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Think about Peru and your mind will no doubt conjure up images of Machu Picchu and llamas. But, there is a whole lot more to this South American gem than those hilltop ruins and weird looking creatures.
It might sound cliché but Peru really does have everything. It has misty mountains, dusted with snow; surf towns with glittering beaches; and, of course, the dense vegetation of the Amazon Rainforest. Peru even has a desert with toppling sand dunes and an oasis.
No matter what kind of landscape you are after, you will find it in Peru. This is why it is rapidly becoming a global favorite with intrepid travelers. You can certainly tick a lot off your bucket list while you’re here.
Peru is easy to travel. There is a good infrastructure in place for backpackers, high-end travelers, and everything else in between. But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do some solid preparation before you go. The following facts about Peru will help you get an idea of what to expect before you set off on your travels.
1) The Currency Is Soles
At the time of writing, USD $1 is the equivalent of 3.3 soles. ATMs can be found in every city and most towns and Peru still operates a predominantly cash-based economy. While accommodation, high-end restaurants, and long-haul transport can be paid for with a credit card, it is easier to use cash for most purchases.
I recommend opening a Transferwise account before you travel. With Transferwise you can withdraw up to $250 from international ATMs for free every 30 days. Trust me, $250 in Peru will go a long, long way.
2) You Can Stay for 183 Days Without a Visa
You do not need to get a visa before you arrive in Peru. When you land, you will be asked by immigration how long you plan to stay. They will then give you a stamp and write in how many days they are allowing you to stay. You are allowed to stay for 183 days per year – this need not all be in one chunk.
The number of days you get is very arbitrary and depends entirely on how generous your immigration officer is feeling. When I first entered I asked for 183 days and she only gave me 90. This meant I had to do a visa run to renew my “tourist visa” – basically I needed a new stamp. So I crossed the border into Bolivia and spent a day in Copacabana and then came back. I asked for another 90 days and was given 60. The friend I was traveling with got 90. Go figure.
3) Night Buses Are the Best Way to Travel Long-Haul
The very thought of a night bus is enough to send a shudder down my spine. But, Peru’s night buses are in a different league to anything I’ve experienced before. I recommend traveling with Cruz del Sur – this company services virtually every city in the country, plus some major destinations in Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, and Argentina.
The seats recline almost 180 degrees, they have a built-in entertainment system and you get complimentary drinks, snacks, pillow, and blanket. Honestly, these buses are more comfortable than many of the hostels I’ve stayed in and they are dirt cheap. An eight-hour journey will set you back as little as $9 and you won’t need to pay for accommodation.
4) Colectivos Are the Cheapest Way to Travel Between Towns
Colectivos are minivans that run between two set destinations. In Cusco, there are dozens of colectivos that leave from Calle Grau and service the villages in the Sacred Valley. If you are going to travel by colectivo, give yourself plenty of time.
Often, colectivos won’t depart until they are full, which means you could be waiting a long time before you even set off. On the plus side, a two-hour colectivo will cost just $2.
5) The Best Food Is Found in the Markets
Peru is famous for having the best food in South America. Sure, Argentina has steak and wine, but Peru has everything else. Forget about rice and beans. In Peru, you will find ceviche (raw fish marinated in lime), lomo saltado (stir fried steak with chips), alpaca steaks, hearty soups, and a whole lot more.
There are always delicious-looking restaurants in the central plazas of the cities. Don’t be tempted to eat here. The food will be good, but not amazing and it will be expensive. If you want the best and most authentically Peruvian food, head to the market. Here you can enjoy a starter (normally soup), main course, and a drink for $2.50 and it will be the best meal you’ve ever had.
6) The National Delicacy is Guinea Pig
Of all the facts about Peru on this list, this is the weirdest. You will see “cuy” feature on lots of menus in Peru. This is guinea pig and it is a national delicacy. I don’t blame you if you are reluctant to eat a household pet for dinner. But, for Peruvians cuy is a big deal and is often served on special occasions. I can’t say I loved it, but I recommend trying it nonetheless if only to say that you did.
7) The Inti Raymi Festival Is a Big Deal
If you are going to travel to Peru in June, you need to make sure you are in Cusco for the Inti Raymi festival. The celebration lasts for nine days, with the main festivities occurring on the day of the summer solstice. It is the noisiest and most colorful event of the year, with dancers, singers, and actors parading the streets.
8) Learning Basic Spanish Before You Go Will Help a Lot
I urge anyone traveling to Peru to get a basic grasp on Spanish before they go. Learning a new language is daunting, but there are tricks to help you do it. Speaking Spanish will make it much easier to navigate the country and avoid getting ripped off.
Understanding Spanish will also allow you to communicate with the locals. It is a well-known fact that the best way to explore a country is by taking recommendations from someone who lives there.
9)The Salkantay Trail is Better Than the Inca Trail
If you only pay attention to one of these facts about Peru, let it be this one. Everyone who goes to Peru has their eyes set on the Inca Trail. But, the Inca Trail costs over $500, requires a guide, and needs to be booked at least six months in advance. The Salkantay Trail is completely free and you can do it alone. Just hire some camping equipment in Cusco, buy some snacks and set off.
10) Machu Picchu Is Not the Only Collection of Ruins
Just because Machu Picchu is the most famous set of ruins, does not mean the others should be ignored. If you are a history buff and want to explore some of the equally impressive but lesser-known ruins, check out Saqsayhuaman, Ollantaytambo, and Pisac. These ruins are easier to get to, cheaper and are shrouded in just as much mysticism as Machu Picchu.
11) You Cannot Do the Rainforest Without a Guide
Exploring the Amazon Rainforest in Peru is one of the best experiences you will ever have. Iquitos and Puerto Maldonado are popular entry points in the Amazon Rainforest.
While the idea of setting off solo into the jungle might seem appealing, I do not recommend this for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is illegal – you cannot enter the rainforest without a guide. Secondly, it is dangerous due to the illegal logging and drug trade that operates within the jungle. Thirdly, it is pointless – without a guide, you will struggle to spot animals and you will inevitably get lost.
12) Llama Photos Are Not Free
In Cusco, a woman walking through the city with a llama or alpaca on a leash is not unusual. There are hundreds of them. These women are dressed in indigenous garbs and have often trekked for miles to get into the city each day. “Photo, photo!” you will hear them cry – and by all means take a photo with them. But do not forget to pay them for it afterward.
These women make their livelihood by posing for photos with you and their llama. If you don’t pay for your photo, you are literally taking money from their pocket. Often they will only charge 1 sol ($0.30) but, obviously, if you are willing to give more it will be gratefully received.
13) Peru Has Dozens of Different Climates so Pack For Every Possibility
One of the most annoying facts about Peru is that it has almost every different climate you could imagine. Packing for Peru is a real challenge, especially if you are going to be carrying it all around on your back.
The Sacred Valley, Cusco, Arequipa, and Machu Picchu get cold in the evenings due to the altitude. Lima is hot all year round, as are Huacachina and Paracas. The rainforest is often wet and humid. Work out where you are planning on traveling and then use your destinations to help form a packing list.
If you have made it to the bottom of this article, you should now feel fully prepared to take on Peru. Of course, you will learn so much more about the country once you are there. This list is just to get you started. Happy adventures!
Bio: Jeremy Scott Foster is a travel photographer, blogger, and professional adventurer. He has been traveling the world for 8 years, asking the hard questions, and learning about both the world and himself in the process.
His adventure travel blog, travelFREAK, has taken him to 35+ countries on six continents—he’s hiked glaciers in New Zealand, partied until sunrise on the beaches of Montenegro, taught English in China, conquered the highest bungee jump in the world, traversed Europe by train, and climbed inside the great Pyramids of Giza.