I had never been to South America before, so I had a pretty vague idea of what to expect when we landed in Lima. Let me tell ya, my senses were flooded with all kinds of amazing things… and also some less-than-amazing things. Our trip was unforgettable and I am definitely going back to Peru someday, but I’ll make sure to come prepared to avoid some of the mistakes we made and steer clear of some of the things we didn’t enjoy.
Looking back, the things we were annoyed with barely mattered in comparison to how amazing Peru truly is. We only spent three weeks there, but we did so much during that time! Six months later, I am still in complete awe at the experience I had.
I created this list to help you travel smart and to be way more ready for Peru than we were. I hope it helps! So here you go:
There’s so much to love about Peru. Simply walking down the street everyday was always full of surprises and new experiences, and I just wanted to do it all! Getting a taste of this beautiful country’s culture and way of life was enough to make me want to slow down and stay there a few more weeks if I could. We had an incredible time exploring what it has to offer and I learned so much when I was there. Peru has everything that makes me fall in love with travel and helps me appreciate the differences that are found all over the world. Maybe you’ll come to love these ten things as much as I have.
1. Kind, Genuine People
There is no shortage of kindness in Peru. Everyone we met greeted us with real enthusiasm and hospitality, it was almost refreshing after leaving The States. (Don’t get me wrong, the US is awesome, but the people can sometimes be pretty cold.) The people are so friendly, open, and beyond excited to help you explore their amazing country. Need help? They will freely give it. Want the best food? You bet they will give you tons of it and somehow still keep you from puking. If you want to have your mind blown, they will point you in the right direction.
Peruvians seem to love making new friends and sharing pieces of their lives with you. Granted, if you are white they will go nuts and give you everything but the kitchen sink, but we quickly learned how to connect with people so that it didn’t remain an issue. They are a very proud, yet humble people, which may sound confusing. But I have yet to see a culture more united and perfectly happy living in their means.
2. Color Everywhere
If you are colorblind, don’t come to Peru.
Just kidding. Get them eyes fixed and go— you will be stunned. Stepping into Peru is like being Dorothy and stepping into the world of Oz. Everything just pops! The flowers, the clothes, the food… all of it is so deeply rich in color, I couldn’t believe it. Wherever you look there is bound to be something rainbow-colored that catches your eye, or a piece of fruit that looks so good you buy twenty of it instead of eating it like a normal human. It’s all just gorgeous.
3. Rich History and Culture
There’s a reason why they say traveling is the best teacher. You can learn about places through books, but experience is where it’s really at. Everywhere we went in Peru there was something to learn. We went to several museums that showcased art from centuries ago depicting historic figures that played a huge role in Peru’s history, like Tupac Amaru (yep, the rapper was named after him) and Jose de San Martin.
The tour guides we heard from gave us a ton of information regarding the stories behind some of the cathedrals and landmarks famous throughout Peru. I think we learned the most while on the Inca Trail by walking in the steps of Peru’s Incan predecessors. A lot of people (8 million to be exact) in Peru identify as Quechua, which is the language the Incans spoke. We were even taught a few Quechua words while in Cusco, mainly because it was Peru’s original capital city during the time of the Incans.
History definitely shines through in Peruvian culture as the main component, and I could clearly see that a lot of the people stuck with traditions and liked it. Many of the older women of Peru still dress in traditional attire. I loved seeing all the different hats they would wear. Back in the day, you used to be able to tell the village a woman came from by which hat she was wearing. Sometimes I even felt like I was transported either a few centuries or decades back in time. Heck, the only music on the radio is either bachata or dated 80’s tunes, and not the good kind.
Culture immersion is the best way to learn and be a part of another country. Who knows? Maybe I’ll go through Peru way slower for a month or two and see what else I pick up.
4. The Food!
I’m pretty sure if I had stayed in Peru a few more weeks, I would have gained an inordinate amount of weight from eating all their delicious food. Peru has it all, from traditional dishes like lomo saltado, to weird and intriguing dishes like alpaca and cuy (guinea pig). I wasn’t that big a fan of Peru’s most famous dish, ceviche, but it depends what type you get. So make sure to try a few different kinds. I wanted to have all the foods!
Lima is a culinary capital of the world, so we took great pleasure in consuming whatever we could whilst there. Plus, it is a known fact that fruit in South America is ten times more flavorful and mouth-watering than fruit shipped to the US. Tyler taught me that, and boy, was it true! There are fruits there that we hadn’t even heard of and we made a point to try them, a lot of times in the form of ice cream.
Even on the Inca Trail we were overstuffed three times a day. The guides and cooks generously prepared amazing meals (sometimes with six or seven courses!) to keep us full on the trail. I really don’t think I’ve eaten so much food at once in my life. It was like having Thanksgiving thrice a day, everyday. And when they brought out the food to our dining tent, it just KEPT COMING.
My favorite dishes were alpaca, pollo a la brasa (roasted chicken), and salchipappas (sausage and potato). And let’s not forget, guys— potatoes freakin’ came from Peru. So feast on their many different types of potatoes (4,000 varieties) and potato dishes. Peru… Idaho salutes you.
5. Markets That Have it All
Food markets, artisan markets, local art markets…oh my! (Another Oz reference and I have no regrets.)
There’s something for everyone at these places, and they seem to be everywhere. At the food markets you can find all of the ingredients to make anything I mentioned above and more. The artisan markets are packed with clothing, trinkets, souvenirs, and things crafted specifically to represent Peru. These markets are some of the most colorful spots you’ll encounter. They are most definitely geared towards tourists, but you can surely bargain your price down a few notches to get something sweet. The local art markets are particularly my speed, and you can definitely see the passion and talent of the artist in each piece. I wish I had enough cash to buy more art!
In Lima, go on the beach and you’ll be surfing or paragliding. Head down to Ica and sandboard down some gigantic dunes. Fly over to Cusco and hike the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu or scale a mountain to sleep on the side of a cliff. Adventure is HERE!
We didn’t get to do all of those things, but we did most of them! There are some seriously unique experiences that can only be found in Peru, like reverse-bungee jumping and flying down one of the longest continuous zip lines in the world. It really made our trip a blast. I definitely have a serious taste for adventure, almost as much as I have for travel, and Peru definitely satisfied that taste for me.
Check out my first bungee jumping experience here while I visited Peru.
7. Endless Festivals
South America is big (understatement) on festivals and celebrating their heritage. It’s fantastic. We arrived to Peru during September, so we were able to catch the annual Mistura food festival. It was great because we were able to experience a lot of edible goodness all at once as we checked off our bucket list of Peruvian foods. I’d love to experience more of their festivals one day.
But it’s not only the food that’s worth celebrating! The country’s history and religion are extremely important to its people. We actually ran into a procession by chance, and even though we barely knew what it was about, you could tell the people were so happy to be a part of it and loved every second. We heard a few parades in the distance while in Cusco as well. They were so fun to watch. So there are several celebrations, big and small, that make it seem like Peru is in a state of constant, blissful party mode year-round!
8. Overnight Buses
I’ve read a few posts from travelers who have actually not enjoyed the overnight buses very much at all, but Tyler and I loved them. Everyone will tell you that Cruz del Sur is the only company they trust, and for good reason.
These double-deckers are like luxury compared to buses in the city or other long-distance buses around. We rode buses to different cities by day and at night, and it was actually pretty nice. They bring you meals, kind of like airplane meals, and they suffice. They give you pillows and blankets and turn off the lights at night so you can get some shut-eye. The chairs are super cushy and you can lean back quite a bit. There are also TV’s everywhere so you don’t get bored.
So lay back, grab a snack, and watch some Spanish Mr. Bean until you conk out.
9. Impressive Mountains
I lived with the Appalachians and currently reside with the Rockies, but holy crap! The Andes are something to behold. They are the biggest mountains I’ve seen yet. Towering above you into the blue sky, they make you feel like you’re in a painting, or even on another world.
They really have their way with you and make you feel closer to nature. Seeing those beauties helped me reflect on how tiny I really am here on earth. I could probably stare at them all day. I mean, check out the ridges on these bad boys. Breathtaking.
10. Talented Street Performers
As a lover of music, I find that listening to street performers makes me feel like I’m witnessing a really cool piece of culture. It’s typical to find Jazz musicians playing in subways throughout NYC and country-lovers plucking away at their guitars on the streets of Nashville. In Peru, it seemed like we heard a ton of different types of music. A blind guy soulfully playing a saxophone. A homeless man blowing into a traditional pan flute. A young band playing their own indie tunes into the night. Tyler even jumped in and sang “Besame Mucho” with two guys performing for a small group of people!
But it’s not just limited to musicians, no. At night while walking through the streets, we spotted some teens run out in front of cars at stoplights to juggle for them. They’d stand on each other and do flips, not caring if the light had turned green. And when it did, the cars didn’t even honk like they might in the US, as if to say to the performers, “I get what you’re doing, and also I have nothing better to do”. It was bizarre, but very cool.
There will always be a good and bad side to every place you visit. Like I said, our trip was incredible and the annoyances and slight inconveniences we expected to have when visiting a whole other continent had little to no influence on our outlook or experience. In the moment, yes, we wanted to pull our hair out and crawl into a dark hole. But in the broad scheme of things, the good heavily outweighed the bad. Always have a positive attitude on your trip, because it will make all the difference.
Here are some non-awesome aspects of Peru to take note of. You can’t avoid some of them, so think of this as your official heads up.
1. Packed City Buses
There are 8 million people in Lima, and 8 million people swarm onto the city buses in the morning and at night. We went into the actual center square of the city once or twice, and getting there was hellish. It is the cheapest way to get around, but you get what you get.
No boundaries. No personal space. Forget all you knew about that. An armpit in your face and a nose occasionally nuzzling your thigh as you stand there feeling violated. Was that a dog? Aww. Wrong. It’s a human sitting down and falling asleep on your butt.
The normal buses that require a ticket aren’t bad at all, almost everyone gets their own seat, and they don’t fill up more than necessary. But these other nightmares on wheels will have you packed like sardines. I almost lost Tyler once because a bus was already full to the brim and the door was almost shut on me as I barely squeezed in. And then there was that woman frantically trying to get off at her stop, yelling “Perdon! PERDON!!” Nearly stampeded me, that one.
Just know they won’t be enjoyable and the rides are long.
2. Peddlers Galore
If you go to a historic landmark or a really popular site anywhere in Peru, you will be met by loads of locals who want to sell you things they either made themselves or claim they made when they actually just bought it from an artisan market to resell. It was hard to tell whose story was real and who was a fraud. Sure, we bought a few things from them that were particularly cool, like a moonstone necklace and little marble figures of animals representing Peru. But man, are they pushy!
“My grandfather carved this one years ago.” Really? Because I saw one just like it in the market.
“Please buy this for my asking price. This is how I feed my family!” I…well…should I believe you?
We knocked down the prices on a few things to get them. Most of them shrug it off if you tell them “No, thanks”, but a select few are determined to sell you their story and either pressure you or guilt-trip you into buying from them. It was such a hassle to get away from them sometimes. One time a kid selling art on the street (the same art as all the other art salesmen we met that day, fondly enough) tried selling to us once, and somehow found us again hours later and tried the same thing.
Sharks, I tell you!
3. Construction 24/7
The noise wasn’t so much of a problem for us. It was mostly just going a certain way one day and having to take a detour and almost getting lost the next.
There’s always something being fixed or built.
4. Hundreds of Dogs You Can’t Pet
In the US, all dogs and cats usually have owners. It’s just weird if they don’t, honestly. In countries that aren’t first world, animals are not treated with the same decency and concern and mostly roam free. Many have some type of disease, are starving, or have a few broken bones that they think is normal. Truthfully, I’ve seen worse cases on TV in other countries like India. I had a hunch that the people of Peru occasionally left food around the city and gave them a pet or two once in a while. They seemed really tame around people, and would wander around us all the time, not begging, just…there. Content.
The dogs traveled in packs and would get into small fights at times. But they were all so cute to me and I wanted to smother them in love. Alas, I had to refrain. I counted two dogs in total that I actually got to pet. At least they knew I loved them… :,(
The WHO recently reported that Lima has the worst air pollution in all of Latin America. And you can definitely see it in the atmosphere.
Smog. Smog everywhere.
You can’t really do anything about it though. I wouldn’t live there, mainly because there are so many people and I’m not a city girl myself. It’s a beautiful place, though, and should not be missed.
6. Not Speaking Spanish That Well
Ok, this one’s definitely my own fault.
I took Spanish every year as a kid in elementary school and some in college and still only know a page’s worth of basic phrases and words. It’s sad. My husband lived in Mexico for a couple years (that’s how you learn a language, folks) so he is fluent. Not many people we met on the streets of Peru spoke English. The only time I spoke English was when we were in a tour group or on the Inca Trail. It drove me insane.
Thankfully, Tyler did all the translating for me when necessary. I was able to get by with basic Spanish of course, and you can too. But it would have been nice to have a conversation in Spanish with someone I’d never met, you know? Whenever Tyler spoke to someone I always knew what they were talking about because I could pick up words here and there. However, no one really directed any sort of chatter my way, because they knew I didn’t speak the language as well. So it was awkward at times.
It was pretty funny to hear everyone, even little preteens, freak out over how a gringo could speak perfect Spanish and they often complimented him on it. They chuckled at the linguistic differences between their Spanish and his Mexican Spanish. When it came to learning facts and history, I often had to have him regurgitate it all to me in English, and I knew I probably missed out on a lot in his brief summaries. Thank god most of the tours have English speaking guides or I would’ve been seriously bummed. Plus haggling for better prices at the markets looked so fun. I just couldn’t do it.
So I’m making it a goal to learn Spanish before I go to South America next. I hear it’s much easier when you are living with a fluent speaker! Wish me luck…
7. Sketchy Tap Water
I made it a point to do a ton of research on Peru before we had our visit. I do that for all my destinations, for reasons like this one.
If you go to Peru, do not drink the tap water. I repeat— DO NOT DRINK THE TAP WATER.
Peru’s water system is contaminated and not up to code. I read up on many-a-traveler’s experience and discovered that one. Many had gotten either a serious case of the runs or straight up parasites and it ruined their trip. Peruvians are used to it, but a lot of them actually get parasites too and have to be treated.
It’s a real issue. The best way to get water is by buying bottled water or if necessary, you can boil the tap water. I didn’t even venture to brush my teeth with the tap water. You can never be too careful!
8. Car Alarms
This was really unusual and will happen around you in Lima at some point.
We slept in a decent hotel in the Barranco district of the huge capital city. Each morning our alarm clocks were not clocks but were, in fact, cars. Not just one, but several going off at once, at random times and often well into the afternoon. Were there seriously that many accidents? Car thieves going completely insane? WHAT IS HAPPENING.
Upon walking outside the hotel one day and down the sidewalk, we discovered the answer to the mystery. The buses driving along the roads were all equipped with loud, annoying air horns. So loud, that when they sang their little song (WAMP WOMP, for reference) the sound waves hit the surrounding cars, sending them into panic mode. Science is real.
Real freaking annoying.
9. Not Flushing Toilet Paper
Don’t do it. This applies for a lot of countries in South America (but not all).
Apart from some hotels and some people’s homes, we had to retrain ourselves like babies to throw our gross, used toilet paper into a nearby trashcan next to the toilet. I saw the signs everywhere but definitely forgot this new rule several times, and I was lucky there wasn’t a toilet overflow or anything that went wrong. Peru’s sewage system can’t handle it, so make sure you keep aware!
Oh, and some places don’t have toilet paper at all. Bring your own. I learned that the hard way once, even though I read about it before coming to Peru. And a lot of the more touristy sites make you pay a few sols to even get toilet paper at all. So, there you go.
10. Some Places are Too Touristy
Peru is a very sought-after location for tourists. I mean, it has one of the Seven Wonders of the World in it for crying out loud. So it’s understandable. We met people from all over the world and it was totally fun to connect with them and hear their stories. We were tourists, after all. I actually didn’t mind that a lot of them were there and we definitely went to all the famous landmarks and spots, of course.
I think what bugged me most was that we went to the Uros floating islands on Lake Titicaca expecting to have this authentic experience (they live on man-made islands, how much more authentic can you get?) and it ended up just being way too touristy. We got there and after learning about the islands and their history, it was just a barrage of people trying to sell us stuff. Granted, that is much of how they make their living, but I was peeved.
The other islands we were taken to and stayed overnight at were really nice, though. So I’m glad we got to do it!
Peru is a country we definitely want to go back to. It often left us speechless and enabled us to try so many things we never thought we would. It is still a developing country, so there are things it will, of course, be lacking in that are not what you may be used to. But that is all the more reason to appreciate everything it is. It was actually really nice to be somewhere the people are still entirely in touch with their culture and past. Surrounded by friendly faces and so many unique and cool things to see and do, Peru is sure to capture every traveler’s heart. ❤️
What were some things you loved about Peru? Didn’t love? Leave your comment below to let me know how you experienced the magic that is Peru 🙂