“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots. ” –Marcus Garvey
I recently traveled to Peru with one of my best friends and we had an incredible time. We researched for weeks to find out where we wanted to go and what we should pack and we read so many blogs about Peru that we felt like we were experts. Wrong. So very wrong. While we found some extremely interesting places to visit 100% of the blogs we read did not prepare us for some simple, yet important, events/mishaps that could have been easily avoided.
If you’re reading this then you’re in luck that you will now be fully prepared for all scenarios or at least those that I experienced.
1. Traffic is horrendous.
I landed at 11:30pm and was very happy it was s dark outside that I couldn’t fully see the traffic free for all happening around me. Peru is a country where lanes don’t matter and traffic laws are made up. Some cities are better than others, but please be careful and for the love of whatever deity you believe in don’t rent a car unless you’re a professional stunt driver. At least 200 taxis were trying to exit the airport at the same time and I am thoroughly impressed no one hit each other.
2. Driving up a mountain may induce anxiety attacks
The scenery in Peru is hands down the prettiest I have ever seen and that is saying something. It is literally breathtaking and worth every penny we spent getting there and on transportation (which was very decently priced). The scenery will make you want to be permanently glued to the window, but the almost 90-degree drop-offs, lack of guardrails, bus drivers who like to live and drive on the edge, and the mind-boggling speeds the buses and cars take around bends while several thousand feet up will make you want to shut your eyes and grip the seat until it’s over. But don’t. The scenery is beautiful.
3. Bring a roll of toilet paper
While hotels will all have plenty of toilet paper and amenities many local shops, tourist bathrooms, and public bathrooms do not. We had to improvise with random bits of paper in our backpacks, etc. That is the number one thing that surprised me the most. Be prepared and bring your own. Most places also have a bin in the stall as well to put your toilet paper in. Plumbing can get obstructed so there’s usually a sign to drop the tp in there. Be kind to the locals and comply.
4. Buildings will look half finished with rebar sticking out of the rooftops.
Peru is not a massively wealthy country. Many of its citizens live on very little a day and some places rely solely on tourism to survive economically. There is a loophole in the law that states owners of properties don’t have to pay property tax on unfinished buildings so many have an unfinished floor.
5. There’s trash everywhere.
The main tourist sites have done a great job of keeping trash to an absolute minimum, but many other places you can find mounds of trash on the side of the road, in rivers, and in the streets. Most places we went to were fantastically clean, but the journey there was marked by piles of trash floating around.
6. Dogs and cats may look severely neglected
The first week I was in Peru I had a really hard time coming to grips with the level of care shown to the dogs and cats we saw. They are not so much a member of the family as they are here in the USA. My dog is my whole world and I would do anything to make him happy and healthy. In Peru, the dogs are let out of the house in the morning and left to roam around and scavenge all day. They may come home bloody or limping, etc, but are usually let in the house at night. I barely saw any malnourished dogs, but I am assuming veterinary care can be too costly to some so some pets are a lot rougher looking, but happy to roam free all day. In Cusco, we saw some of the happiest dogs. They were sunning themselves in the main square gardens and looked like they were having the times of their fluffy lives. Just be aware that other cultures treat their animals differently and it can be hard to view but to also be respectful of different practices and ways of life.
7. Dairy is NOT pasteurized.
What does this mean? If you come from a country where dairy products are pasteurized and most bacteria are taken out then you will almost assuredly have intestinal distress and I’m putting that mildly. I couldn’t help myself from trying an empanada. I mean I’m in Peru and they looked and smelled delicious! I regretted it for two whole weeks and I had a very intimate relationship with every bathroom we encountered. Yet another reason why you should bring your own toilet paper and something for travelers’ diarrhea. It’s no joke and it will shut you down.
8. In large cities and tourist areas, you will be bombarded with people trying to sell you things.
It happens. A polite no, gracias will work 99.9% of the time. At tourist sites, many guides will try and sell you their services. If they are certified they are well worth the price. Ask your hotel what prices to expect and get a guide in that price range. They will know which prices are too high. We learned SO much, but we also felt at some places we could do without after having so many guided tours. It’s up to you, but if you only buy one guided tour definitely do it at Machu Picchu.
9. Taxis are cheap. Tour companies were great.
Peru is not like Europe where it is easy and convenient to walk to most destinations. Taxis are required for a lot of the sites as they can be anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour drive. Make sure to get a legitimate taxi. They will have stickers posted in the windows. Ask the price BEFORE you get in the car and on your way. You can always walk away if you think the price is too high.
Another way we traveled was by collectivo. These are small buses that leave whenever they are full. They are much cheaper, but also less comfortable and there’s no set schedule.
Choose your tour company wisely. Do they have a guide who speaks your language? Is the price reasonable compared to others? What is provided? Many of the day trips we went on started at 3am unless we did a private tour. They weren’t that much more expensive, but it just depends on your budget and how far in advance you plan. Many day trips will take several hours to get to, so keep that in mind.
Markets are everywhere and a lot of the vendors sell the same things. I haggled on everything I bought and usually paid half the price they had said when I started. Don’t be afraid to shop around or to give them a very low number to start so you can have some negotiating room. Everything I got has lasted a while and I’m still very happy with everything I bought. Markets also differ a little based on what town you’re in. It’s really neat to see what’s new and unique for each area we went to.