First time in Peru? Excited, but nervous? Thrilled, but worried? Enthusiastic, but apprehensive? To make it easier for you, here are 10 Peru travel tips you should know about before you visit this beautiful country!
Finding accurate and updated Peru travel tips on the internet is sometimes difficult, as not everyone writes about their experience. However, we have a few articles that you could read before coming to Peru, in order to be fully prepared for your trip. Here you can find practical information, as well as tips to enjoy the Peruvian experience to the fullest!
1. What You Need To Know About Money
Peru is a country where cash is used frequently, as around 70% of its economy is informal. When you buy food in bodegas (small shops that have all the essential), when you pay local transport or taxi, or when you grab something to eat in the street, you always pay in cash and in soles.
Keep in mind also that it is sometimes very hard to pay with a 100 soles banknote, so try to have small banknotes (mostly 20 and 10).
However, you can use your cards in large supermarkets, to buy bus tickets online, and in the more “formal” restaurants. Also, you can use the ATM to get either dollars or soles. Note that BCP is the only bank in Peru that doesn’t charge you to withdraw money (the other banks charge you around 20 soles per withdrawal, which is approximately $6 US dollars).
I recommend you to contact your bank before coming to Peru and find out if the rate for withdrawing money in Peru will be high for you or not. If it is, bring dollars in cash with you.
Most of the daily payments you will need to do in Peru are made in soles, you don’t necessarily need dollars. Nevertheless, it is possible to pay in most hostels and hotels with dollars, and there are currency exchange offices almost in every Peruvian town.
Also, you sometimes see people in the streets that are offering to change money. I personally don’t do it with them and I don’t recommend you doing so, as there have been stories about fake money.
2. What Is The Transportation Like?
We, tourists, stand out, as we look pretty different from the Peruvians physically and in the way handle ourselves on the streets. Sometimes, taxi drivers are tempted to take advantage of our ignorance on the rate and propose a higher price than normal. Therefore, make sure you ask a local person the approximate cost of a certain trip so that you know how much you are supposed to pay. Also, always make sure you’ve agreed on the fare before getting into the cab.
Unfortunately, not very nice things have happened to very unlucky people. this is why it is recommended not to take a taxi on your own, especially during the night and if you are a girl. However, we often hear a lot more about the horrible stories than about the good ones, even though they are more common.
You need to be vigilant, and not take unnecessary risks, but don’t spend your time in Peru being worried and scared: most of the taxi drivers are really nice and normal people. If you want to feel safer, ask your hotel/hostel, they often have a special taxi driver that always works for them and that they can call from the reception desk.
Uber Exists In Peru!
In the largest and most touristic cities, such as Lima and Cusco, you can use the Uber app. If you are registering for the first time you don’t need a credit card since you can pay with cash directly to the driver.
Uber is often the cheapest option to move around in Peru and it is also very practical, as you can order it directly from your phone. However, don’t forget that if you pay a very low rate, it means your driver gets a very low payment.
Also, most people say Uber is safer than taking a regular taxi, and Uber Pool is the best as you share it with one or two other people.
Take A Bus When Traveling Long Routes
When traveling from one big city to another, you can fly over, or you can also use the bus if you want a cheaper option.
Using the bus takes more time, but it is a better option, in my opinion, as you can sleep in the comfortable seats if you travel by night, which also saves you the price of one night at a hostel/hotel, and lets you enjoy the beautiful Peruvian landscapes during the day. Most of the companies have seats that you can lower to 140° in order to be in a more comfortable position. Note that you should always keep your valuable stuff on you in the bus: on some buses, thefts can occur.
Something that I consider important to know is what bus company you can use: some are of high quality, and others are not. The most recommended companies are MovilBus, Oltursa, Linea, and Tepsa.
Tepsa is my personal favorite because the prices are very affordable, the service is really good, and the food is not that bad. They serve meals around 7:00 pm, 7:00 am and 1:00 pm, which means you will be able to eat during your trip!
Also, Tepsa has available a pillow and a blanket, which is really nice during the night when you want to sleep without getting too cold from the air conditioning.
So, as bus travel is much cheaper than flying, you can treat yourself and take a first-class ticket: the seats are larger, more comfortable, and can be lowered a lot for better resting.
Buy yourself a SIM card to have better internet access
If you want to be able to make calls and send messages in Peru, as well as have internet access without wifi, a chip de prepago, or prepaid SIM card, is the best option for you. This is paid in advance for certain services, and you can add additional credit if needed. The dominant communication providers are Movistar (blue) and Claro (red), but there are also others such as Bitel (yellow/green) that is getting very popular.
Movistar and Claro are present in all of Peru, and Bitel in most of the cities. The cost for a SIM card is around 15 soles ($4,5 US dollars) and if you add 20 soles more ($6 US dollars), it should be enough to get you started. You can also opt for a prepaid SIM card that only includes internet access.
Peruvian cell phone numbers are composed of 9 digits and always start with a 9. The country code for Peru is 51, which means you need to tell people to add +51 before the Peruvian number if they want to contact you.
Ask for information to as many people as possible.
The information on the internet is rarely updated. It has happened to me several times that I look for a shop, take transport to get there, and realize once I’m there that the shop has been closed for the past 5 years. Therefore, do not always trust the information you find online.
Likewise, do not trust 100% what you are told on the street. Some people have a tendency of always giving you an answer even though they don’t really know, just because they’re super nice and really want to help. Therefore, I recommend you to ask as many different people as possible when you want to get the best information.
Furthermore, talking with people in your hostel/hotel that have been there for a while is always a good option as they can tell you about their experience and give you good recommendations.
Now that you’ve got some practical information, you might be curious about how to travel local and how to live at the fullest the Peruvian authentic experience. Here are some tips:
Buy your food at the market
Like all other countries, Peru has large supermarkets where you can find all kinds of international brands. Nonetheless, if you want to eat really good local food, and taste the best fruits and vegetables while meeting local people, go to the market! All the cities have a big central market (San Camilo for Arequipa, San Pedro for Cusco and Mercado de Surquillo in Lima), but you can also find small markets in the different districts of every city.
Everything from vegetables, fruits to cheese I recommend you to buy at the market, as it is better and cheaper. However, I understand if you don’t want to buy meat there, considering how it is stored. But if you wish to eat a good traditional plate for a very small amount of money, all of the markets have places where you can sit and be served an entry and the main dish for between 5 and 10 soles ($1,5 US dollars - $3 US dollars).
Interested in Andean gastronomy? Check out this article and when in Cusco, do not miss La Cuzqueñita, a nice restaurant where local people go to eat family dinner. It proposes really good and well-served food, and you can also enjoy people performing in special clothes different types of traditional dances.
Free guided tours are very nice
Free guided tours are a popular activity nowadays, and for good reasons: you meet nice people, the guide is often of quality, and the best places and activities are covered.
The principle of the free guided tour is that you join on the tour, and give tips at the end based on how much you enjoyed the tour. In consequence, the guide is going to do the best she or he can in order to present you a great guided tour.
Read my post about free guided tours in Lima!
The larger cities such as Cusco, Arequipa, Trujillo and Lima have several possibilities of a free guided tour. It is recommended to check online before joining a tour, and not just jump on any random one you find on the street. You can reserve online, and then you just need to show up at the meeting place at the right time, ready to enjoy to the fullest! Credit: Julia Natri
Buy your souvenirs in Cusco
In Miraflores, there is an artisanal market that is really good. Yet, I really recommend you to wait until you are in Cusco to buy your souvenirs: souvenirs shops are to be found everywhere, and everything is much cheaper.
Also, just 30 km from Cusco, there is a really nice artisanal market in the little town of Chinchero, that opens Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays (which is the best day to go). The vendors are dressed traditionally, and you can find all kinds of gifts for your friends, your family and yourself. Also, after shopping, you can sit at the end of the market and eat good almuerzo (lunch) sitting with local people.
Note one thing though: everything is definitely not made of alpaca wool. Most of the products are indeed made of a mix of alpaca and sheep, even though the vendors claim everything is 100% alpaca.
Bargain…but not too much
Before traveling to Peru, and as soon as you arrive, you’ve certainly heard several times that buying things in Peru is all about bargaining.
It is true that you can try to lower prices, especially if you buy several products at the same place. Be that as it may, keep in mind that you still need to show respect for the work the merchant provides. If you offer a price that is too low, it is considered as disrespectful, and the vendors might get angry.
I’ve seen several times tourists that offer to pay half of what the artisans are asking for, and that can be offending. So, please keep in mind that the vendors do this for a living and that they spend a lot of time creating all of the products you see.
Cover Photo Ryan McFarland.