To say that Peru is a unique and diverse country would be an understatement. After all, we’re talking about a place that has over 90 different microclimates, is home to a 15,000 year old civilization, and is the birthplace of the mighty potato. Its rich history, bright future, stunning geography, and warm culture make it the perfect destination for archaeological buffs and outdoor adventurers alike.
Whether you intend to visit the coastal capital of Lima, the deserts of Pisco, Ica, or Nasca, the dramatic ruins of Machu Picchu in the Andes, Lake Titicaca in the south, the lush Amazon rainforests, or the country’s northernmost archaeological sites, Peru truly has it all.
- Occupied since: 6000 BC
- Declared independence from Spain: 1821
- Size: 500,000 square miles (1,300,000 square kilometers)
- Population: 32,160,000
- Top attractions: Machu Picchu, Lima, Cusco, Lake Titicaca, Sacred Valley
- Official languages: Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara
- Climate: There are over 90 diverse microclimates — pockets of land subject to suddenly changeable weather — in Peru
Getting to Peru via its capital city, Lima, is quite easy from most North American or European cities. Direct flights to Jorge Chávez International Airport — which is located in the city of Callao, only seven miles from Lima — are frequent. From Lima, travelers can easily access other cities and attractions via train or regional air travel. Planes are the best way to navigate the large country — overland exploration can be both timely and uncomfortable, though there are exceptions.
You’ll likely need to fly into Peru if traveling from international destinations, but once you’re there, the railway system can be an excellent way to explore the country affordably. PeruRail shuttles passengers between Cusco, Machu Picchu Pueblo, Puno, and Lake Titicaca; Inca Rail takes passengers between Aguas Calientes and the Sacred Valley (Ollantaytambo). For truly spectacular sights, consider taking the Ferrocarril Central Andino S.A. As it’s the world’s highest passenger train line, it’s difficult to ensure a spot on this popular line, so check for openings a couple of months in advance.
Most Peruvians navigate their home country by bus, though this can be difficult if you’re unfamiliar with the routes and don’t speak the local language. Still, there are plenty of companies that operate lines on Peru’s most traversed routes. Navigating bus terminals and websites can be confusing, so it’s best to seek assistance from a travel agency or tourist information office. For more local trips, consider combis or colectivos — vans that shuttle small groups of people to popular locations for a predetermined fee.
PLANNING YOUR VISIT
If you’re a citizen of the United States, Great Britain, South Africa, Canada, New Zealand, or Australia, you won’t need a visa to enter Peru, though you will, of course, need a valid passport. Those seeking to visit Peru from anywhere else around the world should check the travel requirements for their home country.
It’s easy to forget that Peru is an extremely large country — the third largest in South America, in fact. It borders Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, and Chile, resulting in a host of very diverse cities, regions, and archaeological attractions. While Peru has many different microclimates, the country’s ecosystems can be classified into three specific climes — coast, highlands, and jungle. Before visiting, decide which sites and cities you’d like to see, but be aware that it’s difficult to combine multiple regions into a single trip.
Before planning your trip, keep in mind that Peru has distinct wet and dry seasons. High travel season occurs during the driest months from May through October, though airline and hotel prices will likely peak between mid-December and mid-January due to the holiday season.
For trips to Peru’s highlands, explorations through the Andes, or adventures to the Amazon basin, consider visiting from June to September when the weather is at its peak (warm, sunny, and dry). Avoid visiting January through April if you’re looking to explore mountain passes — most trails will be inaccessible due to intense rain, and the popular Inca Trail is closed during the month of February for yearly upkeep.
When planning your accommodation, be aware that most hotels in the country are independent inns and Peruvian chain hotels. Booking at Sonesta, Libertador, and Casa Andina properties is usually a good bet as they’re quality chains. Try to plan and book as far in advance as possible — accommodations in popular locales are especially difficult to reserve during high tourist season. Hotel charges may be confusing, so always ask for a tax breakdown once you receive your bill.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Peru is largely still a cash society — while you may be able to use credit cards in large cities, it’s wise to travel with sufficient cash funds — Peruvian notes are called Sol. That said, you should also beware of counterfeit money. An easy way to check for forged bills is by holding the paper up to a light and finding a watermark that mirrors the personality printed on the note. When storing bills, make sure that they remain clean and whole — vendors and merchants are known to refuse dirty, crumpled, or torn currency.
The easiest way to get money in Peru is to use an ATM, found inside banks, at standalone kiosks, in pharmacies, shopping centers, and in airports. Most are quite safe and enable you to skip long currency exchange lines at banks and other stands. If possible, carry small bills! It will make smaller, local transactions relatively painless.
Finding an address in Peru may be difficult if you’re not used to the country-specific abbreviations. For reference, “Jr.” means jirón (street), “Av.” means avenida, “Ctra.” means carretera (highway), “Cdra.” means cuadra (block), and “Of.” means oficina (office number). If you see an address with “s/n” listed, it means that the building is not numbered — so make an informed guess!
If you need immediate assistance, you should contact the 24-hour tourist information hotline at 01-574-8000, or visit www.peru.info.
Header photo by Jessica Knowlden