Links and Travel Tips
Peru is one of the most privileged countries of the world. It is the fourth country with the greatest mega-biodiversity of the planet, and shelters, together with 11 countries, 70% of the world’s diversity of life. Peru shelters 13% of the world’s tropical forests, 10% of the plant species, 18% of birdlife and 10% of fish species of the world.
The possibility of marvelling oneself at the colours of three thousand orchid species or 3.500 types of butterflies, feeling the effects of 28 out of the 32 world’s climates, visiting 11 eco-regions, ranging from cold and tropical seas to jungles and tropical forests, across deserts, moorlands, and mountain range can be offered by very few countries.
Life bursts in this South American country in many different ways. Marvelled scientists found 5,000 insect species (80% of
them were new to science) in one only tree of Madre de Dios, a region in the southern Peruvian forest which is so rich
in animal life that 800 bird species can be found in one only square kilometer. This forest is considered by experts to be
the world’ “drugstore”, since its 1.400 medicinal plant species (in addition to the 4.400 species used by its population) are a discovery source for modern scientists.
At least 25.000 plant species, that is, 10% of all existing species in the planet, grow in this land. 30% of these plant species is endemic, this meaning that they can only be found in Peru. Thus, this is a marvellous spot for nature observers who can find unique species such as the biggest orchid of the planet, which is 13 meters high and is found in Huachucolpa (Huancavelica). This is why the renowned botanist David Bellamy said, when referring to this country: “Peru is a surprisingly diverse country in biological terms. If we could save it, we could virtually rehabilitate the rest of the world”.
Peru is also the third country in the world with the greatest diversity of amphibians and mammals. A recent study conducted at Yavarí, in the region of Loreto, recorded over 50 species of frogs and toads, 5 of which were new to science. Peru hosts the second largest variety of primates: 34 species, one of them is endemic, the choro de cola amarilla (Yellow-tailed Wooly-Monkey- agothirix flavicans). Moreover, half of the spider species inhabiting in the Neotropical region are concentrated in Peru.
The Peruvian sea – one of the seven fishing marine basins of the world- and the rivers that flow throughout Peru are home to about two thousand fish species, exceeding thus the number of fish species found in the whole Atlantic. More importantly, the Peruvian sea is home to 32 cetacean species and about 400 shellfish. Additionally, its guano islands concentrate the largest number of sea birds of the planet, which are found in millions.
Its geography, thanks to the impressive Andean Cordillera, is also unique. Suffice to say that 84 of the 117 life areas of worldwide renown are found in Peru. Furthermore, 13% of the world’s tropical forests are found in its territory.
The White Cordillera, the highest snow covered cordillera of the tropics, with its nearly 50 snow-covered peaks, rises majestically as a challenge to over 6.000 meters. It also possesses 1.769 glaciers, more than 12.000 lakes and lagoons, and unique spots such as the Colca and Cotahuasi Canyons in Arequipa which are acknowledged as the deepest canyons on earth.
With a few exceptions, visas are not required for travelers entering Peru. Tourists are permitted to stay in the country up to 183 days on a tourist visa upon arrival, which is stamped into their passports and onto a tourist card, called a Tarjeta Andina de Migración (Andean Immigration Card), which you must return upon leaving the country. The actual length of stay is determined by the immigration officer at the point of entry. Be careful not to lose your tourist card, or you will have to line up at the oficina de migraciónes (immigration office), also simply known asmigraciónes, for a replacement card. It’s a good idea to carry your passport and tourist card on your person at all times, especially when traveling in remote areas (it’s required by law on the Inca Trail). For security, make a photocopy of both documents and keep them in a separate place from the originals.
Departure taxes: For all flights from Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima, passengers must pay a domestic or international flight departure tax. Most international departure taxes are now included in the ticket price. A domestic departure tax of $5-10 USD, depending on the airport, is not always included in the ticket price and must be paid before boarding. This is payable at the airport payment teller window located right before you pass through security. This will mean lining up twice, which is a good reason to arrive early although the process is rather quick.
Money Changers & ATMs: Open 24 hours, fair rates, and easily accessible in the airport.
Going through customs in Lima: Domestic flights customs are a breeze. For international flights between the United States & Lima: avoid packing liquids, gels, drinks, shampoo, sun block/suntan lotion, creams, toothpaste, hair gel, hair spray, & liquid cosmetics in your carry-on bag. Put them in your check-in luggage. To bring medicines, you need a prescription.
Carrying cash, an ATM or traveler’s check card and also a credit card that can be used for cash advances in case of emergency is advisable. When receiving local currency, always ask for small bills (billetes pequeñas), as S100 bills are hard to change in small towns or for small purchases. The best places to exchange money are normally casas de cambio (foreign-exchange bureaus), which are fast, have longer hours and often give slightly better rates than banks. Many places accept US dollars.
Peru has a decimal Nuevo Sole (S/.) based system, with 100 céntimos to the nuevo sole. US dollars are widely accepted, especially in tourist areas, but in remote areas can be difficult for locals to exchange for their own use. Although credit card acceptance is common, at least in the cities and larger towns, many places will not accept them for small payments, and in remote areas it is cash only. If such areas are in your plans, make sure you have small notes, as shops may not have sufficient change for the larger ones, even if they are small for us. You should also advise your credit card company(s) that you are traveling abroad, otherwise the sudden change in spending patterns could trigger a card alert and charge denial. Most places take Visa and Mastercard, and many take American Express and Diners. ATMs are widely available in large cities/towns. They dispense both Nuevo Soles and US Dollars.
You will find many money exchange offices in the cities. Use these instead of Banks as the rates are much better! Travelers cheques can also be exchanged for a small commission fee. Do not accept torn money as it will likely not be accepted by Peruvians. It is best not to change money on the street as counterfeits are a problem.
Pack layers. Layers of clothing will help you to be most flexible as weather changes throughout the day. It will likely be warm at midday, but cool to chilly at night (especially if rainy). Lightweight fleece & shell (Gore-tex or similar) will do much better than a heavy jacket. Rain gear would be needed in February — you will be in the middle of the rainy season. Shoes with Gore-tex or similar finish are also good.
As a traveler you will be best served knowing a little Spanish (about 80% of the population speak Spanish). Until 1975 this was the sole official language of Peru but since then Quechua, which is main language of the highlands, has also been made official (about 16% of the population speak Quechua). Around Lake Titicaca Aymara is also spoken. Many persons do speak Spanish too but if you venture into the more remote areas you will find few people who speak any Spanish at all. In most large hotels, airline counters, and tour compani es English is generally understood.
The supply is 220 volts AC, 60Hz – twin flat blade (as used in the USA) and twin round pin plugs (as used in continental Europe) are both standard here. If you travel to Peru with a device that does not accept 220 Volts at 60Hz then you will need a voltage converter/transformer which can easily be bought in electrical shops in the main cities. However many electrical devices such as battery charges, shavers & laptops are multi-voltage but it is always best to check the device BEFORE plugging it in!!
Typical Electrical Socket in Peru Flat Blade & Round Pin plugs are accepted in Peru Typical wall socket in Peru 220V Both flat blade and round pin plugs are accepted.
Toilet doors are marked with “baño”, “S.H” or “SS.HH” which is an abbreviation for Servicio Higienico. In some of the cheaper hotels and many restaurants toilet paper is not provided so always carry a roll with you. Toilet paper should not be thrown into the toilet but placed in the adjacent basket otherwise the toilet will soon become blocked. This applies throughout Peru even in 5 star hotels.
Peru has one of the best cuisines in South America, if not the best, and has become famous for its food. Even one of fast food chains is operated by one of Peru’s foremost chefs, and the food reflects it. A combination of several cultures, including Japanese, has led to the diversity of food, plus of course some of the world’s richest fishing waters (sadly now considerably depleted), tropical forests and Andean highland food – there are nearly 3000 – not a misprint – of potatoes along in the Peruvian Andes. Most famous of Peru’s dishes is ceviche, seafood and a few vegetables stewed in lime juice, peppers and garlic. While historically a coastal dish, it can be had all over the country, but the coast produces the best and freshest. Once again, there are nearly as many varieties of ceviche as people making it.
Wine is not a universal drink in Peru, and most comes from Chile. Local wine is just not that good! However, near Ica and the Nazca lines is the town of Pisco, and this is the national drink of Peru. Second to this is beer, and of the available one the most commonly seen and drunk is Cristal. Pilsen Callao and Cusqueña, good enough to be exported, are much better options. In the highland Chichi is popular, brewed from corn. You’ll see a red flag outside some doors in the highlands; this tells you Chicha is served there. But there’s a small detail to be aware of before plonking down your soles on the counter. Before it’s brewed, the corn is chewed (by people hired to do so) to mix with saliva enzymes, then spat out into a communal container. Although it’s boiled along the way, this production detail tends to put some potential drinkers off.
Peru operates more on European meal times. Lunch is the most important meal. Upper scale restaurants take and expect bookings – a line of people waiting for a table is rare, as restaurants only allow for one or two covers per session. When you are ready for the bill (check) you’ll often take this to a cash register at the front for payment, depending on the class of the restaurant. Tables will get one bill; it’s up to you to sort out who pays for what, not the restaurant or the server.
Most food in good restaurants and hotels, and cooked food elsewhere is usually safe to consume, but always drink bottled water without ice. It comes Con Gas – carbonated – or Sin Gas – flat. However, it’s not uncommon to get an upset stomach and diarrhea, so take medicine with you for this. Treated quickly and properly the bout should not last long. As it’s impossible to say who or where an attack might occur – most travelers have been in a party where one person came down with problems alone, despite everyone eating the same meal. So just enjoy and be prepared.
A real danger in Peru is altitude sickness if the higher parts of the Andes are in your itinerary. The best remedy is to sleep low and have fun high. Acclimate by spending a couple of nights around 5-6000ft before going higher, and remember to keep your activity level low for the first couple of days. If you feel sick, go low – altitude sickness can be fatal. Every hotel in the Andes will have a container of coca tea available for drinking, and this traditional treatment is recommended. It also helps to overcome dehydrations, another concern in the thin air.
No immunizations are required for Peru, but a Yellow Fever immunization is strongly recommended. You should also be covered for all the other usual travel shots. This is especially true if you are continuing to travel; next door Chile will not let you in without the yellow fever immunization certificate if you have been in Peru in the previous six days. We highly recommend that your tetanus shot is up to date – though no more prevalent down there than here, tetanus can stop a vacation in its tracks. Peru has good medical facilities in the major cities – quite an array of private clinics where some doctors do
speak English. In remote areas you would find only a simple clinic. Doctors, hospitals and medicines tend to be cheaper than in the US.
We highly recommend travel insurance; although excellent care is available locally, associated transport costs, especially from remote areas can be high, and aren’t usually covered by your own insurance. Many US prescription-only drugs can be bought over the counter in Peru, and pharmacies will issue medicines without a prescription and with their own suggestions. However, this can be unwise; a visit to a doctor, where you will have to pay cash or sometimes with a credit card, is advised. If you wish to replenish your own supply while overseas take your prescription with you for filling at a pharmacy with an exact replacement. Please note that some specialized drugs may not be available overseas, and some have different names.
Sunburn is a real risk in Peru, especially at altitude when there is little to block the sun’s rays and on the coast. For fair-skinned people skin damage can occur in as little as 20 minutes in summer. Cover up with a hat and sunscreen!
Peru runs from the Equator to about 18oS, so is squarely a tropical country, but also has mountains over 20,000 feet high. It also ranges from steamy tropical jungle to dry high barren ridges and chaparral along the coast. Hence, while the weather is very dependent on where you are.. People are surprised to be basking in near 70oF sunshine in winter, at 8000ft. Even Cusco is usually in the mid sixties, 4000ft higher. Nights can get cool in winter, below freezing on cold nights in Cusco. Higher elevations, such as Lake Titicaca at over 13,000ft, are naturally cooler. Despite its tropical location, the Pacific coast can be cool in winter due to fogs and mists, dropping down to the low 50s. Seasons are the opposite of the US, with a December to February summer and mid-year winter. There is a little variation between areas on which mid-year month is coolest.
Peruvians are generally casual people, except with some of the upper classes, who can be fastidious. With the ethnic variety in Peru it’s hard to generalize on customs, as what’s normal in the Incan highlands may be unusual in Lima. People generally shake hands when meeting and often when departing. Close male friends may give a hug, and women a kiss on the cheek. Children are often greeted with an arm around the shoulders. Friends greet each other by their first name, but elders are accorded respect by using surnames and titles. Don’t be surprised if asked some rather personal questions; this is a sign of polite interest not prying. Generally highlanders are reserved. Boisterous and loud behavior is generally out of place. As with many Spanish settled countries, eating, especially and mainly the midday meal, is a long, late affair, and a main time for socializing. Evening from about 8pm on, especially Friday and Saturday, is the time to head to the plaza to see and be seen. This will happen in every town, large or small, and should be a feature of your travels in Peru. Expect to see whole families out at 10pm, but especially younger and older people, meeting for the former and observing for the latter. The national religion is soccer, followed by Catholicism. Parades are also a favorite, and in main cities it’s unusual for there not to be some gathering in the Plaza de Armas each week.
Traveling in Peru, especially in the Andes, will provide many human photographic opportunities. Always ask permission before taking photographs, and expect that anyone with a prop – sheep, llama, colorfully wrapped baby or costumed children, weaving equipment, etc, will expect to be paid, usually $1. While children or young animals being carted about for the purpose of tourists’ photographs raises ethical questions, the need to provide food for the family does not. But don’t be surprised to hear cell phone chimes coming from under those traditional clothes as the blanket is being woven.
Huffington Post: First time in Peru (article)
Andean Travel Web – non- profit organization (web site)
Altitude sickness: Peru Blog (web site)