Peru offers much more than most travels could even hope to provide: enchanting Andean highland cities with colonial architecture, remote jungle eco-lodges in the Amazon rainforest, soaring snowcapped mountains and volcanoes, a Pacific coastline extending 3,220 kilometers (2,000 miles), and of course Machu Picchu and the stunning legacies of the Incas and other advanced pre-Columbian civilizations.
Peru is a land of amazing hand-woven textiles and exuberant celebrations, exotic animals and fascinating peoples. This is a country bursting with opportunities for memorable travel highlights and outdoor adventure. A country with more than 5,000 years of history, Peru is one of the most diverse nations on the planet and a destination that holds infinite travel experience destinations. There is a Peru for everyone and we invite you to discover it.
1 – TRIP PREPARATION
A)Passports and visas
Entering Peru is a straightforward process for most tourists. Visas are not required for tourists entering Peru from most countries in the Americas, Western Europe, China and Japan, regardless of whether they enter through the Lima airport or arrive in Peru overland from a neighboring country.
Entry is a simple matter of presenting immigration officials with the following:
• Your passport, which must be valid for six months beyond your return date. (Children must have their own documentation.)
• A “Tarjeta Andina de Migración” (TAM, or Andean Immigration Card), which will be given to you, usually on your flight into the country. Fill this out and give it to the immigration authorities, who will review it and return it to you. This form MUST be returned when leaving Peru, so hang on to this white-colored international embarkation/disembarkation form to avoid any delay or to prevent having to pay a pay a small fine when you exit the country. If you do lose your tourist card, visit an immigration office (oficina de migraciónes) for a $4 replacement.
• A return ticket or an “open-jaw” onward ticket is required from foreign travelers arriving in Peru by air, though usually travelers are never asked to produce proof of this by their airline or immigration officials. In any case, don’t show up with just a one-way ticket to South America (a refundable ticket out of the country may be an option; once you’ve arrived you can cancel it and you’re good to go. Likewise, an e-ticket for an onward leg of your journey might suffice. This detail can be worked out with your Surtrek travel planner).
• Customs officials will ask you to fill a form declaring any taxable items. Tax exempt articles include personal clothes and belongings, laptop computers and adventure sports gear (see customs regulations below).
Tourists are permitted 30- to 90-day stays. The length of stay is determined by the immigration officer at your point of entry. Your visa will be stamped both into your passport and onto your “Andean Immigration” tourist/landing card
Before leaving home, make two photocopies of the data page of your passport and your itinerary – one for someone at home and another for you. It’s safest to carry photocopies of your passport photo ID page and your TAM tourist card, while keeping the originals in a safe place (a hotel safe, etc.). Except for when traveling on the Inca Trail, you are NOT required to carry your actual passport on your person in Peru. You MUST, however, carry some sort of identification with you.
If you lose your passport, call the nearest embassy or consulate and the local police. Also, never leave one city in Peru to go to another city (even for just an overnight or two) without carrying your passport with you.
Peru only requires a yellow fever vaccination certificate from people coming from infected countries in Africa and the American continent. The table below shows often-recommended vaccines for visiting Peru:
Destinations where vaccinations recommended
Travelers who have never had chickenpox
Travelers who will be in prolonged contact with the local population
Amazonas, Loreto, San Martin, Ucayali, Junin, Madre de Dios
Travelers in Amazon areas below 7,450 feet (2,300 m.). Receive your vaccination 10 days before your trip.
Amazonas, Loreto, San Martin, Ucayali, Junin, Madre de Dios
C)Climate and When to Go
Peru has three main climatic zones: The arid coastal desert to the west, the Andean mountains and highlands in the middle of the country, and the tropical Amazonian rainforest to the east. In turn, the coast and the Andean highlands have two very distinct seasons: dry and wet. In the highlands, December to March is the rainy season, while April to December is mostly dry and sunny. On the coast, the climate is driest and hottest between December and March; the rest of the year is cooler and frequently misty. In the country’s third region – the Amazon rainforest – it rains all the time in this hot and humid region, but the less rainy months there are from June to September.
Peru’s high travel season coincides with the driest months: May through October, with by far the greatest number of visitors coming from June to August. Airlines and hotels also consider the Christmas/New Year’s period, from mid-December through mid-January, as a peak season – even though this time period falls during the wet season.
In summary, there is no ideal month to see the whole country, but to reduce the risk of seeing Machu Picchu in the rain, go between May and September.
The peak tourist season (in the middle of the dry season, from June to August) is the best (and busiest) time to go trekking on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, just as it is the best time to go climbing, hiking or mountain biking elsewhere in the highlands. During this time you will experience sunny days and scant rainfall, however the nights can be quite cold (near freezing) – especially in June and July.
People can and do visit the highlands year-round, though the December to March season is the wettest and muddiest. While rainfall is abundant, the wettest months are January and February. Most mornings are dry, but clouds move in during the afternoon and produce heavy downpours.
(Also: Travelers flying straight into Cuzco [situated at an altitude of 10,912 feet / 3,326 m.] should allow time to acclimatize.)
Nevertheless, some people prefer to travel in the jungle during the wet season, when higher water levels allow for more river penetration. There’s still plenty of sunshine to enjoy, as the frequent rain showers rarely last for more than a few hours at a time.
Almost all international flights into Peru touch down at Aeropuerto Internacional Jorge Chavez (LIM), on the northwestern fringe of Lima, generally 30 to 50 minutes from the downtown areas of Miraflores, San Isidro or Barranco.
Most of these international flights are from other Latin American cities, but plenty are from the U.S. (around a 6-hour flight time) and Europe (usually 12 to 15 hours).
If you’re flying from other Latin American cities, you will have a wide range of regional carriers at your disposal. LAN has flights from most major airports in the region, as does TACA. COPA, affiliated with United, flies from its hub in Panama City. TAME and Avianca fly from Quito. Your Surtrek travel planner will assist you with these arrangements.
The weight limit for your baggage depends on your airline; there is no standard baggage allowance to Peru. If you fly via the USA, you are typically allowed two pieces of luggage of up to 70 pounds (32 kg) per case. American airline companies are usually a bit more expensive, but if you are traveling with a 40-kg bag of climbing gear, it may be worth looking into. On flights from Europe there is a weight allowance of 20 or 23 kg, although some carriers out of Europe use the two-piece system, but this may not apply in both directions. If you really need to save time and hassle, travel with carry-on luggage only (19 in. x 91/2 in. x 141/2 in., or 48 cm x 24 cm x 37 cm). This will guarantee that your luggage arrives at the airport when you do. At busy times of the year it can be very difficult and expensive to bring items such as bikes and surf boards along. Many airlines will let you pay a penalty for overweight baggage, but this usually depends on how full the flight is. Check first before you assume you can bring extra luggage. (The weight limit for domestic flights is usually 35 to 44 pounds [16-20 kg] per person, so keep this in mind if you plan to take any domestic flights within Peru). To avoid any kind of trouble and extra payments, we suggest that you ask your Surtrek travel planner to check with your airline for the exact weight limits.
C)Customs and Immigration
While getting in and out of your country is probably straightforward, what can cost you both time and money is getting your belongings through Peruvian customs – both when arriving and when departing.
Before heading to Peru, it’s good to take a look at the country’s custom’s restrictions to know what you can pack (as well as later bring home) without running into any additional duties.
What you can bring into Peru: According to the Peruvian customs regulations, travelers can take the following items to Peru without paying any customs duties upon arrival: one of each type of electronic device (for example, one laptop or one tablet (which must be registered with SUNAT [customs authorities]), one cell phone, one photographic camera, one DVD player). Other goods can be brought in for use or consumption by the traveler or to be given as gifts (as long as they are not intended as trade items, and as long as the combined value does not exceed US$300).
What you can take out of Peru: Exports of protected plant and endangered animal species — live or dead — are strictly prohibited by Peruvian law and should not be purchased (including handicrafts made from insects, feathers, or other natural products). It is also prohibited to take pre-Columbian archaeological items out of Peru. To be safe, look for the word “reproduction” or an artist’s name stamped on reproduction ceramics, and keep business cards and receipts from shops where you have purchased them. Particularly fine items might require documentation from Peru’s National Institute of Culture (INC) verifying that the object is a reproduction and may be exported.
What you can take back into your country: You’re always allowed to bring goods of a certain value back home without having to pay any duty or import tax. But there’s a limit on the amount of tobacco and liquor you can bring back duty-free, and some countries have separate limits for perfumes (for exact figures, you should check to see what you own country allows you to bring back from your vacation or business trip). For this information, contact one of the following agencies:
• U.S. Citizens: U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), http://www.cbp.gov/travel/international-visitors/know-before-you-go
• Canadian Citizens: Canada Border Services Agency, www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca
• U.K. Citizens: HM Revenue & Customs, www.hmce.gov.uk
• Australian Citizens: Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, www.customs.gov.au
• New Zealand Citizens: New Zealand Customs Service, www.customs.govt.nz
Peru is not a highly dangerous country to travel in, but it is by no means crime free. By being aware of the possible problems you may confront, and by using a mixture of COMMON SENSE and vigilance, you can minimize the risks.
You need to be careful everywhere, but particularly in poor areas of cities. Peru’s widespread poverty means that street crimes such as pickpocketing and bag-snatching remain fairly common (assaults and robbery are rare). You should also be on your guard during festivals, at markets and when streets are crowded, as well as when traveling along any leg of the classic “Gringo Trail” (the Lima – Pisco/Paracas – Ica – Nazca – Arequipa – Puno/Lake Titicaca – Cusco/Machu Picchu route).
Experts advise visitors to think in terms of “risks and rewards”: maximizing a potential assailant’s “risks” and minimizing their “rewards.”
To increase a potential assailant’s risks:
• Numbers add to an assailant’s risk, so stay with your group or travel companion, practice the “buddy system,” and don’t wander around alone at night – especially after hitting the bar.
• Try to use ATM terminals located in banks, your hotel or in shopping malls – not on the street, and especially not at night.
• At night, always get your hotel to book a taxi for you. If you’re already out and nowhere near a phone, make sure the taxi you use is an official taxi bearing an official sign.
To decrease a possible assailant’s perceived rewards:
• Don’t flash money or jewelry around. In fact, keep all of your valuables out of sight – including cameras and video cameras (as much as possible). Consider leaving the expensive watches, jewelry, gold chains and nice sunglasses at home.
• Avoid carrying your wallet in your back pants pocket, or keep a tight grip on your purse (tucked under your arm). Carry your money, passport, and credit card with you in a money belt, inside your clothing, unless locked in a hotel safe.
All this said, the biggest annoyance most travelers will experience is a case of the runs. Stay aware of your surroundings but don’t let paranoia ruin your vacation.
The currency of Peru is the nuevo sol (“new sun”), which is being traded at S/3.46 per US dollar (USD) in January 2016
What You Need to Know:
While Peruvians rarely tip in restaurants, there is no rule that says you can’t if you’re pleased with the service, and it will be very much appreciated, unless of course the 10 per cent service charge has already been added (this is common practice in the nicer establishments). Tour guides should be tipped a few dollars for sightseeing services ($1-$2, per person for a short visit, and $5 or more per person for a full day) but it is not normal to tip taxi drivers unless they have gone out of their way for you. That said, porters at the airport are usually tipped about $0.25 per bag and bellboys at a first-class hotel about $.50-$1 per bag.
3 –SPEAKING OF PERU (useful facts for your journey)
Peru’s nearly 30 million people are predominantly mestizos (of mixed Spanish and indigenous heritage) and Amerindians, but the population is a true melting pot of ethnic groups. Significant minority groups — including Afro-Peruvians (descendants of African slaves, living mainly in the coastal area south of Lima), immigrant Japanese and Chinese populations — are among the largest in South America, and smaller groups of European immigrants, including Italians and Germans, help make up Peru’s population of 28 million. In the early days of the colony, Peruvian-born offspring of Spaniards were called criollos, though that term today refers mainly to coastal residents and Peruvian cuisine.
After Bolivia and Guatemala, Peru has the largest population by percentage of Amerindians in Latin America. Perhaps half the country lives in the sierra, or highlands, and most of these people, commonly called campesinos (loosely “farmers”), live in either small villages or rural areas.
Descendants of Peru’s many Andean indigenous groups in remote rural areas continue to speak the native languages and wear traditional regional dress. However, massive migration from rural highland villages to the cities has contributed to a dramatic weakening of indigenous traditions and culture across Peru.
Spanish is Peru’s national language, but many indigenous languages also enjoy official status. Many Peruvians claim Quechua, the language of the Inca, as their first language, though most also speak Spanish. Other indigenous languages include Aimara (the predominant language of the southern Andes), the Tiahuanaco language of Aymar (which is spoken around Lake Titicaca) and dozens of languages in the rainforest, including Shipibo, Ashaninka and Aguaruna.
English is widely spoken in hotels, restaurants and other businesses that cater to high-end travelers.
Catholicism is more dominant in urban areas (82%) than in rural areas (77.9%). In rural Peru, evangelical and non-evangelical Christians are more common (15.9%, compared to 11.5% in urban areas). Animistic religious practices (worship of deities representing nature) inherited from the Incas, and other religions have been incorporated into the daily lives of many Peruvians and can be seen in festivals and small individual rituals such as offerings of food and beverage to Pachamama, or Mother Earth. Other religions in Peru stem primarily from immigrant communities that have arrived in the country over the last few hundred years (mainly since the 1800s). The 3.3% of “other” religions includes Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Shintoists.
Due to the astounding variety of climates and ecosystems, Peru is among the world’s top eight nations in terms of biodiversity, where one can find 84 of the 104 life zones existing around the planet. Thirteen percent of the Amazon tropical forests are in Peru, and the country ranks 8th in the world for total forest area. The Colca and Cotahuasi canyons, in Arequipa, vie for first place as the deepest on earth. The largest river in the world, the Amazon, begins in Peru and most of the world’s highest navigable lake, Titicaca, is within Peru. The country is one of only 12 nations in the world that rank as possessing biological megadiversity. There are almost 25,000 species of plants (10% of the world total), of which 30% are only found in Peru. Peru is also home to about 10% of all mammals and reptiles living on the planet and more than 20% of the earth’s birds. The country is third in amphibians (379 species, including the black crocodile), third in mammals (462 species, including the ocelot and black Spectacled bear), and first in butterflies. It ranks second in the world for its variety of primates (35 species), including the unique woolly, Yellow-tailed monkey.