What trip to South America would be complete without a visit to Peru – realm of the Incas, Latin America’s greatest pre-Columbian civilization, and the sheer mind-boggling awesomeness that is Machu Pichu?
That wasn’t a rhetorical question you douchebag, seriously what trip to South America would be complete without a visit to Peru? No trip at all, that’s the correct answer here – if you were thinking you’d just pop down to South America, lie on the beach in Rio, maybe take in a Tango show in Buenos Aires, and then head on back to your homeland without visiting Peru, then I will smack you upside your head like you keyed my car.
While Peru is most famous for it’s Inca ruins, there is much more to this awesome Andean nation than that. Yes Cusco & the Sacred Valley are amazing, yes Machu Pichu will probably cause anyone with even a slight interest in history to ejaculate into their pants at the very sight of it, and yes that will be awkward but ultimately totally worth it. But on top of that you have superlative natural attractions like the Amazon Rainforest, the Cordilleras Blanca & Huayhuash, and the deepest canyons in the world in Canon del Colca & Cotahuasi. You can explore the big cities of Lima, Arequipa & Trujillo, or head up into the lesser visited north of the country. Peru has something for everyone & should be one of the main areas of focus for any trip to South America, and if you think otherwise, I will fight you my friend, that’s no lie.
Highlights of Peru Travel
Practical Information for Peru Travel
Cost – travel in Peru is cheap, very cheap. Not quite as cheap as Bolivia maybe, but with the exception of out-of-the-ordinary experiences such as hiking the Inca Trail or going on a high-end tour into the Amazon, it’s not going to cost you too much on a day-to-day basis. $25-30 per day is easily achievable, and if you’re prepared to pass on a few creature comforts you could get by on less. You’re looking at $10-15 for a private room, not for anything flash of course – it may or may not have a bathroom, and if it does then it may or may not have warm water, and if it has an electric shower then you may or may not get nasty electric shocks every time you try to use it – but you’re in Peru FFS so you’re gonna have to make some sacrifices. You could easily get by on $10 a day for food, but allow a bit more if you want to indulge in a proper meal, or if you want to sink a few beers.
Safety – Peru seems to get a fairly bad rap on the safety front, but the WTF saw no trouble while he was there. As always, common sense is the key, there’s probably some stuff you wouldn’t do back home – like getting ragingly drunk & walking home through the back streets – that you shouldn’t do here either, and you’d have to be a total noob to get involved with the numerous drug dealers who will offer to sell you cocaine on the streets of the larger cities. A lot of the stuff you hear about people getting robbed seems to focus on overnight buses, basically people waking up after a kip on the bus to find their stuff missing. My recommended strategy for dealing with long-haul bus trips is to transfer all your valuables to your carry-on bag, lock it with a padlock, and spoon it while you sleep. Yes in theory someone could still cut the bag open & maybe you wouldn’t wake up as they pilfered your stuff, but at least you’ve made it as difficult for them as possible, and they’ll probably pick an easier target. Also this is not meant to scare the shit out of anyone & make it seem that this stuff is absolutely rife in Peru, I heard of just one instance of this happening in my 2 months in the country, so don’t get too concerned – the key is to be careful, not totally paranoid.
English speaking situation – like elsewhere on this part of the continent, anyone involved in the tourist industry will speak passable English, and often the younger generation will speak a bit & be keen to practice their English with you, but if you’re stopping a random person on the street to ask for directions you’d better have at least a bit of Spanish up your sleeve. The usual advice applies, in that learning some Espanol before travelling here will make for a much more enjoyable trip – learning a few basic phrases such as “hello, how are you?”, “which way to the bathroom?” and “no I don’t go gay for pay” will prove invaluable while exploring Peru.
Best time to visit – May-October is the cooler dry season, and definitely the best time to travel. While some things are definitely better hot & wet (for example… a burrito) when it comes to suitable weather for travelling, cool & dry is far better.
Money – local currency is the Peruvian Sol, check online for current exchange rate since it fluctuates pretty massively. ATMs are pretty much everywhere & are the easiest option, however if you’re heading out into the countryside you’d be advised to take a stash of cash as some smaller centres might not have a cash machine.
Food – Peruvians pride themselves on having the best cuisine on the continent, and it is true that some of it is pretty damn good, however if you’re travelling on a tight budget you’re probably going to end up eating some pretty nasty shit as well. Markets & street stalls can be a good way of getting some traditional food at a good price, but can also be a very effective way of getting a dose of the screaming shits. Opt for places that appear busy, as the food turnover will be faster, don’t eat food unless it’s piping hot, and avoid places with mangy dogs & swarms of flies hanging around (i.e. use your common sense). If you want to sample Peru’s famed ceviche then splash the cash on going to a nice establishment as otherwise that could be considered to be highly risky behaviour. You’ll probably feel the need to eat a guinea pig at least once while in Peru – while this is a traditional staple of the Peruvian people it now seems to mainly pop up on the menus of tourist-focused restaurants, often with a hefty price tag. Whether or not it is worth the price is up to you, at least you will get a humorous new Facebook profile pic out of the experience, as long as you can keep the fond memories of your beloved kindergarten pet guinea pig Snowball out of your mind for the duration of your meal.
Water – bottled water is available everywhere & is cheap as chips, so probably the best option to ensure your trip remains diarrhoea-free.
Getting around – buses are the way to go for most destinations. The quality of the roads can be pretty questionable, and the distances between cities long, so this can make for some pretty epic 24+ hour trips, but the price is right, the scenery is beautiful, and if you are willing to spend a bit more on nice sleeper bus you’ll probably be able to get a solid night’s sleep in as well.
Visas – no visa required for residents of most of the big travelling nations, but check online before travelling if you’re from somewhere a bit “crazy” like Latvia or Canada.