You’ve booked your ticket and you have a fair idea where you want to go and what you want to see in Peru – exciting! Whether you plan to do a mad dash of the highlights or spend a few months soaking in the culture and stunning landscapes, check out these five ways to help you to make the most of your time in Peru.
Spanish is the main language spoken in Peru (as well as some tribal dialects), and there is less English spoken the more rural you go. Unless you only plan to see the bright lights of Lima, learn some basic Spanish before you go (like greetings, numbers, basic phrases). You may not be able to talk about the meaning of life, but it will make it easier to get to places, order food and pay for things.
Tourist hotspots do cater for English speaking tourists, though I feel you miss a lot of the beauty and culture of Peru if you don’t interact with the locals. Even if I’m not in a place for very long, I make an effort to visit a local market and try the produce, or anything that helps me to interact with locals. Like eating at a local’s hangout. Everyday interactions help me to practise my Spanish, and generally found that they adjust their way of speaking to help me along.
Google Translate is handy if I need specific instructions or to make sure I understood correctly, and I have learned to get by without it when I’m out and about.
Don’t expect it to be just like
Humans are creatures of habit, and if you continually compare the way of life in Peru to back home, it will just frustrate you! On the flip-side of its rich history and Instagram-envy landscapes is the poverty, roaming dogs, and a local, public transport system that doesn’t believe in schedules (inter-city buses in my experience have been pretty good and haven’t been late more than 30 minutes).
“Peruvian time” is a real thing – they know it and it’s just the way things are. If you plan to meet a local and they’re 30 minutes late, don’t take it personally. If you can, be as flexible with your schedule because it will happen.
Pharmacies and bigger supermarkets are usually clearly labelled, but a lot of shops and services aren’t. There are plenty of houses that are also small convenient stores – just look for metal bars in front of windows and if you look in, they have an assortment of snacks, drinks and other knick-knacks. If you can’t see what you want, it pays to ask as usually they have it stored away.
If you need to exchange money or book tours, head to the main centre and walk around. Sometimes what you’re looking for is tucked away inside another bigger shop – with simple signs like “dollars” or “tours” by the door. You will start to notice it more once you know what you’re looking for, then they’re everywhere!
Bonus Tip: Bring toilet paper with you everywhere you go. Don’t assume that there will be toilet paper and trust me, you don’t want to be caught out!
It’s a cash society
Peru operates as a cash society, and I’ve learned that most places (even restaurants), don’t have a lot of change. When you exchange money at the airport, try to ask for lower denominations. If I need to break 50 or 100 soles notes, I head to a supermarket or pharmacy as usually they carry enough change. At the markets or local restaurants, smaller notes and coins are normally all you need.
Be aware that not all ATMs accept international cards and for some reason, it normally gives out 100 or 200 soles notes. Unless you are booking a lot of tours or treating the village to a feast, having larger notes can almost become an inconvenience.
Tipping isn’t that common in Peru, and you even may find your tip being returned - mine has been a few times. If you do want to tip, a couple of soles is fine. It can be different for tours or special activities, so have some extra cash handy.
Be prepared for noise
There is noise…everywhere! From cars beeping their horns, to people constantly telling you what they’re selling, music from parades to fireworks during the day. If you’re super lucky, your alarm clock will be the resident rooster. By the way, the walls are pretty thin in most hostels so you will hear more than you want to!
You get used to it, and it’s not all the time. Just don’t expect nights to be quieter - if you’re a light sleeper, bring along ear plugs or noise-cancelling earphones. That’s what helped me get through the first two weeks of rooster conversations at 2am (don’t believe the myth that they crow at sunrise), karaoke and fireworks. After that, I learned to switch off and slept through the night.
I do love the parades on the weekends – live music and dancing on the streets is part of the culture and way of life here. I’ve made it my mission to join in during a few before leaving Peru.
Get to know the locals and smile
This one is my personal favourite – Peruvians are pretty friendly and even with the language barrier, they do their best to help me out. Like the time I didn’t know I was on the wrong side of the road to catch a combi to Chan Chan, and the driver told me (waving arms and all) to cross the road and walk down a different street.
One of the other teachers took me to the local market just down the road, where the old ladies are dressed in their traditional Quechuan clothes. Most have a combination of produce, but some have a specialty, like Rosa who only sells potatoes. I’ve learned that when they call you “mamita” that it’s a term of endearment…or maybe just a really cute sales tactic. As my Spanish improves, I look forward to learning more about different ways of cooking and just enjoying the abundance of fresh produce.
Ronna Grace Funtelar is a thirtyish storyteller, creative, writer and slam poet currently travelling in Peru. She is a hobby hiker, photography and sunrise enthusiast with a passion for mindfully helping others live beyond their comfort zone.
Basically, a shorty who knows her life purpose.