Peru: paradise diversified


When you travel to Peru, you’ll have an opportunity to taste unique cuisine that features herbs, fruits and vegetables found nowhere else in the world. The country runs along the northern and central west coast of South America, but in addition to its coast and sandy beaches, the country also straddles the Andes and includes a significant portion of the Amazon rain forest, giving travelers an infinite variety of options for a reasonably priced vacation. And it also hosts Machu Picchu, the ancient heart of the Incan Empire.


With 15 uncontacted Amerindian tribes living in Peru in relative isolation, and a rich archaeological history that covers not just the Incas, but the Norte Chico as well, Peru offers a diversity of cultures, cuisines, and flora and fauna found nowhere else in the world. Make your travel plans today and see a part of the world that is unlike anywhere else.


Getting in, out, and about


In order to get into Peru, you will need a passport that will remain valid for the duration of your stay. When you present your passport, you will also need to include information regarding your return trip or destination plans beyond Peru. In exchange you will receive a card that you should keep with you at all times, and a stamp on your passport that indicates the amount of time you are allowed to stay (which is usually 90 days but can be for over 180 days in some cases).


If you have any electronic items with you, such as a laptop computer, be sure to declare these upon entry. Peruvian Customs officials adhere to strict regulations, and a failure to properly declare items, no matter how innocent your intent, can result in detainment, significant fines, and possible incarceration.


While none but the standard vaccinations against measles, rubella, chicken-pox, and tetanus are required, both the US Center for Disease Control and the Peruvian government highly recommend getting vaccinated against yellow fever. You should also consider getting vaccinated against typhoid, malaria, and Hepatitis A. If you plan on traveling in remote areas, in caves or other places where bats migrate, you may also want to get a rabies vaccination as well. Discuss your travel plans with your local physician to see which vaccines are right for you.


If you overstay your visit to Peru, you will have to pay a fine, which amounts to approximately $1 USD per day past the date allowed on your passport. If you find yourself falling in love with the country and want to stay extra time, keep in mind that it is not possible to get an extension on your passport beyond the dates that it was stamped for. You can travel over the border into Bolivia, Chile, or another neighboring country, stay there for a day, and then come back to get a new set of days stamped on your passport. If you choose this option, be sure you know the entry requirements for that country. Many countries in South America charge what’s called a reciprocity fee to US citizens crossing their borders. These fees can be expensive, particularly if you are a budget traveler who is watching your centimos (the smallest segment of Peruvian currency). Fortunately, Peru is not one of the countries that charge the reciprocity fee to US travelers, but that’s no guarantee regarding the surrounding countries.


When you come back to the US, keep in mind that Peru is extremely protective of its archaeological and fossil treasures. Any attempt to bring back authentic colonial and precolonial art is highly illegal and will result in prosecution regardless of how innocent your intent. Make sure that if you buy any such keepsakes, you buy only from reputable dealers and receive documentation from Peru’s National Institute of Culture (INC) that confirms it is okay to carry them past the Peruvian border.


In addition, Peru also has strict laws concerning the removal of certain flora and fauna from the country. Make certain before you go through customs that any crafts you might have purchased that include feathers or insects or some other organic feature are legal to take home with you.


Some drugs that you can get in Peru that are sold over the counter may be illegal in the US, and getting caught trying to bring them with you might not be interpreted as innocent, so make sure that you have confirmed that all items you’re bringing home with you are legal to carry into the US. One common ingredient that is ubiquitous in Peru, but illegal in the US, is coca-leaf tea. Peruvian drug laws are slightly more relaxed in Peru than they are in the US, so proceed cautiously and don’t be afraid to consult with a US embassy or consulate.


Some advice for safe travel

  • The tap water in Peru is not potable. It’s not safe to drink unless it has been boiled or treated with water purification tablets. 
  • Altitude sickness is a common reaction to the high altitudes in many of the tourist sites in Peru. One popular treatment is the drinking of tea made with coca leaves, but keep in mind that the coca leaf contains the active ingredients found in cocaine.
  • Peru does not have the same standards regarding the handling of food that we have in the US. Steer clear of unpasteurized cheeses or milk products and make sure meat and fish products are thoroughly cooked. While many street vendors sell prepared food, you should probably stay away from it unless you’re certain it’s safe. Diarrhea from eating contaminated foods or drinking contaminated water is fairly frequent in Peru.
  • Since much of Peru is located near and along the Equator, you should make sure you use plenty of sunblock. Bring a pair of sunglasses purchased in the US with you because not all sunglasses sold in Peru provide the complete range of UV ray protection.  
  • The jungle area in Peru is rife with a number of exotic and communicable diseases such as cholera, malaria, and yellow fever. Make sure you get properly vaccinated before traveling there. You also might consider purchasing traveler’s insurance. Health facilities in the capital of Lima are generally good, but this is not the case, particularly for emergency health care, throughout the rest of the country.  
  • If you use tampons, be sure to bring these with you from the US because they are not popular in Peru nor easily found.

Highlights of a Peruvian vacation

There is a multitude of things to do and see in Peru, and any list is sure to leave out vital options. Peru is host to 84 of the planet’s 104 life zones and features animals you will see nowhere else such as llamas, pink dolphins, and giant otters. In addition, there are numerous cultures that have lived in or are still living in Peru, and you will find a huge range of folk music, art, and dancing wherever you go. In addition, here are some highlights:

  • Machu Picchu: If you go to Peru and don’t see Machu Picchu, then you’re doing it wrong. That would be like visiting Egypt and skipping the Pyramids. Machu Picchu is the ruined capital of the Incan Empire situated in the clouds high in the Andes. Make sure you acclimatize to the altitude first. Drinking coca-leaf tea is helpful in this regards.  
  • Get your adrenaline fix: Peru features numerous activities for adventure travelers including zip-lining through the jungle, surfing at one of Peru’s numerous beaches, such as Máncora Beach, or kayaking or rafting along one of Peru’s many rivers. Horseback riding and trekking while on the back of a llama are also available. Hiking is a great activity in Peru, but the country has made it illegal to do so without hiring a guide. Consequently, multi-day hikes can get pretty expensive. Since everything else is fairly cheap in Peru, it might be worth forking out $300-$400 USD for the opportunity to hike and climb the Inca Trail.  
  • Colca Canyon: It’s the deepest canyon in the world, and unlike the Grand Canyon in the US, it’s full of wildlife and vegetation.
  • Islas Flotantes de los Uros and Lake Titicaca: This huge lake, one of the highest above sea level in the world, is a great place to relax and enjoy water sports. A unique site in the middle of the lake is the group of “islands” fashioned out of tortora reeds where the Uros people live.


There are plenty more activities and sites to see in Peru, and the hit to your pocket book is fairly negligible, so start planning your vacation today.

The traveler’s tongue


The national language of Peru is Spanish. People don’t generally pronounce it as clearly as it is spoken in Spain or in Mexico; however, Peruvians in general speak more slowly than in other countries, particularly in the eastern portion of the country, which makes it a great place to learn and practice speaking Spanish. When referring to Amerindians, be sure to use el indígena or la indígena rather than indio, which is considered a racial slur. The same goes for the word tombo, which is slang for a police officer, but is about on the same order as referring to a police officer as a “pig” is in the US.


In the Sierra region of Peru, many people speak Quechua, which is the language the Incas spoke, as their first language. Almost everyone will also be able to speak Spanish, but they will also be delighted if you try out some phrases in Quechua. In the Altiplano region of Peru, many people speak Aymara as well as Spanish.


English is not widely spoken at all in Peru. You may find English speakers in Lima, the capital of the country, or in the more established tourist hotbeds, but you may not, either. The upshot is that if you study your Spanish now, you will have plenty of opportunity to practice and develop an ear for the language in Peru.

About the Author

C.W. Garay is an alumnus from the University of North Texas, where he received both his BA in psychology and an MA in English, specializing in creative writing, fiction. When not traveling he resides in Denton, TX, rated as the number one small town in which to live in the US according to Business Insider’s 2013 survey. In addition to writing articles on traveling, he also writes fiction under a pseudonym. He can be reached via email at