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South America : Peru
Peru is a country in South America, situated on the western side of that continent, facing the South Pacific Ocean and straddling part of the Andes mountain range that runs the length of South America. Peru is bordered by Ecuador and Colombia to the north, Brazil and Bolivia to the east, and Chile to the south.
Although Peru has rich natural resources, many people live in really poor conditions. Fifty percent of the population live under the poverty line. The rich, consisting mostly of a white elite, live in the cities. Nevertheless, most Peruvians are great nationalists and love their country with pride. Also, many Peruvians separate the state of Peru and its government in their minds. Many distrust their government and police, and people are used to corruption and embezzlement scandals.
A lot of Peruvians see their economy as stuck in a rut. It is indebted and dependent on industrial nations, especially the United States. This dependence combined with US foreign policy decisions in recent years has contributed to a widely held negative view about the United States in Peru.
The word gringo, which in Mexico means a person from the United States, is used commonly, but is not generally intended as offensive. Its original meaning was to mean all white-skinned people who do not speak Spanish. However, due to Mexican and American influence now many people use the word gringo exclusively for Americans. People with little education especially do not hesitate to greet you with "¡Hola, gringo!".
Most Peruvians are very busy simply doing the necessary things to survive and earn their keep. That does not leave much time for travel. Many have not seen more than the surrounding villages or the next city over. There are very few Peruvians that ever have left the country (although the rich often go to Miami for shopping). This may explain why Peruvians tend to be quite curious about other countries and lifestyles. And don't be too astonished when you are asked where in the US Germany is located. Ideas about the rest of the world are often interesting.
Generally, people are very friendly, peaceful and helpful. When in trouble, you mostly can rely on getting help. But as with any setting, it is always good to watch out for yourself and try to avoid bad situations. If you get into an argument, it is a good idea to remain amicable, but firm. Most of the time, you can find a compromise that satisfies everyone.
You may also want to see Tips for travel in developing countries for some useful hints.
Tourists from North America, Australia and the European Union (and many others, see link below) can visit the country without getting a visa.
When entering the country, you need to go past the immigration office (imigracion). There you get a stamp put into your passport that states the number of days you are allowed to stay (usually 90 days). You can get an extension at immigration offices in any major city for about US$28. This then allows you to stay for up to 180 days in total. When those 180 days are up and you would like to stay for longer, it's possible to cross the border to a neighbouring country (Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia or Chile) and return the next day and obtain another 180 days. Furthermore, you will receive an extra official paper to be kept in the passport (make sure you don't lose it!). When leaving, you need to visit the emigration office (migracion), where you get the exit stamp. Imigracion and migracion are found on all border crossing-points. Extensions of the time to stay are no problem. Traveling to and from neighboring countries by land is no problem.
The capital city of Lima has the Jorge Chávez International Airport with frequent flights all over the the world. Main airlines are American Airlines, Lan, Lan Peru, Continental, Iberia, Copa, Taca and others.
When leaving the country on an international flight you have to pay a departure tax. The amount changes, but expect it to be US$25-$30 or the equivalent in soles. This has to be payed in cash before entering the departure area.
In cities and around
Inside the cities, there is usually no problem getting around on city buses (colectivos) or taxis. Colectivos cost between 0.70 and 1.50 Soles ( US$ 0.20 - 0.40) inside a city, taxis between 7 and 8 soles (US$ 2.00 - 2.40). "Taxi" does not necessarily mean a car; the term also refers to bicycles, motor rickshaws, and motor bikes for hire.
Colectivos have no actual bus stops, but fixed routes. The direction is shown by boards in the windscreen. If you want to catch a bus, just give the driver a sign (wave your hand similar to hitch-hiking) to stop. If the bus is not completely overfilled, it will stop to pick you up. During the ride, the ticket collector will ask you for the fee. If you want to exit, just say loudly "Bajar!", and the driver will stop at the next possibility.
Some main roads, especially along the coastal strip, are paved, but there are still a lot of dirt roads in very poor condition. In the rainy season, landslides may block even major roads.
Inter-city travel is mostly by bus, and some cities have train connections. In contrast to colectivos, buses, and of course trains, start from fixed points, either the central bus terminal or the court of the appropriate bus company. It is a good idea to buy your ticket one day in advance so that you can be relatively sure of finding a seat. If you come directly before the bus leaves, you risk finding that there are no more seats available. If you are so unlucky as to be taller than 1.80m, you will most likely be uncomfortable on the ride since the seats are much tighter than in Europe or the USA. In this case, you can try to get the middle seat in the rear, but on dirt roads the rear swings heavily. In older buses, the seats in the first row are the best, but many buses have a driver cabin separated from the rest of the bus so that you look an a dark screen or a curtain rather than out the front windshield. In older buses, you can get one or two seats beside the driver, which gives you a good view of the passing landscape. In this case, don't be too surprised when the driver is chewing his coca leaves.
First-class express buses, complete with video, checked luggage and even meal service, travel between major cities. You may need to present a passport to purchase a ticket.
Make sure that your luggage is rain proof since it is often transported on the roof of the bus.
Even when going by train, it's best to buy the ticket in advance. Buy 1st class or buffet class (still higher), or you risk getting completely covered by luggage. People will put their luggage under your seat, in front of your feet, beside you and everywhere where some little place is left. This makes the journey quite uncomfortable, since you can't move any more and the view of the landscape is bad.
There are three rail lines in Peru:
For more info, go to PeruRail's web site (http://www.perurail.com)or www.vg.no
Beside the famous Inca trail to Machu Picchu, you can do a lot of more days hikes all along the Sierra, preferably in the dry season. The hiker's Mekka is Huaraz, where you can find a lot of agencies that offer guided tours and/or equipment to borrow. The thin vegetation in the higher Sierra makes off-trail hiking easy. Good maps are hard to find inside Peru. It is better to bring them from home. Make sure you have enough iodine to purify your drinking water. When hiking in higher altitude, good acclimatisation is absolutely necessary. Take a good sleeping bag with you, since nights in the Sierra may become bitterly cold (-10 degrees Celsius in 4,500m altitude are normal, sometimes still colder). Beware of thunderstorms that may rise up very suddenly. Rapid falling temperature and hard rain falls are a serious danger in higher altitudes. Don't forget that the night lasts for 12 hours year-round, so a flashlight is a good idea. When hiking on higher, but not snow covered mountains, water may be rare. Getting alcohol for stoves is easy: Either buy the blue colored alcohol de quemar or, better, simply buy pure drinking alcohol. You can get this in every town for about 3 Soles (US$0,85) per liter. (If you ever should get the idea to drink it, mix it with some other drink, otherwise it will burn like hell ;-)). It won't be so easy to find special fuel for gasoline stoves. Gasoline for cars can also be found in many hardware stores (ferreterias) sold by liters.
In tourist centers like Cusco and Machu Picchu or in high class hotels, you can survive with only English. If you intend to visit other sites, especially in the countryside, you definitely need Spanish (or castellano, how it is called in South America). Even highly educated people often speak very poor English. In contrary to Spanish spoken in Spain, in all South American countries vosotros (and its conjugations) is replaced by ustedes. For example: ¿Cómo están? instead of ¿Cómo estáis?. South American Spanish likes the diminutive (gringuito is more affectionate than gringo).
If you should be one of the lucky ones that learns languages very easily, try to learn Quechua, the language of the Incas. It will be highly appreciated in the countryside of the Sierra, where some people (especially the elderly) still speak little Spanish. On the Altiplano, the unofficial language Aymara is widely spoken. Aymara was the language of the Tihuanacu culture.
1 US$ is 3.28 nuevo Soles when changing cash Dollars into soles.
Travelers checks or cr cards are usual. Although cash has a ca. 2% better change rate, you are strongly advised not to carry large amounts of cash on your journey. The Banco de Cro (BCP) gives good rates on traveler checks. Rates in change offices are often somewhat worse. It's alway worth comparing them before changing your money. When changing your money in change offices, control their calculations. Sometimes, they produce "funny" results, often less than that you actually should get. Even in the bank, check your bills for authenticity.
In smaller towns, it can happen that there are nobody who will accept your cr card or traveler checks. For this case, you should have taken care that you have enough cash with you. Nice new Dollar bills (not too high, 10 or 20 US$ bills are fine) can help, too, since they are easier to change than travelers checks. In Peru, it not as common for US$ to be accepted in transactions as in other countries. Often in small towns, local shops will change money for you. If so, it will be clearly marked.
Don't accept damaged bills. You will have to take them to a bank in order to change them into new ones before you can spend them. Also, beware of counterfeit money. Counterfeit bills are rare, but counterfeit coins are very common, so don't be surprised if a merchant will refuse to accept your coins and say they are counterfeit. Your best bet in this case is simply give them some other coins and give the obstensibly counterfeit ones to the next merchant you come across.
As a low budget traveller, you can live on ca. US$ 15 per day without problems. Basic hotels or hostels (hospedajes) can be easily found in all Peru. The cost per night is about US$ 3 - 6.
There are a lot of very cheap restaurants (US$ 0.50 - 1.50), but maybe this is not the best place to save your money. In somewhat better restaurants you can get lunch and dinner menus for US$ 2 - 3. Of course, in every city you can find restaurants where you can spend US$ 20 and more if you want.
Buses are not very expensive. The usual price for a 10 h bus ride in a normal bus (not "Royal Class" or something like that) is about US$ 6.
Trains (except the ones for Machu Picchu, which are really expensive) run for similar fees.
Peru is famous for a lot of different, really nice and relatively cheap handicrafts. Keep in mind that buying handicrafts support traditional skills and helps many families to gain their modest income. Look for:
Bargaining is very common. If you are not used to it, respect some rules. If you intend to buy something, first ask the price, even if you already know what it actually should cost. Then check whether everything is all right. (Does the pullover fit you? Do you really want to buy it? Is the expiration date on the cheese exceeded? etc.) If the price is OK, pay it. If not, it's your turn to say a lower price, but stay realistic. First get an idea about how much you would accept to pay. Then say a price about 20-30% lower. It's always good if you can give some reason for that. Once you have said a price, you cannot give a lower one later. This would be regarded as a very impolite behavior. If you feel that you can't get your price, just say "No, gracias." and begin to walk away. This is your last chance. If you are lucky, the seller will give you a last offer, if not, say "No, gracias." again and go on walking. Keep in mind: Never begin to bargain if you don't really want to buy!
Few supermarkets can only be found in cities and are somewhat expensive. In every town, there is at least one market place or hall. In cities, there are different markets (or sections of one big market) for different articles.
Stores with similar articles tend to be grouped in the same street. So, if you once know the appropriate street when looking for something special, it shouldn't be no more problem to find it quite soon.
Giving tips in restaurants (at least when basic or middle-range) is not very common. In the cities, you will always find some beggars. Many of them really need help, especially the elderly and handicapped. Usual givings are about 0.10 - 0.20 Soles (US$ 0.03 - 0.06). This is not much, but some unskilled workers don't get much more than 10 Soles for a hard working day. Whether you want to give money to child beggars or not is your decision. But consider that doing so may make it more attractive for parents to send their children begging in the street instead of sending them to school.
Peruvian cuisine is among the most varied in the world. Not only does the country grow an incredibly variate of fruits and vegetables, but it does it all throughout the year! The Peruvian geopraphy offers at least 8 different climates (desert along the coast, steep and high mountains, the Amazon basin). On the coast, rice is the staple foodstuff, in the Siera it's corn and potatoes, and in the Jungle yuca. Meat is traditionally included in most Peruvian dishes. Chicken (pollo), pork, sheep and beef are common. Alpacas are actually kept for wool, not for meat. Mostly, you will find that alpaca meat is rather tough. An Andean delicacy is guinea pig (cuy).
Fish can be found along the coast (of course), but also in the jungle area since the rivers supply fresh fish (if not poisoned by miners with mercury). In the Sierra, trouts (truchas) are bred in several places.
In all Peru, there is a big variety of preparing potatoes (papas, not patatas as in Spain), the traditional Andean vegetable.
Nowadays, the transport routes from the flat jungle areas are good enough to supply all the country with vegetables and fruits. Nevertheless, vegetables still have the status of a garnish for the meat. Vegetarian restaurants exist in all cities, but are relatively rare. In many areas, there is a rich offer of tropic fruits and fresh pressed juices.
If you count on international fast food chains, you will be disappointed. You find them almost nowhere except Lima.
The Pisco-Nasca area is famous for wine cultivating. Their vintages compare favorably against Chilean imports.
Pisco sour is a drink worth being tried.
Hotels in Peru are very common and fairly cheap. They range from 1 - 4 stars. 4 star hotels are usually a bit on the expensive side ( > US$30 per night) and not very common, except for in large cities. 3 star hotels are a good compromise between price and quality and usually US$10 - US$30. 2 and 1 star hotels are very cheap ( < 10 US$), but don't expect hot water or a particularly safe neighborhood.
The Peruvian Spanish, specially in the Sierra and jungle, is properly pronounced and relatively easy to understand (easier than in Spain itself). People usually don't speak too fast. This makes Peru a good and cheap place for Spanish courses (once you are there).
While there a very limited options for unskilled work and local wages are very low, teaching English or other language tutoring is an option.
Emergency numbers in Peru are 011 / 5114.
Many of the aforementioned countries also have consulates in other major cities. See their websites for more details.
Vaccinations and Prophylaxis
For most South American countries, the following vaccinations are recommended or necessary:
Take care about that at least 2 month before your journey starts since most vaccination schemes need time.
In the jungle areas, malaria is a risk. Lariam or the newer Malarone may be used as prophylaxis (you need to begin some days in advance) or, for shorter stay, as stand by medication. Use close-meshed mosquito nets! If you should catch malaria, you can find treatment centers in all jungle towns.
Common medicines, like antibiotics, can be bought in pharmacies (farmacias or boticas) quite cheaply and without restrictions. However, make sure the expiry date has not been reached. Pharmacists are mostly very helpful and can be consulted if needed. For less serious illnesses, they may replace a doctor.
Electrolytic drinks help guard against dehydration. You can get powders to dissolve in water in almost every pharmacy. If not, just dissolve sugar and salt in water. Bacterial diarrhea can be treated with antibiotics, if it doesn't vanish during a week. Usually, pharmacies are quite helpful.
Food and Drink
If you stay in good hotels you may be able to avoid catching diarrhea, otherwise you will surely contract it. Just don't worry too much about. There are some rules that could avoid the worst:
If you do not have experience with higher altitudes (above 3,500m), don't underestimate it! Collapses of unacclimatized tourists are not unusual, serious health damage or even death can occur! If coming from sea level, stay at medium height ca. 3000m for at least one week. Then, altitudes of around 4500m should not be a risk, although you still will strongly feel the height.
See also: Altitude sickness
Since Peru is close to the equator, the sun can become dangerous for your skin and eyes. Especially in the Sierra, the strong UV radiation due to the height in combination with the rather cold air may burn your skin before you notice it. Sun-blockers are easy to get in drug stores (boticas). If your eyes are sensitive to light, better bring good sunglasses from home. Of course, you can buy sunglasses in Peru, too, but you should really be sure that they block the whole UV spectrum, otherwise, they might be worse than none.
Toilets are often quite primitive and sometimes really dirty. It's a good idea to bring your own paper with you. It's usual not to throw the used toilet paper into the toilet, but in baskets besides. This is because the pipes tend to plug up. If there is no basket, it's not unusual to throw the paper on the ground. Toilet doors are marked with "baño", "S.H." or "SS.HH.". The latter two are abbreviations for servicio higienico, which is the rather formal expression.
In hostels or budget hotels, you cannot rely on having water all the time. It also can easily happen that showers have more or less hot water only in the afternoon since the water is heated by solar energy only. Electrically heated showers are widely spread, but the electric installation is sometimes really adventurous. Have a look on it before turning on the shower, especially if you are tall enough that you could touch the cables or other metal during showering.
As woman, if you use tampons during your period, you should bring them with you from home, because they are absolutely unfamiliar in Peru (maybe you can get them in Lima, but normally not.)
Don't use the word "indio", although it's Spanish. For natives, it sounds like "nigger" since it was used by Spanish conquerors. The politically correct way of speaking is "el indígena" or "la indígena".
Even if you have about 20 "No drugs" T-shirts at home, accept that especially people from the country side chew coca leaves. See it as a part of the culture with social and ritual components. And keep in mind: Coca leaves are not cocaine and they are legal.
Officially, most of the Peruvians are Roman Catholic, but especially on the country-side, the ancient pre-Hispanic religiosity is still alive. Respect that when visiting temple ruins or other ritual places and behave as it were a church.
In all towns and villages that are not too small, it is no problem to find public telephones for national and international calls. Usually, you find them in bars or stores. Some of them accept coins. You also can buy phone cards with a 12 digit secret number on it. Using a phone card, first dial 147. When done so, you will be told how much your card is still valid and be asked (in Spanish, of course) for your secret number. After having typed it, you are asked for the phone number you want to connect to. Type it in. Then you get told how much time you can talk. After that, the connection is tried.
For international calls, it is often a good idea to go to an Internet cafe that offers Internet based phone calls. You find them in the cities.
Internet cafes grow like mushrooms in Peru and if you are not really on the countryside, it should not be a problem at all to find one. Even in a smaller town like Mancora or Chiclayo you can still find Internet cafes with 512kbps ADSL. The connection is quite reliable and they are cheap (1.50 - 3.00 Soles, US$ 0.40 - 0.80 per hour).