Helpful Travel Information
Welcome to our Helpful Peru Page. Here are all the Peru information and travel tips you will need to have a successful holiday to Peru. So, if you are thinking about visiting Peru, read our pages and hopefully they will give you the proper travel advice for your trip to Peru, as well as providing you with all the information to make your Peru tour more hassle free.
The official name of the country is “The Republic of Peru”. It is the multiple layers of great civilizations that make Peru so fascinating. You can wander around colonial cities which have preserved the legacy of the Spanish conquistadors, visit the ancient Incan capital of Cuzco, explore the lost city of Machu Picchu and ponder the enigma of the Nazca Lines.
All of this exists in a country with some of the most spectacular and varied scenery in South America. The Peruvian Andes are arguably the most beautiful on the continent and the mountains are home to millions of highland Indians who still speak the ancient tongue of Quechua and maintain a traditional way of life. The verdant Amazon Basin, which occupies half of Peru, is one of the world's top 10 biodiversity `hot spots' - a species-rich area of tropical rainforest that will amaze you before you start to learn about its ecology.
Lima is located on the central western coast and the capital of Peru. The friendly people, important historical sites, quality museums, and variety of dining and entertainment establishments make Lima a very interesting place to visit.
Festivities can be explored year-round in Lima. The Lord of the Miracles (Senor de los Milagros), the patron Saint of Lima, is celebrated in October with a series of street parades. October is also the month when the bullfighting season begins. The best bullfighters of the world come to compete for the Escapulario de Oro (the gold epaulet) in the Plaza de Acho Ring. Other celebrations throughout the year include a wine harvest festival in March, and the Feria del Pacifico international fair in November.
The Plaza de Armas is a great starting point for exploring Lima. Stand in the middle of this spacious and handsome square, by the 17th century bronze fountain, and you are at the historic heart of the city. On the north side is the Government Palace, which was completed in 1938, and suffers from the past of Peru’s dictators of the time for grandiose French baroque. On the weekdays at 12:45pm, you can see the changing of the guard. The eastern side of the square is dominated by the cathedral, which was reconstructed many times due to earthquakes. Inside the cathedral is a large and unusually austere. Opposite the cathedral is the Municiplidad de Lima, or town hall. The pleasant interior includes a fine library. Next to it on the square is the headquarters of the Club de la Union, a lunchtime mixture of politicians and professionals.
Lima has many choices of museums to visit. The Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology in the Plaza Bolivar is one of the most interesting museums in South America, with a superb collection of pottery and textiles from all the main cultures of Ancient Peru. The Museum of the Republic contains exhibits from the colonial and independence
periods. The National Museum opened in 1990, in a neo-brutalist mausoleum on Av Javier Prado Oeste in San Borja. The museum contains impressive mock-ups of pre-Columbian archaeological sites, and an ingenious replica of the Chavin stela, a massive carved stone idol. The Gold Museum contains a private collection with some fine items and artifacts. The Museum of the Inquisition, next to the Congress in the city center, is in the building where generations of supposed heretics were tortured and chambers are originals. The business districts of San Isidro and Miraflores are the main areas for shopping, restaurants, cafes, and theatres.
The archaeological capital of the Americas and the oldest continuously inhabited city on the continent, Cuzco is now an important link in the South American travel network. Its legacy as the hub of the Inca Empire is readily apparent by seeing that most of the city streets are lined with Inca-built stonewalls and crowded with Quecha-speaking descendants of the Incas.
The city has magnificent repositories of colonial art such as the cathedral (begun in 1559) and La Merced Church. There are also the Coricancha ruins, east of the city center, which were formerly covered with gold (the stonework is all that remains) and the Museo de Arqueológia, of which interior is filled with metal and gold work, jewelry, pottery, textiles and mummies. Four other ruins - Sacsayhuamán, Qenko, Puca Pucara and Tambo Machay - are nearby. West of Cuzco is Machu Picchu, the best-known and most spectacular site on the continent. Despite the relentless stampede of tourists to the ruins, this 'Lost City of the Incas' still retains an air of grandeur and mystery and is a 'must see' for any visitor to Peru.
The ruins of Machu Picchu, rediscovered in 1911 by Yale Archaeologist Hiram Bingham, are one of the most beautiful and enigmatic ancient sites in the world. While the Inca people certainly used the Andean mountain top (9060 feet elevation), erecting many hundreds of stone structures from the early 1400’s , legends and myths indicate that Machu Picchu (meaning “Old Peak” in the Quechua Language) was revered as a sacred place from a far earlier time. Whatever its origins, the Incas turned the site into a small (5 square miles) but extraordinary city. Invisible from below and completely self-contained, surrounded by agricultural terraces sufficient to feed the population, and watered by natural springs, Machu Picchu seems to have been utilized by the Incas as a secret ceremonial city. Two thousand feet above the rumbling Urubamba River, the cloud shrouded ruins have palaces, baths, temples, storage rooms, and some 150 homes, all in a remarkable state of preservation. These structures, carved from the gray granite of the mountaintop are wonders of both architectural and aesthetic genius. Many of the building blocks weigh 50 tons or more yet are so precisely sculpted and fitted together with such precision that the mortar less joints will not permit the insertion of even a thin knife blade. Little is known of the social or religious use of the site during the Incan era. The skeletal remains of ten females to one male had led to the casual assumption that the site may have been a sanctuary for the training of priestesses and or brides for the Inca nobility. However, subsequent oenological examination of the bones revealed an equal number of male bones thereby indicating that Machu Picchu was not exclusively a temple or dwelling place for women. One of Machu Picchu’s primary functions was that of astronomical observatory. The Intihuatana Stone (meaning “Hitching Post of the Sun”) has been shown to be a precise indicator of the date of the two equinoxes and other significant celestial periods. The Intihuatana (also called the Saywa or Sukhanka Stone) is designed to hitch the sun at the two equinoxes, not at the solstice (as is stated in some tourist literature and new age books). At midday on March 21st and September 21st the sun stands almost directly above the pillar creating no shadow at all. At this precise moment the sun “sits with all its might upon the pillar” and is for a moment “tied” to the rock and it is during these periods that the Incas held ceremonies at the stone in which they “tied the sun” to halt its northward movement in the sky. There is also an Intihuatana alignment with the December solstice (the summer solstice of the southern hemisphere) when at sunset the sun sinks behind Pumasillo (the Puma’s Claw) the most sacred mountain of the western Vileabamba range, but the shrine itself is primarily equinotctial. Shamanic legends say that when sensitive persons touch their foreheads to the stone, the Intihuatana opens one’s vision to the spirit world. Intihuatanas stones were the supremely sacred objects of the Inca people and were systematically searched for and destroyed by the Spaniards. When the Intihuatana stone was broken at an Inca shrine, the Incas believed that the deities of the place died or departed. The Spaniards never found Machu Picchu even though they suspected its existence thus the Intihuatana stone and its resident spirits remain in their original position. The mountain top sanctuary fell into disuse and was abandoned some forty years after the Spanish took Cuzco in 1533. Supply lines linking the many Inca social centers were disrupted and the great empire ended. Partway down the northern side of Wayna Picchu is the so-called “Temple of the Moon” inside a cavern.
Located between Bolivia and Peru, Lake Titicaca is one of the most fascinating lakes in the world. It is situated at a very high altitude, at over 12,530 feet (3,820 meters) above sea level which makes it the highest navigable lake in the world and the center of a region where thousands of subsistence farmers make a living fishing in its icy waters, growing potatoes in the rocky land at its edge or herding llama and alpaca at altitudes that leave travelers gasping for air. It is also where traces of the Spanish conquistadors' aggressive campaign to erase Inca and Pre-Inca cultures and, in recent times, the lure of modernization. The deep blue Lake Titicaca is so large that it has waves. This, the most sacred body of water in the Inca Empire and now the natural separation between Peru and Bolivia, has a surface area exceeding 3,100 square miles, not counting its more than 30 islands.
The best-known of the islands dotting Titicaca's surface are the Uros, floating islands of reed named after the Indians who inhabited them. The Uros' poverty has prompted more and more of them to move to Puno. That same poverty has caused those who remain to take a hard-sell approach to tourists and, besides pressing visitors to buy their handicrafts, they frequently demand "tips" for having their photographs taken.
A tour at Titicaca is definitely an unforgettable experience for any visitor. When visiting Lake Titicaca, the town of Puno is the best place to stay, on the Peruvian side of the lake. In the nights it is very cold, while during the days, sometimes the weather is hot. We recommend visiting it anytime, except between June and August, when it is the coldest. The town of Puno is an interesting place to visit as it is the capital of folklore of Peru. It also has a beautiful old cathedral, and it is close to many attractions of Peru like Macchu Picchu or the town of Cusco. Lake Titicaca is a sacred place for the Inca civilization, as the Incan mythology says that the first Inca king, Manco Capac, was born here. According to the Incan mythology, this is the place where the world was created from, when the god Viracocha came out of the lake and created the sun, the stars and the first people. You will have many places to discover on the shore of Lake Titicaca, as well as on the many islands that exist on the lake. On the Bolivian side of the lake you will find the fascinating town of Challapampa, home of the famous labyrinth (Chinkana). Also on the Bolivian side, you can find the biggest island of the lake, Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun). While there are no roads on the island, making it not tourism friendly, the over 180 ruins from the Incan period are making it worth to visit.
FACTS AT GLANCE
Full country name: Republic of Peru
Area: 1,285,215 square kilometers (501,234 square miles)
Population: 29.5 million (July 2010 est.)
Capital city: Lima (pop: about 9 million)
People: 54% Indian, 32% Mestizo (mixed European and Indian descent), 12% Spanish
descent, 2% Black, Asian minority
Language: Spanish, Quechua, Aymara
Religion: Over 90% Roman Catholic, small Protestant population
Peru is in western South America. It shares borders with Chile (to the south), Bolivia (southeast), Brazil (northeast), Colombia (north) and Ecuador (northwest). It has three major regions: a narrow coastal belt, the wide Andean mountains and the Amazon Basin. The coastal strip is predominantly desert, but contains Peru's major cities and its best highway, the Carratera Panamericana.
The Andes comprise two principal ranges - Cordillera Occidental and Oriental - and includes Huascarán (6770m/22,200ft), Peru's highest mountain. To the east is the Amazon Basin, a region of tropical lowland, which is drained by the Maranon and Ucayali rivers.
Bird and marine life is abundant along Peru's desert coast, with colonies of sea lion, the Humboldt penguin, Chilean flamingo, Peruvian pelican, Inca tern and the brown booby endemic to the region. Common highland birds include the Andean condor, puna ibis and a variety of hummingbird. The highlands are also home to camellias such as the llama, alpaca, guanaco and vicuña, while the eastern slopes of the Andes are the haunts of jaguars, spectacled bears and tapirs. Peru's flora contains a number of hardy and unique plants, including patches of Polylepis woodland found at extreme heights. The vast wealth of wildlife is protected in a system of national parks and reserves with almost 30 areas covering nearly 7% of the country.
Peru's climate can be divided into two seasons - wet and dry - though this varies, depending on the geographical region. The coast and western Andean slopes are generally dry, with the summer falling between December and April; during the rest of the year, the garúa (coastal fog) moves in and the sun is rarely seen. In the Andes, the dry season is from May to September, while the wet season takes up the remainder of the year. On the eastern slopes of the Andes, the drier months are similar to the highlands, though the wet season (January to April) is more pronounced.
The first inhabitants of Peru were nomadic hunter-gatherers who lived in caves in Peru's coastal regions. The oldest site, Pikimachay Cave, dates from 12,000 BC. Crops such as cotton, beans, squash, and pepper chili’s were planted. Around 4000 BC advanced cultures such as the Chavín introduced weaving, agriculture, and religion to the country. Around 300 BC, the Chavín inexplicably disappeared, but over the centuries several other cultures - including the Salinar, Nazca, Paracas Necropolis and Wari (Huari) became locally important. By the early 15th century, the Inca Empire had control of much of the area, even extending its influence into Colombia and Chile.
Between 1526-1528, the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro explored Peru's coastal regions and, drawn by the riches of the Inca Empire, returned to Spain to raise money and recruit men for another expedition to the country. Her returned marching into Cajamarca, in northern Peru, before capturing, ransoming, and executing the Inca Emperor Atahualpa in 1533. Pizarro subsequently founded the city of Lima in 1535 but was assassinated six years later. The rebellion of the last Inca leader, Manco Inca, ended ingloriously with his beheading in 1572.
The next 200 years proved peaceful, with Lima becoming the major political, social, and commercial center of the Andean nations. However, the exploitation of Indians by their colonial masters led to an uprising in 1780 under the self-styled Inca Tupac Amaru II. The rebellion was short-lived and most of the leaders were rounded up and executed. Peru continued to remain loyal to Spain until 1824 two `outsiders’, the Venezuelan Simon Bolivar and the Argentinian Jose de San Martin liberated the country. In 1866, Peru won a brief war with Spain but was humiliated by Chile in the War of the Pacific (1879-83), which resulted in the loss of lucrative nitrate fields in the northern Atacama Desert.
Peru is the third large country in Latin America with a large variety of climates.
The winter is from May through October. The average temperature in this season is around 55 F. Usually a sweater is enough to keep warm. The Summer is from November through April. The average temperature is 85F. During the summer, very light and casual clothing is recommended in addition to a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.
Temperature ranges from 65 F during the day to 30 F at night. The rainy season lasts from December to March. For the evenings a good sweater and maybe a jacket will be required, and for the rainy season for sure an umbrella.
Hot and humid with showers all year round. Light clothing and an umbrella is recommended.
PASSPORT & VISA REQUIREMENTS
A valid passport is required for entry into Peru and should be valid for at least six months after your return date. No visa is required for a stay of up to 90 days for passport holders of the United States and Canada: notable exceptions are New Zealanders and Spaniards. Please check with your local consulate.
We strongly recommend the purchase of travel insurance as additional security in the case of cancellation or interruption of travel plans, lost or damaged luggage, travel delays, illness, or accident. Learning Through Travel suggests you obtain travel insurance with Travel Guard International. You will have three options to purchase travel insurance: one contact Learning Through Travel and they will apply the insurance for you, secondly call Travel Guard directly at 1-800-549-9037, or your third option would be to go to Travel Guard’s website at www.TravelGuard.com to apply for the insurance yourself. You will be asked for a travel agent code, in this case please give them the code 00552160 as this will identify your booking with Learning Through Travel. Travel insurance is only applicable to U.S. and Canadian Citizens.
Acute mountain sickness is caused by a lack of oxygen when traveling to higher elevations. This usually occurs in individuals exposed to an altitude over 7000 feet (2,100 m) who had not had a chance to acclimate to the altitude before engaging in physical activities. Mountain climbers, trekkers, skiers and travelers to the Andes or Himalayas are at greater risk. While individual tolerance varies, symptoms usually appear in several hours, with those in poor physical condition being most susceptible. Headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and poor appetite occur initially. Inability to sleep is also frequently reported. In more severe cases thinking and judgment may be impaired. An uncommon but potentially fatal complication called high altitude pulmonary edema caused by fluid build-up in the lungs can also occur.
The symptoms of acute mountain sickness can be prevented or minimized by gradually ascending over several days to give your body a chance to acclimate to the higher altitude. The prescription medication Diamox (acetazolamide) (speak to your physician before traveling) has been shown to speed up the acclimatization process and can be taken shortly before and during ascent. Do not take this medication if you are allergic to sulfa drugs. This medication is a mild diuretic and may work by changing the body’s acid-base balance and stimulating breathing. Once symptoms occur, they usually improve over several days without treatment. However, if they become severe, they can be relieved with the administration of oxygen or descent to lower altitude. Your hotel will have oxygen available for your use. Please do not hesitate to ask for the oxygen tank before leaving the hotel.
Also, you may enjoy coca tea.
Please speak with your physician before traveling to Peru. They know you best and will make the necessary suggestions. No inoculations are required for entry into Peru. If traveling within the Amazon to-date Tetanus and Hepatitis A and B shots are strongly recommended, and all travelers should consult with their physician regarding malaria prophylaxis. Malaria is common in many parts of the Peruvian Amazon. Yellow Fever is much rarer, and unlikely to be encountered. Bring sufficient quantities of prescriptionmedications, as well as a basic first-aid-kit, anti-histamine for insect bites or allergies, antacid, anti-diarrhea medication, antibiotic, topical cream, anti-nausea/motion sickness, etc. Your doctor may also prescribe a strong systemic antibiotic for use in the event of serious intestinal upset. However, because of the high altitudes in parts of Peru, passengers with heart conditions or high blood pressure should consult with their doctors before traveling.
BEFORE YOU GO-SHAPING UP
To enjoy your trip to the fullest, you should be in good physical and mental health. Your exploration of Peru and the Amazon will include some nature walks, some strenuous and at rather high altitudes or humidity levels. These walks could last several hours but are given at a decent pace in order to closely examine the flora and fauna of the area. Always bring along water, bug repellant and a good hat to protect yourself during these adventures.
Handcrafted items are very characteristic of Peru. Native Indians using ancient methods make woven rugs, tapestries, alpaca sweaters, ponchos, jewelry, and many other products using materials such as leather, copper, silver, and wood. These items are displayed at the Indian markets and sold at a very reasonable price. Shopping centers and other stores are also found in the downtown and commercial areas.
CALLING TO PERU
Dialing codes International Country Code: + 51 (Peru)
The currency in Peru is Soles. There are ATM cash machines in every city where you can withdraw cash from your Visa or MasterCard. Visa is the recommended credit card. Costs in Peru are lower on average than those in developed countries but higher than those in many neighboring countries. The easiest currency to exchange is US Dollars. Other currency is exchangeable in major cities. Money can be exchanged in banks, Casas Decambio’s, and hotels. Traveler’s checks are changed at a slightly lower rate than cash. Bargaining is accepted and expected in markets.
To check for your time zone please log on to http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock.
A tip between 10-15% is fine in restaurants if a service charge has not already been added to the bill. It is not customary to tip cab drivers. Tips are at your discretion and the amount given should reflect your satisfaction with the service. The following is a suggested tipping guideline for your hosts in Peru. When planning your tipping budget please keep in mind that the guides and transfer personnel make their living providing services and strive to offer you the best services possible. Local Guide: $10.00 per person per day, Escort $5.00 per day, Transfer Personnel: $3.00 - $5.00 per person per transfer, Local Driver: $5.00 per person per day.
FOOD AND WATER
It is strongly suggested that you drink only bottled water. Stops will be made at local stores to purchase water (your program includes water on days of sightseeing and transfers). You do not have to carry bottled water from home. Due to security restrictions at airports you do not want to carry anything extra heavy or unnecessary. Do not drink tap water despite signs posted in hotels. Avoid using ice cubes as well. You will require considerably more
liquid than you normally do. Always be sure to open your own bottle of water or have the wait staff do it in front of you. Never accept a bottle of water that has already been opened. Avoid eating raw vegetables, fruits that you cannot peel, and food from street vendors. Hot pepper and garlic flavor are ingredients in most Peruvian Foods. Typical dishes include chupe de camarones, a chowder-like soup made from shrimps, eggs, cream, potatoes and peppers, sopa criolla (spicy soup with beef and noodles) , and Anticuchos (beef or fish marinated in vinegar and spices then barbecued). If any of the aforementioned is not part of your diet please let Learning Through Travel know in advance so special arrangements can be made for your meals. Most Peruvians are confused by the vegetarian diet. People in the Amazon region eat fish on a daily basis and regularly eat meat and poultry products. It is difficult but not impossible to find a good selection of purely vegetarian dishes but do not expect to have the range of choices you may have at home. Be prepared to be a little bit flexible when it comes to diet and be willing to try some new things.
It is best to dress in layers that can be shed as the day really heats up. Essentials include light-colored cotton pants, shorts and shirts, bathing suit, good rubber-soled walking shoes or sandals, a wide-brimmed hat, a light raincoat or windbreaker, and a jacket or sweater for cooler mornings and evenings. This type of clothing is practical and widely available through local merchants. You may want to carry a small supply of detergent for hand laundry.
Most hotels do not have safety deposit boxes. You are on an adventure trip and it is highly recommended that you leave all valuables at home. Do not bring good jewelry or expensive computer equipment that you cannot carry with you.
RECOMMENDED PACKING LIST
- Backpack to take while exploring
- Adapter plugs and converters (please check
- Packaged wet tissues (“Wash & Dry”, “Wet Ones”)
- A tiny calculator for estimating cost while shopping
- Camera & extra batteries and chargers
- Good quality sunglasses- preferably polarized
- Good walking shoes (running/tennis shoes or broken-in hiking shoes are fine)
- Sandals or rubber flip flops for the poolside
- If you wear contact lenses, we recommend that you bring along a pair of glasses
- Moisturizing cream & Suntan Lotion
- Insect repellent – e.g. Off!, Jungle Juice, etc.
- Tickets, Passports, Money, etc.
- Waterproof bags/cover for your camera
- Spanish/English Dictionary
Please check with your airline carrier for updated baggage allowances
SINCE YOU WILL BE TRAVELLING ON TWO SEPARATE AIRLINES PLEASE BE ADVISED THAT THE MORE RESTRICTED BAGGAGE ALLOWANCE WHICH IS LAN AIRLINES’ DOES PREVAIL!
TRAIN: Embarkation and on-board luggage policies for train ride Cuzco-Machu Picchu-Cuzco: If you are staying overnight in Machu Picchu you will pack a small carry bag and bring that with you. Your remaining baggage will be stored in Cuzco until your return. If you are staying in Machu Picchu more than 2 days your luggage will
be transported by cargo train. You should still pack a small bag as your luggage will be delivered late on your 1st day in Machu Picchu.
• 1 bag or backpack no more than 5kg (11lbs) and 62 inches (157 cm) in length +
height + width
- Ronald Wright's Cut Stones and Crossroads: a Journey into the Two World's of Peru is a fine travel book by a writer exceptionally well informed on both archaeological and contemporary issues.
- The best book on the Incas is undoubtedly John Hemming's Conquest of the Incas.
- For an interesting account of the conquistadors, see James Lockhart's The Men of Cajamarca.
- Mario Vargas Llosa, author of Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, among others, is the best known Peruvian novelist.
- Inca-kola: a traveller's tale of Peru by Matthew Parris is a readable travelogue of a visit to Peru with a group of friends.
- •Anthony Aveni, Between the Lines, 2000- One of the world’s experts addresses “the mystery of the giant ground drawings of ancient Nazca, Peru… Aveni has solicited the input of “archeologist, anthropoligists, engineers, and surveyors, “ and believes he has found a believable how, when, and where for the Nazca lines, while having less success with the underlying question: “Why move tons of dirt and stone around on a desolate landscape for no apparent reason?
- Hans Baumann, Gold and God of Peru, 1963- A good introductions to the civilization and religion of the Incas. Oxford University Press edition, well-illustrated.
- Carmen Bernand, The Incas: People of the Sun, 1994 Part of Abrams’ Discoveries series, a very accessible overview of Inca history, achievements, and life. Presented in the popular heavily illustrated manner that caters to modern readers’ distractibility
- Hiram Bingham, Lost City of the Incas: The story of Machu Picchu and its builder, 1948 Classic lost-city-in-the-jungle adventure by the man who rediscovered Machu Picchu in 1911. The discovery consisted largely of taking the word of locals who were farming some of the terraces. Bingham’s tribute plaque at Machu Picchu sidesteps controversy by calling him the “scientific discoverer.”
- Barry Brukoff and Pablo Neruda, Machu Picchu, 2011, a beautiful book that combines Brukoff’s sepia photographs with Neruda’s poetry, in a bilingual format. A good complement to the guidebooks, with more art and atmosphere.