Peru is most famous for the sacred archaeological site of Machu Picchu – visited each year by scores of intrepid hikers who brave the Inca Trail’s arduous slopes to explore the age-old ruins. But the country’s attractions extend far beyond the mystical allure of this legendary location, and include palm-fringed beaches, quaint Andean villages and archaeological treasures that predate Machu Picchu by hundreds of years – all imbued with the nation’s rich melange of indigenous and colonial cultures. Equally enticing are the exotic reaches of Peru’s Amazon rainforest, Lima’s superb eateries, exquisite architecture and effervescent nightlife, the glittering, mountain-ringed waters of Lake Titicaca, and the vibrant city of Cusco, referred to by the Incas as ‘the centre of the world’.
Banking and Currency
Nuevo (new) Sol (PEN; symbol S/.) = 100 céntimos. Nuevo Sol notes are in denominations of S/.200, 100, 50, 20 and 10. Coins are in denominations of S/.5, 2 and 1, and 50, 20, 10, 5 and 1 céntimos.
Note: US Dollars are also in use and accepted for payment, particularly in tourist areas. While effectively interchangeable, it is best to use local currency wherever possible, and it is always good for tourists to have some local currency in small denominations, to pay for buses, taxis and goods in some small establishments.
There are no restrictions on the import or export of local or foreign currency, but amounts exceeding US$10,000 must be declared.
Only a few bureau de change in Lima and Cusco will exchange currencies other than US Dollars. Outside Lima, it is virtually impossible. US Dollars can be exchanged everywhere and banks, hotels and many shops also readily accept US Dollars (although very old, torn or damaged notes are usually rejected). It is not recommended to exchange money from street vendors.
Banking hours: Mon-Fri 0900-1800, Sat 0900-1300 (may vary during the summer).
All major credit cards are accepted, but usage may be limited outside of Lima and tourist areas. Visa and MasterCard are the most commonly accepted. It is also sensible to carry some cash rather than relying only on cards.
ATMs are now generally regarded as one of the best ways to obtain money in Peru. They are found almost everywhere, including in small towns, although when travelling in remote places it is best to have some cash just in case the nearby ATMs are not working or have run out of money. In bigger cities, use ATMs inside banks for greater security, especially at night.
Banks will exchange traveller’s cheques although it can be a slow process outside Lima. The ability to use traveller's cheques is also quite limited in some areas so you should check whether or not they will be accepted in the area you are visiting prior to travel. The use of ATMs is generally preferable, but if you do decide to bring traveller's cheques, the best currency to bring them in is US Dollars.
Travel, Transport and Getting Around
LAN (LP) (www.lan.com), Taca Perú (T0) (www.taca.com) and LC Perú (W4) (www.lcperu.pe) handle virtually all domestic air traffic. Routes link Lima to Andahuaylas, Arequipa, Ayacucho, Cajamarca, Chiclayo, Cusco, Huánuco, Iquitos, Juliaca-Puno, Piura, Pucallpa, Puerto Maldonado, Tacna, Tarapoto, Trujillo, Tumbes and other cities. Flights to Huaraz are occasionally offered. For information on internal flights, contact the Peruvian Corporation of Airports (Corpac) (www.corpac.gob.pe).
When travelling around Peru, you have to make a decision: time or money? The bus from Lima to Cusco can take over 24 hours instead of a flight of about 1 hour 30 minutes, but it will be a fraction of the price. If taking a shorter trip to Peru, flights will leave you a lot more time at your destination.
You can book in advance from outside the country, or a few days in advance through local tour operators for not much more money. Some flights (of lower prices, and particularly with LAN) are for Peruvians only – if you purchase them be prepared to pay a fine. Domestic flight schedules are often subject to last minute change – try to confirm that your flight is leaving at the time stated on your ticket before you head to the airport.
International car hire firms have offices in all the major cities and bigger airports. You must be at least 25 to hire a car in Peru, and will need to present your passport, driving licence from your country, credit card as a guarantee and sometimes a cash deposit. The minimum driving age is 18. Seatbelts should be worn both in the front and back of a car, and also on coaches (though most people don’t bother). Theoretically, the speed limit is 100kph (62mph) on the highways and 35kph (22mph) in urban areas, but few Peruvians follows these laws. You can drive for six months on a UK driving licence and up to a year on an International Driving Licence. All foreign vehicles must have documentation from their own national automobile association or you can obtain it on the Peruvian border before entering the country. Always carry your driving licence, a copy of your passport and, if the vehicle is hired, a copy of the rental contract.
Main roads in Peru are, at least, reasonably paved; others can range from extraordinarily bumpy to impassable after landslides. Landslides are frequent in the mountains during the rainy season (December to March), making for slow travel and closed roads. Take care driving on the mountain roads, which are narrow, windy and above all high up. Local drivers who know the roads well go like the clappers, but if you try it you may well go off a cliff. The well-maintained Pan-American Highway runs down the length of Peru's coast, with intersecting highways running east into the mountains.
Many unlicensed taxi companies operate in Peru and visitors are advised to avoid these. They usually have a red and white taxi sign on the windscreen. Licensed yellow taxis are the only cabs allowed in downtown Lima. Taxis do not have meters and you should agree fares before departure (they are relatively inexpensive). Extensive and safe taxi services are available by telephone in main cities. Hotels and hostels will book them for you. Taxi fares increase by 35 to 50% after midnight and on holidays. Drivers do not expect tips.
Taking the bus is the travel method of choice in Peru; buses go in almost every direction. You can book yourself onto everything from a bus with seats that recline until fully horizontal and hostesses to bring you dinner, to a squashed-in place in the back of a pick-up truck, depending on your budget.
The crème de la crème of coach company in Peru is Cruz del Sur (tel: (01) 311 5050;www.cruzdelsur.com.pe). It’s the most expensive, but you’ll get a nice meal and a good night’s sleep. Other coach companies are Flores (tel: (01) 332 1212; www.floreshnos.net), Linea (tel: (01) 424 0836;www.transporteslinea.com.pe) and MovilTours (tel: (01) 716 8000; www.moviltours.com.pe). Otherwise just turn up at a bus station or ask around.
Public transport in Lima is provided by conventional buses and by minibuses (combis), though they are overcrowded, sometimes dangerous and not particularly useful for tourists. These operate from 06h00 to 00h00 on established routes; wherever possible, try to avoid using bus travel late at night. Lima has a clean, efficient metro system which links nine districts, and allows travel between Miraflores and Lima centre.
Peru Rail (tel: (01) 517 1884; www.perurail.com) runs comfortable tourist trains between Puno and Cusco and between Cusco and Machu Picchu. Ferrocarril Central Andino (tel: (01) 226 6363;www.ferrocarrilcentral.com.pe or www.rrdc.com/op_peru_fcca.html) runs a twice-monthly tourist service on renovated trains between Lima and Huáncayo. This spectacular route is the second highest railway in the world (the highest being in Tibet).
Food, Drink and Cuisine Advice
Drink only bottled water, and take purification tablets in case bottled water is unavailable. Pasteurised milk is widely available, but if you are staying in mountain towns you will also find that unpasteurised milk is often sold in shops, served in plastic bags. Avoid dairy products that are likely to have been made from unboiled milk.
Only eat well-cooked meat and fish. You will find that there is plenty of street food available in stores and at markets, and you should try to ensure that what you buy has been heated properly and not been left out. In particular, you will find lots of ceviche, a cold seafood dish made using raw fish, which is practically the national dish. It is heavily acidic, which must kill some bacteria; nevertheless be aware that unless the fish is very fresh the potential for food poisoning is high. Vegetables should be cooked and fruit peeled.
Climate and Weather
The weather in Peru varies according to area – the changes in altitude are so extreme that the climate goes from freezing snow in the mountains to boiling sun on the coast. Likewise, the coast covers such a large stretch of longitude that the temperature changes dramatically as you head further south.
On the coast winter lasts from June to September. The weather tends to be overcast and slightly damp at this time, but rarely very cold. It hardly ever rains in Lima nor most of the coast, except for Tumbes and Piura, which have tropical climates.
During June to September, the mountainous areas are often sunny during the day but cold at night. This is high tourist season and the best time to visit most regions. Rainy season in the Andes starts in September and peaks between January and March, and this is a dreadful and occasionally dangerous time to be hiking.
Heavy rains in the mountains and jungle last from December to April. It is rainy and hot for most of the year, but between March and September there are occasional cold surges which might require a jumper.
Clothing and Dress Recommendations
For travel in Peru, a variety of clothes are necessary. You will need very lightweight clothes for summer on the coast, and thermals, hats, gloves and ski jackets for winter up in the mountains. It can become freezing at night at altitude and remain hot and sticky through the nights in the jungle. Waterproof clothing is thoroughly recommended for the rainy season, because the heavens open very suddenly, and then it pours.
If you are travelling to the jungle you’ll need something protective and waterproof for your feet. For any mountain hiking you’ll need proper, supportive boots. If you’re spending time along the coast you’ll need sandals or flip-flops.
Electricity and Plug Standards
Electricity in Peru is 220 Volts and 60 Hertz (cycles per second). If you want to use a 110-volt appliance in Peru, you’ll need to buy a voltage converter. But always check before spending money on an converter, as many modern laptops and digital cameras can safely take both 110 and 220 volts (they are dual voltage).
Many of Peru’s top-end hotels have outlets for 110-volt appliances. They should be clearly labeled as such, but always check if you’re unsure.
There are two types of electrical outlets in Peru. One accepts two-pronged plugs with flat, parallel blades, while the other takes plugs with two round prongs. Many Peruvian electrical outlets are designed to accept both types.
If your appliance has a different plug attachment (such as a three-pronged UK plug), you’ll need to buy an adapter. Universal plug adapters are inexpensive and easy to carry around. It’s a good idea to buy one before you go to Peru (most major airports have a store selling plug adapters).