Peru Made Easy
How Much Can I See in One Week, or Two Weeks?
The minimum amount of time to experience Peru is one week, but you really should consider setting aside two weeks, because that would allow you to move more slowly and catch a few more of the country's amazing sights. One week is enough time to get a taste of Lima and complete the Cusco—Valle Sagrado—Machu Picchu circuit, either with an Inca Trail trek, or a more leisurely train itinerary. If you don't mind a quick pace, you could do that circuit in four days, then fly to Puerto Maldonado for a couple of nights in the Amazon rain forest at one of the nearby nature lodges.
A two-week trip allows you to visit more of the sites along the Cusco—Machu Picchu route and head deeper into the Amazon rain forest, either in Madre de Dios, or on the Amazon River itself. Or you could do the Lake Titicaca—Arequipa—Colca Canyon circuit. The Nazca—Paracas trip, south of Lima, can also easily be added to the above in a two-week trip. An alternative to the chilly Titicaca—Arequipa circuit is to return to Lima after Machu Picchu and fly to the coastal cities of Trujillo and Chiclayo, both of which lie near important pre-Incan sites. If outdoor adventure is your passion, you could extend your stay in the highlands for a white-water rafting trip or trekking in either the Cusco region or the Cordillera Blanca.
How Difficult Is Peru to Get Around?
A growing selection of domestic flights means it is much easier to move about within Peru 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 signage is spotty. 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. Many destinations in the Amazon Basin can only be reached by river, in anything from a motorized dugout to a river cruise boat with comfortable cabins.
Is Machu Picchu Hard to Get To?
Travel to Machu Picchu is almost too easy. Many 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 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 hike and a highlight for those who do it. Keep in mind that you need to book an Inca Trail trek months ahead of time, though there are alternative routes.
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. Aymará, 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 tourism 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.
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'll reduce your likelihood of suffering from one. 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. You'll 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. Distraction is a common technique, so if a stranger touches you—a wobbly drunk, or somebody who wants to clean off a cream that has inexplicably gotten on your coat—be aware that their accomplice may try to rob you. Never walk on a deserted street at night. There have been cases of several robbers mugging travelers on side streets, but if you stick to the busy streets in Lima's Centro and Barranco, you should be fine. 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 fatigue, nausea, 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. Some 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, but the $31 USD fee for international departures from Lima will be included in the cost of your ticket.
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. Peruvians, like many South American countries, are also on "Latin time," meaning they often arrive late for social engagements, though tours and transportation tend to run on time.
What's in a Pisco Sour?
A smooth sipper, pisco sours are made with 2 ounces of pisco (a white-grape brandy comparable to grappa), ¾ ounce freshly squeezed lime juice, ice, 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.
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