Peru is a country that feels like you’re stepping into the past and is paradise for adventurous travelers. The ancient civilizations have left their mark in locations around the country. The most famous are Machu Picchu and the Nazca lines.
Once dominated by the Incas, who were a pre-Columbian Empire, the country is home to luscious green mountains, tranquil waters, tropical jungles like the Amazon, vast beaches and ancient cities. Peru is located on the West Coast of South America. The country is bordered by Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador. With a decent sized population, Peru has about 32.17 million people, who are welcoming to visitors and eager to showcase the beauty of their country.
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What To Do in Peru
Bienvenidos – Welcome to Peru!
Lima is the capital of Peru and it is located on the Pacific coast. The city has an arid climate but boasts a gorgeous coastline. As one of South America’s largest cities, Lima is a busy city that is filled with colonial architecture, rich history, and exquisite flavors of food. The historic streets draw in visitors and there are multiple attractions throughout the capital. Lima is most popular for their museums, historic sites, and world-class restaurants.
Culture and Language
Peru is often considered to have a mythical history, who’s culture started as early as the 8th millennium BC. The Chavin and Sechin are the earliest civilizations, which left behind stone carvings of jaguars. Then the Paracas and Saliner civilizations took over and paved the way for the infamous Nazca people. The Nazca people are most well-known for carving the Nazca lines in the Peruvian desert. After the Nazca’s time, the Incas began to rule Peru. The Incas started in the Cuzco valley in the mid 1400s. They formed their capital, Cuzco, which was made into the shape of a jaguar.
The Incas boasted high intelligence with excellent military planning and skills, as well as an assimilation of multiple cultures. When they conquered, they took the best aspects of the foreign culture and began to assimilate it into their own. But in 1532, Francis Pizzaro landed on the Pacific coast and the fighting between Incas began, which caused the Inca Empire to split in two. Machu Picchu was the last Incan stronghold, but ultimately their reign fell after their cities were destroyed and European diseases spread.
Since then, colonization and modernity have shaped Peru into the country it is today. Considered to be relatively stable, the country is flourishing with tourists who are eager to experience its ancient secrets. The culture of Peru is deeply ingrained in their past and ancestry, alongside the influence of Hispanic culture.
Peruvians have a strong tie to their national identity and self-discipline is a huge part of the culture. It is partly how the Peruvians were able to survive so many differences in the country’s history and still remain intact. The self-discipline teaches respect towards other and makes Peruvian people friendly. Religion is also present throughout the country with Catholicism dominating the population.
Peru has one official language, Spanish, which is used at the political level. The country mainly uses Spanish to conduct their business and the vast majority of people will speak Spanish. However, Peru also recognizes indigenous languages like Quechua and Aymara. Many Peruvians will speak Spanish alongside an indigenous language, with Quechua and Aymara being the dominant indigenous languages.
The influence of tourism in Peru has also shaped the language and you may encounter a host of European languages, as well as English, during your travels.
For US citizens, there is no visa requirement to enter Peru if you are staying less than 183 days. A tourist visa will likely be issued or stamped in your passport, but there is no fee and it is free to enter the country when you reach a port of entry. However, there are passport requirements that you should be aware of to enter legally.
To travel to Peru, your passport must be valid for at least 6 months at the time of entry. Your passport must also have one blank page so that Customs can give you your entry stamp. The Yellow Fever vaccination is recommended and may be required if you are leaving Peru and traveling to other countries. It is also suggested that you are up to date on all your vaccinations. There is also a currency restriction of $30,000 US dollars. You cannot enter with more money and you must declare any money over $10,000 US dollars upon entry.
You may be eager to explore the ancient ruins of Peru, but first, it is important that you consider your spending budget when you being to plan your trip. Peru can be traveled with a variety of different budgets from backpackers to luxury, so a little pre-planning is important. The most important parts of your budget will be the airfare, accommodation, food, drink, and entertainment. Transportation is another part to consider, which we will cover in the next section.
Airfare will be a significant portion of your budget with an average cost of $687 US dollars for a non-stop flight from Los Angeles to Lima. You may be able to find special deals by an airline, which could reduce the price by up to 50%. However, you can’t always expect to find affordable airfare, especially if you are traveling during high tourist season. May to September are the peak months to travel to Peru and you will likely find that airfare is the most expensive during those months. However, if you book your ticket early, you will save some money by planning in advance.
Accommodation is another important part of your budget and it can be made affordable or expensive, as is common with any travel destination. If you are looking for accommodation on a backpacker’s budget, expect to spend about $5 US dollars per night and per person in a hostel. A nice hotel could cost as little as $20 US dollars per night and per person, if you are wanting a more private space.
Mid-range hotels are about $30 US dollars per night, per person and would give you great service. If you want the best hotels, expect to spend about $80-$200 US dollars per night. But there are always luxury accommodations too and expect them to be pricey. For example, the Belmond Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge rooms are priced at $1,600 US dollars per night, which does include food. But most people will choose not to travel on a luxury budget.
Airbnb is also provided in Peru and you can find some accommodations for as little as $20 US dollars per night, but the average is $65 US dollars per night. Airbnb is a great choice to save on money if you want private accommodations that are still located close to the tourist hotspots.
Food is another part of your budget that can vary drastically. There are local restaurants or street food, which provide delicious meals on an affordable budget. Or you can go to a fancy restaurant for a more luxurious dining experience and easily spend $50 US dollars per person.
Peruvian cuisine has a diverse palate in which a meat or seafood are usually centered. Anticuchos de Corazon are cuts of beef hearts, which have been grilled on the fire and marinated in various spices. Lomo saltado is Peru’s version of a beef stir-fry and is often served with rice or cassava. Ceviche is also popular in Peru, which is the national dish. Ceviche is fish cooked in citrus, most often, lime. Alpaca carpaccio is considered a delicacy, and yes, the Peruvians do eat these animals. This dish would be for the more adventurous eaters.
Most meals in Peru will cost about $5 US dollars for a main dish, but some prices can be higher and more than $11 US dollars in touristy areas. Street food can cost a whopping $0.15 US cents. Yes, there are some dishes, like marinated chicken which are sold on the street and cost merely 15 cents. If you are looking for a mid-range restaurant, expect prices to be higher and closer to $25-$30 US dollars per person.
For drinks, pisco is the national drink of Peru, which is a yellowish brandy. Though this drink can be quite expensive and costs about $10 US dollars. If you want to drink beer, most stores sell beer for less than $2 US dollars. However, in touristy areas, you should expect a bottle of beer to cost over $2 US dollars in the supermarket. It’s also important to know that if you purchase alcohol in stores and not restaurants, you will have an additional charge for the glass bottle and some stores charge as much as $0.30 US cents. Drinks in restaurants will average about $10 US dollars with wine being very popular.
La Chupiteria is a well-known bar in Cuzco, whereas Madbar is popular in Lima. As with any country, there are a variety of popular bars that will charge more and there are local bars, which have become a big hit with the tourists.
Overall, the daily budget can vary drastically. A backpacker’s budget would be a minimum of $30 US dollars per day, but a more moderate budget would be about $100 US dollars per day. Some people even spend $1,000 dollars per day. Ultimately, you will have to determine your budget by pre-planning your trip. However, depending on what you want to do, transportation can be very expensive, so you may want to plan ahead and look at how you will travel throughout the country too.
How to Get Around
Peru can be difficult to travel around, and most people will choose rather expensive transportation options to save on time. The most popular way to travel is to fly domestic, take a train, or rent a car.
Domestic flights are popular because they save on time and if you can’t take an extended vacation time is important. But if you want to see sites like Machu Picchu, it’s important to spend less time traveling. However, a domestic flight from Lima to Cuzco will cost $90-$150 US dollars. Avianca is a popular airline, but there are a few other airlines which are budget options, which may have lower ticket prices.
Train travel is also popular in Peru, especially for those who are looking to visit Machu Picchu. Trains are relatively affordable if you take the tourist train, which costs about $55 US dollars per person. PeruRail and Inca Rail are the two most popular options, which do have service in the Sacred Valley to visit Machu Picchu. There is a luxury train option as well, called the Hiram Bingham and tickets are about $800 US dollars per person for a round-trip.
Car rentals are also an option in Peru, but most people opt to not rent a car because of steep roads. If you do decide to try driving, you should expect to spend about $80 US dollars per day without insurance. The price of fuel is also very expensive, about $6 US dollars per gallon, which makes car travel relatively unaffordable for budget travelers.
However, there are plenty of public transportation options like buses too. A luxury bus between cities will cost about $30 US dollars per person and is a great way to travel. In cities, there are also taxis, which can be hailed if you are looking to go short distances. Your hotel or accommodation may also provide transportation options or give you the best advice.
Top Places to Visit: Cities
Peru has a drastically changing landscape with nature and urban locations blending together. Here, we will give a brief overview of the some of the most popular cities that tourists explore in Peru.
Lima is both the capital and largest city of Peru. Falling just behind Cairo, Egypt, Lima is the second driest capital in the world. The long coastlines have beautiful cliffs and a mix of historical and modern architecture. The city has also become a huge hit in the gastronomy scene, with world renowned chefs and restaurants. The city boasts two restaurants in the top 10 positions of the World’s Best Restaurants: respectively called Central Restaurante and Maido.
But Lima is also known for their nightlife and bars. Miraflores is a popular destination that is filled with busy bars and Pizza Street is the main attraction. But if you party in Peru, expect to party late. Most people head out at 11pm and stay out into the morning hours.
For the sports enthusiasts, specifically surfing, Lima is also known to have some of the best waves in the world. Playa Wakiki is great for beginners, whereas Punta Roquitas is for more advanced surfers. The biggest waves are at Chorrillo, which has a world-class left-handed point break called La Herradura.
Once you’ve hit the waves, you may want to explore the architecture. The colonial style buildings of Lima, including the Palacio de Gobierno are a big attraction for tourists looking to capture stunning urban photographs. The architecture also tells the history of the city and tourists enjoy taking a step back into the past.
Cuzco, also spelled as Cusco, was once the capital of the Incan Empire and it rests in the Peruvian Andes Mountains. The city is filled with Spanish colonial architecture and the Plaza del Armas is a popular destination in the central square. Incan history is located within the city at the Santo Domingo Convent, which was built on top of the Temple of the Sun or Qoricancha to the Incans.
For those wanting to visit the Sacred Valley, Cuzco is the stopping point before you have to find different means of transportation. Trains can be taken from Cuzco to Machu Picchu, as a day trip. Cuzco is extremely popular because of its location and having an airport, which allows people to fly into the city and then continue on their journey to Machu Picchu.
The city of Arequipa is surrounded by 3 volcanoes and has a variety of baroque style buildings. El Misti rises above the town and it can be climbed. But be aware that Arequipa is already at a high altitude of 7660 feet and the volcano rises an additional 11,4440 feet, so be prepared. The Plaza de Armas is the main square, which also has the Basilica Cathedral with a museum-like display of religious artwork and objects. Other important historical sites include the Santa Catalina Monastery and the Museo Santuarios Andinos, which houses the infamous Inca Ice Maiden, Juanita.
Huacachina is a unique city in southwestern Peru that is located in the desert. But the city is a tiny village, that is a lush green oasis in the hot sand. At the center of the village is the Huacachina Lagoon, which is lined with palm trees and has green water. The lagoon is accessible, and you can easily take a boat out on the water. Surrounding the lagoon are bars and clubs, which makes Huacachina a party destination.
There are also small hotels or hostels for accommodation, so that you can stay overnight at the oasis. With the sand dunes surrounding the village, activities like dune buggies, sandboarding, and body boarding are popular. You can also simple hike the dunes to catch a stunning sunset too.
Points of Interest
While cities are often the main attraction, there are many different points of interest throughout Peru that make the country famous.
Machu Picchu are the most famous Incan ruins in Peru, which draws over 1.5 million visitors per year. The site is an Incan citadel, which is located in the Andes Mountains above the Urubamba River. The city was built in the 15th century and was the Incan’s last stronghold before their reign ended. Today, the site is left in ruins but it is visited by curious adventurers who want to see the dry-stone walls and mortar buildings with their own eyes. The greenery around Machu Picchu provides a stunning backdrop and you can hike the Inca Trail, which is one of the world’s most popular hikes.
In the background of most photos of Machu Picchu is the Huayna Picchu mountain. Also called the Young Mountain, it has a shorter trail that is more vertical, but offers stunning views of Machu Picchu when the clouds are clear. But be aware that the difficulty of climbing the mountain does have a 12 or over age restriction and that people who fear heights, should not attempt the climb. There is also a Machu Picchu mountain which does provide views of Machu Picchu and it is less steep, but longer to complete.
The Nazca Lines rest in southern Peru and are pre-Columbian geoglyphs, which were etched into the desert sand by the Nazca people. In a large area of about 1000 square kilometers, the lines depict 300 different figures of animals and plants. The lines are only fully visible by air as some of them are almost 100 feet wide and 5.5 miles long.
While the lines are a mystery as to why they were created, many tourists are eager to view the drawings for themselves, which have been named a World Heritage Site. Unfortunately, the lines are not pristine. The Pan American Highway runs close by to the lines and multiple cars have damaged the desert sands, leaving deep lines that cross the Nazca lines. In 2018, a trucker intentionally destroyed one of the animal lines. In 2014, Greenpeace also caused damage by walking over the hummingbird lines to place a sign. Today, it is best that you respect the area and view the lines by air or from a nearby village.
As the World’s Highest Navigable Body of Water, Lake Titicaca is also South America’s largest lake which has parts in both Peru and Bolivia. It is often said to be the birthplace of the sun or Incas and it is a gorgeous blue color. The calm waters are also home to the Titicaca National Reserve, which is home to rare Peruvian aquatic life. The lake is lined with small and colorful villages, which are great places to stay along the shoreline.
For surf enthusiasts, Playa Chicama is paradise with perfect waves that line up in a row and crash for miles, with some as long as 2 miles. It is often considered the best hidden surf spot and is located in Malabrigo, Peru. The Point is the best location on the waves to surf, which has a decent sized break. The well-shaped waves are fast and somewhat hollow, but do not make a perfect tube. Surfers will catch the best breaks from Easter (Semana Santa) to the winter months.
Get Out and Go
Peru is a stunning country that many are eager to explore for its ancient history and natural beauty. Tourists can step into the past by visiting famous ruins like Machu Picchu or stay in the present and party in Lima. With rich architecture, history, and landscapes, Peru has become a popular destination. The absolutely stunning beauty of Peru will be an experience you won’t easily forget.