If you’re planning your first trip to Peru, you will find this little cheat sheet useful. Just the most important basics that you’d otherwise either have to comb the internet for, plus insider info that you’d never know unless you’ve been to the country. Like what alpaca meat tastes like.
There is one song that you’ll hear all day every day everywhere in Peru, so if you really want to get into the Peruvian spirit, crank up Simon & Garfunkel’s El Condor Pasa, sit back, relax, and imagine you’re sipping coca tea in Peru. And then start reading.
I’ll let you prepare...
Ready? Ok, let’s start:
Peru acts all inconspicuous over there just chilling by the ocean, a few mountains here and some jungle there. But it delivered stunner after stunner. There’s so much still waiting to be seen after our first venture to the country, we want to go back asap!
In this article, we’re introducing a new rating system that should help you gauge how we loved a country at first glance.
Overall, we’re giving Peru a 10/10. It’s now on top of the list of our favorite countries to travel to right next to Chile, South Africa, USA and Spain. This is what we thought about other categories that are interesting to travelers:
Price level 9/10
Below, you’ll find each category (and then some!) explained in detail with a bunch of tips from us included.
You might also be interested in reading:
Was it shady, scary, with everyone and their dog side-eying us? Not a chance. Safety was not something I was too worried about in Peru. It’s infinitely less bad than the government websites leave you to believe.
Did I occasionally feel like Peruvians were maniacs that are out to get us? Yes, but that was limited to my driving experience in Lima and to a lesser degree in Arequipa.
Otherwise, we felt good everywhere we went even in cities. Keep in mind we don’t purposefully go out looking for dark alleys, neither are we party animals that end up visibly intoxicated 2 am offering our iPhone up for grabs to opportunists.
There is a policía turismo presence in all larger towns. In Cusco, for example, they monitor the Plaza de Armas 24/7. They keep an eye on any shady behaviors and can answer tourist questions (in Spanish). Their uniforms are sand color with a green vest.
The basic rule of thumb that will save you an unpleasant surprise is: when the women and children disappear, it’s time to turn back.
First things first: summer and winter are flipped in Peru. Summer is December to February and winter coincides with the northern hemisphere’s summer holidays, which makes the winter the most popular months to visit Peru.
The weather in Peru is different depending on whether you’re in the mountains, on the coast, or in the jungle.
On the coast, it rarely rains, but the area around Lima is shrouded in fog from April to September. The fog keeps the temperatures mild in the winters: a daytime average of 20°C (68°F). Summers are hot with averages in the daytime at 27°C (80°F). In the northernmost parts of Peru’s coast, it’s summer all year long.
If you’re coming to Peru in the summer hoping to treat it as a beach vacation, think again. The Humboldt Current keeps the water nice and chilly year-round.
In the Andes Mountains, which is where you’ll find Machu Picchu, Cusco, Rainbow Mountain and Sacred Valley (among other gems), you’re looking at temperatures around 20°C (68°F) year-round during the day—slightly more in the summer, less in the winter, but nothing extreme unless you’re on an actual mountain trek.
What’s important to consider in the mountains weather-wise is the rain. Summer in Peru is the dry season, winter is rain season. The rain in wet season will usually come in hard and fast, but you could be unlucky and be witness to one of those all-day rains that don’t happen as often. Check out our article about the best time to visit Machu Picchu, you can gage all the weather details in the entire region from that.
Weather in the jungle is as you’d expect—either humid or very humid, rainy or very rainy, and always hot. Again, the rain increases in the summer, but you’ll be drenched in your own sweat anyway, so who cares. Average daytime temperatures hover around 32°C (89°F) year-round.
All I can say is this: no matter when you’re visiting Peru, bring layers and SPF lotion.
The people of Peru are unbelievably sweet! Sometimes it felt almost bizarre to me how helpful everyone was being without expecting something in return. I know, how cynical am I?! But you can’t be mad, it all comes from experience.
Peruvians are friendly, generous and if they aren’t driving, they generally follow the rules.
We visited in during covid and I’ve never seen a country where everyone wore their facemasks absolutely everywhere and seemingly without a smirk underneath. At a time where Europe’s numbers were much higher and everyone was just about tossing their facemasks at government buildings, Peru’s people were happily complying with the measures, not trying to die out of spite.
As far as touting tourist services, the people of Peru were not pushy at all. Of course, they offer guide services here and an alpaca selfie there, but it was never annoying. They keep it real and can take a ‘no’ for an answer.
They just don’t speak much English.
Our top tips for visiting Peru: Always carry cash. You can’t rely on being able to pay with your credit card. Peru’s mountainous regions have a wet and dry season, but temperature-wise, there aren’t huge differences throughout the year. Don’t attempt to drive in Lima. I wanted to cry. Next time I’d just take taxis. Lima’s airport is the most frustrating place on Earth, everything takes ages. Be ready to wait and then wait some more. You’ll probably be dealing with altitude sickness, so read up beforehand and take time to acclimatize. For reals.
Altitude sickness is real, and you don’t need to be on a trek in the mountains to prove it! In Peru, you’ll get to experience it even while chillaxing with a kebab in Cusco.
Actually, that’s pretty much all you’ll be doing in Cusco when you get there, because the 3,400 m (11,000 ft) altitude affects everybody. Fatigue is basically a given, and if you’re lucky, you’ll even feel nauseous!
The further you move away from the coast, the higher up you are. Cusco is the hub for trips to Sacred Valley, Lake Humantay, Rainbow Mountain, etc., and all of these are in high altitudes. Acclimatization is key. You’ll need to spend at least 4–5 days in Cusco to get used to the thinner air before you go any higher. Ditto for treks around Arequipa and Huaraz.
Read our article dedicated to mountain sickness before you set out or you’ll be scrambling to read it only after you come back down from Rainbow Mountain feeling like an absolute mess like me. It’s easier to read when your head isn’t about to explode.
Peru is probably the only country I’ve been to where I think it might make sense to just take taxis instead of renting a car. Taxis are cheap, rentals are expensive, and driving in Lima is a nightmare. I’m not even exaggerating—they drive like maniacs!
Everywhere else though, driving is fine once you get used to the speeding trucks and constant honking.
Gas prices are low at something like 1 USD per liter. Gas stations are sometimes few and far between, so keep that in mind and fill up when you can. The roads are mostly good, but occasionally and suddenly the asphalt turns into dirt and sometimes they are these tiny mountain roads that don’t even look like they’re expecting to be driven on (see the road to Rainbow Mountain). A 4x4 isn’t necessary.
When renting a car in Peru, don’t automatically go with the big brand companies. In Peru, it’s only a franchise and nothing but the name of the company is what you’d expect. Every company we rented at tried the old “So sorry, we don’t have the car you booked” scam and tried to get us to pay for a frikin Hummer or give us a pile of crap for the same price as the car we’d chosen.
Check online reviews and choose your company based on those instead. And get collision insurance.
The one rental company that we were very happy with was Alkila Rent a Car in Arequipa and Cusco. They were professional and accommodating, no scams. If you’re going to Peru and looking for a good place to rent a car, these guys are it.
The distances in Peru are huge, so plan on taking flights between your main hubs. Internal flights are cheap at about USD 100 per person.
Tip: Don’t fly from Lima to Cusco, you will face the wrath of altitude sickness the moment you step off the plane. Instead, ease your body in slowly and first fly to Arequipa, do your thing there, and move on to Cusco later.
Cabify is available in all the main cities, and it’s your best bet for taxis. Make sure to choose the premium vehicle category. Not because you’re hoping for a limo, but because you at least want seat belts.
Otherwise, regular taxis are easy to come by as well, though you might need to do some haggling if you catch one on the street. Drivers do turn on the meter if you ask them to.
Check out our Driving in Peru article for all the juicy details and a little story about how I was driving on the highway in the wrong direction because I didn’t have change for the toll booth.
The tourist infrastructure in Peru is good.
There is English signage in most places that are frequented by tourists, so even though almost nobody in Peru speaks English, at least you can read English. It isn’t perfect, like in the Inca Museum in Cusco where the English descriptions of artifacts kind of taper out in the second half of the museum, but it’s not terrible.
It might seem that everything is disorganized, but it’s only a feeling. We had no trouble with punctuality, timetables and opening hours weren’t ignored, and as a bonus, most places of interest have websites, so you are able to get information beforehand.
Hikes are well signed for the most part. Heck, even Italy could learn a thing or two from Peru in that regard.
The fact that everybody was always trying to do their very best to help out did a lot as well.
Peruvian guides are fantastic, and at most sites they have to study extensively to be able to provide these services for tourists.
The only possible downside is their limited English language skills. On the other hand, if you’re lucky like us at the Inca Museum in Cusco, you’ll get the best guide ever and they’ll elevate your experience in ways not possible if you were just wandering around on your own.
A guide is officially mandatory at Machu Picchu, and you’ll be spending at least 1.5 hours with this person at Peru’s top site, so choose wisely. If you don’t want a “radio guide” that just recited memorized text, ask them a couple of random questions before committing. This system works well everywhere.
The food in Peru is great. Be ready for a lot of vegetables, potatoes, beans and meat. Chicken and beef mostly, but we had to try alpaca, too—it’s kind of like pork, but less fatty. We have an article about our favorite Peruvian foods and drinks, so check it out for all the details.
In general, serving sizes are huge and prices are low.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the universe is maliciously teasing me for my love of good food, because whenever I’m between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Tropic of Cancer I get food poisoning. Every. Single. Time. This time, I had a wonderful rocotto relleno in Arequipa, only to turn a wonderful green color and hate every minute of Colca Canyon visit the next day.
I generally like to drink beer and coffee. In Peru, the coffee sucks and the beer is undrinkable. Peruvian coffee beans, of course, are some of the best on the planet. The “expresso” they make out of it, though, is another story. Tiny americano, anyone?
Go to the more hipster-type places for a good cup of coffee and skip the beer altogether. Go for the pisco sour cocktail and try to get your hands on a chicha—a pink-colored corn beer— in the villages of Sacred Valley. Refer to our Food of Peru article for details and tips on where to find it.
If you’ve read any of our Peru articles, you’ve probably caught on that we stayed in a whole lotta Hiltons. We usually don’t stay in international hotel chains, not as a rule at least, but in Peru, we totally stayed in international hotel chain properties, because everything else just wasn’t up to standard. The prices were the same, but the services weren’t.
If you want super fast wifi, great massages and outstanding hotel restaurants, along with English-speaking staff and plenty of extras included in your room rate, choose a Hilton or comparable hotel group.
If you book a hotel through any of our booking.com links in this article, we’ll receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Just wanted to be super transparent about that. Thank you if you do!
Our favorite hotel experience in Peru was at the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton in Paracas. Check out our article about the Paracas National Reserve for a full rundown on all the cocktails by the pool and free paddle boards.
Our least favorite was the Sonesta Hotel in Arequipa, because that’s where I had the fantastic rocoto relleno that later turned into something else in my stomach and then also outside of my stomach. A bout of food poisoning will do that to you. My review of the hotel itself was just fine, but I cannot forgive what happened after that meal.
If you’re looking for a resort experience, take a look at the luxury resort options in Sacred Valley. There are many and they are fabulous. You won’t even notice the altitude sickness you may be experiencing because those views are second to none.
Our article about Ollantaytambo includes recommendations for some spectacular resorts, hanging glass pods on the side of a mountain and even some extra fancy camping. Check it out!
You need more than one vacation in Peru to see it all. And it’s not the kind of place where the second time around will be a little slower and more exciting—you’ll literally have a full itinerary over and over again.
Peru is full of ruins, from the obvious highlight of Machu Picchu to less famous Inca sites in Sacred Valley like the salt terraces at Maras and agricultural experimental laboratory at Moray. But there are non-Inca ruins, too. The wonderfully decorated walls of Chan Chan are way up north, and Pachacamac is a huge site right by Lima. See the list of top ruins in Peru here.
You won’t know where to go first if you’re into hiking. You could be taking on the high altitudes at Rainbow Mountain, searching for condors at Colca Canyon and feeling humble at the sacred mountain of Ausangate. If you base yourself in Cusco or Huaraz, you won’t know which hike to take on first.
National parks and reserves are amazing in Peru—the flamingo-packed Salinas Lagoon was one of our favorite nature spots in Peru, but so were the sandy cliffs above the ocean at Paracas Nature Reserve. If you’re more into jungles, there are myriad options up in Iquitos of how to see the Amazon. It’s so remote that there’s no road leading into it!
If you’re not overwhelmed yet, you can use our little tip on finding things to do in Peru: take a look at a tour finder like viator.com and get inspired. We rarely go on organized tours, unless there’s no way around it like at the Islas Ballestas, but you can snoop around the offers and then do the ones you like on your own.
Browse our Peru articles for useful tips on what to do in and around the most popular cities in Peru. We’re also putting together itineraries for you!
Peru is cheap. Even if you’re living like an Inca Emperor, you’re looking at USD 50 for a Michelin-level dinner and USD 100–200 for a 5-star hotel.
A cappuccino will set you back USD 2, a bottle of good wine is USD 10, and a beer is USD 2. That said, Peru is the only country I’ve been to where I couldn’t deal with the beer. More on food and drinks in Peru in another article.
Peru is a poor country, so tip! You can afford it, and everyone bends over backward to help you, so don’t be a Scrooge.
And don’t be offended that the family trying to take your pic with their alpaca wants some change for the privilege. Why shouldn’t they be able to profit from your visit to their country, showing off their cute animal is probably the only way they can earn some extra income.
Tipping is not in required or in any way pushed for, making it all the easier to do it. Nobody takes you around to their cousin’s gift shop and keeps you walking around awkwardly while everyone stares you down unless you buy something. So tip. At gas stations, for example, if you tip the attendant pumping your gas they’ll probably go ahead and wash your windshield or check your tire pressure as a thank you.
Reception and wifi is available everywhere in Peru, which was super nice. It’s better than in the US. In hotels, we were able to stream movies with no trouble at all. That said, we did stay in international hotel chains. The internet in local hotels, no matter how many stars, is spottier.
Get your SIM card at a mobile operator, not at the airport. The process is a little long-winded, but the difference in price is crazy. You’ll need to sign a contract with the operator, but once that is out of the way, you just pay s/5 for a SIM and then top up as needed.
The funny thing is where you buy credit: We first went back to the mobile operator and they looked at us like we were stupid, because OBVIOUSLY you top up in the pharmacy. Also, only ask for s/10 or so in credit. We asked for s/50 but it felt like we asked for a golden poodle.
More likely than not, you’ll be entering Peru through Lima airport, the most frustrating airport in the world.
You spend ages on a flight from god knows where and then when you finally get to Lima, you spend ages getting your passport checked and then an extra 2 hours just waiting for your bags to start twirling around on the carousel. You could see everyone’s spirits slowly fall, and by the time the luggage finally made its way out, people were either on edge or ready to cry.
If you’re renting a car, don’t. Not in Lima. Take a taxi and save yourself the annoyance that is driving in Lima. If you don’t follow my advice (I warned you!), be prepared to hash it out with the rental company. We rented a car at 4 different rental companies in Peru and in each and every one of them there was a problem. Refer to the Transportation section of this article.
Peruvians love dogs. There are dogs all over the place, and it seems they mostly belong to someone and are just doing the rounds as they have collars and don’t look emaciated. They either ignore people or are friendly, coming over for a snack and a cuddle.
Those naked dogs you will see are Peru’s national canine pride, the Peruvian Hairless Dog, also called the Inca Orchid. Not a gnarly stray with a skin disease. You’ll definitely see them at Pachacamac, an enormous archeological site a little south of Lima. They basically own the place.
And, if I may, a little tip from me because this really annoyed me in Peru: please, especially if you’re American—because somehow it seemed you guys are the most excited about this—, don’t buy a stupidly colorful alpaca hat and poncho on the second day of your trip and then promenade yourself all over Peru. It’s not something you’d wear at home, is it? You look goofy; not even the Peruvians wear these things. Keep it classy, this isn’t a circus!
You’ll learn about the process and then you can go crazy in the gift shop. Not crazy stupid, just crazy. We bought the most incredible coats and sweaters there! The quality is top notch. And no, none of them resemble Rainbow Mountain.
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If you only have 3 days for Sacred Valley and Cusco, you’ll be missing out on some good places. But, I’ll try to be a silver-lining kind of guy this time and smash as much as possible into those 3 days in Cusco.
Peruvians are some of the kindest, most helpful and courteous people I’ve met during my travels. Until you put them in the driver’s seat. Then they turn into aggressive, angry, idiotic monsters. Especially in Lima.