How Difficult Is Peru to Get Around?
Thanks to more domestic flights, Peru is much easier to move about these days. Almost every worthwhile destination is within a two-hour flight from Lima. Train travel is limited, but fun and easy. Traveling by car is trickier—roads are improving, but signs aren't well posted. Buses go everywhere, and the most expensive seats are quite comfortable; only travel with big companies such as Cruz del Sur and Junin. In cities, cabs are abundant and cheap, but check for an official license.
Is Machu Picchu Hard to Get To?
Travel to Machu Picchu is almost too easy. Most people do the trip in a day out of Cusco, but it is worth two or three days, with overnights in Aguas Calientes and the Sacred Valley. The most common method is to hop on a train from Cusco or Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, which is a 20-minute bus trip from the ruins. Or you can do as the Incas did and walk the trail, which is a two- to four-day jaunt and a highlight for those who do it. Either option is likely to be the most expensive thing you do in Peru, but Machu Picchu is also one of the most amazing things you're likely to ever see.
What Languages Do People Speak?
The official language is Spanish and nearly everyone speaks it. But in the highlands the language the Incas spoke, Quechua, is still widely used. Older people in indigenous communities often don't know Spanish, but younger generations do. Aymara, a pre-Inca language, is spoken in the towns around Lake Titicaca and dozens of native tongues are spoken in the Amazon Basin. And a growing number of Peruvians speak English.
Will I Have Trouble if I Don't Speak Spanish?
No problem. Although it's helpful to know some Spanish, it's not a necessity, especially on an organized tour or in tourist areas. There's a strong push for tourist professionals to learn English, but cab drivers or store clerks aren't likely to know a lick. We suggest learning a few simple phrases. Cuánto cuesta? (How much?) is a good one to start with.
Was Machu Picchu Damaged by Floods?
Flooding destroyed part of the railroad between Cusco and Machu Picchu in January of 2010, but the ruins and nearby town of Aguas Calientes escaped damage. The tracks were repaired within a matter of months and Machu Picchu was promptly reopened.
Is the Water Safe to Drink?
Nope. But bottled water is cheap and sold nearly everywhere. Drink as much as you can, it'll help you beat altitude sickness.
Will I Get Sick?
Stomach bugs are a frequent problem for visitors, but if you avoid salads and only eat fruits that you peel, you should be okay. Cebiche and other "raw" seafood dishes popular in Lima also carry a risk, but are so tasty that it would be a shame to avoid them. Bring anti-diarrhea medicines and play it by ear, or tummy.
What Are the Safety Concerns?
Petty crime is the primary concern. If you're "gringo," you probably have a camera, iPod, watch, jewelry, credit cards, cash—everything a thief wants. Pickpocketing and bag slashing are the most common methods. Thieves are fast and sneaky so be alert, especially in crowded markets and bus stations, and never walk on deserted streets. In the last couple years there have been "strangle muggings," when several robbers strangle the traveler until they're unconscious, making for an easy steal, so stick to the busy streets in Lima's Centro. Taxi kidnappings, in which people are forced to withdraw money from ATMs at gunpoint, are also a problem, albeit rare. Use official taxis.
Should I Worry about Altitude Sickness?
Yes and no. If you have health issues, you should check with your doctor before heading to high altitudes. Otherwise, don't worry too much because nearly everyone experiences a little altitude sickness. The lucky ones may have a headache for the first 24 hours, while others may endure several days of intense fatigue and headaches. When up high, lay off the booze, limit physical activity, hydrate, drink lots of coca tea, suck coca hard candy, or chew coca leaves. If the headache persists, take an ibuprofen, hydrate some more, and sleep it off. Many hotels have oxygen so don't hesitate to ask for it.
Do I Have to Pay Any Fees to Get into the Country?
No. But you pay to get out. The departure tax system (which nearly every South American country embraces) is alive and well in Peru. Be prepared to fork over $31 USD, or the equivalent in soles, when you leave Lima for any international destination. Every time you fly domestically, you also get hit with a departure tax, but it's only $6.82 USD. Warning: you can only pay with cash—soles or dollars.
What's in a Pisco Sour?
A smooth sipper, pisco sours are made with 2 ounces of pisco, (a white-grape brandy made from locally-grown grapes), ¾ ounce of freshly squeezed lime juice, a half-ounce of simple sugar syrup, 1 whipped egg white, and a dash of Angostura bitters. They're so tasty it's no wonder Peruvians are proud of their mildly tangy, national cocktail (and so are Chileans, who also claim the pisco sour as their national drink). Beware, they're quick to sneak up on you.
Are There Cultural Sensitivities I Should Be Aware Of?
Peruvians are very polite, and it's customary to be the same. You'll notice that men and women kiss each other on the cheek when saying hello, and the same goes for women to women. It's nonsexual and a sign of friendliness. There's no 6 inches of personal space in Peru, it's more like 2: people talk, walk, and sit close in general, so don't be alarmed. Peruvians, like many South American countries, are also on "Latin Time," meaning, arriving an hour late for a social engagement is considered customary. Finally, there's actually bathroom etiquette in Peru. It's polite not to throw toilet paper down the toilet and instead place it in the bin provided. Plumbing is not super-sophisticated and pipes clog frequently.
Free Fodor's Newsletter
Subscribe today for weekly travel inspiration, tips, and special offers.
Fodor's Trip Planning Ideas
- Great American Vacation: Find Your Next U.S. Trip with Fodor's
- 80 Degrees: Fodor's Helps You Find Your Best Beach Vacation Spots
- Go List: Fodor's Top 25 Places to Go in 2013
- Hotel Awards 2012: Fodor's 100 Top Hotels
- Weekend Getaways: Fodor's Recommends the Best Weekend Escapes in the US
- Best of Europe: Fodor's Picks the Best Places to Visit in Europe
- $3099 -- South America 7-Nt. Escape w/Air, Hotels & Tours Friendly Planet Travel
- Footsteps of the Inca IExplore
- $1527 & up -- Machu Picchu: 8-Nt. Trek w/Inca Trail Hiking — $1,527 LatinEscapes.com
- Hiram Bingham's Hidden Peru — $4,995 IExplore
- $1387 & up -- Peru 6-Nts. w/Machu Picchu, Lima & Cusco Tours — $1,387 LatinEscapes.com