Peru FAQs

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Peru – FAQ’s, Customs, Traditions

AlcoholConsuming alcohol in high altitudes is not a good idea and is not recommended.

EtiquettePeruvians invariably exchange a Buenos Dias (good morning) or Buenos Tardes (good afternoon).  People are generally pleasant and welcoming.

Machismo is a part o Peruvian culture.  Men will often direct conversation only toward other men.  Women handle this situation by directing conversation at both the men and women alike.

Women should wear pants or a skirt that is longer than knee length.

Men should avoid shorts or casual T-shirts.

Women travelers over the age of 20 will be asked repeatedly whether or not they are married or have children.

SPACE – Peruvians have a different sense of space and it may feel they are pressing in on visitors.  This is because they live in extended families, often with many family members sleeping in one room.  They are accustomed to being up close and personal.  Do not take this as an affront.

PACE – Everything moves slower in Peru.  You may have to spend longer than anticipated waiting for food in a restaurant….and then wait still longer again for the bill.  It is best to sit back and relax and not try to hurry things up…it won’t work anyway.  Enjoy the slow pace, and bring it home with you if you can.

Panhandling –Have not seen a lot of this in Peru.   Whether or not to give money to those asking for it on the street is a personal decision.  Remember that when you give them money you are encouraging the practice in the future.  Know too, that families often have their children working as teams to collect money in the street. Instead of money, well prepared travelers will give pens, notebooks or other useful items.

HEALTH – While there are no required vaccinations, and the areas in which we travel are not prone to disease, always check with Centers for Disease Control (CDC) 877-394-8747 www.cdc.gov/travel for up to date information.

ALTITUDE – The most common symptom of altitude sickness is feeling a little more tired and having to move slower.  Resting the first day is a good remedy – do nothing strenuous, maybe just lie around and allow your body to adjust.  Some people have more severe symptoms.

See our article on Altitude in Peru.   Consult your physician to verify your health is good for high altitude travel.  Ginseng and other herbs that oxygenate the blood are considered to be great as well and should be started about two weeks before the journey begins.    See a physician, herbologist or naturopath for the best method for you.    Diamox is not recommended.

Traveler’s Diarrhea – To avoid this, think carefully about everything you drink and eat.

Bottled water is king but plastic bottles are a nightmare in Peru (and everywhere else too!).  Peru has no recycling or a system for  hauling away trash so these plastics are clogging up the rivers and landfill…not good.  It is best to travel with a refillable bottle and have the hotel fill it with their purified water each morning.

When you order a drink, order it WITHOUT ice.  While the water is purified, the ice is usually not.  Ask if the ice is made from purified water if you must have it….sometimes it is.  If drinking out of bottles or cans, wipe the edges before drinking, or carry straws.

Avoid street vendors and buffets served under the hot sun.

Choose restaurants that come well recommended for taking precautions for foreigners.  I usually chose the top end places.

Wash your hands before and after eating.  Soap is not always available and it’s a good idea to carry a hand sanitizer.

Eat fruits and vegetables from the market that can be peeled.

Eat salads and raw vegetables with extreme caution (confirm beforehand that they have been soaked in a chlorine solution).

Hot Foods are best…soups are great.

Avoid all types of shellfish.  Cerviche is an exception – from a reputable restaurant.

Before dumping cream into your coffee check that it has been pasteurized.

Only eat ice cream from top manufacturers like D’Onofrio, but avoid it if it is partially melted.

Strawberries, mushrooms, lettuce and tomatoes from the markets are probably not a good choice as they grow close to the ground and could be infected.

Mosquitoes and other biters can be around sometimes…mostly at dawn and dusk.   Take precautions by wearing long pants and shirt sleeves with repellent if you are out and about during these times. Skin So Soft by Avon is a gentle reminder to biting bugs to stay away…adequate for our journey.  We do have early morning excursions

PACKING – Bring lightweight scrunchable clothing that allows you to dress in layers; light layers – it will not be cold when we are visiting Peru, maybe slightly cool in the mornings and evenings…a lightweight fleece works well.  Always bring a scrunchable rainjacket with hood.  Rain can come suddenly, but does not last long.See our article on how to pack for the journey.  See our page on Packing for Peru for a list of items to bring.

Money – Forget travelers checks, no one takes them….only the biggest hotels.  Banks charge a hefty tariff to cash them and the lines are long.  Peruvian Soles can be purchased at your bank before your journey to Peru.  It will take the bank about 2 weeks to acquire the money.  This will eliminate stops at banks and ATM’s in Peru and the fees they charge.  Check the current exchange rate, see what the bank charges for this exchange. You will need some money for arrival – maybe $100.  American dollars can be exchanged in Peru with moneychangers at a good rate.   ATMs are everywhere, and although your home bank will charge a fee as will the bank machine.

ATM’s are usually in glass rooms. They accept cards with Visa/Plus logo more commonly than those with MasterCard/Cirrus, though many machines accept everything.    CAUTION…many machines don’t beep to remind you to take your card back (I lost one this way)…so remember to take it out of the machine.

Money and passport – Leave large sums of money and your passport in the safe in your room.  buy a cloth or other type of holder to  fit UNDER your clothing.  Here you will keep a photocopy of your passport and credit or debit cards.  .  Money you need for meals and getting around – smaller amounts – can be kept in a zippered pocket for daily use.

Notify your credit card companies that you will be travelling; otherwise you run the risk of being shut down on the plastic.

Credit cards are good – although some places may charge a small fee if you use them. Outside of Lima, credit cards are not as widely accepted – and will mostly be accepted at big hotels and restaurants.  VISA is the best card to have in Peru.

Make Copies of all the credit and ATM cards you are taking, and your passport so you have all the information you will need in the event the items are lost; including the numbers to call if needed.  Enter on your phone, or a sheet of paper you keep in a separate place; or email it to yourself.

Passport – make a photocopy of your passport in the event it is lost there will be a way to track it.  

Itinerary – The itinerary as presented for the journey is always subject to change.  Changes might include the order or days on which we visit certain sites, the addition of guest speakers and other guests, and other information that can only be gathered in Peru.  At the Welcome Dinner on the first night, the itinerary will be presented and discussed and each person will receive a copy of the updated itinerary.

Peruvian currency – Go to www.xe.com to check for current conversion rates.  Once again, this can be purchased from your local bank before leaving for the journey and will probably end up being less expensive and easier.

BARGAINING – this is a common practice nearly everywhere in Peru; especially at markets, hotels and shops.  Have a good sense of what an item is worth beforehand…ask how much it costs (Cuanto cuesta?) and then offer 20-50 percent less depending on how outlandish the asking price is. Buyer and seller will come to terms somewhere in the middle.

TIPPING – Tipping is a great way for foreigners to get money to the people who need it most, waiters, hotel staff, drivers, porters, guides,  and other front line workers in the tourist industry.  Tipping is not required and often not expected; yet even the smallest tip is greatly appreciated.

Tipping is an ethic that varies from person to person…here are some suggestions:

In restaurants we leave a tip of 10 percent.  We think a tip is a good idea even if the restaurant is charging you 10 percent for service (which the waitperson never sees).  Try to give the tip to the waitperson directly, especially if the restaurant is out of doors.

Give a few soles to anyone who helps you carry your bags including hotel staff or an airport shuttle driver…assuming you were pleased with their service.

Tip guides if you feel you have received great value from their service.  They are paid for their services. so anything additional is appreciated but not expected.   If we stay at a hotel for more than a few days a tip to the receptionist, doorkeeper and other employees that made our stay enjoyable may be offered…and will be appreciated but not expected.

PHOTOGRAPHS – There are many people and children who will pose for pictures for money…..this is an entire profession complete with baby lambs and such.  You will be approached and asked if you want to take a photo.  Understand that payment is expected and an agreement on price up front is highly recommended.  Markets, parades and street scenes are wonderful – filled with vibrant colors and beautiful people… bring your digital and check out Tribal Eye Images (www.tribaleye.co.uk) for some tips on capturing great photos.

SHIPPING PACKAGES HOME – risky business with the postal service…probably won’t arrive.  Use DHL or other service (very expensive but your package will arrive).   I recommend a foldable duffle bag in your luggage.  This will allow you to bring your purchases with you, the absolute best way to get them home.

TELEPHONE – If you bring your cellphone, you will have internet for free in wifi areas.  Net to net phone calls are around .17 per minute to the US or Europe.

Cell phone rentals are available at the airport if you have people at home who want to be able to reach you.

Bringing your own cell phone might work, but service may be spotty in outlying areas.  Check with your service provider…it’s expensive, but convenient.

Skype can be installed on your cell phone…I have used it successfully in Cuzco to call direct from my cell to home.  It works fine in the wifi areas….but not otherwise.

You can bring your phone and purchase a sim card from Claro of Moviestar in Peru that will give you minutes at a less expensive rate.

INTERNET ACCESS – Available everywhere and the cheapest and most convenient way to communicate in Peru.  Most hotels have wireless, and there are very inexpensive internet cafes about.  One of those small travel computers beams you into wireless in most hotels and you can handle your emails in the comfort of your own room.

ELECTRICITY – the electric system in Peru is 220V and 60 cycles.  Ours in US is 110 so a converter is needed in some situations.  Some hotels have the 110 outlets in place.   These converters are inexpensive in Peru if you forget to bring one along.

TIME ZONES – Peru runs on the same time as New York, Miami and the East Coast.  There is no daylight savings time.

LANGUAGE – Learn a few words…English is well spoken just about everywhere but it’s nice to be able to say a few words to people in their native language too.  There are those little electronic pocket translators that can be helpful.

AIR TRAVEL – I usually build my immune system before travelling with 20,000 units of vitamin D a day for about two weeks in advance.   There are other ways to build your immune system – check into it.  The air in flight cabins is stale and germs freely circulate.  While I used to think those little masks were overkill, I am now seeing the benefit.   My last short flight to San Diego produced a bad virus.

PRESCRIPTION DRUGS – Pack prescription medication in your carry-on luggage along will all your documents and valuables.  Make sure you have the scripts or information in the event they have to be replaced due to loss.

EYEGLASSS – always bring an extra pair and pack them in your carry-on.

GET IN SHAPEYOU WILL BE HAPPY YOU DID!  This can be easily accomplished by walking each day, a little further than the previous day.  Walking is a big part of the journey and you will want to do plenty of it to see the sacred sites, cities and other places.   All that being said, we really cannot train for altitude.  We go slowly and take our time at the sites–there is no rushing or need to keep up with a fast pace.

You don’t need to be an athlete, but will probably benefit greatly from being able to easily walk a few miles without a problem.  We are not going anywhere will this will be “required” – navigation of the sites is generally easy.

SHOES – Most important!  You will be walking and navigating stones and uneven surfaces.  A shoe with great support and grip is essential….something really comfortable.  Ecco, Merrill or similar sandals are divine…but after about three miles, the support does not feel great.  I bring the sandals which work fine for most outings in the evenings…and a Merrill walking shoe for the longer treks.  This is all the shoeage you will require.

Walking Sticks – I recommend and use collapsible Trek Ultra Lite walking sticks to maintain balance and support over the uneven terrain at the sacred sites.  They have saved my life many times.  People hobbling along at Machu Picchu told me how envious they were of my walking sticks.  There are no handrails and plenty of steps and awkward transitions. There are other brands of walking sticks available…check it out.

If you dont want to carry the walking sticks in your luggage…no problem.  In Ollantaytambo it is easy to purchase a walking stick for about 8 dollars.

MEALS – Breakfasts are provided on this journey, and are often cooked to order – always delicious.   We provide other meals for the group based on the itinerary – please check there.  A final itinerary will be issued upon arrival…there may be changes in scheduling.   The other meals are left open for you to explore, meet locals and other travelers and sample the taste treats, sounds and sights of Peru.

We have found that when we include all meals, we may be taken to restaurants providing tourist quality food, with menu items that are repetitive, and other tour groups. We have found this to be boring and unsatisfactory – especially for the vegetarians in the group; and certainly for the gourmet minded.

We can suggest restaurants in each area we visit.   Here is some general information and a few examples of restaurants in Peru.

Barbecuing Peruvian-Style: The Peruvian version of a barbecue get-together is called a pachamanca; it’s basically cooking meat and veggies over coals or hot stones in a hole in the ground. On weekends in the countryside, mostly in the mountains, you’ll see families gathered around smoky subterranean grills, cooking up pork or beef and potatoes and vegetables. (You can also get pachamanca-style dishes in some traditional restaurants.)

Chugging Chicha: An ancient Andean tradition is the brewing of chicha, beer made from fermented maize. You can find it at a few traditional restaurants, but for an authentic Andean experience, the best place to get it is at a simple bar or home that flies the chicha flag — a long pole with a red flag or, often, balloon — which is the local way of advertising that there’s home-brewed chicha available inside. Served warm, in monstrous tumblers for a few pennies, it’s not to many foreigners’ liking, but it’s one of the best ways to go native. Chicha morada, a refreshment made from blue corn, is something altogether different: It’s sweet and nonalcoholic, and it actually tastes good (especially with ceviche).

Self-Medicating with Mate de Coca: Coca-leaf tea, a perfectly legal local drink that has been a tradition in the Andes for centuries, is a great way to deal with the high altitude of the mountains. As soon as you hit Cusco or Puno, head straight for the mate de coca — most hotels have it at the ready for their guests. And if that doesn’t work, strap on the oxygen tank (many hotels supply that for their guests, too).

Slurping Ceviche: One of the classic dishes of Peruvian coastal cooking is ceviche — raw fish and shellfish marinated in lime or lemon juice and hot chile peppers, and served with raw onion, sweet potato, and toasted corn. It’s wonderfully refreshing and spicy. The best place to try one? A seaside cevichería, specializing in umpteen varieties of deliciously fresh ceviche.

Samples of Best Restaurants

Cicciolina, Cusco (tel. 084/239-510): Cusco’s restaurant scene is constantly improving, adding more upscale, fine-dining options, and this new restaurant, which serves stylish novo Andino cuisine, is the best example of the trend. You might think you’ve landed in a chic Tuscan country eatery, but the menu is eclectic, with a soft spot for unusual spices. The hopping bar is a smart haunt for pre-dinner drinks and a terrific selection of tapas, though the sexy, hushed dining room is the sleekest in Cusco.

MAP Café, Cusco (tel. 084/242-476): Cusco’s most chic and modern restaurant is tucked into the colonial patio of the city’s great pre-Columbian art museum. It quietly makes a dramatic statement with its minimalist design: a glass and steel box. The food, nouveau Andean, is every bit as elegant and cleanly presented. With a super wine list and the opportunity to stroll through the museum after dinner, it’s a perfect, sophisticated date restaurant.

Jack’s Café Bar, Cusco (tel. 084/806-960): The first place many gringos hit when they arrive in Cusco, and one they return to time and time again, is this amiable, informal cafe on the way up the hill to the San Blas district. It’s a great spot for any meal, a great deal, and perfect for bonding with fellow travelers over a few drinks.

El Huacatay, Urubamba (Sacred Valley; tel. 084/201-790): Most visitors to the Sacred Valley eat either at nondescript cafes or hotel restaurants. This new place is a welcome addition, a chef-owned restaurant that’s elegant and relaxed, serving very nice versions of Andean standards. It’s perfect for a long, lingering lunch in the garden or a more elegant dinner by candlelight in the small dining room. Refreshingly, it’s a favorite of both gringos and (upscale) locals.

Indio Feliz, Aguas Calientes (tel. 084/211-090): The town at the bottom of Machu Picchu is a little scrappy, so this Peruvian-French restaurant really stands out. In an attractive and popular two-level dining room, it offers a great-value three-course menu. If by chance you just completed the 4-day Inca Trail trek, treat yourself to a meal here.

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