11 Things You Need to Know Before You Travel to Peru
I’ve spent the last three months in Peru, and I feel like I got to know the country pretty well. I spent extended stays in Cusco, Arequipa, and Huaraz, and will spend another four weeks in Lima before I leave. Along the way, I learned a lot of new things about the country. Some big, some small. Some surprising, and some just downright confusing. If you’re planning to visit the country soon (or just want to know more about it than the fact that it has Machu Picchu) here’s a list of the 11 things you need to know before you travel to Peru.
1. Public bathrooms never have toilet seats
Why is this a thing? If you’re Peruvian, please message me to explain this phenomenon because honestly, it blows my mind. For some reason, almost every bathroom I’ve used in Peru has had its toilet seat removed. Why?! Is it easier to clean? Do toilet seats cost extra in this country? Is there some giant landfill in the outskirts of town filled to the brim with discarded toilet seats? Where are they all? If you’re planning to travel to Peru, toughen up your leg muscles because you are gonna be doing lots of squatting in the bathrooms down here.
2. The ancient Incan language of Quechua is still alive and well
This was such a surprise for me! A lot of Peruvians we interact with are speaking Spanish as a second language just like us. Many communities in Peru still speak the Incan language of Quechua. In fact, over 11 million people in South America still speak it today, making it the most widely spoken Indian language in the Americas. You even know some Quechua words yourself, like llama and jerky. The craziest part of all, though? It is not even a written language, and it has still survived the centuries. Amazing.
3. Your shower might kill you
For some reason, the water heater of choice in Peru is electric shower heads. A tell tale sign that you’re using a suicide shower will be low water pressure, strange noises, and an array of exposed wires sticking out of the shower head. Yeah, using these has been my least favorite part of traveling in Peru.
I deal with suicide showers by trying to shower less, jumping in and out as fast as possible, and getting right with God before every shower so I can die with peace of mind when they inevitably fry me. Electricity and water should never mix, but for some reason they do here. Be prepared to risk your life in suicide showers when you travel to Peru.
4. The bus movies are… interesting
Peru is a large country, and flights between cities aren’t very cheap. Because of that, I’ve taken many longer bus rides. On every ride, they always play a movie. The best part about them is that they’re always english movies, dubbed into Spanish, then have english subtitles on top of it… kind of feels like they added an extra step in there. Additionally, it seems the only prereq for a movie to be chosen for the bus ride is that it’s filled with violence, gore, or nudity (but preferably all three.) Every one so far has had war, guns, explosions, and some even had topless women. Who cares about the innocent children riding these buses right?
Another important thing to keep in mind when making plans to travel to Peru is that ticket prices for busses can vary… a lot. It took me awhile to learn from my mistakes, and I ended up paying almost $100 extra for our busses through the country before I figured this out: never buy bus tickets anywhere except the bus station!
Every agency or person you deal with will upcharge you. Most likely, you’re moving from one popular tourist destination to another, which means there are plenty of different bus companies selling tons of different departures there every day. They usually don’t sell out, so it’s easy to get a ticket for the next bus out rather than buying one in advance. Cruz del Sur is a popular line (because it’s super nice) and easy to buy online, but the tickets usually cost two or three times more than what other busses are charging. Always wait and buy your tickets directly from the companies at the bus station to save money.
5.The water is not drinkable
Living in Peru is the first time I’ve had an extended stay in a country where the water is not drinkable. It’s not potable in any of the cities here (including Lima) and that’s had some consequences I didn’t expect.
First off, even though large 2.5 liter bottles of water are only about a dollar here, the costs add up. If we drink one a day, thats $30 a month of extra expenses to add into the budget. To put that into perspective, its the same price as my international phone and data plan with Sprint. Nothing to sneeze at. It also adds up because whenever we’re on a trek or out at dinner, we buy water at upcharged prices. My whole life was spent drinking free water when going out to eat at restaurants, but now purchasing a drink with every meal is necessary.
The second affect it’s had on my life is the strange feeling of being thirsty and having no water to drink. Waking up with a hangover and realizing you forgot to buy more water bottles the night before is honestly the worst feeling. In that case I either have to boil water and wait hours for it to cool, or leave the apartment to buy more. Not being able to turn on the tap whenever I’m thirsty has been a big adjustment.
6. The taxis don’t have meters
Taking a taxi as a foreign traveler can be a daunting task on its own, and when you remove meters from the equation it only gets worse. For some reason, in Peru, none of the taxis have meters. It doesn’t seem to be a very regulated business and the taxis never have a special car or color. At times we’ve found ourselves sitting in “taxis” wondering if we had just gotten into a random man’s car who saw an opportunity to make a few bucks. The best way to deal with taxis when they don’t have meters is to always, always agree on a price before hand. If you get in and they start driving, they can tell you literally any inflated price they want and you’ll be stuck paying it.
I also found taxis to be much more expensive in Peru than they were in Colombia, and the reason for that is the extremely high price of gas. It’s currently $3.50 a gallon here, which when factoring in the low cost of living would be more like paying $7 a gallon in the US. And it used to be even higher!
7. “Easy” and “difficult” have very different meanings here
The tour agencies in Peru will do anything to make a buck. Pretty much every one we’ve worked with so far has lied or been dishonest in some aspect of their sales pitch. Every trek we went on was a combined group from many different agencies, with people paying huge ranges of different prices for the exact same trip. Yikes.
The worst, though, was the agency who sold us a tour to climb Misti Volcano. We had almost no experience and it turned out to be an extremely difficult and dangerous trek, one that we never would have been allowed to hike in the US. My tip? Don’t ever sign a waiver for a tour in Peru! If they’re asking for that, it’s going to be unsafe even by their standards. Definitely make sure you research everything online and never rely on what the tour agencies tell (or don’t tell) you about a trip.
8. Stray dogs. Stray dogs everywhere
Oh man. The stray dog situation in Peru is really out of hand. It’s not uncommon to see packs of 5 or more dogs trotting down the streets together. While I love dogs as much as the next guy, I’ve really seen way more dog “love-making” during my time in Peru than anyone should ever have to see in their lifetime. They also get into the trash and get it everywhere in the streets. Gross.
However, one unique thing about the stray dogs in Cusco is that a lot of them wear shirts and jackets when the weather starts to get cold. They don’t have owners, just kind citizens looking out for them. It’s pretty cute. Just a fair warning, if you are going to travel to Peru, be prepared to want to pat all the stray doggos all the time. You’ll either need to exhibit serious self restraint, or invest in a lot of hand sanitizer!
9. The weather is unbeatable
Peru is a perfect destination for a summer vacation because the summer months have absolutely phenomenal weather. During the months of July and August, we got rained on… once. Every single other day was stunningly blue without a cloud in the sky. Peru is in the southern hemisphere so these summer months are their winter months. The days are warm, dry, sunny, and breezy, and the nights are cool and cozy. Travel to Peru in the summer and you’ll enjoy amazing hiking and vacation weather!
10. The craft beer scene is better than you think
One of the things I miss most while traveling is easy access to good craft beer. However, in Peru the craft beer scene is definitely on the rise. Even the small town of Huaraz, with a population of only 100,000 people, has the Sierra Andina brewery which boasts some of the best (and strongest) IPA’s I’ve ever had. (Oh and they pronounce IPA as a word here, calling them “eepas” haha.) Arequipa has a cider brewery and the restaurants had different craft beers to try, like a barley wine brew and a coconut beer. Cusco also had multiple different craft beer bars. My favorite was the Nuevo Mundo brewery in Plaza de Armas which had taster flights and different fresh brewed beers on tap (the chocolate beer was amazing!) If you’re a beer lover, drinking your way through Peru definitely won’t disappoint.
11. There’s so much more to see than just Machu Picchu when you travel to Peru
Visiting Machu Picchu is definitely a highlight of every trip to Peru, but it shouldn’t be the only destination. There is so much more to do and see in this country, like the Salkantay Trek and Rainbow Mountain in Cusco, Lake Titicaca (the highest navigable lake in the world) and Colca Canyon (the second deepest canyon in the world) in Arequipa, the Santa Cruz Trek and Laguna 69 in Huaraz, and even the Huacachina Oasis and Islas Ballestas in Lima. Four months here will barely be enough to scratch the surface of all this amazing country has to offer. If you plan to travel to Peru and only see Machu Picchu, you’ll be doing yourself a serious disservice.
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