Best Time to go to Peru
Peru’s a big place and the weather varies a lot throughout its different regions. That said, throughout the country, there are two main seasons: the wet season and the dry season (with the wetness of the “wet” season and the dryness of the “dry” season depending heavily on what part of the country you’re in). The main factor in determining temperature is elevation: the higher you go, the cooler it gets.
Peru’s peak tourist season is from June to August. This is the cooler dry season in the Andean Highlands and a good time for hiking in that region. People do visit the highlands year-round, though during the wettest months of the year – from December to March – this makes trekking very difficult. Furthermore, during February the Inca Trail is closed for maintenance. April, May, and September can be a great time to visit the highlands since you’ll avoid both the rainy season as well as the hordes of tourists that flock the country during the prime tourist months.
If you’re interested in checking out Coastal Peru the best time of the year is during summer – from December to March – when the water warms up and the skies are clear. In central and southern Peru, a thick fog descends on the coast for much of the rest of the year making the beaches rather grim looking. The beaches in the north – most notably Máncora – tend to be sunny year round and have warmer water than in the south.
Throughout the Amazon Basin, it rains a lot – it is a rain forest, after all! 🙂 The wettest months are from December to May and while you can still visit the region, you’ll have a difficult time getting around and the torrential downpours can make it very difficult to spot wildlife. The best times for visiting the Amazon are between July and November.
Getting to Peru
Arriving in Peru is generally simple enough, provided you satisfy a couple criteria. First of all, citizens of most western countries are required to have a departure ticket upon arrival – don’t show up in Peru with a one-way ticket to South America. Second, you’ll need a passport that is valid for at least six months past your departure date.
Peru has direct flights between a long list of overseas countries, including the USA, Canada, the UK, Germany, France, Holland, Italy and Spain. In almost all cases, these flights will land in Lima. Flying to Peru from outside the Americas and Europe typically requires making a connection in one of these locations.
Airports & airlines
As noted above, nearly all overseas flights into Peru will land at Lima’s Aeropuerto Internacional Jorge Chávez. It’s around a 30-minute taxi ride from the airport into central Lima, though there are plenty of accommodations near the airport in case you’re arriving late.
The following airlines have regular flights to and from Peru:
- Air Canada
- Air France
- American Airlines
- British Airways
- Copa Airlines
- United Airlines
Airline tickets & costs
Due to Peru’s long distance from most western airports, flights to Peru can be expensive. For some visitors, particularly those located in Australia or New Zealand, it’s worth looking into flying first to Santiago, Chile and then booking a connecting flight from there.
LAND & RIVER
The Darien Gap, an undeveloped portion of jungle between Colombia and Panama, has no roads connecting Central and South America and thus visitors from North America cannot reach (directly) Peru by land. Bringing your own vehicle from North America is possible, but will require (expensively) shipping your vehicle by boat to get it past the Darien Gap.
Peru has many border crossings with it’s five neighboring countries; Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador. Typically, the cheapest and most hassle-free way to cross any of the borders is by bus. Ormeño is the main bus company providing such crossings, and provides them to all of Peru’s neighbors, except Brazil.
You can travel to Peru from Brazil by catching one of the many boats that sail down the Amazon. These boats pick up (and drop off) travelers at all of the towns along the river.
Getting Around Peru
The Chilean airline LAN is the major provider of flights within Peru. They provide flights between most of Peru’s major cities, though almost all of these will have a connection in Lima. The Peruvian airline Star Peru also has a wide range of domestic flights within Peru, though their planes/level of service seems to be slightly below that of LAN (which is comparable to major western airlines).
At any given time, there are about a half-dozen other airlines operating in Peru which follow a boom and bust pattern of starting up and going out of business. Occasionally these airlines have poor safety records or are very unreliable, so make sure you look into the track record of any unknown airline you’re booking a flight with (particularly if they’re offering a “too good to be true” price).
The bus is the most common way for Peruvians to travel about the country, as well as for many visitors. It’s a fairly cheap way to get around the country and there are usually multiple daily connections between the major destinations in Peru.
The larger bus companies have quite luxurious buses, with air conditioning, toilets, comfortable seats that recline almost all the way and onboard snacks and televisions. Even with all these amenities, you can travel very long distances without spending too much money. For instance, the 18 hour trip from Lima to Cusco still only costs around 30 USD on one of these buses.
For shorter trips (and for long ones, if you’re looking to save money), there are económico bus services available at a fraction of the cost. These buses are typically pretty beat up and the seats cramped (particularly for taller travelers).
There are plenty of bus companies operating at all ends of the price spectrum. In the higher end of things, the mainstays are Cruz del Sur and Ormeño. At the lower end of things, there’s literally dozens, with companies opening and closing all the time. Do keep in mind, if you’re traveling on a lower end bus it is a somewhat hard-edged experience; you’re likely to be the only foreigner on the bus, it will get very crowded, and you’ll need to keep a close eye on your belongings. It can also get very cold if you’re traveling through the mountains. In this case, make sure you bring a blanket or, ideally, a sleeping bag.
Regarding the safety of buses in Peru, keep in mind that both short and long distance bus rides can be dangerous, as the roads in Peru are often in poor shape and the driving style is very aggressive. While the risk of something happening is low, it’s probably higher than, say, taking a bus trip along a four-lane highway in the U.S. or Europe. There’s also a risk, albeit low, of crime being committed against you while commuting on a bus. Usually, this takes the form of criminals boarding the bus (either after posing as passengers or setting up a roadblock), and then, passenger by passenger, robbing everyone on board. Generally, people who don’t resist are unharmed. These occur very rarely, so don’t get too paranoid. You can dramatically lower your risk by avoiding overnight buses and sticking to well-touristed routes.
Driving long distances yourself in Peru is generally more trouble than it’s worth; road signs are few and far between, towns can be separated by hundreds of kilometers and it’s often no cheaper than hiring a taxi to do the driving (and much more expensive than taking a bus).
A better option is often to rely on either a bus or plane for commuting long distances and then renting a car to explore a particular area of interest. In any case, being at least 25 years old, having a driver’s license from your home country and having a credit card is sufficient to rent a car in Peru. Economy cars usually cost around 50 USD per day, while an SUV (which you may want considering the conditions of many Peruvian roads) costs around 100 to 150 USD per day.
Driving in Peru can be a demanding experience. Rules of the road are seldom followed and Peruvians tend to drive very aggressively. You may want to avoid driving at night; roads are seldom lit, other vehicles may not have lights and bandits can be a problem.
What Language do they speak in Peru?
Spanish is by far the most common language in Peru. English will generally be understood at hotels where foreigners frequent, airline offices, travel agents and tourist agencies, but will not be of much use elsewhere. In the Andean Highlands, most of the indigenous people are bilingual, with Quechua as their first language and Spanish as their second. In some very remote areas of Peru, there are some people who solely speak Quechua, though it’s unlikely you’ll encounter any Peruvians who don’t speak Spanish.
If you’re going to be visiting Peru obviously knowing a little Spanish would be useful, but it’s not essential. Peruvian Spanish is considered one of the language’s “cleanest” dialects, with relatively clear pronunciation.
If you’re going to be visiting Peru, I highly recommend you pick up a small pocket-size Spanish phrase book. These usually contain a section with all sorts of common questions/remarks and really makes it a lot easier to navigate yourself. I recommend you Lonely Planet Latin American Spanish Phrasebook which you can purchase at Amazon for under ten bucks. It’s small enough to easily fit in a breast pocket, durable and has all the phrases you’d need to get by in a Spanish-speaking country.
Also, consider getting a Quechua phrasebook. While most of Peru’s Quechua-speaking indigenous people speak Spanish as a second language, they really appreciate it when visitors make an effort to communicate with them in their mother tongue. It’s also a rewarding experience learning an indigenous language such as Quechua, as it’s probably unlike any language you’ve encountered before. In this case, I also highly recommend Lonely Planet Quechua Phrasebook
What is Peru currency
Money of Peru
The unit of currency in Peru is the nuevo sol (S), though commonly just called the “sol” (or “soles” for plural). Prices are commonly listed in US dollars as well, particularly businesses frequented by tourists. Visa and MasterCard are accepted throughout Peru, though there is often a service charge of 5% or 10% when using these. There’s plenty of ATM machines throughout Peru and most accept foreign bank cards and credit cards.
Cajeros automáticos (ATMs) are plentiful throughout Peru; you’ll find them in every city and town, airports, bus stations, shopping malls, etc. In almost all cases, these machines have instructions in Spanish and English (and commonly German, French or Dutch). Many, perhaps most, ATMs dispense US dollars as well as soles.
ATMs usually have per transaction withdrawal limit that can be anywhere from S300 to S1,000. There’s a withdrawal fee of around S10 per transaction, in addition to any transaction fees levied by your own bank. For this reason, it can be wise to withdraw as much as you reasonably can to minimize the number of transactions you have to make.
Peruvian nuevo soles come in bills of S10, S20, S50 and S100. Each sol is equal to 100 céntimos, which come in coins of S0.05, S0.10, S0.20, S0.50, S1, S2 and S5. Many businesses, particularly tourist-oriented ones, will also accept US dollars.
Counterfeiting (of both US dollars and soles) is very common in Peru so always be vigilant when changing your money. When receiving change, always check for the watermark, ensure the writing along the top of the bill is raised, the line underneath this writing is made up of tiny words, and that the metallic strip running through the bill has the word “Peru” repeatedly written clearly and crisply when held up to light. While this all sounds tedious, after handling Peruvian currency for a few days, you’ll get a feel for it and should be able to spot any fakes provided you’re careful.
Changing large bills, especially S100, can be a real headache. Many businesses won’t accept them for small purchases, so try and keep some smaller denominations on hand at all times.
Most higher end hotels and shops accept credit cards. Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted. Before you travel to Peru, notify your credit card company of your plans or they may put a freeze on the card thinking it’s been stolen once they see transactions taking place in Peru.
Most businesses that accept credit cards apply a surcharge of 5% to 10% to your purchase.
Traveler’s checks are rarely accepted by businesses in Peru, so you’ll have to line up at a bank to change them. In addition to the commissions you’ll be charged for cashing them, the exchange rate you receive for traveler’s checks can be quite a bit lower than what you’d receive for US dollars, so they can end up being a rather expensive way to manage your money.
Tipping & Bargaining in Peru
Many restaurants will include a service charge, or servicio, in your bill. In this case, there is no need to tip. Otherwise, it’s standard to tip around 10% of your bill in restaurants.
It’s customary to tip about 10% of the bill in restaurants. Usually, restaurant tips can’t be added to a credit card bill, so if a credit card is your intended means of payment be sure to carry some cash so you can provide a tip. Taxi drivers usually aren’t tipped, though rounding up to the nearest peso is customary.
Bargaining is common and expected when shopping in markets or buying from street vendors. In upscale, western-style stores, prices are usually fixed.
Peru travel cost
As of mid-2016, Peru is an extremely cheap travel destination by western standards. Budget tourists, sleeping in hostels, eating at midrange restaurants and traveling on cheap buses, can get by on 25 USD (or less) per day. Travelers wishing to stay in private rooms have moderately upscale meals and travel on high-end buses or by plane should expect to spend between 60 USD and 100 USD per day. Staying at luxurious hotels and eating at top end restaurants will cost 200 USD to 300 USD (or more) per day.
The most expensive cities, by far, are Lima and Cusco. North of Lima, outside of where most tourists venture, things are quite a bit cheaper.
Peru – Passport, and Visa Requirements
With the exception of a few African, Asian and communist countries, visas are not required for visiting Peru. Tourists are allowed a 30 to 90-day stay, with the exact length determined by the immigration officer at your time of arrival in Peru. When entering Peru, you also receive a tourist card, called a Tarjeta Andina de Migración that you must return upon leaving the country.
For a fee of around 50 USD, you can extend your stay by 30 days. This can be done at immigration offices which are located in most of the major cities.
It’s a good idea to carry your passport – or a copy of it – at all times. It will be required (or the number at very least) for making many bookings; tours, bus trips, airplane tickets, etc. It’s required by law that you carry your passport with you while on the Inca Trail.
Safety in Peru
Peru is a fairly poor country and has had a tumultuous past. While it’s made strides over the past few couple of decades, it’s still a pretty wild place compared to any western country.
By far the most common crimes committed against tourists in Peru are of the petty, sneaky variety: bag snatching, bag slitting, pick-pocketing, etc. These sorts of crimes occur most commonly in crowded, hectic areas where you’re most likely to be distracted, such as bus terminals, markets or street festivals.
More brazen crimes, such as armed robberies or bus hijackings, are rare but they do occur. To minimize the likelihood of these, avoid venturing outside crowded tourist areas after dark. If possible, avoid taking overnight buses (although this has the downside of having to waste a day sitting on a bus instead of a night sleeping on one) and avoid the highway near Tingo Maria in the north of Peru, where bus hijackings are very common.
Political stability & civil unrest
Peru endured a brutal civil war during the 1980s and 90s that left nearly 70,000 dead and made much of the country off-limits to travelers. Fortunately, the situation has improved dramatically and over the past decade Peru has enjoyed relative peace and stability as well as had some of the largest economic growth in all of the Americas. While public protests and strikes are common, it’s political climate is fairly hospitable to foreigners.
There’s no getting around it; Peru’s roads are pretty dangerous, at least by western standards. Many stretches of road are unpaved and have huge potholes. As the roads climb into the Andes, you’ll be driving beside terrifyingly steep cliffs without a guard rail in sight. All this is compounded by the fact that Peruvians are pretty crazy drivers; the driving style is very aggressive, speeding is rampant and use of signal lights non-existant.
While earthquakes get the most attention – the country sites at the fault line of several tectonic plates – the greatest natural hazard in Peru is probably landslides. During the rainy season, these are extremely common in the Andean Highlands region of the country and make trekking during this a time a risky proposition.