peru. We do recommend visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as check the vaccines and medicines list and visit your doctor (ideally, 4-6 weeks) before your trip to make sure everything is up to date. Make sure to take precautions against altitude sickness if you’re traveling to the highlands.
Nationals of the USA and the EU do not require a visa to enter Peru and are granted a 183 day travel visa upon arrival. Citizens of other countries may require a visa to enter Peru and it is generally advised that they contact the Peruvian embassy in their home country for information. The Wikipedia Visa Policy of Peru is a great starting point to begin exploring whether or not any particular nationality might need to obtain a tourist visa to visit Peru.
Money / Currency – ATM, Credit Cards
The official currency of Peru is the Nuevo Sol (S/) and the exchange rate is approximately ~ S/ 3.30 to US$1.00. It is recommended that one brings cash in Dollars as these are easy to exchange anywhere in the country. MasterCard, Diners Club, American Express and Visa are all used in Peru, with Visa being the most widely accepted one. Do not accept torn bills as it will likely not be accepted by Peruvians and ask for ‘billetes pequeños’ (small bills) as S/ 100 bills are hard to change in small towns or for small purchases. The Foreign Exchange Bureaus are efficient and have longer hours and slightly better rates than banks which mean there’s no reason to take the risk of changing money on the street where counterfeits are a problem. We recommend visiting the website XE Currency Converter to get current exchange rates.
The official language of Peru is Spanish and for the most part, Peruvian Spanish is straightforward and fairly free of national slang so you won’t need to quickly scroll through a dictionary in desperation. Spanish is just one of the official languages of Peru with Quechua, the language of the Incas, widely spoken especially in the Peruvian Highlands. You’ll also encounter Aymara in the southern highlands around Lake Titicaca. English is the language that dominates the tourist sector and most tour guides, tour operators, and hotels are proficient in English. One can generally get by with English alone although life is made much easier if one learns a few simple Spanish sentences before arriving.
Electricity in Peru runs at 220 Volts, so transformers may be necessary for tourists from the USA. Just be sure to check your item’s label before plugging it in. If you are planning to use anything with a three-prong plug, bring an adapter, as some establishments only have two-prong outlets. If you’d like to learn more about the types of plugs in Argentina, check out the website What Plug Info – Peru.
Family Travel in Peru
Many of us here have families and young children and we travel with them all the time, but you do need to plan carefully. The long distances between places, the high altitudes and subsequent risk of altitude sickness, and the possibility of getting an upset stomach, all need to be taken into consideration. However, Peru is a great place for kids with plenty of opportunities for them to explore the authentic culture of Peru and interact with the locals. We’re great at offering assistance as many of us here have already done it ourselves with our families. For example, take a look at Bart and Karin’s Machu Picchu with Kids post that tells of their visit to the ruins of Machu Picchu with their small daughter. Whether exploring the narrow waterways of the Amazon, visiting a traditional market in Cusco or, climbing to the ancient Inca Citadel and World Wonder of Machu Picchu; there’s something here for all ages.
GETTING AROUND PERU
Peru has such a variety of terrain that it’s not always that easy to navigate on your own! It is also a pretty big country and so to get from place to place quickly we recommend flying with LATAM and Taca Airlines who both offer very good and reliable services. For shorter trips by bus, we suggest using Cruz del Sur Bus Company and while it’s more expensive than some other bus companies, we really believe it’s worth paying extra to ensure safety and comfort. If you need to travel independently in the cities you can use combis and micros (buses) but bear in mind that they are run by private companies and their ideas of how to drive differ from other countries. Taxis are another option but try and take cabs from our recommended taxi companies as an extra precaution.
Sample Itinerary of Peru
Days 1-3 Ica & Nazca
Journey south from Lima, climb aboard your dune buggy as you scale Ica’s highest sand dunes and find the desert paradise of Huacachina. Fly over the enigmatic Nazca Lines, and explore ancient Nazca culture and history at the Chauchilla Cemetery.
Days 3-5 Arequipa
Situated at the foot of the snow-capped El Misti Volcano, Arequipa is one of Peru’s best colonial treasures. The highlight of the city is the peaceful haven of the Santa Catalina Convent which after 400 years continues to function as a convent.
Days 5-7 Colca Canyon
The road from Arequipa to the Colca Valley is one of the most spectacular in South America, rugged scenery and volcanoes, wild llamas and vicuñas. One of the deepest canyons in the world, you’ll be able to view Andean Condors soaring above and below you.
Days 7-9 Lake Titicaca
While en route, stop to explore the Sillustani Towers where local nobility were buried. On the glistening blue surface of Lake Titicaca, walk on the unique Uros Floating Islands and meet local Aymara Indians as they make colorful garments on Taquile Island.
Cusco & Machu Picchu
Explore the unfathomable scenery, history and archaeology of this mystical city and the nearby Sacred Valley surrounded by the peaks of the Andes. Watch the sun rise over Machu Picchu, and hike to the aerial lookout at the peak of Huayna Picchu.