Deliciously complex food, beautiful hiking and vast landscapes, rich culture and connection. As South America’s third largest country, occupying just under 500,000 square miles, Peru is a vibrant, complex, and unbelievable place to see and explore.
From hiking the Andes Mountains to exploring the Amazon, to sipping pisco sours and sampling ceviche in Lima, the opportunities when traveling in Peru are truly endless.
Familiarizing yourself with Peru’s languages, culture, currency, safety, politics and economic situation will help prepare you for a memorable and enjoyable trip. While Peru is generally safe and accessible to explore both solo and with a group, there are still plenty more things you’ll want to know before you go.
Also, be sure to queue up my responsible solo female travel guide to Peru next!
Let’s dive right in. Here are 10 things you should know before traveling to Peru!
10 Things You Must Know Before Visiting Peru
What Are Some Basic Facts About Peru?
Peru’s official language is Spanish, but the country is actually home to many other languages as well, such as Quechua, Aymara, Jaqaru, and Kawki. These are indigenous languages spoken mostly in the central Andes, in the south near the border with Bolivia, and throughout the Amazon rainforest. In fact, Peru got its name from the Quechua word ‘Biru,’ which means land of abundance, a reference to the wealthy Incan civilization that lived on the land for centuries.
In most urban areas, you can easily get by with Spanish and English.
Peru’s population is just about 33 million people, with about one-third living in the capital of Lima.
There is no official religion in Peru, but most of the population identifies as Christian.
The Peruvian currency is called the nuevo sol, which converts to $0.27 USD. Or, you can think of it as $1 USD is 3.70 PEN.
Is Peru Safe?
The short answer is yes–Peru travel is safe as long as you do your research, stay alert, and use common sense.
Like in any big cities with steady tourism, there is petty crime, like pickpocketing and money scams. Be sure to always keep your backpack locked, your purse in front of you, and avoid traveling with a lot of cash. While I was traveling around Peru, one of the girls in my group had her phone snatched out of her jacket pocket within seconds of putting it away while we were walking around Chinatown! I’ve also heard stories of others who’ve had money stolen from their bags while on a tour in the Amazon. It’s always a good idea to only carry what you need on any given day and leave the rest of your money safely stored in your hotel room to be safe.
Beyond the general Peru travel safety tips, it’s important to know there was political unrest throughout Peru from late 2022 to 2023 over inequality and the removal of President Pedro Castillo from office by the country’s congress.
Some protestors blocked highways, and famous attractions like Machu Picchu were even closed down for a while. While tourism is back to normal since then, it’s always important to avoid areas where there are protests and unrest, and keep an eye on the local news.
Americans can get updated information about current events and possible things to avoid by signing up on STEP prior to traveling to Peru.
Can Women Solo Travel Through Peru?
Heck yeah! All the normal solo travel safety rules apply here.
This includes never telling anyone you’re traveling alone, staying alert and sticking to more touristy areas when possible (where there are more people who speak English and can help you), keeping your valuables close to you at all times, and planning ahead.
As mentioned, petty crime is a risk everywhere and Peru certainly isn’t an exception–but you aren’t at much greater risk in major cities like Lima and Cusco than you would be anywhere in the United States.
The one thing I will say, however, is that I observed significantly more cat-calling and wandering eyes in Cusco than anywhere else in Latin America (so far). While I found this to be generally harmless, it was unnerving and I have a very small tolerance for it.
If you’re going out to experience Cusco’s nightlife scene – which you absolutely should! – I recommend going with a group, booking a Cusco bar crawl, or going somewhere nearby to your accommodation if you’ll be solo, just to be on the safe side.
In Lima, while I experienced virtually no cat-calling, my presence at bars solo was still a spectacle. One bouncer even approached me as I left a bar to comment on my independence. This tells me that perhaps solo female travel in Peru is still an emerging phenomenon and less common for Latin American travelers (for now) – but little by little, this will change!
All in all, solo Peru travel is easy and accommodating. Hostels are filled with people from all over the world due to Peru’s famous landscapes and landmarks, transportation throughout the country is generally easy to navigate (more on that below), and I found it easy to make new friends and chat with other people I met along the way.
How Do I Get to Peru From the U.S.A?
The United States has many direct flights to Jorge Chávez International Airport in Lima, Peru’s capital, and the largest international airport in the country.
The easiest cities in the U.S. to fly from are Miami, New York, Los Angeles, Houston, and Atlanta. Flights can cost around $300 to over $1,000, depending on the time of year and airline you choose.
Compare flight prices and airlines on Kayak or Google Flights to see which route is best for you.
And, here are five more websites I use to book cheap flights.
What’s the Weather Like in Peru?
There’s no simple answer because Peru has so many different regions, from the mountains to the coast to the rainforest. There are three broad climate regions in Peru: the coast, the Andean Highlands, and the eastern lowlands/Amazon rainforest.
The coast is dry and cool. The region experiences little rain but for most of the year, the sky is overcast, with lots of fog. Temperatures stay pretty mild for most of the year.
The Andean Highlands’ climate varies with elevation and they experience two seasons: a rainy season from September – March and a dry, cold season from May-August.
The Eastern lowlands and Amazon rainforest have a typical tropical climate, with lots of rain, humidity, and heat. The average temperatures range from 70 – 90˚F (or 22˚C to 31˚C).
What Should I Wear and Pack in Peru?
Because of Peru’s varied climate, you will want to pack lots of layers, waterproof jackets, and shoes. In some regions, it can be cold in the mornings but can heat up during the afternoon, so it’s a good idea to have different layers you can take off or put on as the temperature changes.
If you’re in the Amazon, bring clothes that will keep you cool and dry and also protect your skin from the sun and bugs. Long sleeves and pants are recommended in a light, airy fabric.
Good, supported shoes are a must, even if you don’t plan on leaving the city. The country has so much beautiful nature to explore, so you’ll want shoes that are sturdy for hiking on a mountain and also waterproof for navigating the rain or mud. Many cities can have uneven terrain, cobblestone, or hilly landscapes, so it’s best to avoid wearing flip-flops or anything that’ll give you blisters after a couple hours of walking.
Do You Tip in Peru?
Yes, tourists should absolutely tip in Peru! Wait staff in restaurants, tour guides, bag carriers at hotels, drivers, bartenders, and other service people should all be tipped.
When you dine at restaurants, tipping 10% is customary. Although some restaurants may give you the option of tipping on your credit card, it’s a good practice to tip in cash. Some restaurants, especially in high-traffic touristy areas, will add a 10% gratuity onto your bill, though they still expect an additional cash tip left on the table.
Taxi drivers do not expect tips on top of the fare. You can negotiate with the taxi driver on the total amount of your trip before it starts.
If you’re going on a guided day tour or multi-day tour, tipping your guide is essential. You should tip your guide about 20-30 soles per person for a half-day tour and 30-40 soles for a full-day tour. If you’re going on a multi-day tour, simply multiply this by the number of days you’ll be with your guide. Remember, these guides put in so much work to make sure your group has a good time, so it’s important to compensate them for their efforts.
Altitude Sickness: What Is It and How to Treat It in Peru?
Do you remember the last hangover or body cold you had?
Altitude sickness is a similar feeling, and it’s caused by increasing altitude more quickly than your body is able to adapt to the change in oxygen levels and air pressure. It usually occurs in humans once you climb higher than 8,200 feet, making altitude sickness very common in regions such as Cusco, Machu Picchu, the Inca Trail, Lake Titicaca, Puno, and Ollantaytambo.
The symptoms of altitude sickness include headache, shortness of breath, nausea, fatigue, and loss of appetite, and even mild swelling of the hands, feet, and wrists, to name a few. They generally set in a few hours after you arrive at this altitude but don’t worry, it should go away after 2 days or so.
To treat altitude sickness, don’t plan on doing any strenuous activity for the first one to two days, and give your body time to adjust if you can. Drink a lot of water and avoid alcohol and any other substances that dehydrate you.
When I arrived in Cusco on my first day, I was fine at first but after walking around the city I could feel myself fading by dinnertime. My first night of sleep wasn’t too great either, but I went to bed super early the next night after drinking tons of electrolytes. By the third day of my trip, I was pretty much back to normal and ready to climb Machu Picchu!
Pro Tip: Local Peruanos have used coca leaves for centuries to treat altitude sickness. You can buy coca candy at any little corner shop in most cities and many restaurants also offer coca tea. It’s helpful because coca contains calcium, iron, and vitamins that help alleviate the symptoms of altitude sickness. Look out for it while you are in Cusco and stock up!
Visiting Machu Picchu: What Do I Need to Know?
Seeing one of the great wonders of the world is high on anyone’s list when traveling to Peru. And I get it – Machu Picchu (plus the entire experience leading up to it) is absolutely mind-blowing.
On the day I hiked to Machu Picchu, I even teared up a little as I made an offering to Pachamama (Earth Mother) which is a customary tradition for the indigenous peoples of the Andes. It is a powerful force to be standing high up in the Andes, regardless of your spiritual beliefs.
Like any incredibly popular place, you need to plan ahead for Machu Picchu. Here are some tips to do just that.
1. Plan Your Visit Early
Because of how popular Machu Picchu is, tickets are limited and go fast. Book your tickets as soon as possible, and a few months in advance if you can, or you run the risk of not being able to include Machu Picchu in your Peru trip at all.
You can book your entry tickets on the official Machu Picchu tickets website using this link.
Note that you’ll need to select a specific entry ticket and all entries are timed. The ticket you select will depend on whether you want to only visit the Machu Picchu site or also spend some time hiking as well.
2. Book a Tour of Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu’s informational signs are limited, so if you don’t have a guide to educate you, you may miss a lot of facts, history, and even directions pertaining to important sites, vistas, and rules throughout the landmark.
In fact, as of 2023, visiting Machu Picchu with a guide is mandatory, and you must either book a guide in advance or you can hire one onsite in the parking area by the entrance to the site.
Guided Machu Picchu day and multi-day tours give you the added advantage of taking care of entrance tickets for you, as well as providing included onsite guide services and transportation to/from the site, which can be a big bonus.
Other Popular Machu Picchu Tours:
- Aguas Calientes – Machu Picchu Guided Tour (1-Day – NO HIKE)
- Cusco – Machu Picchu (3 Days, 2 Nights – NO HIKE)
- Classic Inca Trail Trek (4 Days, 3 Nights – HIKE)
- The Salkantay Trek (5 Days, 4 Nights – HIKE)
- Cusco – Machu Picchu Inca Trail Express (7 Days, 6 Nights – HIKE)
3. Plan How You’ll Get to Machu Picchu in Advance
If you aren’t planning to book a tour or a trek like the ones linked above, you’ll need to find your own way to and from Machu Picchu.
The train is the quickest and is moderately priced. You can travel from Cusco, Ollyantaytambo, or Aguas Calientes. Compare routes and prices on Peru Rail and Inca Rail to see what works best for you. I traveled to Machu Picchu on Peru Rail’s mid-range Vistadome train, which features panoramic windows, light snacks and beverages, and a surprise show. Highly recommend!
How Do I Travel Within Peru?
Fortunately, Peru has many modes of transportation at varying price points to help you navigate this massive country. If you want to travel to different regions quickly, a plane will be the fastest way to go. Peru has international airports in Arequipa, Chiclayo, Cusco, Lima, and Trujillo.
Peru does have public buses, which will be your cheapest option. However, they’re quite difficult to navigate, especially if you don’t speak Spanish, as there aren’t really any set schedules.
If you’re on a tight budget, and don’t mind going on an adventure, this could be a good option as a bus between cities can be as little as $3 USD.
You can book bus tickets the day before or the day of through a travel agent or a bus company (Movil Tours, Cruz del Sur, and Civa are some of the most popular and well-rated). Travel agents might charge a little extra for commission, so it’s recommended to book directly through the company if you can.
Check out Peru Hop, another bus option that is designed for travelers and that provides several routes through major tourist destinations. They have a variety of destinations and operate on a hop-on, hop-off system, which is really convenient, and you can even book tours or experiences in each destination through Peru Hop as well.
Train travel is a highlight of any Peru trip, and often a signature piece of the Machu Picchu experience. Peru Rail and Inca Rail will be your go-to rail companies for Machu Picchu. Other rail companies, like Belmond, offer luxury journeys like the Andean Explorer – South America’s first luxury sleeper train.
If you want to travel within a city, then a taxi or Uber is also an affordable option. Always agree on a price before heading to your destination, and feel free to check with the hotel front desk before leaving so you know what a fair price is.
Travel Insurance for Peru Travel: Do You Need It?
Whether or not you need travel insurance is your own personal choice.
But, keep in mind that without insurance, any incidents (stolen gear, hospitalization, etc.) will need to be covered out of pocket while abroad. On more adventurous trips like Peru, where you’ll likely be hiking or jumping from place to place, I always suggest considering travel insurance for peace of mind.
Some reputable travel insurance companies with good reviews include:
Traveling to Peru is such an exciting adventure, regardless of whether you’re more of an urban explorer looking for the best food in the world, or a wilderness adventurer seeking to trek through the Andes. Whatever your travel style, Peru will make your head spin with its rich abundance of culture, cuisine, history, and geological diversity.
Are you considering traveling to Peru? Did you find these tips helpful? Let me know your plans in the comments!