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12 Things To Know About Peru

February 3, 2014

Travel isn’t always easy, but most people will tell you it’s worth it. New places, new flavors, new ideas… Exposing yourself to potential inspiration and new experiences is undoubtedly valuable.

When packing for South America, I had to remind myself to resist packing too many “comforts” and familiar things. For instance, I love to carry room sprays and even some decorative stuff, to make surroundings feel more homey. But if my digs out in the world feel like home, something is lost.

The less familiar you are with your destination, the further out of your comfort zone you’re flung. Isn’t that the point?

things to know about peru

Peru isn’t all pretty fabrics and baby lambs, ya’ll. 

In some circumstances, comfort zone absence is not so awesome. There are a few things I wish I knew before traveling to Peru, and I made sure to jot those things down during my adventures in Cuzco, Lima, and Arequipa. Finally, here they are (assuming you’re already down with altitude issues and coca leaves)…

12 Things To Know Before You Come To Peru

 When you’re ready to exchange your USD’s for soles, make sure you don’t have any ripped, marked, or otherwise stressed out bills. Window tellers won’t exchange them. You can still exchange them with the guys who stand outside banks for that reason, but they’ll substantially reduce your return.

 You’ll encounter higher prices along your route if you’re obviously from out of town. If you’re with local friends, stand out of sight while they hail a cab and agree on the fare. Their rate will be lower. Cab fares are low in general, but wouldn’t you rather put those extra soles towards a coca sour later?

To follow that, you don’t need to tip cabs. Agree on your fare before you get in and pay before you leave the car. Don’t try to pay them in large bills, because they won’t have change.

 Depending where you’re staying, hot water might be a rare and wonderful gift that you need to take advantage of while the sun is shining directly on the building’s solar panels. Find out upon arrival and time your showers accordingly.

 If you’re an adventurous eater, take a shot of Anis Najar after each meal. I’m no doctor, but this made me immune to things like half-cooked anticuchos from street vendors. The one time I ate “adventurously” and did not have my Anis Najar fix, I got sick. So, there it is!

 Avoid fancy tourist-riddled restaurants if you want to save some money. You can find amazing food for less. Think 2 course meal and a drink for s/ 6, which is about $2.25. Ask locals for recommendations as these places won’t have fancy facades or eye-catching signs.

 When you want traditional textiles or hand crafts, don’t buy them off the street or in the most visible shops. Head to the huge markets (altiplanos) where everything will be less than half the cost, and shop keepers expect you to haggle. There’s usually also ridiculously cheap huge plates of food being served.*

*You: Is it good food?

Me: It’s Peruvian food, of course it’s good. Stupid question! ;}

 While in Cuzco, don’t mistake the Inca flag for the gay pride flag. They’re really similar!

 Stray dogs were virtually everywhere in Arequipa, Cuzco, and Lima. They may come trotting into restaurants, or bark at you from rooftops, or be fast asleep under tables in bars. For obvious reasons, don’t feed them or try to make one of them your new BFF.

 If you take a photo with a colorful, adorable Peruvian woman in full traditional costume holding a baby lamb or alpaca, be prepared to pay for it. They’re not just hanging out there by chance.

 Multi Red bank trumps all others for withdrawing money via ATM. They charge you no more than s/ 0.20 for each transaction, while others charge up to s/ 13, on top of whatever your bank is already charging you for foreign transactions. Also be aware that ATM’s hang onto your card for the duration of your transaction. Don’t forget to take your card at the end.

 Perhaps the most crucial? Many bathrooms, especially in Cuzco—but some in AQP as well, don’t have toilet paper. Carry your own TP and a bottle of hand sanitizer at all times. Bonus tip: the bathrooms in KFC in the Plaza de Armas in Cuzco are modern and more importantly clean. While everyone else is sprinting to Starbucks with their digestive issues, resulting in bathrooms you do not want to use, run across the street to KFC.

 Last but not least, leave your New York City attitude at home. While confidence and a tough exterior can get you through some sticky situations while traveling, this just isn’t your turf, and sometimes you’ll have to roll with the punches.

IE: At our hostel in Cuzco, we were asked to move our room because the building owner needed the main recreational area for a three day mourning ritual. That meant coming home each night to a coffin lined with candles outside of our room and three days of people praying and drinking and singing. To get the most out of any trip, re-draw your lines of tolerance and chalk it up to the thrill of travel.

Those are my tips! It’s important to note that this is not a full guide to traveling in Peru, just a few things I noticed during my own experience. Read up on local info on safety and security wherever you’re venturing to.

So tell me—have you guys been to Peru? Planning to visit? Leave a comment and share your experiences with me!

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