When touching down in Lima’s Jorge Chavez International Airport, travelers to Peru often feel a sense of displacement. It could be the chaotic Lima traffic, the Spanish spoken by most of the population, or the confusion of being in a humid, desert climatic (yes, Lima is a desert often socked in by fog)!
Travel to Peru is an exciting blend of culture, language, tastes, and geography. But if you haven’t mentally prepared for the expectations on the ground, you may be in for a bit of a shock.
Beyond having a basic checklist of the physical necessities of what to bring to Peru, by doing just a bit of reading and preparation on how things run in daily life in Peru, a whole host of headaches can be avoided.
Here are nine of our biggest Peru travel tips –
1. You Will Need to Exchange your Dollars
Handling money in Peru during your travels is a common question before arriving. Yes, Peru does have its own currency (it’s called the Sol). And, though US dollars are omnipresent, many travelers come expecting to pay and tip without ever having to exchange their money.
Though Visa (and to a bit lesser extent, American Express and Mastercard) credit card machines are available everywhere in Lima and Cusco, you’ll need to exchange your dollars to Peruvian soles at some point in your trip.
Our best suggestion is to bypass exchanging your dollars at the airport or at a Peruvian bank where exchange rates can really eat up your budget. Instead, upon arrival to the Miraflores area, visit a Casa de Cambio exchange service near Kennedy Park to find the best possible rates. There’s a bunch of services available, so when in doubt, ask your hotel or travel company where they would recommend.
For security it’s best to not exchange more than $300 at any time. This will go far during your travels, where you’ll likely need cash from tipping your guides, tipping in restaurants, purchases in artisan markets, and even buying some meals and items in coffee shops. Usually $300 - $500 will often cover most travelers needs during your time in Peru.
Pro Tip – Keep a mixture of coins and small bills with you at any time. Rarely will you need that 100 sol bill during your travels, and many merchants and taxi drivers won’t even have change for you. The further your travel from Lima and Cusco, the more you should be prepared to pay in cash.
2. Credit Cards (With no Foreign Transaction Fees) = Your Best Friend
There’s no better way to blow your budget than by charging all travel expenses to a credit card that charges foreign transaction fees. The sneaky 2-4% charge for each transaction can really eat your budget.
One of our biggest Peru travel tips will always be carrying and using a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. Visa, Mastercard, and American Express all offer options without annual membership fees so there’s really no excuse in 2018. In Lima, Cusco, Arequipa, and many other cities, all restaurants and hotels will gladly process your card.
Pro Tip – Before you travel, first check your existing cards to see if any charge foreign transaction fees and apply for a new card if needed. Check out NerdWallet to compare card benefits. And don’t forget to call you bank before you travel to advise them that you’ll be using your card out of country.
3. Best Time to Travel to Peru Depends on Your Destinations
There’s simply no best season to travel to Peru. Much depends on which destinations you plan to travel to. Generally speaking, the best time to travel to Peru is between May and September. For the popular Highlands’ destinations (Cusco, Puno, and Arequipa) this means a much lower chance of rain, more sun, but also far more tourists.
For coastal destinations (Lima, Paracas, Mancora, Tumbes, etc), the best chances of warm temperatures and sun lies between November and April. Lima, in particular, is coated in fog between May and October which makes it quite cool.
For jungle destinations (Puerto Maldonado, Iquitos, etc) visiting in the dry season between May and October is most ideal. Although there can be advantageous to visiting when rivers and streams are full, rainstorms in the jungle can last for hours or all day.
Pro Tip – The best time to travel to Peru, if you’re visiting Machu Picchu and Cusco, might just be in March and April or October and November. These shoulder months mean fewer hoards of tourists and a lower chance of rainstorms. Cheaper rates at hotels in Cusco also can be found outside of the peak months of May to September.
4. No Special Peru Travel Visa Needed!
Because travel to South America is still off the radar for many Americans, many travelers to Peru ask themselves when starting to plan – wait, do you need a visa to travel to Peru? Fortunately, the answer is no which makes traveling to Peru all the more accessible.
Unlike the more complicated process of traveling to Brasil or Bolivia, the Peruvian government has made travel here quite barrier free. Currently Peru has done away with the old, physical tarjeta andina, but instead gives visitors a maximum of 183 days annually.
However, though Peru doesn’t require a travel visa for those from the States, there are some rules to keep in mind.
You will be asked for proof of a return flight back home. This proves to Peruvian immigration that you are planning to return home.
The practice of ‘border hopping’, the act of leaving Peru for a board country and getting additional days added on your tourist visa, has been severely restricted. While Peru has increased the number of total days from 90 to 183, don’t expect additional days.
If you plan to stay beyond 183 days in Peru, you will need to make arrangements to apply for a carnet de extranjeria. This needs to be done before those 183 days are up.
5. Tipping in Peru is Expected – Especially from Tourists
Peruvians aren’t known to be the greatest tippers, and many will tell you that tipping really isn’t expected. But for tourists on the tourist circuit, tipping at restaurants, tipping guides, and occasionally tipping your drivers should be an expected part of your travel – unless service is truly terrible.
How much do you tip in Peru? Well that all depends on the type of service and the cost. Here's a breakdown of some travel tips in Peru when it comes to tipping.
Tipping in Restaurants – Servers in Peru early a salary. Still, salaries are low for services so
tipping 10% in restaurants is very normal. If service is poor, 5% is okay. But if service is really memorable, up to 15% is nice.
Pro Tip - Rather than leave your tip on a credit card it is better to hand your server some cash directly as a tip. Mismanagement of tips by restaurant management and other companies is certainly not out of the norm here in Peru.
Tipping Guides – A solid English guide in Peru can make your day - so tip accordingly. For a half-day tour, between the equivalent of between $5 - $10 per person is a good tip. For full-day tours, leaving between $10 - $20 per person is a good gesture.
Pro Tip – Don’t forget to tip the driver some soles separately if he or she has kept you safe on the roads of Peru.
Tipping Drivers – Unless your taxi driver has done something special like assisted you with luggage or helped you in another way, you aren’t expected to tip your taxi driver in Peru. But private transportation is different particularly if you’ve contracted a private driver for a half-day or full day. In this case, leave $5 - $10 per person for private drivers during the day.
Pro Tip – Speak up if you feel your driver is driving too fast or unsafely. It’s fully acceptable to not tip a private driver if you’ve spoken up and they still do not heed your wishes.
6. Pre-purchase Your Train Tickets and Your Transportation
Many visitors to Peru come with the idea that it’ll be much easier and cheaper to plan their travels after landing in Lima. Generally, this is untrue. Especially if you plan to head to Cusco, the cheaper train tickets get snagged up first which leaves last-minute planners paying more.
Depending on the season, you’ll want to buy your train tickets at PeruRail.com (or with us or another Peru travel agency) a few weeks before arriving. Additionally, hikes like the Inca Trail, hikes up Huayna Picchu, and many other high demand areas are either not available last minute or at higher costs. The same is true for booking flights last minute. You’ll want to reserve those flights from Lima to Cusco, and beyond, a few months in advance to find the best fares.
Likewise, unless you’re prepared to handle the chaotic taxi queue at the Lima and Cusco airports, it’s better to have a pre-screened driver on the ground ready for you. Yes, Uber is currently available in Lima. However, it can be difficult finding your driver at the Lima airport and Uber service can occasionally be unsafe (screening processes for drivers still leave a lot to be desired).
Some Peruvian airports have official, approved taxi companies with counters to avoid the taxi queues or Uber. Prices are quite a bit higher (but still not outrageous) and drivers are screened better. However, by having pre-arranged transportation from the Lima airport to Miraflores and elsewhere, a lot of problems can be avoided.
Pro Tip - For private transportation in Lima, book through your agency or operator in Peru who will have a private driver waiting just outside customs. This keeps it easy – particularly outside of Lima. Additionally, in Lima services like QuickLlama and the Airport Express bus are recent additional options for shared, comfortable services to avoid taking taxis from the street or via application.
7. Sundays Can be Quiet
Religion in Peru is still a big deal, and the Catholic traditions have made family an important part of life in Peru. Most Peruvians spend time on Sunday with their families. This makes Sunday a noticeably quieter day – even in Lima and Cusco.
Outside of hotels, independent restaurants, markets, and other business are sometimes closed on Sunday or offer restricted hours. Be prepared to work just a little bit harder on Sunday, especially if you’re off the Cusco and Lima path, to find open restaurants, markets, and even available taxis. However, most chains still do keep the same hours on Sundays.
Pro Tip – If planning travels on Sunday, make sure to check in advance if a museum, a noted site, or a tour is available and open on Sundays – especially if you won’t have the chance to return.
8. Have your Passport (or a Copy) in Hand
In addition to needing your passport to enter the country, in Peru you’ll be asked for your passport when purchasing train tickets, purchasing plane tickets, and checking into your hotel. Be sure to keep your original passport copy in a very secure location with you.
Rather than carry your passport everywhere, especially at night, make two color copies of your passport. Keep a copy with you at all times rather than risking losing an original passport, which will cause a world of travel problems.
Pro Tip – In Peru, you’ll be asked for identification every time you use your credit card (including at supermarkets, restaurants, and any other store). Instead of toting your passport or even a copy, a favorite Peru travel tip is to present a drivers license as documentation in these instances.
9. Using ATMs in Peru When in a Pinch
On the topic of dealing with money in Peru while traveling, if you’ve exhausted your cash supply
at the Peruvian markets, ATMs abound in every city. Most banks will charge you a fee anywhere from $5 to $7 dollars per transaction. But if you absolutely need an ATM for more cash, be sure you use one in a bank lobby (ideally with a guard in front).
Though every minimarket and supermarket has an ATM, your chance of petty theft or having your card comprised by an ATM skimmer is reduced by using an ATM at an official bank location. Rather than taking the risk of using your card at an unsecured ATM, take the time to find a guarded bank building.
Pro Tip – If your home bank is in dollars, always get dollars out of the ATM rather than soles. You’ll always get a lower exchange rate at Peruvian banks than at a Casa de Cambio center.