PERU TRAVEL GUIDE
Peru is home to a section of Amazon rainforest and Machu Picchu, an ancient Incan city high in the Andes mountains. The region around Machu Picchu, including the Sacred Valley, Inca Trail and colonial city of Cusco, is rich in archaeological sites. On Peru’s arid Pacific coast is Lima, the capital, with a preserved colonial centre and important collections of pre-Columbian art. Giant sand dunes, chiselled peaks and Pacific breaks a few heartbeats away from rush-hour traffic: this vast country translates to paradise for the active traveller.
Whether it is the colonial cities with their history of the Spanish Conquistadors, the lost city of Machu Picchu, the Inca city of Cusco or the 58km bio-reserve with its rare flora and fauna, you will be struck by Peru’s historical, natural and geographical contrasts.
PERU QUICK FACTS
- Capital: Lima
- Currency: Nuevo Sol (PEN)
- Area: 1,285,216 km²
- Population: 31,99 million (2018)
- Language: Spanish (official), Quechua, Aymara
- Electricity: Mostly 220V, 60Hz (Type A and C North American and Euro plug)
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PERU PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
- 1 May, Labour Day
- 29 June, St. Peter & St. Paul Day
- 28–29 July, Independence Day
- 30 August, St. Rosa of Lima
- 8 October, Battle of Angamos
- 1 November, All Saints Day
- 8 December, Immaculate Conception
Also, Holy Thursday through Easter Sunday.
FESTIVALS IN PERU
- Fiesta de la Virgen de Candelaria - (February) Celebrated across the highlands in Bolivia and Peru, this festival features music, drinking, eating, dancing, processions, water balloons (in Bolivia) and fireworks. The biggest celebrations take place in Copacabana (Bolivia) and Puno (Peru). The big day is February 2.
- Semana Santa - (March) Throughout Latin America, Holy Week is celebrated with fervour. Ayacucho hosts Peru’s most colourful Semana Santa, culminating in an all-night street party before Easter.
- Q’oyoriti - (May or June) A fascinating indigenous pilgrimage to the holy mountain of Ausangate, outside Cuzco, takes place around Corpus Christi. Though relatively unknown outside Peru, it’s well worth checking out.
- San Juan - (June)The feast of San Juan is all debauchery in Iquitos, Peru, where dancing, feasting and (unfortunately) cockfights go until the wee hours on the eve of the actual holiday of June 24.
BEST TIME TO VISIT PERU
Peru is a diverse country defined by the Andean mountain range, which runs north-south, dividing the country into three broad climatic regions: the Coast, the Andean Highlands, and the Eastern lowlands and Amazon rain-forest.
- The Coast experiences a semi-arid, subtropical desert climate with average annual rainfall of 150 mm. Along the southern and central coast, temperatures vary from 13˚–26˚C, with colder months in May and October. The north has a more semi-tropical climate and temperatures average 24˚C.
- In the Andean highlands, climate varies with elevation; traditionally, a rainy season occurs from September - March (although it can start as late as December) and a dry, cold season from May - August. Average temperatures range from 11˚–18˚C with drier conditions along the southwest and wetter conditions along the east. The northern Andes are subject to frosts, while the southern Andes are drought-prone.
- The Eastern lowlands and Amazon rain-forest have a tropical climate, with high temperatures and rainfall throughout the year. Average temperatures range from 22˚C in the eastern Andes to 31˚C in the Amazon.
The best time to visit Peru is during the dry season between May and October, especially if you plan to go on a trek. It is a wonderful time, with sunny days and bright blue skies, but early booking is crucial because it's the peak season. The summer (December – March) is warmer of course, but is also the wettest season, with frequent heavy showers.
- June to August - Dry (and high) season in Andean highlands and eastern rainforest. Best time for festivals and highland sports.
- Sep to Nov & Mar to May - Ideal for less-crowded visits. September to November are good for rainforest trekking.
- December to February - Rainy season in the highlands. High season for the coast and beach activities.
PERU WEATHER SYNOPSIS
Peru is a diverse country defined by the Andean mountain range, which runs north-south, dividing the country into three broad climatic regions: the Coast, the Andean Highlands, and the Eastern lowlands and Amazon rain-forest. The Coast experiences a semi-arid, subtropical desert climate with average annual rainfall of 150 mm. Along the southern and central coast, temperatures vary from 13˚–26˚C, with colder months in May and October. The north has a more semi-tropical climate and temperatures average 24˚C. In the Andean highlands, climate varies with elevation; traditionally, a rainy season occurs from September– March (although it can start as late as December) and a dry, cold season from May–August. Average temperatures range from 11˚–18˚C, and annual rainfall from 50–1000 mm, with drier conditions along the southwest and wetter conditions along the east. The northern Andes are subject to frosts, while the southern Andes are drought-prone. The Eastern lowlands and Amazon rain-forest have a tropical climate, with high temperatures and rainfall throughout the year. Average temperatures range from 22˚C in the eastern Andes to 31˚C in the Amazon, with annual rainfall from 1,000–3,000 mm.
PERU TOURIST SEASONS
Most destinations have different times of the year when they’re more or less popular with tourists.
Off Peak Season
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN PERU
HIKING & CYCLING IN PERU
The best time for outdoor activities in Peru is from May to October, when the days have blue skies and very little rain, providing perfect hiking conditions. April and November can also be pretty good shoulder months.
BEACH OPTIONS IN PERU
The most popular beach season in Peru is from December to March, but it can also be a bit wet. The months of April and November can be rather unpredictable weather wise.
SURFING IN PERU
Peru is a year round surfing destination with the most consistent swell in Northern Peru. In the South and Southwestern Peru, the best surf season is from April to October.
KITESURF IN PERU
With more than 300 windy days per year, Peru is a must see kitesurfing destination. The most consistent and best winds are from May to December. The conditions are varied to suit all levels of riders.
For more details on kite surfing in Peru expand this section!
HEALTH RISKS IN PERU
Be aware of possible health risks in
Yellow fever - The yellow fever virus is found in tropical and subtropical areas of Africa and South America. The virus is spread to people by the bite of an infected mosquito. There is no medicine to treat or cure an infection. To prevent getting sick from yellow fever, use insect repellent, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and get vaccinated.
Zika Virus - Zika is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects. There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika.
Malaria - Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease caused by a parasite that commonly infects a certain type of mosquito which feeds on humans. People who get malaria are typically very sick with high fevers, shaking chills, and flu-like illness. Although malaria can be a deadly disease, illness and death from malaria can usually be prevented.
Dengue - Dengue is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. About one in four people infected with dengue will get sick. For people who get sick with dengue, symptoms can be mild or severe.
PERU TRAVEL COSTS
Traveling around Peru can be relatively affordable and you don’t need to spend loads of money to visit (even if you do the Inca trail). You get a lot of bang for your buck whether you backpack Peru or just come for a two-week trip.
On a backpacker’s budget, you should expect to spend between US$ 20-40 per day - assuming you’re staying in a hostel dorm, eating at cheaper local restaurants and markets, and using local transportation. You will get a few activities like museum admissions on this budget as well. If you’re going to hike the Inca Trail or drink a lot, you’ll be on the higher end of this spectrum.
PERU TRAVEL TIPS
- When visiting the Cuzco area, start in the lower Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu and work your way up to Cuzco and higher attractions to aid your acclimatization.
- Book sightseeing flights over Nazca Lines in advance. Try to get an early slot when conditions are calmer.
- Take altitude seriously. When you go to higher altitudes, don’t book tours for the first few days; take hiking ascents gradually.
- Fly into Cuzco in the morning since afternoon flights can be cancelled due to high winds.
- Avoid the cheapest buses as they often have safety issues.
If you’ve been traveling hard for a few weeks, Cuzco is a great place for some R&R. Walking the ancient streets past stunning Inca architecture and taking in its grand plazas and picturesque views won’t cost a penny. It’s also an excellent town for meeting other travellers. Well-prepared adventure seekers can take on the three- to four-day Santa Cruz trek in the Cordillera Blanca; this can be done without guides or permits.
GETTING AROUND PERU
Peru has a constant procession of flights and buses connecting the country. In particular, driving routes to the jungle have improved drastically. Note, poor weather conditions can cancel flights and buses. On the road keep your passport and Andean Immigration Card with you, not packed in your luggage, as overland transport goes through police checkpoints.
- AIR - Most airlines fly from Lima to regional capitals, but service between provincial cities is limited.
- BOAT - In Peru’s Amazon Basin, boat travel is of major importance. Larger vessels ply the wider rivers. Dugout canoes powered by outboard engines act as water taxis on smaller rivers. Those called peki-pekis are slow and rather noisy. In some places, modern aluminium launches are used.
- BUS - Buses are the usual form of transportation for most Peruvians and many travellers. Fares are cheap and services are frequent on the major long-distance routes, but buses are of varying quality. Don’t always go with the cheapest option – check their safety records first. Remote rural routes are often served by older, worn-out vehicles. Seats at the back of the bus yield a bumpier (and hotter) ride.
- TRAIN - A privatized rail system, PeruRail (www.perurail.com), has daily services between Cuzco and Aguas Calientes, aka Machu Picchu Pueblo, and services between Cuzco and Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca three times a week. There’s also luxury passenger services between Cuzco, Puno and Arequipa twice weekly. Inca Rail also offers service between Ollantaytambo and Aguas Calientes.
- CAR - With the exception of the Carr Panamericana and new roads leading inland from the coast, road conditions are generally poor, distances are great and renting a car is an expensive, often dangerous hassle. Renting a private taxi for long-distance trips costs little more than renting a car, and avoids most of these pitfalls. Motorcycle rental can be an option mainly in jungle towns.
- TAXI - Taxis are unmetered, so ask locals about the going rate, then haggle; drivers often double or triple the standard rate for unsuspecting foreigners. A short run in most cities costs S3 to S5 (in Lima S5 to S8). Be aware that street hawkers sell fluorescent taxi stickers throughout Peru, and anybody can just stick one on their windscreen. Mototaxis (motorized rickshaws) are common in some of the smaller towns. Colectivos (shared minivans, minibuses or taxis) and trucks (in the Amazon) run between local and not-so-local destinations.
- UBER - At the time of writing, Uber is available in Arequipa, Cusco and Lima.
How To Stick to a Tight Budget:
- Slow down - stick around and enjoy a place rather than rushing off to the next destination. The further and faster you go, the more you’ll have to pay.
- Eat like a local at street stalls or markets.
- Opt for dorm rooms or share a room with a buddy.
- Stay in fan (non-air-con) rooms with shared bathroom.
- Travel overland instead of flying.
- Book flights online (and bus tickets where possible) rather than paying an agent commission.
- Snorkel instead of dive.
- Choose small towns instead of big cities.
- Be discriminating about which sites and national parks to visit.
- Factor in more free days: on the beach and exploring neighborhoods.
- Avoid package deals (transportation, lodging, touring).
- Know how much local transportation should cost and bargain accordingly.
- Avoid surprises by negotiating taxi fares before getting inside.
- Don’t forget to factor in the costs of visas.
- Track all of your daily expenses so you know your average costs.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF PERU
- Machu Picchu - Trek to this awe-inspiring ancient Inca ruins hidden in cloud forest.
- Cuzco - Explore colonial Andean cobblestone streets, taking in historical museums, and trekking humbling Inca hillsides.
- Arequipa - Visit this historical city, surrounded by imposing volcanoes and sunken canyons.
- Huaraz - Use this trekking metropolis as a base to tackle the Cordillera Blanca, one of South America’s most spectacular mountain ranges.
- Lake Titicaca - Visit storybook isles on what is considered the world’s largest high-altitude lake, straddling the Peru–Bolivia border.
- Kuélap - Visit this immense citadel, shrouded in misty cloud forest off the beaten track.
Start your trip in Lima; sleep in at cosy Barranco lodgings and find a ceviche restaurant for a leisurely seafood lunch with a touch of pisco (grape brandy). Visit museums in Lima Centro or rent bikes to pedal the clifftops via the parks of Miraflores.
Fly early the next day to Cuzco, transferring to the lower Sacred Valley to acclimatize for several days. Explore the market and ruins of Pisac. With ancient Ollantaytambo as your base, take the train to Aguas Calientes for a day of exploration in the world-famous Inca citadel Machu Picchu. From here, take the train to Estación Poroy so you can spend your last day tripping the cobblestones of wonderful Cuzco, with museum visits, arts and crafts shops and great restaurants. Fly back to Lima - perhaps fitting in a food tour and checking out the club scene before you head back home or move on.
After Cairo, this sprawling metropolis is the second-driest world capital, rising above a long coastline of crumbling cliffs. Lima is a sophisticated city, with a civilization that dates back millennia. Stately museums display sublime pottery; galleries debut edgy art; solemn religious processions recall the 18th century and crowded nightclubs dispense tropical beats. No visitor can miss the capital’s culinary genius, part of a gastronomic revolution more than 400 years in the making. The majority of museums are located in the busy downtown area of Central Lima. If you have a few days here, try visiting them on a weekend morning when traffic is calmer. The neighbourhoods of Miraflores and Barranco can be walked in their entirety, and there are pleasant parks and seaside walks to retreat to when you’ve had your fill of urban attractions. Bike paths along the coast and designated lanes in Miraflores make the area great for cycling. Popular excursions from Lima include the 31km ride to Pachacamac, where there are good local trails open between April and December.
PERU SOUTH COAST
This wild and lonely coast entrances visitors with teetering sand dunes, verdant desert oases, forgotten fishing villages, ancient earth drawings, and plenty of rugged open space for the imagination to run wild. It’s a stark, dry corner of earth – caught between the Andes and the sea – that only comes to life in the fertile river valleys that produce wine and fruit, providing visitors with a fleeting relief from the relentless beat of the brown desolate desert. Most adventures take you on a tried-and-true trail that begins with rafting in Lunahuaná, wildlife-watching in the Islas Ballestas, sandboarding out of Huacachina and a requisite stop at the mysterious lines and odd geoglyphs that decorate the blank desert canvas outside Nazca. Step beyond the outlines of this well trampled Gringo Trail to discover unspoiled surf spots, vibrant agricultural villages and spirited and unassuming cultural beats.
AREQUIPA & CANYON COUNTRY
Arequipa province is Peru’s big combo destination, with authentic historical immersion and white-knuckle Andean adventure inhabiting the same breathing space. If you can imagine the cultural riches of one of South America’s finest historic cities just a few hours’ drive from the world’s two deepest canyons you’ll get a sense of the dramatic contrasts here. Urban distractions aplenty can be found in Arequipa, the arty, audacious, unflappably resilient metropolis that lies in the shadow of the El Misti volcano. To the northwest are the Colca and Cotahuasi canyons, whose impressive depth is a mere statistic compared to the Andean condors, epic treks and long-standing Spanish, Inca and pre-Inca traditions that lurk in their midst. Other unusual apparitions include the lava-encrusted Valle de los Volcanes, the haunting Toro Muerto petroglyphs, and the barren Paso de Patopampa where a main road ascends to 4910m, higher than any point in Western Europe or North America.
A vast, striking blue expanse standing at 3810m, the lake is dotted with sacred islands and surrounded by snow-capped mountains. It is not hard to see how Inca legends came to credit Lake Titicaca with the birth of their civilization. Set between Peru and Bolivia, it’s the largest lake in South America and the highest navigable body of water in the world. Bright days contrast with bitterly cold nights. Enthralling, deep-blue Lake Titicaca is the unifying, long-time home of highland cultures steeped in the old ways. The region is a mix of crumbling cathedrals, desolate altiplano (Andean plateau) and checkerboard fields backed by rolling hills and high Andean peaks. Local farmers wear sandals recycled from truck tires, women work in petticoats and bowler hats, and llamas are tame as pets.
More location information and points of interest are available in the above map
CUZCO & THE SACRED VALLEY
For Incas, Cuzco was the navel of the earth. A visit to this city and its nearby ruins forces you back into the realm of ancient Andean culture – knocked down and fused with the colonial imprint of Spanish conquest, only to be repackaged as a thriving tourist centre. The capital of Cuzco is only the gateway. Beyond lies the Sacred Valley, Andean countryside dotted with villages, high-altitude hamlets and ruins linked by trail and railway tracks to the continent’s biggest draw – Machu Picchu. A fantastic Inca citadel, a secret held by local Quechua people until the early 20th century, Peru’s Machu Picchu stands as a ruin among ruins.
With its emerald terraces and steep peaks that echo on the horizon, the sight simply surpasses the imagination. This marvel of engineering has withstood half a dozen centuries of earthquakes, foreign invasion and howling weather. Discover it for yourself, wander through its stone temples and scale the dizzying heights of Wayna Picchu.
Old ways are not forgotten in the Sacred Valley. Colourful textiles keep the past vivid, as do the wild fiestas and carnivals where indigenous tradition meets solemn Catholic ritual. A stunning landscape careens from Andean peaks to orchid-rich cloud forests and Amazon lowlands.
If it’s breath-taking ancient ruins or immersion in uninterrupted wilderness that you crave during your trip to Pero, this is it. The rocky, remote Central Highlands can match any of Peru’s better known destinations for these things and more – with the almost absolute absence of other travellers. This section of the Andes is Peru at its most Peruvian - reaching its zenith from Easter to July during its myriad of fiestas. Although travel here is not for the fainthearted, adventure spirited souls will discover better insights into local life than are possible elsewhere: bonding with fellow passengers on bumpy buses perhaps or hiking into high hills to little-visited Inca palaces. Life in this starkly beautiful region is lived off the land: more donkeys than cars often ply its roads and bright indigenous dress predominates in communities housing Peru’s best handicrafts.
This intense shore has some of the world’s best surfing and plenty of other tanned travellers to keep you company. It’s also home to a jaw dropping array of archaeological sites, colonial cities and evocative deserts capes straight out of a Mad Max movie. In this land of rock and desert sand, you’ll also find a few verdant valleys, while Peru’s only mangrove forests cling for their lives up north. It holds no shortage of exaggerated claims – one of the world’s longest left breaks challenges surfers in Puerto Chicama, South America’s oldest civilization vexes archaeological explorers at Caral, and the massive pre-Columbian adobe complex at Chan Chan was once the largest city in the Americas.
The backpacker hubs of Máncora and Huanchaco kick into full party mode from November to March, while those seeking tranquillity can seek out unique adventures in fishing villages such as Zorritos and Cabo Blanco.
HUARAZ & THE CORDILLERAS
Easily ground zero for outdoor-adventure worship in Peru, the Cordilleras are one of the pre-eminent hiking, trekking and backpacking spots in South America. Wherever you look, perennially frozen white peaks poke their way through expansive mantles of green valleys. In the recesses of these giants huddle scores of pristine jade lakes, ice caves and torrid springs. The Cordillera Blanca is one of the highest mountain ranges in the world outside the Himalayas, and its 18 ostentatious summits of more than 6000m will not let you forget it for a second. Huaraz is the restless capital of this Andean adventure kingdom and its rooftops command exhaustive panoramas of the city’s dominion: one of the most impressive mountain ranges in the world. This is first and foremost a trekking metropolis. Whether you’re arranging a mountain expedition or going for a day hike, Huaraz is the place to start – it is the epicentre for planning and organizing local Andean adventures. Numerous outfits can prearrange entire trips so that all you need to do is show up at the right place at the right time. Many visitors go camping, hiking and climbing in the mountains without any local help and you can too if you have the experience. Just remember, though, that carrying a backpack full of gear over a 4800m pass requires much more effort than hiking at low altitudes.
Vast tracts of unexplored jungle and mist shrouded mountain ranges guard the secrets of Peru's Northern Highlands like a suspicious custodian. Here, Andean peaks and a blanket of luxuriant forests stretch from the coast all the way to the deepest Amazonian jungles. Interspersed with the relics of Inca kings and the jungle-encrusted ruins of cloud-forest dwelling warriors, connections to these outposts are just emerging from their infancy. Cajamarca’s cobbled streets testify to the beginning of the end of the once-powerful Inca Empire, and remnants of the work of the famed Andean masons still remain. The hazy forests of Chachapoyas have only recently revealed their archaeological bounty: witness the staggering stone fortress of Kuélap, which clings for dear life to a craggy limestone peak. At the jungle gateway of Tarapoto, the Amazon waits patiently on the periphery, as it has for centuries, endowed with a cornucopia of wildlife and exquisite good looks.
The best-protected tract of the world’s most biodiverse forest, the strange, sweltering, seductive country-within-a-country that is Peru’s Amazon Basin is changing. Its vastness and impenetrability have long protected its indigenous communities and diverse wildlife from external eyes. Tribes exist here that have never had contact with outside civilization, and more flora and fauna flourish in one rainforest hectare than in any European country. But as the 21st century encroaches on this enticing expanse of arboreal wilderness, exploitation of the rainforest’s abundant resources threatens to irreversibly damage it. No doubt the Peruvian Amazon still offers phenomenal wildlife-spotting and dalliances into untamed forest from the jungle’s best selection of lodges. But it also begs for ongoing protection. To maximise wildlife-viewing, visit during the dry season (July to October).
WHAT TO EAT IN PERU
Peru has long been a place where the concept of ‘fusion’ was a part of everyday cooking. Over the course of the last 400 years, Andean stews mingled with Asian stir-fry techniques, and Spanish rice dishes absorbed flavours from the Amazon, producing the country’s famed criollo (creole) cooking. In the past decade, a generation of experimental young innovators has pushed this local fare to gastronomic heights. This novoandina approach interprets Peruvian cooking through the lens of haute cuisine.
Food tends toward the spicy, but ají (chili condiment) is served separately. Conventional eaters can find refuge in a chifa (Chinese restaurant) or pollería (rotisserie restaurant). Vegetarian options are expanding, and Peru’s many innovative potato dishes are worth trying. Restaurants commonly offer a menú del día (set meal, usually lunch), consisting of soup, main course and possibly dessert for S10 to S25. Dried corn called canchita is a ubiquitous table snack. Incluye impuesto (IGV) means a service charge has been included in the price. Better restaurants add 18% in taxes and 10% in tips to the bill.
Chiclayo is one of the best places to eat on the North Coast. Arroz con pato a la chiclayana (duck and rice cooked in cilantro and beer) and tortilla de manta raya (Spanish omelet made from stingray) are endless sources of culinary pride. For dessert try the local street sweet called King Kong – a large cookie filled with a sweet caramel cream made of milk and sugar. It’s available everywhere.
LOOK OUT FOR:
- Arroz chaufa - Fried rice is ubiquitous.
- Ceviche - Raw fish and seafood marinated in lime with onions, hot pepper slivers and other additions.
- Chicha - Drink usually made from fermented blue corn and consumed before it ferments.
- Cuy - Guinea pig is a common Andean delicacy.
LGBTQ IN PERU
Peru remains a strongly conservative, Catholic country. While most believe that legalizing same-sex civil unions will happen soon, the initiative has met resistance from the Peruvian Congress in the past, despite the adoption of similar measures in neighbouring countries in the Southern Cone. Same-sex sexual activity among consenting adults is legal. However, households headed by same-sex couples are not eligible for the same legal protections available to opposite-sex couples. While many Peruvians will tolerate homosexuality on a ‘don’t ask; don’t tell’ level when dealing with foreign travellers, LGBT+ rights remain a struggle. Public displays of affection among homosexual couples is rarely seen. Outside gay clubs, it is advisable to keep a low profile. Lima is the most accepting of gay people, but this is on a relative scale. Beyond that, the tourist towns of Cuzco, Arequipa and Trujillo tend to be more tolerant than the norm.
WHERE TO STAY IN PERU
Lima and the tourist mecca of Cuzco are the most expensive places to stay in Peru. During high season (June through August), major holidays and festivals, accommodations are likely to be full and rates can triple. At other times, the high-season rates we quote taper off. Foreign tourists normally aren’t charged the 10% sales tax on accommodations. Incluye impuesto (IGV) means a service charge has been included in the price. At better hotels, taxes and service charges combined may total 28%. Budget hotels usually have hot (or, more likely, tepid) showers some of the time. Dormitory beds come with shared bathrooms, while single and double rooms (including those in hostales, which are guesthouses and not the same as backpacker hostels) have private bathrooms unless otherwise noted
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