Peru is certainly a much cheaper place to visit than Europe or the US, but how much so will depend on where you are and when. As a general rule low-budget travellers should – with care – be able to get by on around S/45–120/US$15–40/£10– 26/€13–34 per day, including transport, board and lodging. If you intend staying in mid-range hotels, eating in reasonable restaurants and taking the odd taxi, S/150–270/US$50–90/£33–60/€42–77 a day should be adequate, while S/300–600/ US$100–200/£65–130/€85–170 a day will allow you to stay in comfort and sample some of Peru’s best cuisine.
In most places in Peru, a good meal can still be found for under S/25 (US$8.50), transport is very reasonable, a comfortable double room costs S/60–180 (US$20–60) a night, and camping is usually free, or under S/15 (US$5) per person. Expect to pay a little more in the larger towns and cities, especially Cusco and Lima, and also in the jungle, as many supplies have to be imported by truck. In the villages and rural towns, on the other hand, some basic commodities are far cheaper and it’s always possible to buy food at a reasonable price from local villages or markets.
In the more popular parts of Peru, costs vary considerably with the seasons. Cusco, for instance, has its best weather from June to August, when many of its hotel prices go up by around 25–50 percent. The same thing happens at fiesta times – although on such occasions you’re unlikely to resent it too much. As always, if you’re travelling alone you’ll end up spending considerably more than you would in a group of two or more people.
You are generally expected to bargain in markets and with taxi drivers (before getting in). Nevertheless, it’s worth bearing in mind that travellers from Europe, North America and Australasia are generally much wealthier than Peruvians, so for every penny or cent you knock them down they stand to lose plenty of nuevo soles. It’s also sometimes possible to haggle over the price of hotel rooms, especially if you’re travelling in a group. Food and shop prices, however, tend to be fixed.
The biggest problem for travellers in Peru is arguably theft, for which the country once had a bad reputation. While Peruvian pickpockets are remarkably ingenious, as far as violent attacks go, you’re probably safer here than in the backstreets of Miami, Sydney, Durban or London; nevertheless, muggings do happen in certain parts of Lima (eg in the main shopping areas, La Victoria district, Barranco late at night and even occasionally in the parks of Miraflores), Cusco, Arequipa and, to a lesser extent, Trujillo.
While the overall situation has improved, robbery and pickpocketing are still real dangers; although you don’t need to be in a permanent state of paranoia and watchfulness in busy public situations, common sense and general alertness are still recommended. Generally speaking, thieves (ladrones) work in teams of often smartly dressed young men and women, in crowded markets, bus depots and train stations, targeting anyone who looks like they’ve got money. One of them will distract your attention (an old woman falling over in front of you or someone splattering an ice cream down your jacket) while another picks your pocket, cuts open your bag with a razor or simply runs off with it. Peruvians and tourists alike have even had earrings ripped out on the street.
Bank ATMs are a target for muggers in cities, particularly after dark, so visit them with a friend or two during daylight hours or make sure there’s a policeman within visual contact. Armed mugging is rare but does happen in Lima, and it’s best not to resist. The horrific practice of “strangle mugging” has been a bit of a problem in Cusco and Arequipa, usually involving night attacks when the perpetrator tries to strangle the victim into unconsciousness. Again, be careful not to walk down badly lit streets alone in the early hours.
Theft from cars and even more so, theft of car parts, is rife, particularly in Lima. Also, in some of the more popular hotels in the large cities, especially Lima, bandits masquerading as policemen break into rooms and steal the guests’ most valuable possessions while holding the hotel staff at gunpoint. Objects left on restaurant floors in busy parts of town, or in unlocked hotel rooms, are obviously liable to take a walk.
You’d need to spend the whole time visibly guarding your luggage to be sure of keeping hold of it; even then, though, a determined team of thieves will stand a chance. However, a few simple precautions can make life a lot easier. The most important is to keep your ticket, passport, travellers’ cheques and, money on your person at all times (under your pillow while sleeping and on your person when washing in communal hotel bathrooms). Money belts are great for travellers’ cheques and tickets, or a holder for your passport and money can be hung either under a shirt or from a belt under trousers or skirts. Some people go as far as lining their bags with chicken wire (called maya in Peru) to make them knife-proof, and wrapping wire around camera straps for the same reason (putting their necks in danger to save their cameras).
Cities are most dangerous in the early hours of the morning and at bus or train stations where there’s lots of anonymous activity. In rural areas robberies tend to be linked to the most popular towns (again, be most careful at the bus depot) and treks (the Inca Trail for instance). Beyond that, rural areas are generally safe. If you’re camping near a remote community, though, it’s a good idea to ask permission and make friendly contact with some of the locals; letting them know what you are up to will usually dissolve any local paranoia about tomb-robbers or kidnappers.
The only certain precaution you can take is to insure your gear and cash before you go. Take refundable travellers’ cheques, register your passport at your embassy in Lima on arrival (this doesn’t take long and can save days should you lose it) and keep your eyes open at all times. If you do have something stolen, report it to the tourist police in larger towns, or the local police in more remote places, and ask them for a certified denuncia – this can take a couple of days. Many insurance companies will require a copy of the police denuncia in order to reimburse you. Bear in mind that the police in popular tourist spots, such as Cusco, have become much stricter about investigating reported thefts, after a spate of false claims by dishonest tourists. This means that genuine victims may be grilled more severely than expected, and the police may even come and search your hotel room for the “stolen” items.
You can get up-to-date information on the terrorism situation in each region from the Peruvian embassies abroad or your embassy in Lima. Essentially, though, terrorism is not the problem it was during the 1980s and 1990s when the two main terrorist groups active in Peru were the Sendero Luminoso (the Shining Path) and Tupac Amaru (MRTA).
Most of your contact with the police will, with any luck, be at frontiers and controls. Depending on your personal appearance and the prevailing political climate, the police at these posts (Guardia Nacional and Aduanas) may want to search your luggage. This happens rarely, but when it does, it can be very thorough. Occasionally, you may have to get off buses and register documents at the police controls which regulate the traffic of goods and people from one departamento of Peru to another. The controls are usually situated on the outskirts of large towns on the main roads, but you sometimes come across a control in the middle of nowhere. Always stop, and be scrupulously polite – even if it seems that they’re trying to make things difficult for you.
In general, the police rarely bother travellers but there are certain sore points. The possession of (let alone trafficking of) either soft or hard drugs (basically marijuana or cocaine) is considered an extremely serious offence in Peru – usually leading to at least a ten-year jail sentence. There are many foreigners languishing in Peruvian jails after being charged with possession, some of whom have been waiting two years for a trial – there is no bail for serious charges.
Drugs aside, the police tend to follow the media in suspecting all foreigners of being political subversives and even gun-runners or terrorists; it’s more than a little unwise to carry any Maoist or radical literature. If you find yourself in a tight spot, don’t make a statement before seeing someone from your embassy, and don’t say anything without the services of a reliable translator. It’s not unusual to be given the opportunity to pay a bribe to the police (or any other official for that matter), even if you’ve done nothing wrong. You’ll have to weigh up this situation as it arises – but remember, in South America bribery is seen as an age-old custom, very much part of the culture rather than a nasty form of corruption, and it can work to the advantage of both parties, however irritating it might seem. It’s also worth noting that all police are armed with either a revolver or a submachine gun and will shoot at anyone who runs.
It’s often quite hard to spot the difference between Policía de Turismo (tourist police) and the normal police. Both are wings of the Guardia Civil, though the tourist police sometimes wear white hats rather than the standard green. Increasingly, the tourist police have taken on the function of informing and assisting tourists (eg in preparing a robbery report or denuncia) in city centres.
If you feel you’ve been ripped off or are unhappy about your treatment by a tour agent, hotel, restaurant, transport company, customs, immigration or even the police, you can call the 24-hour Tourist Protection Service hotline for the tourist police in Lima (T01 423 3500 or free at T0800 22221, or at the airport, T 01 517 1841). There are also Policía de Turismo offices throughout the country, including all major tourist destinations, such as Cusco, Arequipa and Puno.
The most obvious cultural idiosyncrasy of Peruvians is that they kiss on one cheek at virtually every meeting between friends or acquaintances. In rural areas (as opposed to trendy beaches) the local tradition in most places is for people, particularly women, to dress modestly and cover themselves (eg. longish skirts and T-shirts or blouses, or maybe traditional robes). In some hot places men may do manual labour in shorts, but they, too, are generally covered from shoulder to foot. Travellers sometimes suffer insults from Peruvians who begrudge the apparent relative wealth and freedom of tourists. Remember, however, that the terms “gringo” or “mister” are not generally meant in an offensive way in Peru.
Punctuality has improved in Peru in the last twenty years or so, but for social happenings can still be very lax. While buses, trains or planes won’t wait a minute beyond their scheduled departure time, people almost expect friends to be an hour or more late for an appointment (don’t arrange to meet a Peruvian on the street – make it a bar or café). Peruvians stipulate that an engagement is a la hora inglesa (“by English time”) if they genuinely want people to arrive on time, or, more realistically, within half an hour of the time they fix.
Try to be aware of the strength of religious belief in Peru, particularly in the Andes, where churches have a rather heavy, sad atmosphere. You can enter and quietly look around all churches, but in the Andes especially you should remain respectful and refrain from taking photographs.
220 volt/60 cycles AC is the standard electrical current all over Peru, except in Arequipa where it is 220 volt/50 cycles. In some of Lima’s better hotels, you may find 110-volt sockets to use with standard electronic devices (though you’ll need a converter for high-powered items like electric shavers). Don’t count on any Peruvian power supply being one hundred percent reliable and, particularly in cheap hostels and hotels, be very wary of the wiring (especially in electric shower fittings).
Currently, EU, US, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and South African citizens can technically stay in Peru as tourists for up to 183 days without a visa. However, the situation does change periodically, so always check with your local Peruvian embassy some weeks before departure. Passports are typically stamped with a ninety-day allowance for visitors to stay in the country, though sometimes not; if you do plan for several weeks, make sure the official is aware of that fact. Extensions of this period are no longer given.
A Migraciones office is the place to sort out new visas if you’ve lost your passport (having visited your embassy first) and to get passports re-stamped.
Student visas (which last twelve months) are best organized as far in advance as possible through your country’s embassy in Lima, your nearest Peruvian embassy or the relevant educational institution. Business visas only become necessary if you are to be paid by a Peruvian organization, in which case ask your Peruvian employers to get this for you.
No inoculations are currently required for Peru, but a yellow fever vaccination is sometimes needed to enter the jungle, as well as being generally recommended. It’s always advisable to check with the embassy or a reliable travel agent before you go. Your doctor will probably advise you to have some inoculations anyway: typhoid, cholera, rabies and, again, yellow fever shots are all sensible precautions, and it’s well worth ensuring that your polio and tetanus-diphtheria boosters are still effective. Immunization against hepatitis A is also usually recommended.
In case you don’t get your shots before you leave for Peru, there is a useful 24-hour vaccination service at the Sanidad de la Fuerza Aérea on the first floor of Jorge Chávez airport in Lima (T01 575 1745); remember to bring your passport as you will need to show it before getting the vaccination (S/85).
Yellow fever breaks out now and again in some of the jungle areas of Peru; it is frequently obligatory to show an inoculation certificate when entering the Amazon region – if you can’t show proof of immunization you’ll be jabbed on the spot. This viral disease is transmitted by mosquitoes and can be fatal. Symptoms are headache, fever, abdominal pain and vomiting, and though victims may appear to recover, without medical help, they may suffer from bleeding, shock, and kidney and liver failure. The only treatment is to keep the patient’s fever as low as possible and prevent dehydration.
Malaria is quite common in Peru these days, particularly in the Amazon regions to the east of the country, and it’s very easy to catch without prophylactics. If you intend to go into the jungle regions, malaria tablets should be taken – starting a few weeks before you arrive and continuing for some time after. Make sure you get a supply of these, or whatever is recommended by your doctor in advance of the trip. There are several commonly recommended malarial prophylactics recommended for the Peruvian jungle regions; some are more expensive than others and some are not recommended for prolonged periods. You should investigate your options with your GP, ideally more than a month prior to your departure for Peru. To avoid getting bitten in the rainforest wear long sleeves, long trousers, socks and a mosquito-proof net hat and sleep under good mosquito netting or in well-proofed quarters. For more information check out cdc.gov/travel/regionalmalaria.
Like malaria, dengue fever is another illness spread by mosquito bites; the symptoms are similar, plus aching bones. Dengue-carrying mosquitoes are particularly prevalent during the rainy season, with urban jungle areas often the worst affected; they fly during the day, so wear insect repellent in the daytime if mosquitoes are around. The only treatment is complete rest, with drugs to assuage the fever – unfortunately, a second infection can be fatal.
Diarrhoea is something everybody gets at some stage, and there’s little to be done except to drink a lot of water and bide your time. You should also replace salts either by taking oral rehydration salts or by mixing a teaspoon of salt and eight teaspoons of sugar in a litre of purified water. You can minimize the risk by being sensible about what you eat, and by not drinking tap water anywhere. Peruvians are great believers in herbal teas, which often help alleviate cramps.
If your diarrhoea contains blood or mucus, the cause may be dysentery (one of either two strains) or giardia. Combined with a fever, these symptoms could well be caused by bacillic dysentery and may clear up without treatment. If you’re sure you need it, a course of antibiotics such as tetracyclin or ampicillin (travel with a supply if you are going off the beaten track for a while) should sort you out, but they also destroy “gut flora” which help protect you, so should only be used if properly diagnosed or in a desperate situation. Similar symptoms without fever indicate amoebic dysentery, which is much more serious, and can damage your gut if untreated. The usual cure is a course of metronidazole (Flagyl), an antibiotic which may itself make you feel ill, and should not be taken with alcohol.
Similar symptoms, plus rotten-egg-smelling belches and gas, indicate giardia, for which the treatment is again metronidazole. If you suspect you have any of these illnesses, seek medical help, and only start on the metronidazole (250mg three times daily for a week for adults) if there is definitely blood in your diarrhoea and it is impossible to see a doctor.
Water in Peru is better than it used to be, but it can still trouble non-Peruvian (and even Peruvian) stomachs, so it’s a good idea to only drink bottled water (água mineral), available in various sizes, including litre and two-litre bottles from most corner shops or food stores. Stick with known brands, even if they are more expensive, and always check that the seal on the bottle is intact, since the sale of bottles refilled with local water is not uncommon. Carbonated water is generally safer as it is more likely to be the genuine stuff. You should also clean your teeth using bottled water and avoid raw foods washed in local water.
Apart from bottled water, there are various methods of treating water while you are travelling, whether your source is tap water or natural groundwater such as a river or stream. Boiling is the time-honoured method, which is an effective way to sterilize water, although it will not remove any unpleasant tastes. A minimum boiling time of five minutes (longer at higher altitudes) is sufficient to kill microorganisms. In remote jungle areas, sterilizing tablets are a better idea, although they leave a rather bad taste in the mouth. Pregnant women or people with thyroid problems should consult their doctor before using iodine sterilizing tablets or iodine-based purifiers. There are also several portable water filters on the market. In emergencies and remote areas in particular, always check with locals to see whether the tap water is OK (es potable?) before drinking it.
Peruvian food cooked on the street has been frequently condemned as a health hazard, particularly during rare but recurrent cholera outbreaks. Be careful about anything bought from street stalls, particularly seafood, which may not be that fresh. Salads should be avoided, especially in small settlements where they may have been washed in river water or fertilized by local sewage waters.
The sun can be deceptively hot, particularly on the coast or when travelling in boats on jungle rivers when the hazy weather or cool breezes can put visitors off their guard; remember, sunstroke can make you very sick as well as burnt. Wide-brimmed hats, sunscreen lotions (factor 60 advisable since the sun high up in the Andes is deceptively strong) and staying in the shade whenever possible are all good precautions. Note that suntan lotion and sunblock are more expensive in Peru than they are at home, so take a good supply with you. If you do run out, you can buy Western brands at most farmacias, though you won’t find a very wide choice available, especially in the higher factors. Also make sure that you increase your water intake, in order to prevent dehydration.
Altitude sickness – known as soroche in Peru – is a common problem for visitors, especially if you are travelling quickly between the coast or jungle regions and the high Andes. The best way to prevent it is to eat light meals, drink lots of coca tea and water and spend as long as possible acclimatizing to high altitudes (over 2500m) before carrying out any strenuous activity. Anyone who suffers from headaches or nausea should rest; more seriously, a sudden bad cough could be a sign of pulmonary edema and demands an immediate descent and medical attention – altitude sickness can kill. People often suffer from altitude sickness on trains crossing high passes; if this happens, don’t panic, just rest and stay on the train until it descends. Most trains are equipped with oxygen bags or cylinders that are brought around by the conductor for anyone in need. Diamox is used by many from the US to counter the effects of soroche. It’s best to bring this with you from home since it’s rarely available in Peruvian pharmacies.
Insects are more of an irritation than a serious problem, but on the coast, in the jungle and to a lesser extent in the mountains, the common fly is a definite pest. Although flies can carry typhoid, there is little one can do; you might spend mealtimes swatting flies away from your plate but even in expensive restaurants it’s difficult to monitor hygiene in the kitchens.
A more obvious problem is the mosquito, which in some parts of the lowland jungle carries malaria. Repellents are of limited value – it’s better to cover your arms, legs and feet with a good layer of clothing. Mosquitoes tend to emerge after dark, but the daytime holds even worse biting insects in the jungle regions, among them the manta blanca (or white blanket), so-called because they swarm as a blanket of tiny flying insects. Their bites don’t hurt at the time but itch like crazy for a few days afterwards. Antihistamine creams or tablets can reduce the sting or itchiness of most insect bites, but try not to scratch them – if it gets unbearable go to the nearest farmacia for advice. To keep hotel rooms relatively insect-free, buy some of the spirals of incense-like pyrethrin, available cheaply everywhere.
While Peru does not have as bad a reputation for HIV and AIDS (also known as SIDA in Latin America) as neighbouring Brazil, they are a growing problem in South America and you should still take care. All hospitals and clinics in Peru are supposed to use only sterilized equipment.
Condoms (profilacticos) are available from street vendors and some farmacias. However, they tend to be expensive and often poor quality, so bring an adequate supply with you. The Pill is also available from farmacias, officially on prescription only, but frequently sold over the counter. You’re unlikely to be able to match your brand, however, so it’s far better to bring your own supply. It’s worth remembering that if you suffer from moderately severe diarrhoea on your trip the Pill (or any other drug) may not be in your system long enough to take effect.
For minor ailments, you can buy most drugs at a pharmacy (farmacia or botica) without a prescription. Antibiotics and malaria pills can be bought over the counter (it is important to know the correct dosage), as can antihistamines (for bite allergies) or medication for an upset stomach (try Lomotil or Streptotriad). You can also buy Western-brand tampons at a farmacia, though they are expensive, so it’s better to bring a good supply. For any serious illnesses, you should go to a doctor or hospital, or ask your hotel or the local tourist office for the best clinic around.
Insurance is definitely a sound idea for a destination like Peru. Most worldwide policies offer a range of options to cover different levels of adventurous activities. Some of the extreme sports, including kayaking and bungee jumping, may not be covered by standard policies.
Peru has good internet connections, with cyber- cafés, internet cabins and wi-fi in the most unlikely of small towns. There is wi-fi virtually everywhere in Lima and Cusco, including at hotels, hostels, restaurants and cafes, closely followed by Arequipa, Huaraz, Puno, Iquitos and Trujillo. Wi-fi is generally free, while the rate is typically S/3 an hour at internet cafés, though thirty- and fifteen-minute options are often available.
You can learn Peruvian Spanish all over Peru, but the best range of schools is in Lima, Cusco, Arequipa and Huancayo.
Mid- to high-end hotels frequently offer a laundry service and some basic hotels have communal washrooms where you can do your own washing. It’s no great expense to get your clothes washed by a lavandería (laundry) on the street, normally upwards of S/3 per kg.
Homosexuality is pretty much kept underground in what is still a very macho society, though in recent years Lima has seen a liberating advance, and anyone cross-dressing can walk around with relative freedom from abuse. However, there is little or no organized LGBTQ scene. The Peruvian Homosexual and Lesbian Movement can be contacted at C Mariscal Miller 828, Jesús María, Lima (facebook. com/mholperu). There are few specialist LGBTQ organizations, hotel facilities, restaurants or even clubs (where they exist they are listed in the relevant sections of the Guide). Further information can be accessed at the following websites: purpleroofs. com, globalgayz.com, peruesgay.com and gayperu.pe.
The Peruvian postal service – branded as Serpost – is reasonably efficient, if slightly irregular and a little expensive. Letters from Europe and the US generally take around one or two weeks to arrive – occasionally less – while outbound letters to Europe or the US seem to take between ten days and three weeks. Stamps for postcards and airmail letters to the UK, the US and to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa cost around S/3–7.
Be aware that parcels take about one month to arrive and are particularly vulnerable to being opened en route – in either direction – and expensive souvenirs can’t be sure of leaving the building where you mail them. Never send money through the Peruvian post!
Maps of Peru fall into three basic categories. A standard road map should be available from good map-sellers just about anywhere in the world or in Peru itself from street vendors or librerías; the Touring y Automóvil Club de Perú, Av Trinidad Morán 698, Lince Lima (T 01 611 9999, touringperu.com.pe), is worth visiting for its good route maps. Departmental maps, covering each departamento (Peruvian state) in greater detail, albeit often very out of date, are also fairly widely available. Topographic maps (usually 1:100,000) cover the entire coastal area and most of the mountainous regions of Peru. In Lima, they can be bought from the Instituto Geográfico Nacional (ign.gob.pe), and the Reise Know-How maps, available in bookstores, are quite reliable and regularly updated.
English language, or non-Spanish, magazines and newspapers are hard to find in Peru; there are some sold around El Haiti Café in Miraflores, Lima, and they can occasionally be found in airports or bookshops in Cusco. BBC World Service and VOA can be picked up if you have the right receiver.
There are many poor-quality newspapers and magazines available on the streets of Lima and throughout the rest of Peru. Many of the newspapers stick mainly to sex and sport, while magazines tend to focus on terrorism, violence and the frequent deaths caused by major traffic accidents. Meanwhile, many get their news and information from television and radio, where you also have to wade through the panoply of entertainment-orientated options.
The two most established (and establishment) daily newspapers are El Comercio (elcomercio.com.pe) and Expreso (expreso.com.pe), the latter having traditionally devoted vast amounts of space to anti-Communist propaganda. El Comercio is much more balanced but still tends to toe the political party of the day’s line. El Comercio’s daily Seccion C also has the most comprehensive cultural listings of any paper – good for just about everything going on in Lima. In addition, there’s the sensationalist tabloid La República (larepublica.com.pe), which takes a middle-of-the-road to liberal approach to politics; and Diario Ojo, which provides interesting tabloid reading.
International newspapers are fairly hard to come by; your best bet for English papers is to go to the British Embassy in Lima, which has a selection of one- to two-week-old papers, such as The Times and The Independent, for reference only. US papers are easier to find; the bookstalls around Plaza San Martín in Lima Centro and those along Avenida Larco and Diagonal in Miraflores sell The Miami Herald, the International Herald Tribune, and Newsweek and Time magazines, but even these are likely to be four or five days old.
One of the better weekly magazines is the fairly liberal Caretas, generally offering mildly critical support to whichever government happens to be in power. There’s one environmental and travel magazine – Rumbos – which publishes articles in both Spanish and English and has excellent photographic features.
Peruvians watch a lot of television – mostly football and soap operas, though TV is also a main source of news. Many programmes come from Mexico, Brazil and the US, with occasional eccentric selections from elsewhere and a growing presence of manga-style cartoons. There are nine main terrestrial channels, of which channels 7 and 13 show marginally better quality programmes. Cable and satellite TV is increasingly forming an important part of Peru’s media, partly due to the fact that it can be received in even the remotest of settlements.
Alternatively, you can tune in to Peruvian radio stations, nearly all of which play music and are crammed with adverts. International pop, salsa and other Latin pop can be picked up most times of the day and night all along the FM waveband, while traditional Peruvian and Andean folk music can usually be found all over the AM dial. Radio Miraflores (96FM) is one of the best stations, playing mainly disco and new US/British rock, though also with a good jazz programme on Sunday evenings and an excellent news summary every morning (7–9am).
The currency in Peru is the nuevo sol, still simply called a “sol” on the streets, and whose symbol is S/. The sol remains relatively steady against the US dollar, and at time of writing, the exchange rate for the nuevo sol was roughly US$1 = S/3.2, £1 = S/4.4 Aus$1 = S/2.5, NZ$1 = S/2.3, €1 = S/3.8.
Dollars are also accepted in many places, including smart hotels, tour companies, railway companies and classy restaurants. The main supermarkets in Lima also take dollars, as do some taxi drivers (especially those picking up from airports).
ATMs are common in all of Peru’s cities and main towns, with the BCP (Banco de Crédito del Peru) probably being the most common, but all the main banks’ ATMs seem to work well with standard credit and debit cards. Travellers’ cheques and cash dollars or euros can be cashed at casas de cambio. Cash can be changed on the street, sometimes at a slightly better rate than the banks or casas de cambio, but with a greater risk of being short-changed.
Most shops and services in Peru open Monday to Saturday 9am to 5pm, or 6pm. Many are open on Sunday as well, if for more limited hours. Of Peru’s museums, some belong to the state, others to institutions and a few to individuals. Most charge a small admission fee and are open Monday to Saturday 9am to noon and 3 to 6pm.
Peru’s more important ancient sites and ruins usually have opening hours that coincide with daylight – from around 7am until 5pm or 6pm daily. Smaller sites are rarely fenced off, and are nearly always accessible 24 hours a day. For larger sites, you normally pay a small admission fee to the local guardian – who may then walk around with you, pointing out features of interest. Only Machu Picchu charges more than a few dollars’ entrance fee – this is one site where you may find it worth presenting an ISIC or FIYTO student card (which generally gets you in for half-price).
Churches open in the mornings for Mass (usually around 6am), after which the smaller ones close. Those which are most interesting to tourists, however, tend to stay open all day, while others open again in the afternoon from 3 to 6pm. Very occasionally there’s an admission charge to churches, and more regularly to monasteries (monasterios).
It’s easy to make international calls from just about any town in the country, either with a pre-paid phonecard or via a telephone cabin, which can be found in all town centres. Mobiles are expensive to use, but almost everyone seems to have one these days. Using your own mobile almost always works out to be the most expensive form of telephone communication, but it may be worth checking with your provider before departure (your phone needs to run on GSM/GPRS band). It is certainly cheaper to buy a local mobile phone and sim card (available in shops everywhere from around S/105–135 or US$35–45) and use this for in-Peru calls. The most popular mobile company is Telefonica Movistar, with Claro as number two.
Phonecards (eg Telefónica Tarjeta 147) are the cheapest way to communicate by phone either domestically or internationally; indeed, international calls from a fixed phone often work out cheaper than ones to Peruvian mobiles or between Peruvian cities. Each card has directions for use (in Spanish) on the reverse and most are based on a scratch-card numeral basis. You can buy phonecards from corner shops, farmacias or on the street from cigarette stalls in the centres of most towns and cities. With free wi-fi available in most places, Skype is probably the most convenient form of long-distance calling.
Peru is one of those places where you want to buy something from virtually every street corner. Apart from all the fine alpaca sweaters and blankets, there are baskets, musical instruments, paintings and a whole raft of quite well-known artesanía (craft goods).
Of course, most Peruvians live in cities with massive supermarkets and a pharmacy on each street corner. Shopping centres are springing up all over Lima, each more or less a replica of the other. Traditional craft goods from most regions of Peru can be found in markets and independent shops in Lima. Woollen and alpaca products, though, are usually cheaper and often better quality in the mountains – particularly in Cusco, Juliaca and Puno; carved gourds are imported from around Huancayo; the best places to buy ceramic replicas are Trujillo, Huaraz, Ica and Nazca; and the best jungle crafts are from Pucallpa and Iquitos.
If you get offered an “ancient” pot or necklace, remember that Peruvian law stipulates that no items of archeological or historical value or interest may be removed from the country. Many of the jungle crafts which incorporate feathers, skins or shells of rare Amazonian animals are also banned for export – it’s best not to buy these if you are in any doubt about their scarcity. If you do try to export anything of archeological or biological value, and get caught, you’ll have the goods confiscated at the very least, and may find yourself in a Peruvian court.
Peru keeps the same hours as Eastern Standard Time, which is five hours behind GMT.
These days, iPerú is the key government source of tourist information. They have offices in most major cities, often operating in parallel with a local municipal service. They will provide information by email and their website is useful.
South Americans hold the family unit in high regard and children are central to this. Prices can often be cheaper for children; tours to attractions can occasionally be negotiated on a family-rate basis and entry to sites is often half-price or less (and always free for infants). Children under 10 generally get half-fare on local (but not inter-regional) buses, while trains and boats generally charge full fare if a seat is required. Infants who don’t need a seat often travel free on all transport except planes, when you pay around ten percent of the usual fare.
Travelling around the country is perhaps the most difficult activity with children. Bus and train journeys are generally long (twelve hours or more). Crossing international borders is a potential hassle; although Peru officially accepts children under 16 on their parents’ passports, if they have their own it will serve to minimize problems.
Most types of nappies, creams, wet-wipes and children’s medication can be bought easily in main chemists and larger supermarkets in Lima, Arequipa and Cusco, but outside these places, it’s wise to arrive prepared. Consult your doctor before leaving home regarding health matters. Sunscreen is important, as are sun hats (cheap and readily available), and you might consider a parasol for very small children. Conversely, it can get cold at night in the Andes, so take plenty of warm clothing. In the mountains, the altitude doesn’t seem to cause children as many problems as it does their elders, but they shouldn’t walk too strenuously above 2000m without full acclimatization.
The major risk around the regions is a bad stomach and diarrhoea from water or food; you should be ready to act sooner than usual when treating children under 10 with rehydration salts. In Lima, where the water is just about good enough to clean your teeth, but not to drink, the issues for local children are mainly bronchial or asthmatic, with humid weather and high pollution levels causing many long-lasting chest ailments. This shouldn’t be a problem for any visiting children unless they already have difficulties.
The food and drink in Peru is varied enough to appeal to most kids. Pizzas are available almost everywhere, as are good fish, red meats, fried chicken, chips, corn on the cob and nutritious soups, and vitamin supplements are never a bad idea. There’s also a wide range of soft drinks, from the ubiquitous Coca-Cola and Sprite to Inka Cola (now owned by Coca-Cola). Recognizable commercial baby food (and nappy brands) is available in all large supermarkets. Restaurants in Peru cater well for children and some offer smaller, cheaper portions; if they don’t publicize it, it’s worth asking.
Like restaurants, hotels are used to handling kids; they will sometimes offer discounts, especially if children share rooms or beds. Lower- to mid-range accommodation is the most flexible in this regard, but even expensive places can be helpful. Many hotels and hostels have collective rooms large enough for families to share at reasonable rates.
Peru is not well set up in terms of access infrastructure for welcoming travellers with disabilities (even the best buses have mostly ordinary steps), but nevertheless, in a moment of difficulty many Peruvians will support and help. Airlines have facilities and will assist in most of Peru’s airports.
While there are still few hotels or resorts that are well designed enough to ensure access for all, Peru, and Lima in particular, has made progress in recent years. The hotel chain Sonesta Posadas del Inca (Wsonesta.com) caters well for disabilities and has places in Lima, Lago Titicaca/Puno and the Valle Sagrado; other pioneers in Peru include the travel agency Apumayo Expediciones, Rainforest Expeditions and InkaNatura Travel. Accessible Journeys, meanwhile, offers tours specifically designed for travellers with physical disabilities, including a thirteen-day trip to Lima, Cusco, the Valle Sagrado, Machu Picchu and Nazca.
Machismo is well ingrained in the Peruvian male mentality, particularly in the towns, and female foreigners are almost universally seen as liberated and therefore sexually available. On the whole, the situations female travellers will encounter are more annoying than dangerous, with frequent comments such as qué guapa (“how pretty”), intrusive and prolonged stares, plus whistling and hissing in the cities. Worse still are the occasional rude comments and groping, particularly in crowded situations such as on buses or trains. Blonde and fair-skinned women are likely to suffer much more of this behaviour than darker, Latin-looking women.
Mostly these are situations you’d deal with routinely at home but they can seem threatening without a clear understanding of Peruvian Spanish and slang. To avoid getting caught up in something you can’t control, any provocation is best ignored. In a public situation, however, any real harassment is often best dealt with by loudly drawing attention to the miscreant.
In the predominantly indigenous, remote areas there is less of an overt problem, though surprisingly this is where physical assaults are more likely to take place. They are not common, however – you’re probably safer hiking in the Andes than walking at night in most British or North American inner cities.
If you’re camping, it’s a good idea to get to know the locals, which can give a kind of acceptance and insurance, and may even lead to the offer of a room – Peruvians, particularly those in rural areas, can be incredibly kind and hospitable.