Peru travel guide
South America doesn’t get much more evocative of generations gone by than Peru. Its mix of ancient civilisations and dramatic archaeology, set among some of the most extraordinary landscapes on the planet, means few destinations have as much to offer cultural visitors.
The old Inca settlement of Machu Picchu, now said to be the most visited site on the entire continent, is just the poster-child – it’s utterly magnificent, of course, but it’s just one of many highlights served up by the country. From mountain range to jungle, beach to desert, colonial town to cosmopolitan city, it’s a truly wonderful place to travel.
The coastal capital, Lima, can seem chaotic at times, but scratch the surface and you’ll unearth some great museums and nightclubs, not to mention some of the region’s best food and drink – from ceviche (raw fish in citrus) to cecina (dried pork) and from Peruvian wine (yes, really) to pisco sours.
But the country’s real appeal lies outside the capital. Contrasting beautifully with Lima is the ancient capital of Cusco with its winding cobbled streets and 1,000-plus years of history. It’s the gateway for visitors to the unmissable Machu Picchu, as well as those walking the Inca trail, but it makes for a colourful destination in its own right. There’s no better place to learn more about the country’s earlier times and the upheaval of the Spanish conquest.
Elsewhere in the country, the Nazca Lines, the beautifully excavated ruins of Chan Chan and the Chachapoya fortress of Kuelap boggle the mind. These extraordinary complexes are all set amid stunning landscapes.
But Peru doesn’t solely involve rushing up and down mountains or traipsing around ruins. If you’re searching for a relaxing beach destination, head to Máncora, which is popular with sun-seekers and surfers. A little more subdued, but no less beautiful, is the quaint coastal town of Huanchaco, where you can sit on the beach and watch fishermen ply their trade on traditional reed canoes. It’s a far cry from the lofty Andes and a testament to Peru’s staggering diversity.
1,285,220 sq km (496,226 sq miles).
31,774,225 (UN estimate 2016).
23.7 per sq km.
President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski since 2016.
Prime Minister Fernando Zavala since 2016.
220 volts AC, 60Hz. North American-style plugs with two flat pins (with or without grounding pin) and European-style plugs with two round pins are used. 110 volts AC is available in most 4- and 5-star hotels.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Street crime, including muggings and thefts, is a significant problem in Lima, Cusco, Arequipa and other major cities. Be vigilant in public places and when withdrawing cash from ATMs. Avoid walking alone in quiet areas or at night.
There have been a number of cases of rape, mostly in the Cusco and Arequipa areas. Be alert to the use of ‘date rape’ and other drugs. Buy your own drinks and keep sight of them at all times. If you’re in a bar and don’t feel well, try to seek help from people you know. Unscrupulous tour agents have targeted lone young female travellers in the Cusco area. Bogus taxi drivers have also targeted groups with young female foreign travellers in the route Huanchaco-Trujillo in Northern Peru. Criminals have targeted tourists and local people in the San Blas neighbourhood in Cusco including incidents of violent robberies and rapes.
Tourists have been targeted and robbed by bogus taxi drivers. Use a taxi registered at the bus terminal or book one from a reputable company. If you hail a taxi on the street make a note of the registration number before getting in. Be wary of taxi drivers offering cheaper than normal fares, which is often a lure for a robbery. If you have luggage, don’t take a station wagon cab where your luggage can be seen. It attracts robbers who use mobile phones to advise accomplices to hold up the cab. Robberies have been reported in taxis from the airport when luggage/bags have been visible. Put bags in the boot and never leave your luggage in the taxi with the driver behind the wheel.
Be particularly careful when arriving at Lima’s Jorge Chavez International Airport. Bogus taxi drivers and thieves pretending to be tour operators sometimes approach arriving passengers. If you take a taxi, use one of the three official companies located at desks directly outside the arrival halls. Further details are on the Lima Airport Partners website. When you travel back to the airport, book transport from a reputable company. Don’t use a street taxi.
Provincial and inter-city buses are sometimes held up and the passengers robbed. Passport theft is also common on inter-city buses and at bus stations. Keep your passport with you at all times during your bus journey and take particular care of valuables if you travel on a bus at night.
Local protests are common and can turn violent quickly. Sometimes they disrupt road, rail, river and air travel and affect tourist areas like Cusco, Arequipa, Puerto Maldonado and Iquitos. Protests in Puno can result in the closure of the border crossing with Bolivia, including Lake Titicaca. Protests in Machu Picchu can result in the suspension of train services to the ruins. Protests in Loreto region (whose capital city is Iquitos) and the Manu National Park area can result in river tour boats being temporarily captured and held.
Seek local advice before you set off.
The website of the Peruvian Ministry of Tourism has useful information for tourists and visitors in English, and its local tourist Information and Assistance service – telephone +51 1 574 8000 (24 hours a day) can handle enquiries in English. On the Ministry of Tourism website you will also find information about the government offices that help tourists around the country. The Tourist Protection Network has launched a new 24/7 free line to contact the Tourist Police on 0800 22221. They can handle enquiries in English.
Drugs, organised crime and terrorism are inextricably linked. There is a higher risk to your safety in regions where there is intensive coca cultivation and processing, including the Alto Huallaga, Aguaytia, Apurimac-Ene and Mantaro (VRAEM) river basins. Activity by the “Shining Path” terrorist group has been reported along the trekking route to Espiritu Pampa in Cusco region. Seek local advice about dangerous areas.
A state of emergency gives the armed forces responsibility for law and order alongside the police. Some civil rights are suspended. If you do decide to visit any area under a state of emergency you should follow instructions given to you by military, police or other officials.
A state of emergency for security reasons is in force in the following areas: Huanta and La Mar provinces in the Department of Ayacucho; Kimbiri, Pichari, Vilcabamba and Echarati districts in La Convencion province in the Department of Cusco (Cusco city and Machu Picchu are not affected); Tayacaja province in the Department of Huancavelica; Satipo province, Andamarca and Comas districts, (Concepcion province) and Santo Domingo de Acobamba and Pariahuanca districts (Huancayo province) in the Department of Junin; the districts of Cholon in Maranon province, the province of Leoncio Prado and the district of Monzon in the province of Huamalies, all in the department of Huanuco; the province of Tocache in the department of San Martin; and the province of Padre Abad in the department of Ucayali.
If you’re hiking on the Inca Trail go with a guided group. To protect the trail there is a government fee and restrictions on numbers. During the high season (June–August) you should make reservations with a travel agency well in advance. Always register when entering national parks and be particularly careful in steep or slippery areas which are unfenced or unmarked. Several climbers have died or suffered serious injuries after falling while climbing Huayna Picchu, a peak near Machu Picchu. Only very basic medical assistance is available at Machu Picchu.
Travel in groups when walking along the banks of Lake Titicaca. There have been incidents of armed robberies against travellers walking on their own. Take care at all times and contact the local tourist information centre for advice about known safe zones. Local authorities advise against travelling alone at night in the Desaguadero area on the Peru-Bolivia border at the southern end of Lake Titicaca.
There are risks involved in flying over the Nazca Lines. There have been a number of fatal accidents and emergencies involving planes operating from the Maria Reiche airport. Subsequent investigations showed that aircraft safety and maintenance standards were not being implemented. Though some improvements to operating practices have been made, problems continue to be reported.
Shamans and other individuals offer ‘spiritual cleansing’ to tourists in the Amazon area and Cusco. This service is often referred to as Ayahuasca or San Pedro and typically involves the consumption of a brew containing dimethyltryptamine (DMT), an hallucinogenic drug. Consumption of this brew is not regulated and its interaction with existing medical conditions isn’t well understood. People have suffered serious illnesses and in some cases death after participating in these ceremonies. Spiritual cleansing retreats are usually some distance from populated areas making it difficult to access medical attention for those who need it.
Amazon Cruise ships
In July 2016 a cruise ship carrying foreign nationals was robbed while travelling along the River Amazon. Security arrangements vary between different cruise operators. For more information about safety and security on Amazon cruise ships, contact your cruise ship operator or iPeru (official tourist information and assistance).
Huaraz Region of the Cordillera Blanca Mountains
Several hikers have died and others have had to be rescued after serious accidents in the Huaraz region of the Cordillera Blanca Mountains, where Peru’s highest peaks are located. Most rescues are carried out on foot because helicopters can’t fly to the areas where hikers are stranded. Contact iperu offices in Huaraz (telephone: +51 (43) 428812) before you set off.
River rafting and boating
Check that the company you use is well established and make sure your insurance covers you for all the activities you want to undertake. The weather can impact on white-water rafting and boating conditions.
There have been deaths and injuries involving recreational sand buggies, particularly in the sand dunes around Ica and Lake Huacachina. These buggies are unregulated and the drivers and agencies take no responsibility for the welfare of passengers.
You can drive for up to 6 months using a UK driving licence and up to 1 year with an International Driving Permit. Carry your passport with you at all times when driving.
Take particular care if you are driving close to places where protests are taking place. Don’t attempt to pass blockades.
Driving standards in Peru are poor. Stop signs and traffic lights are often ignored. Fatal crashes occur frequently. Drivers don’t always show concern for pedestrians.
Bus crashes are common, especially at night. Only use reputable transport companies, and where possible avoid overnight travel, especially in mountainous and remote regions. Cruz del Sur, Ormeno and Oltursa bus companies operate with two crews, but accidents still occur. Always wear a seat belt.
False accommodation websites
There have been reports that people searching for accommodation in Lima have been directed to false websites imitating genuine accommodation providers (eg, Airbnb). The false website link is sent to the customer by the fraudster, who then requests a rent payment transfer. If you’re booking through a website, make sure it’s genuine.