Peru travel guide & tips
What to expect in Peru
Peru is a stunning patchwork of landscapes and history, where you’ll experience charming colonial cities, snowy peaks, vast lakes and high plains. While most travellers come to visit Machu Picchu, the real Peru lies within its people – many of whom can trace their bloodlines back to the Incas. Add in a few condors, sea lions and llamas, as well as what may be South America’s best food scene, and you’re in for a once in a lifetime experience!
We’ve put together this Peru travel guide to help you prepare and make the most of your trip
Peru’s great for:
- Ancient Sites: Machu Picchu is probably the world’s most famous archaeological site, and for good reason – it’s utterly spectacular. Whether you’re trekking the Inca Trail or catching the train, this is an unmissable experience. Elsewhere – in Cusco, Chavin and the mysterious Nazca Lines – you’ll also find amazing traces of the past.
- Trekking: Whilst it is amazing, Peru isn’t only about the Inca Trail, there are lots of different options, especially around Cusco and Machu Picchu. See the high peaks on the Salkantay Trek, pass through tiny villages on the Lares Trek, or head north to Huaraz and the beautiful Cordillera Blanca mountain region.
- Scenery: Where to start? How about one of the world’s deepest canyons and the otherworldly landscape of the Colca Canyon? Or maybe the vast, still waters of Lake Titicaca? For something completely different, you can hike to the multicoloured rock formations of Rainbow Mountain. Peru has scenery which will leave you breathless (and not just because of the trekking to get there…).
- Wildlife: Ok, obviously there are llamas! But head into the Peruvian Amazon and you’ll see creatures like macaws, monkeys, tapirs and river dolphins. Jaguars also prowl the forest, although you’ll be lucky to see one. Elsewhere, Peru’s answer to the Galapagos, Islas Ballestas, is home to sea lions, penguins, pelicans and a whole host of other bird life.
- Food and Drink: Often described as South America’s culinary capital, Peru’s food scene has exploded in recent years. Try out a plate of delicious ceviche, before ending your evenings with a couple of Pisco Sours. The Andean ingredients used in Peruvian cooking produce some truly unique dishes.
What’s meaningful about Peru?
Peru’s tourism industry is a huge contributor to the country’s economy and also gives them an extra incentive to protect their culture, nature and historical sites. Aside from this, we’ll always use locally owned hotels, as well as Peruvian drivers and guides, to make sure the local people benefit from your visit.
Our top 4 Peru highlights
- Colca Canyon: The world’s second deepest canyon, the Colca Canyon, is really a sight to behold. The scarred landscape stretches out for miles and the communities who live here have changed very little over the years. You’ll also have the chance to see majestic condors soaring close above you.
- Explore the Amazon Rainforest: Really get back to nature in Peru’s Amazon. It may be a little less famous than that of neighbouring Brazil but it has the same amazing eco-diversity. Sleeping in a lodge surrounded by wildlife in the world’s largest tropical rainforest is definitely something for the bucket list.
- Stroll through colonial cities: It may not be everyone’s primary motivation for a trip to Peru but spending a little time wandering the streets of beautiful cities like Arequipa, Cusco and Lima’s old centre is a great addition to your holiday and gives a real insight into the country’s history and culture.
- Machu Picchu: You didn’t think we were going to leave it out, did you? It may be one of the world’s most visited sites but when you first lay your eyes on this ancient Inca city you’ll realise exactly why it’s a must-do’s for so many people. There really is nothing quite like Machu Picchu.
Peru Essential Information
Best time to go
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Winter (May – September) is the driest season and therefore the best time of year to travel, especially if you’re planning to visit Cusco or trek to Machu Picchu.
Although Spanish is the main language spoken in Peru, there are many other languages and regional dialects.
Service charges are generally included in the more expensive restaurants in Peru. In the cheaper restaurants, service isn’t included but tipping isn’t customary and rounding off the bill is enough.
You can fly direct to Lima from London Gatwick 2-3 times a week depending on the season. There are also many indirect options stopping in Madrid or the US.
Peruvian Nueva Sol
The local currency in Peru is the Peruvian Nueva Sol, however US dollars are also widely accepted, so it’s a good idea to carry some change and small denomination notes ($10, $20) with you.
Good to know….
- Altitude Sickness can affect anyone, regardless of how fit and healthy they may be. If you’re heading somewhere like Cusco then it’s best to take it easy for a day or two before doing anything active like trekking. This gives your body a chance to acclimatise and adjust to any nausea or headaches which can be caused by the change in atmosphere.
- Rules, rules, rules. In some of the more popular tourist sites, such as Machu Picchu, you will find that there are rules and limitations on where you can walk, where you’ll need a guide etc. These rules are there to protect these unique sites, so please respect them, even if it is tempting to go all Indiana Jones….
- Porters. Even if it sometimes looks very easy, these people do an incredible job which is physically gruelling and can have long-term effects on their health. It is their livelihood and we want to make sure that they are fairly paid for what they do, and are not asked to carry more than they should. Limits are in place for this, but if you notice something that doesn’t seem right, then please speak out or let us know.
Language & Culture
Key phrases to know:
Hola – Hello!
Buenos dias/tardes/noches – Good morning/afternoon/evening
Me llamo/llama – My name is.. (m)/(f) *Hint: two ‘ll’ is pronounced as a ‘y’ sound.
Adios – Goodbye
Hasta luego – See you later
Hasta pronto – See you soon
Necesito ir a el bano – I need to go to the bathroom?
Donde esta el bano – Where is the bathroom?
Cuanto cuesta? – How much does it cost?
Me gustaria una cerveza/una ron por favor – I would like a beer/a rum please!
Una cerveza, por favour – One beer please!
Necesito un médico – I need a doctor
Me duele aqui – It hurts here
Due to the country’s more recent history, there is a large Spanish influence in Peru, although Quechua and Aymara culture is also prevalent, and the people of Peru proudly celebrate these cultures. This mix of influences can be seen throughout local art, music, festivals and literature, as well as in Peruvian cuisine.
Peru is a predominantly Catholic country, although other Christian denominations and other religions are also represented.
Whilst civil unrest and protest is fairly normal in Peru, it is a relatively peaceful country and a safe place for tourists to travel through. Like anywhere in the world, you should use common sense and avoid being out alone at night or in certain urban areas, and don’t be too flashy with your gadgets or jewellery.
The primary language in Peru is Spanish but the Quechua and Aymara languages are both still alive and kicking and are widely spoken in areas of the country.
Take a peek at our favourite Peru itineraries
From 23 days / 22 nights (flexible)
Bolivia, Lima - Arequipa - Chivay - Colca Canyon - Arequipa - Cusco - Winay Wayna - Machu Picchu - Ollantaytambo - Urubamba - Cusco - Puno - Lake Titicaca - Puno - Copacabana - Isla del Sol - La Paz - Uyuni - Salt Flats - Uyuni - La Paz
From 17 days / 16 nights (flexible)
Peru, Lima - Huacachina - Islas Ballestas - Arequipa - Colca Canyon - Puno - Lake Titicaca - Cusco - Machu Picchu
Food & Drink in Peru
Food is an important part of Peruvian culture, and the food in Peru is amongst the best on the continent.
Alongside Peruvian meat staples such as lomo saltado (marinated steak strips mixed with tomato and onions), you’ll also find plenty of delicious cerviche (raw fish cured in citrus juice), and also some more ‘unusual’ things like alpaca and guinea pig dishes.
Peru is also home to a huge variety of fruit and veg, some of which you will never have seen before…..there are an estimated 4000 types of potato alone! So, if you’re vegetarian or vegan then don’t despair, there will be plenty of options available, especially in the cities (tip: the Happy Cow app will help you find vegan/veggie restaurants). In rural areas, your options may be a little more limited, of course. We would advise that you keep an eye on the food that you eat and how it’s been prepared, especially when it comes to meat and fish.
Expect to pay anywhere between £5 per person for a meal in a local cafe, to £40 for an upmarket restaurant.
10% tip is normal in most restaurants & hotels.
Food: Almost all hotels will include breakfast and you’ll be able to get a hearty meal in a local cafe for £5 – £7 which may include a drink too. If you fancy treating yourself, you can expect to pay anywhere between £10-40 per person, depending on how upmarket you want to go.
Drink: In most places, you’ll be able to get a cold bottle of local beer for about £2. Imported beers will cost a little more and wine will be a similar price to the UK since it is mostly imported. Soft drinks will usually be around £1-1.50, and bottled water should be £1 or less (although please try to refill wherever possible!). It’s also recommended that you only drink water and soft drinks from a sealed bottle or drink boiled water such as tea or coffee.
Taxis: Unless metered, you should agree on a price before setting off. Expect to pay no more than £10 for a 20-minute journey within a city.
Tipping: Tipping for good service is normal in Peru. You should tip in Soles and we’d recommend 25 – 50 Soles per couple per day for a day tour with a guide, or 10 – 20 Soles for a local driver. A 10% tip is the normal in restaurants and hotels when no service charge is added to the bill. Smaller tips are expected if someone is simply bringing room service or carrying your bags to your room (2-5 soles would then be reasonable enough).
Shopping in Peru
Peru has plenty of shops, mini-markets and supermarkets, so if you need a snack or you have forgotten to pack something, then you should be able to buy it in one of the cities.
If you have room in your bag then there are some really unique items you can bring home with you – alpaca wool jumpers, local textiles, carvings and artwork are all widely available at local markets. Haggling here is fairly normal, so you can usually settle on a price which is fair for both parties.
Brief history of Peru
Peru’s fascinating history goes back centuries to the Pre-Colombian cultures such as Norte Chico; remnants of these times can still be found throughout Peru. The Inca Empire was the most famous and advanced empire of them all; between 1438 and 1532, the Incas ruled over an area encompassing parts of six modern-day countries, with Peru at its heart. They left behind a number of impressive archaeological sites, including Machu Picchu.
The Spanish arrived in 1531 and took control of the country; the Incas fell quickly through inferior weapons and newly introduced diseases which hit their population hard. Spain ruled over Peru, either directly or indirectly, until a 13-year war eventually lead to independence in 1824.
Although the path was often difficult, and there are still some problems of course, Peru is now an independent, democratic country.