If you are planning a trip to the South American country of Peru and you are wondering what to expect, this article should help immensely.
I just recently returned from five months of backpacking around Peru (and occasionally renting bicycles while I was there), and this article/video is a summary of my impressions of the country. I recommend you watch the 30-minute video above first… and then continue by reading my additional remarks below.
My Overall Impression Of Peru
Overall, I really liked Peru and I would go back in a heartbeat. But the truth is, the place certainly took some time to get used to.
My recent travels through Peru were not only my first time in the country, but they were my first time in South America all together. Right off the airplane at the Lima airport, I knew that I was in for an adventure. Taxi drivers started hounded me the moment I walked out to the street with my luggage in hand… and the hounding didn’t stop until I left the country five months later.
Over time, I had to get used to hailing a taxi, negotiating on prices, buying food from street vendors, eating in filthy restaurants, traveling on long 12+ hour bus rides, squeezing into crowded combi vans, talking to locals in broken Spanish, and a whole lot more. Peru is not for the faint of heart… nor is it for those wishing to be pampered. It takes a certain kind of person to travel in Peru… and if you aren’t that type of person when you arrive there, you’ll either leave right away… or you’ll be forced to turn yourself into that kind of person by the time you head home.
Overall, Peru is a wonderful little country where your money can go a long ways, the people are incredibly friendly, transportation is as easy as pie, and the scenery outside of the cities is completely out of this world!
Is Peru Expensive? How Much Does It Cost?
Peru is cheap! Really cheap in fact. I’ve already talked about how much Peru cost me in numerous other articles here on BicycleTouringPro.com, but if you were really on a budget, you could get by in Peru with a lot less cash. I met several people traveling through Peru who were navigating their way through the country on as little as $500 USD or less per month… many of the locals get by on nearly half of that. Peru is not expensive!
The Best Thing(s) About Peru
If I had to name just one thing that I like most about Peru, it would be the low cost of travel . But there are a number of other things I like about the country that are close seconds to this. For example:
1. The people are incredibly friendly – more friendly than in any other country I have ever been to.
2. The public transportation in Peru is incredible. Just stick your arm out at any passing vehicle, and if they have room, they’ll pick you up and give you a ride (usually for a very small fee). Overnight bus rides can cost as little as $6 USD, short combi rides can cost less than a buck, and taxis rides across town are just a fraction of the cost of a taxi ride in North America or Europe. And best of all, the vehicles in Peru go just about everywhere in the country. In fact, there isn’t a place in Peru that you can’t get to on some kind of public transportation. This is certainly something many countries lack – the ability to get about without a vehicle of your own. And since I was in Peru without a vehicle, getting around via bus, combi and taxi was a great way to go!
3. Another thing I really like about Peru is that the people there rarely ever get upset. They drive like maniacs and scramble to be the first person on the bus, but even if the people don’t get their way, they hardly ever complain. Coming from America, where everyone seems to be stressed out and upset about something, Peru was a total vacation from that particular kind of insanity. Their way of life is just a whole lot simpler and slower than what I am used to, and it was nice to see that not everyone in the world is running about like a chicken with its head cut off.
4. The lack of police and government control is another thing I really enjoyed about Peru. For some travelers, this might scare them, but I personally found it to be quite wonderful. You see, here in the United States (where I am from) there is, in my opinion, too much government control… and the police don’t seem to be out there in order to help most citizens. Instead, they’ve got a quota they need to fill, so they are constantly looking for people to fine and penalize for what are often times very trivial mistakes. In Peru, this doesn’t happen. The government doesn’t seem to intervene in the creation of new businesses and police don’t pull you over just because you are traveling a little bit faster than the posted speed limit. If you wanted to start a business in Peru, for example, all you would have to do is rent a building, open the doors, and then you are in business! There are no licenses to file, no fees to pay, no inspectors threatening to shut you down. You just open the doors and do your best to attract customers. It’s that easy! And as for the police, it seemed to me that the police are more afraid of the citizens in Peru than the citizens are afraid of the police. In the USA, for example, it is usually the other way around. The police in Peru seem to have three main jobs: 1) Directing traffic (usually through crowded intersections), 2) finding drug traffickers (I was personally searched for drugs only once while in Peru), and 3) stopping those individuals who are driving without the proper license or registration on their vehicles. I never once saw a police officer pulling someone over in Peru for speeding, driving outside the lines, not wearing a seat-belt, passing on the wrong side, or anything like that. In Peru, it seems, these are all very trivial matters that the police don’t feel the need to intervene with. And in my opinion, the police in the USA should operate in very much the same way. Hell, in the USA, I’m afraid I’m going to get arrested if I just step on someone’s lawn… or even look at a police officer in the wrong way. I was so happy not to have to deal with that while I was in Peru.
The Worst Thing(s) About Peru
There are a number of things that I dislike about Peru. But the one thing that got to me more than anything else, was the totally slow Internet speeds in the country. While I was in Peru, I was trying to work and travel at the same time, and because of the Internet being so incredibly slow, I could not get hardly any work done while I was there. The slow Internet not only blocked me from getting my work done, but it stopped me from connecting to the outside world (my friends and family) and it prevented me from being able to watch any kind of online entertainment (videos, movies, etc). There are Internet cafes just about everywhere in Peru, and the Internet is fairly cheap, but the Internet in Peru is so incredibly slow. Hopefully this improves greatly over the next several years.
As for the other things I dislike about Peru, I think this article that I wrote while I was in Puno does a good job of summarizing some of the other things that really bugged me about being on my own, totally alone, and in the South American country of Peru.
Were There Many International Travelers In Peru?
During my time in Peru (I was traveling during the rainy season), I only met a few dozen travelers… and those travelers that I did meet seemed to all be a certain kind of people.
What I mean by this is that of the people I met and spent time with in Peru, almost all of them were using their travels through South America as a means of making changes in their life. Many of the people I met had quit their jobs back home because they didn’t like the job they were doing… and they were using their trip through Peru as a chance to search for something meaningful in the future. In fact, many of these people had plans never to return to their normal lives. Many of them wanted to stay in South America… or were, at the very least, open to moving anywhere else, just so long as they did not have to return home.
That said, most of the travelers I met in Peru were from specific geographical regions. I met several Americans, two Canadians, a couple Australians, a handful of Israelis, a ton of people from Belgium, a lot of Germans, and a few other people from countries such as Ireland, Japan, Spain, Switzerland, and Estonia. When I met someone new on the road, I could almost guess as to where they were from, because they were almost always from one of the few countries I’ve listed here.
My Favorite Location In Peru
My overall favorite place in all of Peru was the city of Puno, located on the edge of Lake Titicaca. While the city itself is not all that impressive, it was the things I did while I was there in the city of Puno that left a lasting impression on me. As I discussed in the video above, Puno was my home base for three whole weeks while I attempted to work and explore some of the neighboring areas. The highlights in Puno consisted of a trip out to the floating islands, a combi ride to the Gateway to the Gods, the Festival la Virgen de la Candelaria, another short hike up to the Cutimbo funeral towers, my tricycle touring adventure as I left the city, and an overnight stay at the Sillustani ruins. Puno was an awesome little place to stay… and I would wholeheartedly recommend it.
My Least Favorite Location In Peru
My least favorite location in Peru was easily the beach town of Mancora. According to the Lonely Planet book I was carrying with me throughout my travels in Peru, Mancora is a fancy beach town… but it certainly is not. The city is a tiny little dot on the edge of the northern coast of Peru that is expensive, dirty, and far from relaxing. I think that if I were into surfing or simply lounging at the beach for hours on end, then Mancora would have impressed me a whole lot more. But I don’t really like the beach, and I certainly did not like Mancora.
Places In Peru I Recommend You Visit
If I were to recommend just a couple places to visit on your trip to Peru, I would suggest that you go to three main areas: Puno, Cusco (and the entire Sacred Valley), and Huaraz. Puno is the more dirty and authentic side of Peru, where as Cusco is very touristy, and Huaraz is a mix of the two with some of the most incredible hiking and climbing in the entire country.
If I Were To Go Back To Peru, Where Would I Go?
If I were to go back to Peru at some point in the future, I would fly into Lima and travel from there to the city of Huaraz, where I would stay for at least two weeks or more. While in Huaraz, I would plan to spent at least 80% of my time in the mountains. From there, I’d travel to the two main areas I did not get to see of Peru on this most recent adventure of mine. I would travel to the city Chachapoyas and visit the massive fortress at Kuelap, which is the one ruin that I really wanted to see in Peru that I did not get to see. From there, I would travel to the tiny town of Yurimaguas and take a boat for several days up the river to the city of Iquitos. I’d spent a couple weeks in Iquitos and be sure to do a little traveling along the Amazon River while I was there. Then I’d fly back to Lima from Iquitos and move on to somewhere new.
If I Were To Do My Trip Through Peru Differently, How Would I Go About It?
If I were to conduct my trip through Peru all over again, there are two main things I would do differently.
1. The first thing I would have done differently is, I would have spent a lot more time before my trip to Peru trying to learn Spanish. I came to Peru with no Spanish skills whatsoever and it was very difficult for me at times to communicate what I wanted to say. Most of the other travelers I met in Peru were very good at Spanish (or at least a whole lot better than me), and being able to communicate made their travels in Peru a whole easier.
2. Another thing I would do differently if I were to go back to Peru is, I would go with another person. While I got along just fine by myself, five months of traveling with no one to talk to (and being unable to speak to the locals) got really boring after a while. I like to travel with myself sometimes, and sometimes you don’t have a choice but to travel alone, but if I were to go back to Peru, I would make an effort to find someone willing to go with me. Out of all the travelers I met in Peru, only 6 were traveling by themselves. 3 men and 3 women. Everyone else I met while I was there was traveling with a friend, family member, or significant other.
Do You Need To Know Spanish in Order To Travel In Peru?
No, you don’t need to know Spanish in order to travel in Peru, but it certainly does help. I arrived in Peru on day one and couldn’t even understand the prices that were being quoted to me by the taxi drivers. I learned as I went along and by the end of my five months in the country I was able to communicate just about anything that I might want to get across.
That said, if you are planning a trip to Peru, take some serious time to at least learn the basics. You should be able to ask for and understand prices, know how to ask for a discount, know how to ask how long a bus ride is, and have an understanding of basic Spanish words (especially words having to do with food, transportation, and family).
What Other Advice Do You Have For People Planning To Travel In Peru?
If I could give one piece of advice to those wishing to travel to Peru, it would be this: Expect it to be rough, dirty and slow… but do what you can to enjoy it while you’re there. Because if you open your eyes long enough and get the guts to venture outside some of the more popular tourist tracks, Peru is one amazingly beautiful place filled with some of the kindest people in the world.
Have fun… and send me a postcard!