Whereas once most people flocked to a single destination in Peru (that 800-pound lost Incan city in the room), today more and more visitors are discovering every corner of the country. This is a good thing—from Lima in the south to Iquitos at the Amazon basin, Peru has plenty of natural wonders on offer.
First-timers probably have questions, considering that the country boasts many different eco-regions, from tropical jungles to highland mountain ranges. Arm yourself ahead of time with the practical info below—and if you're ready to learn about your options for touring this breathtaking country, check out this article.
What visas do I need?
Upon arrival to Peru, you will receive a tourist visa. This is the case for citizens of the U.S., Canada, the European Union, Australia and New Zealand. The length of your stay will be decided by immigration officials but the maximum amount of time you can stay in the country is 183 days each calendar year. Peru does not offer visa extensions.
You must present a passport valid at the time of entry and have at least one blank page available for the entry stamp. Immigration authorities may also request proof of onward travel.
What vaccinations do I need?
Peru recommends (but does not require proof of) vaccinations for Hepatitis A, B, and Yellow Fever. Yellow fever is particularly recommended for those traveling to jungle areas below 7,500 feet in altitude.
Should I be worried about Zika?
You should exercise mild caution. There have been confirmed cases of the Zika virus in Peru since 2016, but only sporadically. Recently, the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT) confirmed cases in the Loreto and Chincha regions of the country. Also, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) updated its travel guidelines in 2017 to recommend pregnant women do not travel to countries with a Zika presence.
That said, the mosquitos that typically carry Zika don't live at altitudes above 6,500 feet, which excludes the highland regions of Peru. Moreover, many publications, like Sciencemag.org, have reported plummeting cases of Zika across Latin America in 2017 and this year, which means the risk of contracting the virus is minimal.
When is the best time of year to go to Peru?
Peru’s dry season is the busiest time for tourism, given there’s no rain and the skies are clear for hiking and sightseeing in the mountains. This is also when North and South Americans and Europeans have their summer vacations, so be sure to book your tours and accommodations a few months in advance if you’re visiting during this time.
That said, the best time to go is somewhat different depending on the region. Read more here.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
What's the currency and exchange rate? Can I use U.S. dollars? Are there ATMs readily available?
The Peruvian unit of currency is the sol. At the time of writing, it was trading 3.24 Peruvian soles to the dollar. Unlike Ecuador, most businesses in Peru are unlikely to accept dollars as forms of payment (although some may). Because of Peru's status as a major tourism destination, ATMs are ubiquitous. Combine that with the universal standard of EMV smart-chip credit cards, and withdrawing cash and making purchases by card is easy and safe.
What is the food like in Peru?
To learn about food in Peru, check out this article.
Is Peru a good family destination?
Yes! Peru is suitable for both kids and adults. There are lots of family-friendly activities to enjoy, from visiting llama farms to sandboarding and kayaking, and from learning to build with adobe materials to cooking in clay ovens and making chocolate. For more information, this article has more tips for family travel in Peru.
What type of electric adapter/converter should I bring?
Peru uses 220 volts, but typically plugs are shaped the same as in North America—two flat prongs. So you won't need an adapter, but if your appliances run at 110 volts (likely, but always doublecheck), you'll need to bring a converter to avoid frying the device.
Should I spend time in Lima?
Absolutely. Most flights to Peru land at Jorge Chávez International Airport, which is the region's principal air hub. So you'd only be cheating yourself if you didn't explore this fascinating capital city. Like many cities and towns in Latin America, Lima boasts a Centro Historico (historic center) rich in colonial history. In fact, for many a century it was the principal seat of Spanish colonial power in the New World. Today the Centro Historico is a UNESCO World Heritage Site featuring breathtaking architecture as seen around the Plaza Mayor. Here you'll find the Government Palace, Convento de San Francisco, the Archbishop's Palace, and more.
Can I get to Machu Picchu without trekking?
You most certainly can. While hiking the Inca Trail is an unforgettable experience (you arrive at Machu Picchu at sunrise, before anyone else is at the site), it may not fit your budget or schedule. That's fine. You have a couple other options in which you can arrive at this ancient citadel in the clouds.
The first and most common method of getting to Macchu Picchu from Cusco is to take a train. Unfortunately, the trains don't leave from within the city itself, so you will have to travel by car or bus to the terminal. Most people depart from the train station in Ollantaytambo, in Peru's Sacred Valley, a couple hours northwest of Cusco. You can also take the train from the town of Poroy, located about 25 minutes outside of Cusco.
There are two train companies offering services to Aguas Calientes, the town closest to Machu Picchu. These are Peru Rail and Inca Rail. Each offers a wide variety of standard and deluxe transport options. You can choose to ride in simple coach class or pamper yourself with first-class or even private carriage services. These often include champagne, tasting menus, large plush seats, and even live music. You can also count on wider panoramic windows that offer 360-degree views of Peru's stunning countryside.
For more information on Peru's iconic indigenous archeological site, check out our ultimate guide to Machu Picchu.
Should I take a taxi from the airport? How much does a taxi from the airport to accommodation areas cost?
Due to distance and travel time, a taxi is recommended. Jorge Chávez International Airport is located approximately seven miles from Lima's city center and 10 miles from the popular neighborhood of Miraflores. Since most visitors stay in the latter area, be prepared for the trip to take 30-40 minutes. A taxi will run you minimum US$20 but be prepared to pay US$25 or even US$30. Uber does operate in Lima, but customers there have reported scams and poor-quality vehicles. It's best to take a taxi.
Are public buses safe? What about airlines? Which airlines and bus companies are the most reliable?
Public city buses are safe, but as a foreigner, you'll want to exercise basic caution. Petty crime exists in the more touristic areas of the country, and it's not unheard of for people to have their pockets picked. As for long-distance buses, there are many reputable companies with solid fleets of comfortable vehicles. Prices can vary depending on the time of departure and destination. One highly regarded bus company is Cruz del Sur, but there are rival companies, like Superciva, that offer competitive fares. That said, be prepared for any bus trip from Lima to Cusco to take around 22 hours. That's why most people opt to fly.
As for airlines, major carriers like LATAM and Avianca service destinations throughout the country. There are also lower-cost national airlines, like Viva Air Peru, for those on a budget. The bus companies and airlines mentioned above are all reliable. Still, be wary of ultra-low-cost carriers like Star Perú, whose fleets are of dubious quality. It could mean more delays and cancellations of your flight than you'll find with other airlines.
Do I need to acclimatize to Cusco's altitude?
Cusco's thin air has a notorious reputation—after all, the city sits at nearly 11,000 feet altitude. Even so, we're not talking about Mount Everest here; you will survive. There are also precautions to take ahead of time to mitigate the effects of the altitude sickness that plagues many first-timers (and even repeat visitors) to the region.
For starters, don't overdo it. For the first couple days of your stay keep your walking tours to a minimum—just around the main sites in central Cusco. Also, the city is hilly, so try not to wander up and down all those steep roads for hours on end. Equally important is to make sure you drink plenty of water.
Finally, trust in that most time-tested of Inca remedies for treating altitude sickness: coca. You can buy bags of dried coca leaves or drink mate de coca (coca leaf tea), which they sell in most cafes and bars. You can also chew the leaves like tobacco. (Rest easy in the knowledge that, in its unrefined form, the coca leaf is not a drug. Chewing or sipping it will only give you the energy of a couple shots of stiff espresso while making your mouth a tad numb.) It does a great job of keeping altitude sickness at bay, which is likely why it earned the stamp of approval from the Incas.