Peru Holiday Planning Guide
In a country renowned for its pre-Columbian archeological sites, no Peru vacation would be complete without an adrenaline-inducing hike to Machu Picchu, a World Heritage-listed symbol of the once-mighty Incan Empire. Aside from visiting these ruins amidst the backdrop of mountain peaks, most holidays in Peru also include an exploration of the country's cities that boast well-preserved colonial architecture as well as modern buildings containing fine museums, galleries, shops, and restaurants. Ideal for active vacationers, Peru trips are also tailor-made for gourmands, as the country's eclectic cuisine blends influences from Africa, Asia, and Europe.
Places to Visit in Peru
Regions of PeruCusco Region
: A Peru vacation would be incomplete without the exploration of the pre-Columbian heritage of Cusco Region, including the legendary Machu Picchu, one of the world's most-visited archeological sites.Sacred Valley
: This lush valley surrounded by the imposing Peruvian Andes displays an array of archaeological sites and colonial towns in addition to its natural beauty, making the region a pivotal destination for Peru tourism.Lima Region
: A major Peru destination for nature lovers and adventurers, the geographically diverse Lima Region offers plenty of urban attractions and modern amenities in addition to lush landscapes ideal for adrenaline-inducing sports.
Cities in PeruLima
: Representing a blend of modern attractions and preserved colonial architecture, Lima offers easy access to historical archeological sites and popular beachfront areas. Arequipa
: The second-largest city in the country showcases well-preserved colonial architecture that highlights the area's culture; you'll find it centered around the historic city center and plaza. The city itself sits within a dramatic setting dominated by three imposing volcanoes.Cusco
: A major tourist destination in Peru (and worldwide), World Heritage-listed Cusco is not only known as the historic capital of the Incan Empire, but the city also imparts its heritage through urban outdoor markets and galleries.Machu Picchu
: Fascinating travelers from all over the world with its mysterious structures, the abandoned city of Machu Picchu remains a symbol of the Incan civilization and a must-see on a Peru vacation.Puno
: A melting pot of indigenous and imported cultures, the "Folklore Capital of Peru" features colonial architecture amidst more run-down areas at 3,830 m (12,556 ft) above sea level.Trujillo
: Considered Peru's capital of culture, Trujillo boasts a lively arts scene and many local festivals, but its biggest attractions remain the ruins of pre-Columbian settlements and temples.Ollantaytambo
: Travel back in time and experience a slice of Incan history by taking a look at one of the world's finest examples of Incan city planning and agricultural engineering.
Popular Peru Tourist AttractionsMachu Picchu
: No Peru vacation would be complete without the adrenaline-inducing hike to the ruins of World Heritage-listed Machu Picchu--a symbol of the once-mighty Incan Empire and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.Parque de la Reserva
: Admire the jets, interactive fountains, and water tunnels at one of the world’s largest fountain complexes, which just happens to be surrounded by neoclassical architecture and various monuments and sculptures by Peruvian artists.Miraflores
: A bustling district of the Peruvian capital full of trendy shops, cafes, restaurants, and nightclubs, Miraflores holds many Peru attractions, including the remains of a pre-Incan temple and a stretch of rocky beaches.Sacsayhuaman
: Dating back more than 900 years to the Killke culture, this ancient fortified complex constructed of huge, megalithic boulders finds its place on most travelers’ Peru itinerary, as the hand-cut stone assembly of the structures (without using mortar) remains an engineering marvel. Centro Historico De Cusco
: Located at the heart of what was once the capital of the Incan Empire, Centro Historico De Cusco contains stonework and architecture that’s still notable today. Its museums and colonial-era architecture are often built atop visible Incan foundations.Larco Museum
: One of the top Peru places to visit when looking for a slice of ancient Peruvian history and culture, Larco Museum boasts nearly 4,000- year-old ceramics, hand-woven tapestries, and a bold collection of ancient erotic art pieces.Plaza de Armas
: This buzzing square surrounded by timeless architecture, shops, restaurants, and bars, acts as a social destination where you can watch Cusco life in motion around the clock.Plaza de Armas (Plaza Mayor)
: Designed nearly half a century ago, Lima's original town square surrounded by landmark buildings, such as the government palace and the city's cathedral, still remains at the heart of Lima life.Catedral del Cuzco o Catedral Basilica de la Virgen de la Asuncion
: Sitting on the ruins of an Incan temple, this 17th-century cathedral remains one of the city's most prominent religious and historical landmarks; it houses a large collection of colonial art.Uros Floating Islands
: Floating atop Lake Titicaca, the 42 islets of totora reeds are home to the traditional community of Uros people, who used to base their economy on fishing and bird hunting; today they mostly earn a living selling handicrafts to tourists.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Peru
Cuisine of Peru
Having been described as the fusion of the native heritage and influences from Europe, Africa, and Asia, Peruvian cuisine attracts gourmands. Immigrants from Spain, Italy, Germany, China, Japan, and West Africa all had to adapt their traditional cooking styles to spices and ingredients they could find in their new homeland. Extremely varied in flavors and colors, Peruvian dishes reflect the distinct flora and fauna of the country's diverse regions.
Corn, tubers, lupin beans, and the latest stars of health food--quinoa and kiwicha--have been traditional staples of the Peruvian diet. You might be surprised to discover that a popular Western household pet, the guinea pig, has been served for centuries as a traditional Peruvian dish among people in the Andes. Beef is the main ingredient of other traditional meat-based dishes, such as Lomo Saltado--which merges Asian-style cooking with a basic Peruvian spice ají pepper--or Pappa Rellena--potatoes filled with ground beef. Tacu Tacu is a Peruvian version of a hearty English breakfast. Salchipapas (pan-fried hot dogs sided with French fries) available at street vendors is a popular fast-food choice that will save you time while sightseeing in Peru. For those who have a sweet tooth or can't resist a bite of chocolate, be sure to sample Peruvian chocolate cake.
Shopping in Peru
Without a doubt, Lima
are Peru's prime destinations when it comes to “retail therapy.” Whether you're looking for traditional souvenirs or international and local high-end or mid-range boutiques, Lima's modern malls (Jockey Plaza
) and open-markets (like Dedalo Market
) provide ample browsing opportunities. Some tourist-friendly stores at Real Plaza Salaverry
even accept payment in either U.S. dollars or Euros.
A reasonable dose of good-natured bargaining is accepted, and even expected, both in stores and open markets, especially in the colorful aisles of Mercado Indios
. At Awana Kancha
or Artesanias Las Pallas
, you can pick up handcrafted items for gifts and souvenirs ranging from traditional textiles and alpaca wool products to pottery, glass vases, intricate jewelry, and elegant stone and wood carvings. Mercado Central de San Pedro
will give you a taste of local culture on a Peru holiday.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Peru
Interesting Facts About Peru
● Some of Peru's top tourist destinations including the Inca Empire capital Cusco
and ancient citadel Machu Picchu
are located in the highlands of the Andes mountain range.
● Peru is home to the highest sand dune and to one of the longest and most famous waves in the world--the left-handed point break.
● Peru grows over 3,000 different varieties of potatoes, which originally comes from Peru, and more than 55 varieties of corn, including purple, white, and black.
● Peru is home to 1,625 types of orchids as well as to the “Peruvian Inca Orchid,” which is actually not a flower but one of the rarest (hairless) dogs in the world.
● Southern Peru is home to Nazca
lines, the perplexing giant images of animals and plants drawn on the face of the desert sometime between 500 BCE and 500 CE.
● Peru has three official languages: Spanish, the Inca language Quechua, and Aymara.
Things You Should NOT Do in Peru
No matter how hot it gets, don't go shirtless in Peru, it is considered inappropriate and insulting. Also, refrain from calling people over with a gesture of curling an upward first finger. Ask for permission before taking photos of people, especially indigenous tribes, and don't refer to natives as “indios,” as they find this term derogatory. On the other hand, you shouldn't be offended if they call you “gringo” in return. In conversation, you should stay away from the subjects of religion, drugs (particularly the traditional chewing of coca leaves), and personal income if you're not able to handle them with great tact.
Holidays & Festivals in Peru
Like everything else in Peru, the Peruvian public holidays represent an interesting blend of native and imported, old and new. Most celebrations are strongly influenced either by the native heritage, the imported Christian traditions, or major historic battles, which earned the country's independence.
Following the rest of the Western world, Peruvians observe New Year’s, Easter, Christmas, and Labor Day as official public holidays, with the addition of several major Christian holidays, including All Saints Day on November 1 and Immaculate Conception on December 8. The major national holiday known as “Fiestas Patrias,” is celebrated on the streets of Lima
by a huge military parade of both Peruvian armed forces and national police on July 28.
To get the most of the country's rich cultural heritage, plan your trip to Peru between February and April, when many of the colorful carnivals take place all over the country from Cajamarca
on the north to Ayacucho
, and Arequipa
, which are more southern.
Useful Peru Travel Tips
Common Greetings in Peru
Most Peruvians frequently shake hands and kiss on the cheek upon meeting or parting, but don't let that mislead you into thinking they are less conservative than they really are. Actually, they are quite formal when it comes to social relations, and you will never see people from small villages kissing a stranger or even making a direct eye contact. Indigenous populations are particularly shy--their shaking of hands feels more like a light stroke than a firm grip.
A few common greeting phrases will certainly help you rub the reserved locals the right way, especially if you plan to haggle over some pricey souvenirs. Depending on the time of the day, use “Buenos dias” in the morning, “Buenas tardes” in the afternoon, and “Buenas noches” for nighttime. Upon leaving a Peruvian home, a restaurant, or a shop, it is polite to say “Hasta luego” or simply “Adios.”
Climate of Peru
Thanks to its diverse geographical features that include, rainforests, snow-covered highlands and a narrow strip of fertile valleys and deserts along the coast, Peru is the country of climatic extremes. In general, Peru has wet summers and dry winters--which is a high tourist season in most regions. February is the perfect month to plan a summer vacation in Peru. Lima
is one of the world's driest capitals, with unexpectedly mild, warm weather throughout the year featuring an average temperature of 24°C (74°F) in February and 17°C (63°F) in August. The best time to visit Cusco Region
and trek the highland trails to Machu Picchu
is between June and September (in the Peruvian winter), when days are mostly sunny, but nights can get freezing.
Transportation in Peru
Buses are the main and cheapest means of inter-city travel in Peru, but when it comes to safety and comfort, you should consider flying over driving, which is also the fastest way to cross the country's large distances. Trains are sort of a rarity, but the railway that runs from Lima
over the Andes is a major draw for train-buffs.
Inner-city commuting is done by taxis, “colectivos” (shared taxis), and “combis” (mini shuttle buses). Mototaxis (Peruvian rickshaws) and “camionetas” (pickups used mainly by rural workers traveling through the countryside) represent more exotic but risky travel experiences.
Tipping in Peru
Since Peruvians don't customarily show their appreciation by tipping, it is easy to leave a tip too big or too small for the services provided. The best way to stay on the right track is to always keep in mind that average salaries in Peru are significantly lower than in developed countries and to tip only in Peruvian currency when satisfied with the service. Tipping in hotels and restaurants (around 10 percent of the bill) is easiest, since they follow tipping customs similar to the rest of the world. Museum, tour, and trekking guides expect a tip depending on the group size and the duration of the trip (from 3 cents to 15 cents for an hour tour to $10 to $30 per day trip).