Guide to PERU

This is a travel guide to Peru, a country that has it all: Mountains, coast, and jungle as well as a vast cultural wealth.

Little Peruvian Boy with a baby llama
I’m sure this little boy would have adopted Paddington and gave him a good home.


Therefore, I don’t get Paddington bear: how could he have left Peru?

A Mystical Place

Peru has it all. Not only lots of geographic wonders, but also a cultural, culinary, and spiritual variety. Hence, every visitor is fascinated and gets to simply love Peru.
Everybody but stupid Paddington Bear who migrated from Peru to England – of all places!

As very often during my travels, I didn’t have enough time to really explore and enjoy all the parts that are worth a visit.

Machu Picchu
Yes, Machu Picchu is the high (!) light of every visit to Peru.

Hence, I’ll be back. But before, I let you at least know what I managed to see.

Firstly, my main interest was the sierra part – the mountainous region south of Lima stretching to the border of Bolivia and Chile. This part is called the altiplano because although it’s on top of the mountains, it’s plain. Only your dizziness and nausea make you realize that you are up to more than 4,000 meters above sea level.

The route that I travelled down south is also called, offhand, ruta del gringo. This proves that I’m by far not the only one who finds this the most fascinating Peruvian region.

A Little Bit of History

Colonization

The Spanish conquered the area of today’s Peru starting in 1532. They founded the Viceroyalty of Peru for the Spanish crown. This area reached its peak from today’s Panama to Argentina, hence, the extreme south of the continent.

In 1780, the indigenous José Gabriel Condorcanqui lead an uprising against the Spaniards. Referring to his lineage from the last Inca ruler, he went by the name of Tupac Amaru II.

The uprising was defeated, Condorcanqui and his close associates were executed in Cusco.

Consequently, the Spaniards deprived the indigenous aristocracy of their last privileges and banned the use of indigenous languages ​​and symbols.

Independence

At the end of the 18th century, immigration from Spain decreased. The liberal political development in Europe – that for instance also lead to the French Revolution – inspired a mood of change.

Consequently, general San Martín came from Argentina into the Bay of Paracas in 1820 with a mixed Chilean-Argentinian army. He improved the conditions for independence through various measures.

As San Martín and his troops left Peru again, much celebrated Simón Bolívar agreed to intervene.

Over the following decades, progress was made in integrating the Indios. After all, at that time, they formed 60% of the population. Also, the first steps were taken to abolish slavery.

Independence strengthened the decentralized forces as the Caziques, indigenous rulers, controlled the individual regions. Be it because they owned large estates or were former generals with influence in the army.

Howsoever, Peru was internally torn.

Years of political instability followed with dozens of presidents and several constitutions.

Conflicts

Also, the late nineteenth century was dominated by territorial and economic wars with neighboring countries, mainly Bolivia and Chile.

Hence, for decades, the country was on various levels unstable. More or less revolutionary party leaders fought against each other. The economy was also on shaky feet with deep economic crises.

Until 1968, an elite, which had been recruited from the large landowners of the highlands and the coast, had ruled the country. By a coup d’état, a military junta lead by Juan Velasco Alvarado took over the government. The military government tried to establish a mixed economic system through land reforms and other economic measures. The aim was establishing a third way between capitalism and communism. Therefore, the school system was expanded, the media were expropriated and handed over to self-organized groups. The indigenous heritage was popularized. Also, Peru took part in the non-aligned movement.
This, obviously led to tensions with the United States.

Democracy

Finally, in 1975, General Velasco was overthrown by General Francisco Morales Bermúdez. He returned to a more conservative political course.

In the 1990 elections, the rights were headed by writer Mario Vargas Llosa, who, by the way, is from Arequipa where you can visit his museum and schools and the library carry his name.

He stood against a divided left, the ruling party APRA under Alan García, who was blamed for the country’s economic difficulties, and the independent candidate Alberto Fujimori. It is believed that Fujimori’s actual country of birth is Japan. This, however, would have prevented his presidential candidacy, as, to no surprise, you have to be born in Peru.
I guess we’ll never know.

What we do know is that since 2009 he’s doing time for embezzlement.

Today

Political things are never easy and clear in Peru. The present president, Mr. Martín Alberto Vizcarra, seems to be a straight and determined politician. Still, also his way to the office was a bit rocky with demissions and resignations. Actually, the elections in January 2020 ended with no clear winner. Therefore, Vizcarra, who remains president, cannot count on a majority in parliament for the rest of his term.

Update November 2020

Today, Peru has a population of almost 32 million people. 37 percent of the population are mestizo, about 47 percent are indigenous. Consequently, alongside Bolivia and Guatemala, Peru is one of the three countries in Latin America with a large proportion of indigenous people.

Indio Ladies in Cusco in Peru
Indio ladies in Cusco.

Actually, during my recent travel through Argentina, I dearly missed this influence and presence of South America’s native inhabitants that you find especially in the Peruvian altiplano.

Islas Ballestas
Paracas – the small version of the Galapagos refuge to birds, penguins, and sea lions.

Due to the different altitudes and further topography variations, the climate in Peru is extremely varied.

From the sultry rainforest in the Amazonas region towards Brazil over the moderate temperatures along the coast to the cold mountains and extreme drought of the desert from Paracas down to Chile.

Preparation

How to Get There

Basically all transatlantic flights are going down at the Jorge Chávez International Airport, Peru’s main international and domestic airport.

From this airport, in Callao, it’s 11 kilometers to the city center. Especially for the first time visitor, the Airport Express Lima service is highly recommendable – if you are staying in Miraflores or San Isidro. You can buy your ticket online and pay 6 USD to San Isidro and 8 USD to Miraflores. A roundtrip sets you back 11 respectively 15 USD. A great advantage is a free Wifi onboard since you’ll probably won’t have a Peruvian SIM-card yet.

To other parts of the city, you can always take a cab. If you’re not too tired from the flight, you might want to leave the airport’s premises. Outside, the drivers charge a bit less – nevertheless, you might have to pay about 50 Soles to Miraflores or a comparable distance.

How to Get Around

To travel within Peru, flying is the fastest option, obviously. From Jorge Chávez, you’ll get to Pucallpa in the outskirts of the jungle region, to Arequipa and Cusco in the Andes and many other domestic airports in one to two hours. However, domestic flights can be really costly.

That’s the main reason why most people are travelling by bus. Long-distance buses in Peru are more expensive than for instance in Asia or Africa. On the other hand, they are far more comfortable, almost like airplanes that are not taking off. They are clean, you get refreshments, there is entertainment on board. If you travel overnight, you can recline your seat as if you travel in business class.

Waiting at the Bus Terminal in Ica in Peru
Waiting at the Bus Terminal in Ica.

Since different companies cater to certain destinations, you might want to check a bus connection that suits you on this site:

Ready-made Itineraries

Another great option if you stick to the tourist places might be tour buses like for instance Peru Hop. They work just like the urban hop on hop off busses, but go from Lima to Cusco, to Puno, or even all the way to La Paz in Bolivia. Obviously, they are a bit more expensive than regular busses, but on the other hand, you don’t have to worry about anything. They practically carry you from place to place.

Definitely an option if you do not like planning as much as I do. However, if you’d like to know how I do my travel planning from scratch, you might wanna check out this post.

Where to Stay

Obviously, there are all kinds of accommodation ready for travellers all over Peru. If you are on a budget, you find friendly hostels. And if you can splurge, you can spend hundreds of dollars on high-end accommodation.
I always try to find middle-range, centrally located hotels.
You’ll find the accommodations I chose listed in the respective guides – see below.

Most of all, I like to know where I will lay my hat head as I get to an unknown city. Therefore, I always make a reservation in advance, and booking.com is, obviously, a great platform with lots of choices for every budget*:

Booking.com

Where to Eat

On my first flight from Amsterdam to Lima, I was sitting between two Peruvian ladies. Obviously, they gave me great tips on what to do when in Peru. Irritatingly, everything they recommended had to do with food – was a regional dish. They did not rave about cultural heritage. They left the geographical wonders aside. All they were talking about were different delicacies’n’dishes.

This gave me an idea of the significance that food has for Peruvians.

Therefore, you find delicious food in generous portions everywhere you go. Whether at stands on local markets or at high-end gourmet restaurants – you certainly won’t be starving.

Anticuchos in Barranco
Anticuchos – this was the smallest portion I could get.

Peruvian Food You Must Try

First and foremost, there is Ceviche. It’s typically an appetizer from very fresh, raw fish marinated and cured in lime juice. The fresh, zingy taste is increased by chopped onions, salt, and coriander.

If you aren’t that much into raw fish, you might wanna try Jalea. This is a generous order of small pieces of fish, squid, or other seafood, battered and deep-fried.

Another one of my personal favorites is AnticuchosAnticuchos de Corazón, to be precise, hence, made from beefheart. However, these popular, traditional skewers can be made from any type of meat.

Talking ’bout any type of meat: If you have the heart – pun intended – you should try Cuy, which is guinea pig. Before you freak out, don’t forget that these preferences are totally cultural. Other cultures would never take a bite of beef.

Another cute yet yummy dish is Alpaka. It’s among the best, most tender meat I ever tasted.

Cash And Cards

Since 2015, the Sol has been the currency of Peru. Sol, by the way, translates to sun. The plural is Soles. Between 1991 and 2015, the currency was the Nuevo Sol and had replaced the highly inflationary Inti.

The exchange rate is 1 US$ = 3,50 PEN current rate resp. 1 €UR = 3,94 PEN current rate (June 2020). Credit cards are widely accepted.

Don’t panic if some of your cards don’t work at certain banks. It happened to me from time to time. You then have to look for a different ATM respectively another bank. Usually, no biggie.

Language

Yes, obviously, Perú is a South American country and once conquered by the Spanish. Hence, to this date, Castellano is the main official language.
However, in total, there are three: besides Spanish, there are also the Indio languages Quechua and Aymara.

Even if you have a great command of Spanish, the first days, you might have trouble understanding everything since Peruvians, obviously, have a peculiar accent.

If you want to learn some basic Spanish or just brush up your knowledge, there are various apps and online tools. I personally like to practice with babbel.

Communication

Like during most of my trips where European roaming is not available, I did not get a national SIM-card. I rather used free WiFi. There was a connection to the internet in many places and, of course, at basically every hostel and hotel.

If you insist on being online 24/7, you can, of course, get a SIM-card. Preferably from Movistar or Claro. I’ve heard that Claro now offers plans that cover basically all of South America – wherever you may roam, so to speak. You can get cards at shops located adjacent to major supermarkets and at malls.

Plugs in Peru are mostly type A and B as they use for instance in the USA. However, you find also type C as in Europe.

The standard voltage is 220 V and the frequency 60 Hz. Whereby, nowadays, all these chargers for phones and readers and computers have integrated adapters. In general, voltage and frequency don’t really matter.

Gone are the days when you blew your electric appliances since you forgot to switch them from 110 to 220…good memories.

You’ll find comprehensive travel info in my post World’s Most Complete Travel Information – an indispensable globetrotter-classic.

The Route I travelled

The Places I visited

In these posts, I guide you to all the amazing places I visited during my trip.

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30 Replies to “Guide to PERU”

  1. Nice travel guide for Peru. This country divided into the geographic areas sierra, Selva, costa, i. e. mountains, jungle, coastline – has so much to offer! Not only lots of geographic, but also cultural, culinary, and spiritual variety, so that everyone gets to simply love Peru. I have planned to go for a trip to Peru with the help of Photo Tours Peru, which is a premier adventure company launched by Flavio Huamani, an accomplished Peruvian travel photographer guide.

    Thanks & Regards,

    Fadahunsi

  2. Wow – I'm sure you'll have the time of your life and will get a really good and close look on this wonderful country and its lovely people. Enjoy it to the max!

  3. I never understood why Paddington left either… guess Peru's different if you're a bear 😉 I can't wait to see it for myself!

  4. Peru is really high on our bucket list and is somewhere we just can't wait to visit. We have plans for South America in a couple of years and this is just so inspiring to us.

  5. There was a time when very few people ventured to Peru and Machu Pichhu and look how that has changed in the past 5-10 years. I'm sure it was a unforgettable experience standing there and looking at the remains of that ancient civilisation before you.

  6. It's been a few years since I was in Peru, so I need to go back, but I remember that it is pretty easy for folks to get around and the locals were very helpful. Let alone all the great sites…I say go!

  7. I'm totally with you, Peru is a beautiful land with a fascinating history, culture and cuisine. Why would he leave for the land of marmalade sandwiches, of all things?? I've visited the country twice, taking in many of the famous sites, but cliche though it may be, it was Machu Picchu that thrilled me the most. I understand totally how emotional you found it, I was the same the first time (in the mid 1980s) and the last time, a few years back! There's just nothing like seeing it with your own eyes!

  8. Ha ha – I guess everyone always wants to be someone other than where they grew up! But I want to know – in Paddington they talk about Deepest or Darkest Peru – is that a real place? I hope to visit one day, looks incredible.

  9. How long did you travel around Peru? We haven't been to South America yet and my husband really wants to go next year.

    Not sure what Peru has to do with Paddington Bear, though?

  10. Macchu Pichu has been high on our bucket list but now that we are in our 70s, we may have missed the chance entirely. Thanks for giving us a peek!

  11. Perú is in my top two favorite countries and it's probably #1 most days! I love it for exactly the reasons you stated…it's SO diverse! I didn't get to go to all the places you did on my first 10 day trip (notice I said first because I plan on many more!), but I want to go back and spend a lot more time there to see more of then landscapes and finally advance my Spanish to fluency! What is WRONG with Paddington???

  12. I explored Peru for over 3 weeks back in 2008 and really enjoyed it. I loved how varied the country is, as you mentioned, and learning all about the Peruvian culture. I really enjoyed the sierra region for the views! I highly recommend hiking to Machu Picchu!

  13. Peru is such a beautiful place and Machui Picchu is such a wonderful estination to visit. I really love looking at those majestic mountains that is so calming. Thanks for sharing this post!

  14. Machu Picchu is my next bucket list destinations. I love your tweet about the emotional reaction you have when seeing it – amazing how travel can conjure up such emotions. I can't believe such a small country has 28 million people!

  15. I wouldn't leave Peru if I was from there, its too beautiful. Your second picture doesn't even look real.

  16. Peru is such an amazing place. hope you have one of your best time of life <3 -olordeprimavera

  17. Love to go to Peru but not because of Paddington Bear. he he. As a hiker and photographer, I love to go into the mountains, see the sights and just go for a walk. However Paddington Bear rocks! Childhood hero of mine here in London! 🙂

  18. I love the colours in Peru and have wanted to visit Machu Picchu for ages. If I was Paddington I wouldn't have left. I can live without the marmalade sandwiches.:-)

  19. I did the Salkantay Trek from Cusco to Machu Picchu. It was spectacular scenery. I hope to go back to peru to see more of the natural beauty of that country

  20. We also would love to visit Machu Picchu but we've heard mixed reviews on how crowded it has become… and we don't like the touristy stuff!

  21. You really toured the land! All those stops. That ever-iconic photo of Machu Picchu is goals. Wow! Someone stayed in a Quechua village during a tour and they loved it.

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