Official Language: Spanish
$1 = 3.4 SOL
Most people identify Peru for Machu Picchu, The Inca Empire and recently for our flavorful and mixed cuisine. Peru is a multicultural country where you can easily see traces from Spanish colonialism along side native and Incan culture. You can also experience influence from Italian, Japanese, Chinese and West African cultures.
Catholicism introduced by the Spanish is still the most common religion in Peru. Catholicism has been fully integrated to our culture and daily life. Most of our public holidays are also related to Catholicism. When going around Lima you can see many churches, statues of saints and the Virgin Mary. One of our biggest holidays is Semana Santa (Easter). Commonly marked by people wearing purple, mass procession and eating Turrón. Turrón de Doña Pepa is a Peruvian version of Turrón coming from Spain. Which now has become a staple Peruvian food. Most festivals that are widely visited by tourist around different regions of Peru are to show devotion to Catholic belief and are mixed with native traditions coming from Incan culture. The most representative one being the Inti Raymi honoring the Inca Sun God celebrated in Cuzco.
Like most countries in Latin America, our official language is Spanish. But in some rural areas of the Andes some people still speak the official language of the Incas which is Quechua. Many schools in Cuzco offer Quechua language courses for foreigners. For either tourism or research purposes. It is believed that the Quechua from Cuzco is the most original one since Cuzco was the capital of the Inca Empire. Even thou most countries in Latin America speak Spanish, they all have different accents. Some being stronger than others. From what I have read, the most recommended ones to learn from are from Peru, Colombia and Mexico because of their slow, clear and steady form of speech. (as intonations don’t go that high up or down).
The reason why Peru is such a diverse country is because the country is comprised of 3 separate biomes. On the West we have the Coastal Desert, the Andes (mountain range) in the middle and the Amazon (tropical jungle) to the east. All these three bring diversity in Climate, Ethnicity, Food and Traditions.
- The Coastal Desert: The most popular places to visit are Mancora on the north, being one of the largest beach resorts in Peru and perfect for surfing. Ica south of Lima where you can find Ballestas Islands in Paracas, Huacachina Oasis in the middle of the dessert and the Nazca lines. As you can imagine the most representative food in the coast is seafood and we have such a wide range of them. Ceviche being the main dish along side Leche de Tigre, Chupe de Camarones, Choritos a la Chalaca and Parihuela. On the creole cuisine side we have Lomo Saltado, Aji de Gallina, Arroz con Pollo, Rocoto Relleno, Pollo a la Brasa, Causa Rellena, Anticucho and Tamales just to mention a few. On the desserts and beverages side we have Alfajor, Arroz con Leche, Mazamorra Morada and Picarones. Inca Cola being the most popular soda, Chicha Morada (purple corn) our traditional juice and Pisco our national drink.
- The Andes: Of course Cuzco is the most touristic developed region in Peru. Main destinations for tourists to visit are Machu Picchu, Sacsayhuaman, Valle Sagrado and Ollantaytambo. Also many adventure travelers venture into the Inca Trail which can take 4 to 5 days. Titicaca Lake borders with Bolivia and is often called the highest navigable lake in the world. Peru has 300 types of corn and more than 3 000 types of potatoes. Sweet potato and Yuca also accompany most Peruvian dishes. In some other parts of the Andes, llama and guinea pig are also consumed. Pachamanca is a very traditional Andean dish cooked by hot stones under the ground. Mate de Coca is a traditional tea made of coca leafs to help cope with altitude sickness.
- The Amazon: River boat trips in Iquitos, national parks in Puerto Maldonado and Gocta Waterfalls (third highest waterfall in the world) in the Amazonas are only a few of the many destinations that are chosen to explore the dense Amazonian vegetation. The most known amazonian dishes are Juane and Tacacho con Cecina. Personally I still haven’t had the opportunity to venture into the amazon but it’s definitely one of many places on my travel list. For some countries it might be required to get a yellow fever vaccine before entering the country.
Some of our most popular fusion foods that have been completely integrated into Peruvian’s cuisine is Chifa (Chinese) and Japanese food.
In recent years, the fusion of Japanese and Peruvian food have been very popular. One place I tried and that I can recommend is Wasabi Sushi Bar which is a great place to try the wide variety of rolls. You can choose to have the “all you can eat” and share with a group of friends. ** But you will have to pay extra if you have left overs! Popular choices are Acevichado, Pollo a la brasa, Lomo saltado and Aji de Gallina.
Throughout the years Lima has become even more crowded, polluted and chaotic. Due to mass immigration from other regions of Peru and workers from abroad. The problem is that Peru is a very centralized country and most development, modernization and high education are focused on Lima. Other cities are a different story though. Rural areas of Peru are not very developed. Except maybe for Cuzco which is one of the major touristic destinations of Peru, but not even Cuzco has a super market yet. So in most rural areas things will be limited. No fancy malls, paved roads, high buildings, cable tv, wifi, etc. I once went to a city which only had one movie theater in the whole city. So be prepared. If you decide to visit other regions then be prepared to experience the real rural life.
In downtown Lima you can visit the historic center and see colonial architecture. But it’s rather dangerous and extreme caution is recommended. More popular places for tourists are Miraflores District with many restaurants and nice parks. As well as Larcomar shopping center located on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Barranco Distric which is also popular for its vibrant nightlife, bars and restaurants.
You can find anything from famous high end brands to cheap knock offs. And if the cheap knock offs break you can have them fixed or modified at any local market. Places like Jockey Plaza Mall are very popular among tourists as they offer a wide variety of international brands and have nice facilities. Local markets like Mercado Central, Chinatown and Polvos Azules are also very frequented by locals and tourist alike. Haggling is expected in most places like these. There are many brands that have their manufactures in Peru like Lacoste, Armani, Polo Ralph Lauren, Guess and Tommy Hilfiger. Therefore you can find their exact knocked off at the market. You won’t notice the difference since it’s made by the same workers. 😛 For souvenirs I recommend going to the galleries in Miraflores. There are the expensive stores but there is also a huge gallery with many little stands that sell all kinds of souvenirs.
Due to Peru’s gastronomic boom, Lima is now full of all kinds of restaurants and prices have gone up. Peru used to be considered among the cheapest countries in south america for backpackers but now prices are rising like crazy. There is even a huge fair- competition called Mistura “Peru’s foodie festival” held every September and is the best place to find all kinds of Peruvian food. But it can get really crowded and you might have to wait in long lines.
My husband comes from Europe and he usually tries to avoid eating fresh fruits and vegetables during the first days. I have also heard this from some relatives from America. Remember, water from the faucet is not drinkable and you have to make sure to wash your fruits and vegetables very well. Many foreigners get diarrhea since water and raw foods are not as clean as they are in their home countries. And many restaurants are not very hygienic as well. Some might serve not boiled water, fruits and vegetables that haven’t been rinsed well or home made mayonnaise (which contains raw egg) can also be the cause. I also strongly advise against eating any “3 soles ceviche” from the stand at the market. I usually love to try street food when I travel to other countries but this is something not even locals in their right mind would eat.
Tipping in Peru is very expected. Not only in restaurants but when receiving any kind of service. Specially in Cuzco, even though you pay a guide to give you a tour, he will still expect to be tipped. But the good news is that in Peru you don’t need to tip the 10% or more like in other countries. A tip can go from 1 sol to 20 soles depending on the service. I remember my dad used to tip 3 to 5 soles in restaurants but since now all restaurants have become gourmet nowadays maybe it’s expected to give at least 10 soles.
Mirabus in Miraflores offers many tours day and night to explore different aspects of Lima’s culture and main touristic places. If you are going around by yourself in Lima I highly recommend taking the tours from this bus. It can be quite hard to go around in Lima nowadays. Transportation is over crowded and chaotic. Taxi services are abundant but lack official regulations. Basically anyone can write taxi on the side of their car and offer the service. So be careful, specially in dangerous areas. In Peru we don’t use a taximeter so always negotiate the price before getting in. There are different ranges of local buses from mini buses to big ones. There will be a guy jumping in and out of the bus advertising the route and making sure people pay. During rush hour don’t be shocked to see people hanging from the bus door. This will give you a new meaning to “packed like sardines”. Traffic in downtown is a big mess since most people don’t obey the rules. Buses and taxis are always racing and competing against each other. Not to mention the yelling, honking and loud music from the radio.To go outside of Lima, buses in Peru operate Domestic and International routes like Cruz del Sur and Tepsa (I heard this website is great for booking buses) but most highways are built on cliffs which causes many accidents. Also mudslides are not rare. Lima’s airport is located in Callao Province and can be quite dangerous. Along the years, news of tourists getting robbed outside the airport haven’t been rare. So it’s recommendable to take the official taxis offered at the airport.
Usually when travelling to another country it is recommended to explore the city, get lost and do what locals do. Well, for Lima I would actually advise against it. Specially if you don’t speak Spanish. You should take precautions according to what district are you venturing to. Places like Miraflores and Jockey Plaza have a lot of security and are very fancy so its pretty much safe. But if you go to local markets or downtown Lima then you will see the difference and know what I’m talking about. Always be aware of your surroundings and of your belongings. In some places, specially crowded places like markets and buses, its very easy for robbers to rob you without you even noticing it. I know I’m making it sound really scary but it’s all about being aware of stuff. I lived in Peru up until I graduated from high school and I never experienced anything bad nor got robbed or mugged. Though I did hear it happen to some of my friends. If you do get mugged don’t try to fight it. Muggers in Lima can be rather aggressive. And I would consider the bus to be much safer than taking a taxi alone. Sometimes even taxi drivers will drive to isolate areas and try to rob you. Another thing I saw was that a motorcycle stood next to a taxi when the traffic light was red and broke the windows to rob a purse. Like I said, it all depends on where you are, the way you are dressed and the valuables you are carrying. Don’t bring big shinny jewelry, cameras or wallets if you are exploring the city. Keep it light and simple. My husband was in Lima for 2 weeks and in Cuzco for 1 and he had a great time. He is tall, white and blond which made him stand out a lot since most people in Peru are short with black hair. Its very easy for Peruvians to recognize foreigners and that turns them into easy targets but really, Its all about taking the proper precautions. Another thing is to try to dress like locals. I remember when I was little and I would see “gringos” dressed with shorts, long white socks and sandals carrying their 1 liter water bottle in a andean themed bag. Nothing could have screamed foreigner more than that. Another thing that makes you stand out is wearing cloths or accessories from the souvenir shop since locals don’t really use these kinds of things.
In Lima you might find a lot of people begging for money. Specially children going around selling candy or other things at the traffic lights or hopping in and out buses. In some places children might gang up and try to pick your pockets. A group of 6 to 8 children would approach you all at once and try to pick pocket you from all sides. So if you ever encounter yourself in this kind of situation don’t just hang around nor try to engage them.
People in Peru are usually very kind and welcoming. They like foreigners and most of them are very willing to help you out…. the other half will try to rip you off. But that’s just like in any other country, right? ;P Peru is a wonderful country to explore, very diverse and nothing like you would expect. I have many friends from America and Europe that loved Peru and had great stories to take home with them. Every country has its good and bad side and this post is just to make sure you know what to expect and take the proper precautions to ensure you have a good experience. Safe Travels!