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Introduction to Peru

It's the multiple layers of great civilisations that make Peru so intriguing. You can wander around colonial cities that have preserved the legacy of the Spanish conquistadors, visit the ancient Inca capital of Cuzco, explore the lost city of Machu Picchu and ponder the enigma of the Nazca Lines.

It also has some of the most spectacular and varied scenery in South America. The Peruvian Andes are arguably the most beautiful on the continent and the mountains are home to millions of highland Indians, who still speak the ancient tongue of Quechua and maintain a traditional way of life.

You don't have to be in Peru too long to realize that the 'New World' had a rich and complex cultural life thousands of years before Pizarro turned up wearing funny clothing.

And then there's the natural world. The verdant Amazon Basin, which occupies half of Peru, is one of the world's top 10 biodiversity 'hot spots' - a species-rich area of tropical rain forest that will make your head spin when you start to learn about its ecology. And the coastal deserts, with their huge rolling dunes, farmland oases and fishing villages, are underappreciated by travellers but offer the opportunity to get off the Gringo Trail in a big way.


Areas where the government is conducting counter-insurgency campaigns have been designated 'emergency areas' and should not be entered. Though the Shining Path guerrilla movement has largely abated, they are still known to conduct occasional operations in the Ayacucho, Huancavelica, Huanuco, Junin and San Martin areas.

Full country name: Republic of Peru

Area: 1.28 million sq km

Population: 28 million

Capital City: Lima

People: 54% Indian, 32% Mestizo (mixed European and Indian descent), 12% Spanish descent, 2% other

Language: Aymara, Quechua, Spanish

Religion: Over 90% Roman Catholic, small Protestant population

Government: constitutional republic

Head of State: President Alejandro Toledo Manrique

Head of Government: Prime Minister Carlos Ferrero Costa

GDP: US$155,300000000

GDP per capita: US$5,600

Inflation: 2%

Major Industries: Pulp, paper, coca leaves, fishmeal, steel, chemicals, oil, minerals, cement, auto assembly, steel, shipbuilding

Major Trading Partners: USA, Japan, UK, China, Germany, Columbia

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Traveler Facts

Visas: Most travellers do not need visas; most nationals are granted a 90-day stay and it can be extended.

Health risks: altitude sickness (In the thinner atmosphere above 3000m (9842ft), or even lower in some cases, lack of oxygen causes many individuals to suffer headaches, nausea, shortness of breath, physical weakness and other symptoms that can lead to very serious consequences, especially if combined with heat exhaustion, sunburn or hypothermia. Acute mountain sickness (AMS) can affect anyone and care should be taken to avoid ascending mountain peaks above 3000m too quickly. Sleep at a lower altitude than the greatest height reached during the day, if possible), cholera (This diarrhoeal disease can cause rapid dehydration and death. Cholera is caused by a bacteria, Vibrio cholerae. It’s transmitted from person to person by direct contact (often via healthy carriers of the disease) or via contaminated food and water. It can be spread by seafood, including crustaceans and shellfish, which get infected via sewage. Cholera exists where standards of environmental and personal hygiene are low. Every so often there are massive epidemics, usually due to contaminated water in conditions where there is a breakdown of the normal infrastructure. The time between becoming infected and symptoms appearing is usually short, between one and five days. The diarrhoea starts suddenly, and pours out of you. It’s characteristically described as ‘ricewater’ diarrhoea because it is watery and flecked with white mucus. Vomiting and muscle cramps are usual, but fever is rare. In its most serious form, it causes a massive outpouring of fluid (up to 20L a day). This is the worst case scenario – only about one in 10 sufferers get this severe form. It’s a self-limiting illness, meaning that if you don’t succumb to dehydration, it will end in about a week without any treatment. You should seek medical help urgently; in the meantime, start re-hydration therapy with oral re-hydration salts. You may need antibiotic treatment with tetracycline, but fluid replacement is the single most important treatment strategy in cholera. Prevention is by taking basic food and water precautions, avoiding seafood and having scrupulous personal hygiene. The currently available vaccine is not thought worthwhile as it provides only limited protection for a short time), hepatitis (Several different viruses cause hepatitis; they differ in the way that they are transmitted. The symptoms in all forms of the illness include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, feelings of weakness and aches and pains, followed by loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, light-coloured faeces, jaundiced (yellow) skin and yellowing of the whites of the eyes. Hepatitis A is transmitted by contaminated food and drinking water. Seek medical advice, but there is not much you can do apart from resting, drinking lots of fluids, eating lightly and avoiding fatty foods. Hepatitis E is transmitted in the same way as hepatitis A; it can be particularly serious in pregnant women. Hepatitis B is spread through contact with infected blood, blood products or body fluids, for example through sexual contact, unsterilised needles (and shaving equipment) and blood transfusions, or contact with blood via small breaks in the skin. The symptoms of hepatitis B may be more severe than type A and the disease can lead to long-term problems such as chronic liver damage, liver cancer or a long-term carrier state. Hepatitis C and D are spread in the same way as hepatitis B and can also lead to long-term complications. There are vaccines against hepatitis A and B, but there are currently no vaccines against the other types. Following the basic rules about food and water (hepatitis A and E) and avoiding risk situations (hepatitis B, C and D) are important preventative measures), malaria (Malaria exists in the lowlands of Peru. If you are travelling in endemic areas it is extremely important to avoid mosquito bites and to take tablets to prevent this disease. Symptoms range from fever, chills and sweating, headache, diarrhoea and abdominal pains to a vague feeling of ill-health. Seek medical help immediately if malaria is suspected. Without treatment malaria can rapidly become more serious and can be fatal. If medical care is not available, malaria tablets can be used for treatment. You should seek medical advice, before you travel, on the right medication and dosage for you. If you do contract malaria, be sure to be re-tested for malaria once you return home as you can harbour malaria parasites in your body even if you are symptom free. Travellers are advised to prevent mosquito bites at all times. The main messages are: wear light-coloured clothing; wear long trousers and long-sleeved shirts; use mosquito repellents containing the compound DEET on exposed areas (prolonged overuse of DEET may be harmful, especially to children, but its use is considered preferable to being bitten by disease-transmitting mosquitoes); avoid perfumes and aftershave; use a mosquito net impregnated with mosquito repellent (permethrin) – it may be worth taking your own, and impregnating clothes with permethrin effectively deters mosquitoes and other insects), rabies (This is a fatal viral infection. Many animals can be infected (such as dogs, cats, bats and monkeys) and it's their saliva that is infectious. Any bite, scratch or even lick from a warm-blooded, furry animal should be cleaned immediately and thoroughly. Scrub with soap and running water, and then apply alcohol or iodine solution. Medical help should be sought promptly to receive a course of injections to prevent the onset of symptoms and death), yellow fever (A yellow fever vaccination is essential if you plan to visit the eastern slopes of the Andes or the Amazonian Basin. Yellow fever is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. There is an effective vaccine against yellow fever, so if you have been immunised, you can basically rule this disease out. Symptoms of yellow fever range from a mild fever which resolves over a few days to more serious forms with fever, headache, muscle pains, abdominal pain and vomiting. This can progress to bleeding, shock and liver and kidney failure. The liver failure causes jaundice, or yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes – hence the name. There's no specific treatment but you should seek medical help urgently if you think you have yellow fever)

Time Zone: GMT/UTC -5

Dialling Code: 51

Electricity: 220V ,60Hz

Weights & measures: Metric

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Many of the main festivals are based around the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar. These are often celebrated with great pageantry, especially in highland Indian villages, where Catholic feast days are usually linked with a traditional agricultural festival. Some of the major events include: Carnaval (February-March), which is particularly popular in the highlands and features numerous water fights; Inti Raymi (24 June), the greatest of the Inca festivals with spectacular dances and parades; Peru's Independence (28 July); All Souls Day (2 November), celebrated with gifts of food, drink and flowers taken to family graves; and Puno Day (5 November), which features flamboyant costumes and street dancing in Puno.

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Best time to Visit

Peru's peak tourist season is from June to August, which is the dry season in the highlands, and this is the best time to go if you're interested in hiking. Travelers do visit the highlands year-round, though the wettest months, January to April, make trekking a muddy proposition. Many of the major fiestas occur in the wettest months and continue undiminished in spite of heavy rain.

On the coast, Peruvians visit the beaches during the sunny months from late December through March, although few beaches are particularly enticing. The rest of the year, the coast is clothed in mist. In the eastern rainforests, it naturally rains a lot. The wettest months are December through April, though travelers visit year-round since it rarely rains for more than a few hours and there's still plenty of sunshine to enjoy.

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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Nuevo Sol


Budget: US$2-5

Mid-range: US$5-10

High: US$10-25

Deluxe: US$25+


Budget: US$5-25

Mid-range: US$25-45

High: US$45-140

Deluxe: US$140+

Costs in Peru are lower, on average, than those in developed countries, but higher than those in many neighboring countries. Lima and Cuzco are the most expensive places in the country. If you're on a tight budget, you can scrape by on around US$20-30 per day, but if you want to stay in modest hotels and eat out at restaurants, you'll have a better time on around US$50 a day. Prices for luxury accommodations run up to US$200 at popular destinations like Machu Picchu.

The easiest currency to exchange is US dollars. Other currencies are only exchangeable in major cities and at a high commission. Money can be changed in banks, casas de cambio, first-class hotels or with street changers. Casas de cambio are usually the easiest places to change money. Street changers, who hang out near banks, never offer better rates than the best bank rate and have been known to cheat travelers so are best avoided. Rates vary from place to place but not significantly, unless you try to change money at a hotel which charges high commission. Travelers' checks are changed at a slightly lower rate than cash. Visa is the most widely accepted credit card, but credit cards attract an 8% commission unless you are using it for a cash withdrawal (in Peruvian currency) from a bank. ATMs (Visa and Plus system are most widely recognized) are now the best way to extract money in Peru.

A combination of taxes and service charges are added to bills in the best hotels and restaurants and can total as much as 28%. The cheaper hotels and restaurants don't add taxes. Tipping is not expected in budget restaurants. A tip of 10-15% is fine in upmarket restaurants if a service charge has not already been added to the bill. Taxi drivers are not tipped - bargain hard beforehand and stick to your price. Local guides should be tipped US$3-5 per day. Bargaining is a way of life in markets.

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A vast polluted metropolis situated in the middle of Peru's desert coastline, Lima is a magnet for struggling highland villagers. But it also has plenty to offer the adventurous traveller - interesting museums, a vibrant cafe scene, striking architecture and genuinely friendly people.

Lima has a great selection of museums and an impressively restored colonial centre. Its churches provide a welcome respite from the outside clamour, and its many markets overflow with consumer goods and handicrafts. There are also plazas, lovely old buildings and a zoo.


Nicknamed the 'white city', Arequipa is surrounded by great mountains, including the volcano El Misti. A feature of the city is its many beautiful buildings made of a light-coloured volcanic rock called sillar. The Convento de Santa Catalina is an especially fascinating colonial religious building.

Many of the city's beautiful colonial houses, such as Casa Ricketts, are now used as art galleries or museums. Accommodation and food is cheap and often provided in lovely locations. The Colca Canyon, arguably the world's deepest canyon, is a popular excursion from Arequipa.


The continent's archaeological capital and oldest continuously inhabited city, Cuzco is now an important link in the South American travel network. Its legacy as the hub of the Inca empire is readily apparent: Quecha-speaking Incan descendants crowd the Inca-built stone wall-lined city streets.

West of Cuzco is Machu Picchu, the best-known of the areas ruins and most spectacular site on the continent. Despite the relentless stampede of tourists (especially during the dry season months, June to September), this 'Lost City of the Incas' still retains an air of grandeur and mystery.

Huaraz Area

Huaraz is the most important climbing, trekking and backpacking centre in Peru. The city of Huaraz has seen better days but the surrounding mountains, however, are exceptionally beautiful, and many travellers come to Peru specifically to visit the Huaraz area.

The Andes around Huaraz offer a wide range of attractions, the most evident of which are the many permanently glaciated peaks. The climbing and hiking season runs May to September. There are also glacial lakes, hot springs and Inca and pre-Inca archeological sites, most notably Chavín de Huántar.


Peru's largest jungle city and the Amazon Basin's largest settlement without road links, is connected to the outside world only by air and river. Tourism is the focus of Iquito, and the main attraction is as a civilized gateway to the Amazon and jumping-off point for jungle excursions.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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