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Overview

Peru

Travel to a place where ancient Inca archaeological sites stand alongside dense Amazon jungles and spectacular Andes mountain ranges. Where condors soar effortlessly through the deepest canyons and traditional values are still firmly entrenched in everyday life. Peru has something to fascinate and captivate even the most experienced of travellers.

There are many different types of Peru holidays to choose from. Whether you want to travel independently with a backpack or join one of the many Peru tours to explore this mesmerising country, it's a place that will reward and amaze you at every turn.

Peru offers such diverse scenery and experiences that any Peru Travel Guide can only touch on the highlights of this spectacular country. Lose yourself in labyrinthine cities like Cusco, try foods you've never tried before, bar hop in the vibrant Miraflores neighbourhood of Lima and search for the best Pisco Sour in Peru.

Once you've booked your flights to Peru, let your imagination run wild and start planning what will be an adventure of a lifetime. Peru is a budget-friendly country and although spanning over 2,000-kilometres from the beach-side surfing village of Máncora on the Peruvian north coast, to the stunning Canyon del Colca in the south where magnificent Andean condors soar, it is still easy enough to travel via bus or plane.

Why not follow the path of the Incas and trek the challenging 4-day Inca Trail to the 'lost' city of Machu Picchu – even more breathtaking in person than pictures depict? If hiking isn't for you, you can make your way to Aguas Calientes – the town closest to Machu Picchu – on a train from Cusco or Ollantaytambo. Explore the captivating city of Cusco and travel through the Sacred Valley.

Sail across Lake Titicaca, the highest lake in the world. Walk on the floating reed islands – home of the Uros tribe or stay with a local family on an island near Puno. Head west and discover the mysterious Nazca Lines in the middle of the baking desert. Find your own oasis and go sand boarding or take a thrilling dune buggy ride on the mountainous sand dunes in Huacachina. See the stunning snow-covered mountain range Cordilleras Blanca and experience the rush of adventure in Huaraz.

While you could spend months exploring in this fascinating country, you can definitely experience and see many of Peru's treasures in a couple of weeks. So start planning your trip today!

Basics

Time
Local time is GMT -5.

Electricity
Electrical current is 220 volts, 60Hz (Arequipa 50Hz). Two-pin, flat blade and round plugs are standard.

Language
Spanish and Quechua are the official languages, but many other dialects are spoken. English is spoken only in major tourist centres and hotels.

Health
There are several health issues to consider for travel to Peru. Those entering the country from an infected area require a yellow fever certificate, and outbreaks of yellow fever do occur; vaccination is recommended but is not necessary for Lima, Cuzco or Machu Picchu. No other vaccinations are officially required but visitors are advised to take precautions, especially if planning to travel to jungle regions. Immunisation against typhoid is sensible. Malaria is a risk all year round in the lowland areas, except for Lima and the coastal regions to the south, and dengue fever is on the increase. Vaccinations for hepatitis A and hepatitis B are recommended. There have been a number of incidents of rabies transmitted by bites from vampire bats in the Madre de Dios and Puno provinces, and near the border with Ecuador; visitors are advised to have a course of rabies injections and not to sleep in the open. Chagas' disease, cholera and cases of the plague do occur. The most common ailments for travellers are diarrhoea and altitude sickness. Drink only bottled water, avoid drinks with ice, and be wary of food bought from street vendors. Health care is good in the major cities (better at private clinics than at public hospitals) but is expensive; health insurance is essential. Screening for HIV is inadequate and visitors should avoid blood transfusions.

Tipping
Some restaurants add a service charge of between 5 percent and 10 percent, which will be indicated by the words propina or servicio near the bottom of the bill. Even if a service charge has been added the waiter can be offered an additional 10 percent for exceptional service; this is also the going rate for tipping where a service charge has not been added. In hotels porters expect about US$0.50 per bag. Taxi drivers are not tipped (the fare should be set before departure). Tour guides are customarily tipped.

Safety
Safety in Peru is improving. Thieves are the biggest problem; be especially cautious in crowded areas, on public transport, in bus and train stations, and in the centre of Lima at night. Special care should be taken in the cities of Lima and Cuzco against street and violent crime. There have been attacks on foreigners trekking in the Huayhuash region near Huaraz and trekkers should be cautious and seek advice before setting out. Thieves and muggers also operate in Huaraz and Arequipa. Women should take particular care to only take taxis that have been pre-booked by a hotel or official company, and travellers arriving at Lima International Airport should be wary of thieves posing as taxi drivers or tour operators. There has been an increase in the number of crimes associated with taxis in the main cities. Visitors should avoid all political gatherings and demonstrations as these have the potential for violence.

Customs
Do not take photographs of anything to do with the military. Homosexuality, although legal, is frowned upon. Visitors should avoid wearing any native Indian clothing as this will be seen as insulting, regardless of intention.

Business
Business in Peru centres on the capital, Lima. Business is usually conducted in a formal and somewhat conservative manner, and it is worth noting that a business visa is needed from a local Peruvian Consulate. Dress should be formal, with suits and ties the norm. Titles and surnames are usually used upon greeting, and handshakes are standard for men and women. Business cards are usually exchanged and it is useful to have them printed in Spanish on one side. Although English is fairly common, it will be an advantage to have business materials translated into Spanish; an effort to speak Spanish will be well received. Women may encounter some sexism. Punctuality is important, although meetings are not likely to begin on time. Business hours can vary but are usually from 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday. Some businesses can close for siesta from 1pm to 3pm.

Communications
The international access code for Peru is +51, and the outgoing code is 00, followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the UK). City/area codes are in use, e.g. (0)1) for Lima. A mobile phone operator provides a GSM 1900 network with coverage limited to major towns and cities. Peru is well connected to the Internet with a proliferation of inexpensive Internet kiosks, called cabinas pública, available on street corners in most towns and cities.

Duty Free
Travellers to Peru over 15 years old do not have to pay duty on 400 cigarettes, 50 cigars or 50g of tobacco; 2kg of food; 3 bottles of alcoholic beverages not exceeding 2.5 litres; and gifts to the value of US$300. Items such as sausages, salami, ham and cheese may only be brought in if accompanied by an original sanitary certificate. The import of ham from Italy and Portugal is prohibited. The export of cultural or artistic items from the country is not permitted.

Currency

The official currency is Nuevo Sol (PEN) divided into 100 céntimos. Visa is the most widely accepted credit card, but all major international credit cards, including Diners Club and MasterCard, are accepted in many, but not all, establishments. Outside Lima facilities may be more limited. Travellers cheques may also be difficult to exchange in small towns and villages, and travellers are advised to have cash on hand. US Dollars are the easiest currency to exchange and plenty of restaurants, hotels and shops in the main cities accept dollars for payment. Casas de cambio (exchange bureaux) often give better rates than hotels and banks and can be found in any town on the tourist circuit. ATMs are available in the main cities.

PEN 1 = US$ 0.36£ 0.24C$ 0.37A$ 0.35R 3.05EUR 0.29NZ$ 0.46

Note: These currency exchange rates are not updated daily and should be used as a guideline only.

Health

Health Overview
There are several health issues to consider for travel to Peru. Those entering the country from an infected area require a yellow fever certificate, and outbreaks of yellow fever do occur; vaccination is recommended but is not necessary for Lima, Cuzco or Machu Picchu. No other vaccinations are officially required but visitors are advised to take precautions, especially if planning to travel to jungle regions. Immunisation against typhoid is sensible. Malaria is a risk all year round in the lowland areas, except for Lima and the coastal regions to the south, and dengue fever is on the increase. Vaccinations for hepatitis A and hepatitis B are recommended. There have been a number of incidents of rabies transmitted by bites from vampire bats in the Madre de Dios and Puno provinces, and near the border with Ecuador; visitors are advised to have a course of rabies injections and not to sleep in the open. Chagas' disease, cholera and cases of the plague do occur. The most common ailments for travellers are diarrhoea and altitude sickness. Drink only bottled water, avoid drinks with ice, and be wary of food bought from street vendors. Health care is good in the major cities (better at private clinics than at public hospitals) but is expensive; health insurance is essential. Screening for HIV is inadequate and visitors should avoid blood transfusions.

Visa

Americans
US nationals do not require a visa for touristic stays of up to 183 days. A valid passport is needed.

UK nationals
British nationals do not require a visa for touristic stays of up to 183 days. A valid passport is needed.

Canadians
Canadian nationals do not require a visa for touristic stays of up to 183 days. A valid passport is needed.

Australians
Australian nationals do not require a visa for touristic stays of up to 183 days. Holders of APEC Business Travel Card do not require visa provided the back of the card states that it is valid for travel to Peru.

South Africans
South African nationals do not require a visa for touristic stays of up to 183 days.

Irish nationals
Irish nationals do not require a visa for touristic stays of up to 183 days. A valid passport is needed.

New Zealanders
New Zealand nationals do not require a visa for touristic stays of up to 183 days. Holders of APEC Business Travel Card do not require visa provided the back of the card states that it is valid for travel to Peru.

Passport/Visa Note
All travellers require return or onward tickets, all documents required for onward travel and proof of funds. If travelling for business purposes, a visa is required. Visas cannot be obtained on arrival. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.

Note: Passport and visa requirements are liable to change at short notice. Travellers are advised to check their entry requirements with their embassy or consulate.

Contacts

Peru Tourism
PROMPERU (Commission for the Promotion of Peru), Lima: +51 (0)1 224 3279 or www.peru.info

Foreign Embassies in Peru
United States Embassy, Lima: +51 (0)1 618 2000.
British Embassy, Lima: +51 (0)1 617 3000.
Canadian Embassy, Lima: +51 (0)1 319 3200.
Australian Embassy, Lima: +51 (0)1 630 0500.
South African Embassy, Lima: +51 (0)1 612 4848.
Honorary Consul of Ireland, Lima: +51 (0)1 242 9516.
New Zealand Consulate, Lima: +51 (0)1 627 7778.

Peru Embassies
Peruvian Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 833 9860.
Peruvian Embassy, London, United Kingdom (also responsible for Ireland): +44 (0)20 7235 1917.
Peruvian Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 233 2721.
Peruvian Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6273 7351.
Peruvian Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 440 1030.

Peruvian Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 (0)4 499 8087.

Regions and Cities

Lima

Lima

Positioned halfway down the dry and dusty desert coastline of Peru, the city of Lima is hemmed in by the Pacific Ocean on the one side and the foothills of the Andes mountain range on the other. A sprawling and chaotic place, the capital of Peru is overcrowded, polluted and noisy, but it is also a colourful and vibrant city. The stark contrast between poverty and wealth is most visible in the miles of dusty shantytowns that stretch along the coast on either side of the city, and the glitzy apartment and office buildings of the affluent seaside suburbs.

During the days of Spanish colonial rule the city was regarded as the most important and prosperous city in Spanish America and was the finest in the region, known as 'The City of Kings'. Today the splendour may have paled, but Lima is still an animated and bustling city with an exciting mix of nationalities and influences; a city crammed with culture, a rich heritage and eight million people.

Lima dominates the country's political and commercial life and is the major gateway to the rest of the country. The city retains some of its original charm and has much to offer the visitor. Some of Peru's best museums, restaurants and nightlife are here, and the old colonial centre holds a certain elegance with its beautiful churches and convents, graceful old mansions, central plazas and classic colonial-style buildings. The outstanding art and archaeology museums provide an excellent introduction to the history and culture that visitors will come across in other parts of the country.



Huaraz Region

Huaraz Region

One of the most beautiful and rugged parts of Peru nestles in the Andean Highlands of the Huaraz region, northeast of Lima, part of the Huascarán National Park that is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Trust site. This area is the climbing and hiking centre of Peru and the spectacular Callejón de Huaylas Valley is a magnet for thousands of travellers looking for beautiful mountain scenery, superb hiking opportunities, glacial lakes and quaint mountain villages and markets.

Wedged between the dramatic snow-capped mountains of the Cordillera Blanca and the dry, dark Cordillera Negra range, the wide valley is split by the powerful Santa River. It is fringed by a group of picturesque little villages and towns that serve as starting points for hiking expeditions into the Andes. Situated among them is the town of Huaraz, a tourist hub and the primary base for exploring the area, which is surrounded by peaks of over 16,500 feet (5,000m). Towering above them all is Peru's highest mountain, Huascarán.

The valley gave rise to the ancient Chavín civilisation and the spectacular 1,500 year old ruins of the Chavín de Huántar temple can be visited just hours away from Huaraz, stunningly set among the majestic peaks of the Cordillera Blanca. The remains of the ancient, UNESCO-listed adobe city of Chan Chan is also in the region. Huaraz also offers hot springs at Monterrey, immense glacial lakes like Lago Parón and spectacular lookout points from the narrow and twisting roads leading into the valley.



Cusco

Cusco

The sacred capital of the Inca Empire, known to the early Incas as the 'navel of the world', Cusco is the oldest continuously inhabited city in South America. Gateway to the ancient citadel of Machu Picchu, the city is filled with the Inca legacy, evident in the straight cobbled streets lined with the remains of exquisite stone walls built by the Incas, examples of ancient stonework incorporated into the structure of colonial churches and buildings, and the Quechua-speaking descendants of the Incas that fill the streets with their bright dress and colourful handicrafts.

A vibrant and exciting city, it is one of South America's biggest tourist destinations with a thriving traditional culture, ancient ruins, archaeological treasures, and magnificent colonial architecture. Chief among its attractions are the Inca Trail (culminating at the magnificent hidden city of Machu Picchu), the villages and archaeological ruins in the nearby Sacred Valley, and the Inca fortress of Sacsayhuamán overlooking the imperial city.

Despite its popularity, Cusco remains relatively unspoiled and its beautiful setting in the Andean mountains, at an altitude of 11,000ft (3,400m), is guaranteed to leave visitors breathless. Cobbled streets run steeply up the hills and are lined with quaint whitewashed houses, steps are bordered by craft stalls watched over by traditionally dressed indigenous women, and elevated church bell towers offer fantastic views over the red-tiled roofs.

The heart of the city is the stately Plaza de Armas, dominated by the cathedral and framed by colonial arcades and wooden balconies that house souvenir shops, restaurants, bars and tour agencies. Flying over the Spanish colonial structures around the plaza is the Peruvian national flag together with the rainbow-coloured flag of the Inca Empire, emphasizing the unique blend of the ancient, colonial and modern that characterises the spectacular city of Cusco.



Arequipa

Arequipa

Characterised by its many beautiful colonial buildings made from a locally-mined light-coloured volcanic stone, Arequipa is also known as the 'White City'. Its elegant historic centre is endowed with some of the country's finest colonial churches and mansions, many of which have been turned into museums or galleries.

The second largest city in Peru, Arequipa is one of the country's most attractive cities, prettily situated among white-capped volcanic peaks; however, a conceited manner of distinguished self-importance pervades the atmosphere, earning the inhabitants a reputation for snootiness towards the rest of their countrymen. A strong and very tangible rivalry exists between the capital city of Lima and Arequipa.

The beautiful Plaza de Armas, with its gardens and central fountain, is the focus of urban life and evening social activities, framed by impressive colonial arcades and architecture and the elegant white façade of the huge cathedral. One of the city's highlights is the remarkable Santa Catalina Convent, a complex enclosing a complete city within a city, and one of the country's most fascinating colonial religious buildings.

Besides the architecture and museums, the countryside around Arequipa holds many attractions for the visitor, including the relatively easy climb up the El Misti volcano. The Colca Valley offers superb landscapes, with agricultural terraces and snow-covered mountains, villages with narrow streets and ornate churches, and the dizzying Colca Canyon, twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and an excellent place to see the giant condors.



Amazon Basin

Amazon Basin

Nearly half of Peru lies within the Amazon Basin and the dense Amazon Jungle represents over 50 percent of the rainforest on the entire planet. It is an immense and, for the most part, inaccessible region, and is sparsely populated. Believed to be the most biologically diverse region in the world, the rainforest and its rivers teem with mammals, reptiles, birds, fish and plants. Much of the area remains untouched and largely unexplored, with numerous varieties of plant species growing underneath the vast canopy. Pink dolphins, jaguars, tapirs, caiman crocodiles and giant anaconda snakes share the region with the many indigenous tribes that are spread throughout the jungle, living as they have done for thousands of years.

Jungle eco-tourism has taken off in Peru and the number of travellers choosing to include the Amazon in their itinerary is steadily growing. The best place to access the northern Amazon Basin is from the city of Iquitos, connected to the outside world by air and river only, and the largest jungle city in the Basin. It is situated on the mighty Amazon River, the biggest in the world, flowing across the continent from the Andes Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean, covering an incredible 4,030 miles (6,500km) with numerous tributaries. The vast system of rivers forms the primary method of transport within the Amazon Basin and dugout canoes or motorboats give visitors the opportunity to explore the labyrinthine waterways or to travel between jungle towns. A popular tour from Iquitos is a boat tour of Belén, a nearby community of houses tethered to poles in order to float in the river's waters. Belén also has a popular open-air market trading in local plant and animal medicines.

Hot and humid all year round, Iquitos was originally founded by Jesuit missionaries in 1754, and has grown to a bustling city of nearly 400,000 residents. Colonial buildings and museums tower over clapboard houses and the streets buzz with motorcycles and buses. Some of the popular tourist attractions in Iquitos include the Amazonian Manatee Orphanage and Monkey Island.



Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca

Regarded as the highest navigable lake in the world, at 12,580 feet (3,825m), Lake Titicaca covers 3,861 square miles (10,000 sq km) and is shared by neighbouring Bolivia and Peru. It has clear water, numerous islands and most importantly a place in Inca history. To many Peruvians, it is a revered and mythical place: legend has it that the founders of the Inca Empire, descendants of the sun, rose from the waters of the lake to create the ancient civilisation. The Uros Indians today live on unique man-made floating islands in the lake, believing they are the direct descendants of the Inca royalty.

For centuries the Uros people have built their homes and made their boats from the abundant source of reeds that grow in the shallows of Lake Titicaca. The islands are made from many springy layers of reeds that are continually added to replace the rotting layers below and it is not uncommon for the islands to drift after heavy rains. Fisherman can be seen navigating the water channels in beautifully crafted, sturdy 'canoes', some with reed figureheads forming a creative extension of the prow. Excursions to the floating islands have become rather commercialised and many visitors are put off by the throngs of children begging for sweets and the persistence of the souvenir sellers, but its popularity remains due to the fact this unusual and fascinating way of life is not found anywhere else in the world.

Further out into the lake and therefore less visited, but more beautiful, are the two fixed islands of Taquile and Amantani, with a genuine traditional lifestyle without electricity or solid infrastructure that gives visitors a glimpse of pre-colonial Andean Peru. The inhabitants of the attractive island of Taquile still use age-old weaving techniques and wear colourful traditional clothes, and the steep-sided fertile shores are covered in pre-Inca agricultural terraces that are the basis for the island's self-sufficient economy. The larger island of Amantani is a basket-weavers island and traditional crafts like stone masonry, and Inca structures of agriculture and trade are still practiced.

Day tours can be arranged from Puno, taking travellers to the Floating Islands, and the two natural islands where traditional hospitality and accommodation is provided by the local residents; or boat trips depart for each island individually at various times throughout the day.

Puno is the gateway to Lake Titicaca and one of the country's major resort destinations. The town was founded by the Spaniards in 1668 and has a wealth of Spanish and native architecture, as well as mestizo art and crafts. Puno town is also reputed to be a centre of Peruvian folklore, its inhabitants descending from two ancient Andean tribes, the Quechua and the Aymara, and it is host to some of the most vibrant traditional festivals in the country. Music, dance and colour fill the streets each month, a delight for photographers. The most popular festival in Puno is the feast of the Virgen de la Candelaria, held each year in February, which features the famous Devil Dancers. The region is rich in ancient history and along the lake are the pre-Columbian ruins of Chullpas de Sillustani, a curious ancient complex of tombs in the form of round towers.



Cajamarca

Cajamarca

Considered one of the best tourist destinations in Peru's northern highlands, Cajamarca is often called the 'Cusco of the North'. The town has a major advantage over Cusco however, in that it has maintained its small-town atmosphere and Andean traditions, and isn't overrun with tourists. Cajamarca is known as the city where the Inca Empire came to an end at the bloody Battle of Cajamarca in 1532. The steps on Santa Apolonia Hill lead up to the famous Inca Seat, from which Incan leaders would address their subjects. There are several other archaeological sites around the city, including the pre-Colombian Cumbe Mayo aqueduct, the pre-Incan necropolis of Ventanillas de Otuzco, and the monoliths and museum of Kuntur Wasi.

The pastoral region around Cajamarca is very fertile, and produces some excellent dairy products, including cheese, ice cream and chocolate that are available in abundance in town. The attractive city centre is full of colonial buildings, centred around the Plaza de Armas. There are around a dozen beautiful churches, as well as stately mansions from the 17th and 18th century.

The Incan Baths are natural hot springs located in the town of Baños del Inca, roughly three miles (5km) east of Cajamarca. The ruins of Incan baths are still visible; however, the town is centred around a modern spa that uses the thermal springs to draw its water. The water contains a surprising number of minerals, and the baths are used as a homeopathic treatment for some bone diseases.

Cajamarca is located 8,900 feet (2,700m) above sea level, so tourists should take the time to acclimatise themselves to the thinner air. It is advisable to allow at least one day of relative inactivity, while staying hydrated and avoiding alcohol and caffeine.





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