Here you will find basic facts and information on Peru. From suggestions on the best times to travel, to information on Peru’s culture and history and how to get to and from Peru- our Peru Facts and Info will help you gain perspective on the country as well as the regions you will be traveling to, helping to make you a prepared traveler.
Visas: Most travelers do not need visas; travelers of most nationalities are granted a 90 day tourist visa. All nationalities, however, need a tourist or embarkation card (tarjeta de embarque) to enter Peru, issued at the frontiers or on the plane before landing in Lima. Should you want to extend your visa (between thirty and sixty additional days), there are two basic options: either cross one of the borders and get a new tourist card when you come back in; or go through the bureaucratic rigmarole at a Migraciones office.
Health risks: Altitude sickness is common in the highlands, but can easily be treated by taking it slow and resting, staying hydrated, and with altitude sickness pills available at any pharmacy. There are very small risks of cholera, hepatitis, and malaria in the lowlands. A yellow fever vaccination is recommended for areas east of the Andes Mountains, but not needed for Lima, Cusco, Machu Picchu, or other places along the coast or in the mountains. It is however required for travelers arriving from a yellow-fever-infected areas in Africa or the Americas.
Time: GMT/UTC minus 5 hours
Electricity: 220V, 60Hz
Weights & measures: Metric.
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While pickpockets are remarkably ingenious in Peru, this country no longer deserves such a poor reputation when compared with Venezuela, Colombia and even Ecuador or Brazil. As far as violent attacks go, you're probably safer in Peru than in New York, Sydney, or London. Nevertheless muggings do happen in certain parts of Lima such as in the central main shopping areas. However, a few simple precautions can make life a lot easier. The most important is to keep your ticket, passport (and tourist card), money, and credit/debit cards on your person at all times. And as for terrorism - as the South American Explorers' Club once described it - "the visitor, when considering his safety, would be better off concentrating on how to avoid being run over in the crazed Lima traffic."
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Picking the best time to visit Peru's various regions is complicated by the country's physical characteristics. The desert coast is extremely hot and sunny between December and March (especially in the north), cooler and with a frequent hazy mist between April and November. Apart from the occasional shower over Lima it hardly ever rains in the desert. The freak exception, every ten years or so, is when the shift in ocean currents of El Niño (which last hit Peru in 1998) causes torrential downpours, devastating crops, roads and communities all along the coast.
In the Andes the seasons are more clearly marked, with rains from December to March and a relatively dry period from June to September, which, although it can be cold at night, is certainly the best time for trekking and most outward-bound activities. A similar pattern dominates much of the jungle, though rainfall there is heavier and more frequent, and it's hot and humid all year round. In the lowland rainforest areas around Iquitos water levels are higher between December and January, which offers distinct advantages for spotting wildlife.
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Peruvians love any excuse for a celebration and the country enjoys a huge number of religious ceremonies, festivals and local events. Carnival time (generally late Feb.) is especially lively almost everywhere in the country, with fiestas held every Sunday - a wholesale license to throw water at everyone and generally go crazy. It's worth noting that most hotel prices go up significantly at fiesta times and bus and air transport should be booked well in advance.
Calendar of major public holidays & festivals:
February Carnival - Wildly celebrated immediately prior to Lent throughout the whole country.
March/April Easter Semana Santa (Holy Week) - Superb processions all over Peru (the best are in Lambayeque, Arequipa, Cuzco and Ayacucho).
June 24 Inti Raymi - Cusco's main Inca Festival of the Sun
July 28 - 29 Peruvian Independence Day - Public holiday with military and school processions.
August 13 - 19 Arequipa Week - Processions, firework displays, plenty of folklore, dancing, and craft markets.
September End of the month Festival of Spring - Trujillo festival involving dancing, especially the local Marinera dance.
October 18 - 28 Lord of Miracles - Festival featuring large and solemn processions (the main ones take place on October 18, 19, and 28). Read our Newsletter article about the Lord of Miracles Procession and learn how to make the associated dessert the Turrón de Doña Pepa.
November 2 Diá de los Muertos (All Souls Day).
These are just a few of the highlights. Peru celebrates some 3,000 festivals a year throughout the country. Most of them are held in homage to a patron saint, although they have blended with the magical beliefs of ancient forms of worship.
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Although more under control since the 1980s, devaluation is a regular occurrence, leading to two major currency switches in the past couple decades. The current Peruvian currency, the Nuevo Sol - whose symbol is S/. - is still simply called a "Sol" on the streets and has so far remained relatively steady against the US dollar.
In Lima and Cuzco (and most other cities), Euros are as acceptable as US dollars for changing into soles. In smaller cities Euros are difficult to exchange but not impossible. For changing small amounts of dollars, the street changers (cambistas) give the best rates, but take care to check their calculations and check your soles before handing over your dollars. Other options are of course banks and exchange houses (casas de cambio) which provide added discretion. Rates vary from place to place but not significantly, unless you try to change money at a hotel which charges high commission. Most banks accept American Express traveler's checks and some will accept Visa traveler's checks, although you will often receive a much lower exchange rate for traveler's checks. Many travelers find it easier to simply use a debit card as there are ATMs/ Cash Machines found in all major cities. Credit cards are also now widely accepted at major restaurants and stores, with Visa and Master Card being the most popular. Naturally street vendors and sellers in the markets don't accept credit cards, so you'll want to have some cash on hand.
A combination of taxes and service charges are added to bills in the best hotels and restaurants and can total as much as 28%. The cheaper hotels and restaurants don't add taxes. Tipping is not expected in budget restaurants, although a minimal tip is gratefully received. A tip of 10-15% is fine in upscale restaurants if a service charge has not already been added to the bill. Taxi drivers are not tipped - bargain hard beforehand and stick to your price. Local guides should be tipped US$3-5 per day. Bargaining in Peru is a way of life, people expect it, so you should not feel bad about negotiating a price (obviously keeping in mind that prices should be fair for both parties involved).
Read more currency tips in our newsletter article.
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The first inhabitants of Peru were nomadic hunter-gatherers who lived in caves in Peru's coastal regions. The oldest known site, Pikimachay cave, dates from 12,000 BC. Crops such as cotton, beans, squash, and chili peppers were planted around 4000 BC; later, 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, Moche, Chimu, 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 Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile.
Between 1526 and 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. Return he did, 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 independence was declared in 1821. Peruvian independence, however, was not consolidated until 1824, when the country was liberated by two 'outsiders': the Venezuelan Simón Bolívar and the Argentinian José de San Martín. 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 also went to war with Ecuador over a border dispute in 1941. The 1942 treaty of Rio de Janeiro ceded the area north of the Río Marañón to Peru but the decision was fiercely contested by Ecuador.
Cuban-inspired guerrilla uprisings in 1965 led by the National Liberation Army were unsuccessful, but a series of nationwide strikes coupled with a violent insurgency by the Maoist Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) guerrillas caused political instability in the 1980s. Another guerilla group - the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) - also gained in strength during this time. However, the 1990 presidential election victory of Alberto Fujimori (erroneously known as El Chino ("the Chinese one") because of his Japanese parentage) over Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, and the capture in 1992 of inspirational MRTA and Sendero Luminoso leaders buoyed hopes for a sustained period of peace.
The main threat to domestic stability remains unemployment and poverty, despite Peru's fast-growing economy. Fujimori was re-elected in April 1995, comprehensively beating former UN secretary general Javier Perez de Cuellar. A treaty was signed with Ecuador in 1998, peacefully resolving a contentious 57-year-old border dispute, paving the way for increased foreign investment in both countries. In November 1999, Peru and Chile settled their last long-standing territorial dispute over the important trade bottleneck of Arica.
The world watched the April 2000 elections intently as Alejandro Toledo, an Andean Indian from a poor family who became a World Bank economist, gave two-time President Alberto Fujimori the election run of his life. One week before the country headed to the polls for a second time, Toledo filed a formal letter with the National Election Board to further call attention to election corruption, a move that brought a response from the Organization of American States (OAS). It announced that the National Election Office needed more time to correct 'deficiencies' in the voting process. Toledo instructed his followers to write 'No To Fraud' across their ballots and ultimately withdrew from the runoff.
Fujimori emerged victorious in that controversial and rigged election. However, he resigned from his third presidential term in November and fled to Japan following charges of human rights violations and corruption that were made against his intelligence adviser, Vladimiro Montesinos.
After a brief term by provisional president, Valentin Paniagua, Alejandro Toledo was elected and served as president (2001-2006). The current constitutional president of Peru is Alan Garcia Pérez (2006-2011).
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Art prior to Spanish colonization concentrated almost entirely upon the production of fine pottery, metalwork, stone-craft, and textiles. The Spanish subsequently introduced their version of urban planning, with cities laid out in checkerboard fashion, and constructed mansions, churches and monasteries which slavishly mimicked Spanish renaissance or the rather phlegmatic Spanish early baroque. Over time, these European styles increasingly showed signs of a native Indian influence, leading to a style known as mestizo. (The best examples of mestizo architecture can be found in the churches around Puno and Arequipa). Painting also mimicked European influences but as local artists grew more confident, a new and distinctive Cuzco style developed, in which artists turned their attention away from the visible world, and concentrated instead on fairytale and fable. The influence of these works on artist Paul Gauguin, who spent his childhood in Lima, is noticeable.
Peruvian music is almost entirely folk music, while its literature encompasses everything from independence-inspired polemic to the anarchic individualism of its many poets and the boyhood reveries of the internationally renowned author Mario Vargas Llosa.
The main religion is Roman Catholicism, though many Peruvians with indigenous roots, while outwardly Catholic, often blend Catholicism with traditional beliefs. Spanish is the main language. In the highlands, most Indians are bilingual, but speak Quechua as their mother tongue. There are about 70 other languages, and in remote parts of the Amazon, Spanish is rarely spoken. English is understood in major hotels and airline offices.
Typical Peruvian dishes are tasty and vary regionally. Guinea pig (cuy) is the traditional dish most associated with Peru, and indeed, you can find it in many parts of the country, but especially in the mountain regions, where it is likely to be roasted in an oven and served with potatoes. Along the coast, not surprisingly, fish is the speciality. Ceviche is the classic Peruvian seafood dish and has been eaten by locals for over two thousand years. It consists of fish, shrimp, scallops, or squid, or a mixture of all four, marinated in lime juice and chili peppers, then served "raw" with corn, sweet potato, and onions. In the jungle, bananas and plantains figure highly, along with yuca (manioc), rice, and plenty of fish. There is meat as well, mostly chicken supplemented occasionally by game - deer, wild pig, or even monkey.
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Peru is in western South America and 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 that flow in to the Amazon River which is formed in the northern Peruvian Jungle.
Bird and marine life is abundant along Peru's desert coast, with colonies of sea lions, 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 hummingbirds. The highlands are also home to cameloids 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.
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Peru has a very wide range of climates, and the best time to come depends on where you want to go. The three biggest areas are the Coast (Costa), the Andes (Sierra), and the Amazon (Selva). Peru has Southern Hemisphere seasons, which means that summer runs from December to March and winter from June to September - but because of it's proximity to the equator, temperatures generally do not vary drastically. The summer holds the most rainfall in the mountains and the jungle, and the most sunshine for the coast, while the winter brings slightly cooler temperatures for all areas and a grey mist over the coast, particularly Lima.
The coastal region, with its long, arid, desert area between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes, has a fairly temperate climate, warmer in the north and a little cooler in the center and south. It very rarely rains, with the exception of the far north, where rain can be frequent in the summer months. Although Peru lies very close to the equator, the cold marine current of Humboldt, or the Peruvian current, brings cold waters from the south, lowering temperatures. Summer temperatures range from 25° to 35°C (77° -95°F) during the day and cool off to 17° to 20°C (63°-68°F) at night. In Lima, a light mist, called guarúa, covers the city during the winter months and temperatures drop, fluctuating between 12°C and 18°C (54°F and 64°F) amidst high humidity. The north coast escapes this heavy fog and experiences mostly warm, sunny days all winter.
The Andes are generally cooler, due to the altitude. The highlands in Peru are best visited during the dry season (winter), from April to October, with May- September being the peak tourist months. During this time, the climate is mostly dry, sunny and warm during the day, with temperatures reaching 20° to 25°C (68°- 77°F). However, it gets very cold at night, with temperatures often dropping to just above freezing. The wet season is from November to March and is milder, with temperatures ranging from 18° to 20°C (64°- 68°F ) and dropping only to 15°C (59°F) at night. These months occasionally experience heavy rainfall in the afternoon.
The Amazon is generally warm and humid, and experiences the same rainy season as the Andes (December through March). There are heavy showers during these months (usually lasting only last a few hours), causing rivers to swell. While April through November is the "dry" season, it is always very humid in the jungle and it still rains on a daily basis during this period - just not as much. The average daytime high temperature in the Amazon is between 30° to 35°C (86°- 95°F ) and the average nighttime low is between 16° and 22°C (62° and 73° F). Nevertheless, between May and September, sometimes cold fronts from Argentina can sweep into southwestern Amazonia and push daytime highs down to 9° C (50° F) and the nighttime lows to 5° C (43° F), so during these months it is good to be prepared for cooler weather.
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With the distances in Peru being so vast, many Peruvians and travelers are increasingly flying to their destinations, as all Peruvian cities are within a two-hour flight of Lima. There are five airlines currently operating internal flights. The most illustrious and respected is Lan Peru. The other options are Aerocondor, TACA Peru, Star Peru and LC Busre. Most people however get around the country by bus, as these go just about everywhere and are an extremely good value. However, wherever possible, visitors tend to use one of the country's trains - an experience in itself - despite being considerably slower than the equivalent bus journey.
At least one bus depot or stopping area can be found in the centre of any town. Peru is investing in a series of terminal terrestres, or terrapuertos, centralizing the departure and arrival of the manifold operators, but it's always a good idea to double-check where the bus is leaving from, since in some cities, notably Arequipa, bus offices are in different locations from the bus terminal. For intercity rides, it's best to buy tickets in advance; for local trips, you can buy tickets on the bus itself.
PeruRail links most of the tourist highlights of the Andes in Peru and is undoubtedly the most spectacular way to discover the ancient land of the Incas, taking you through scenery of outstanding beauty and to places almost inaccessible by any other means. A choice of main routes is offered - between either historic Cuzco or the Sacred Valley and the legendary Machu Picchu and between Cuzco and Lake Titicaca.
Boat travel is important in Peru's eastern lowlands. Dugout canoes powered with outboard engines operate as water taxis; larger cargo boats are often also available as water transport.
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Lima's international airport, Jorge Chavez, is the main hub for flights to the Andean countries from North America and Europe, and has plenty of connections to neighboring countries. Some international flights land at Iquitos, in Peru's Amazon region. Peru's major International Airline is Lan Peru, the only other being Taca. For flights leaving the country there is an airport departure tax of approximately US$30.
There are overland border crossings between Peru and Bolivia at Desaguadero and nearby Yunguyo on the shores of Lake Titicaca; between Peru and Chile at Tacna; and between Peru and Ecuador at Tumbes. It is also possible to travel by river from Colombia and Brazil to Iquitos.
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We work hard to ensure that all information is current and accurate. However, the Tourism Industry is rapidly evolving in Latin America and many changes can occur overnight. Please speak to a Travel Advisor for the most up-to-date information on any of our Latin America destinations!