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I was excited to get to Peru. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that we went right before Christmas or that we were going to be staying with my boyfriend’s family, but I was ready to get there. Even so, and thanks to some brutal travel burnout, I feel like I didn’t scratch the surface of what the country has to offer and I definitely didn’t eat all the food for which Peru is so famous. However, I still have some words of wisdom to share with anyone thinking of visiting—here are my top things to know before you go to Peru.
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO TO PERU
It’s Cuzco, not Cusco. No, really. Having said that, I’ll be using the ‘Cusco’ spelling throughout.
Panetón is practically a religion. You might know panetón under the Italian spelling of panettone, but this is both the Peruvian spelling and bread, and if you happen to be in Peru at Christmas you’ll be overwhelmed by the stuff. Any other time of the year, it’s still available but you probably won’t be eating it on the daily.
Try to pay for things with 20 soles notes. Fifty soles notes will be accepted, but you might struggle with change or get a huffy look if you’re just paying for something that’s pretty low-cost.
For altitude sickness, soroche pills or coca leaves are your friends. I, weirdly, didn’t take or try either while I was there, but maybe that’s because I steered clear of the Inca trail and took it easy in Cusco.
Car horns are there to be honked. Apparently.
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Inka Kola looks like cleaning fluid but tastes pretty good. Don’t be deterred by the vaguely otherworldly glow of an Inka Kola, because this is one of those must-try Peruvian ‘delicacies’.
Lunchtime is roughly 1pm-2pm. You might struggle to find fresh food (like ceviche) after these hours and outside of markets. This was a weird one for me, because I’m used to eating lunch a bit later.
The floors are slippery when wet. Sounds like common sense, but in the more typically colonial destinations (the historic centres of Arequipa and Cusco spring to mind) I found the specific stone pavements to be a hazard when wet. Tread carefully (literally).
Arequipa is its own world. It literally has its own (fake) passport, because arequipeños are quite distinct to other Peruvians (their words). It’s a very pretty destination though and I definitely don’t recommend skipping over it.
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Arequipa is also home to some of the country’s best food. Known for their own favourites like pastel de papa (which I sadly didn’t try) and chupe de camarones (also sadly out of season when I was there), Arequipa is a great and definitely underrated Peruvian food destination, with picanterías all over the place.
Floro is Peruvian slang for bullshit. More or less.
That alpaca jumper you’re eyeing up is absolutely not alpaca. Probably. Alpaca is pricey even in Peru and will generally feel cool to the touch even in the sun. Hold up your textile to the light and if it’s kind of sparkly, it’s false. Surprise! I mean, it’s common sense that you’re not going to be paying $10 for real alpaca, but I heard so many people bragging about their alpaca sweaters when it was almost certainly all polyester. Basically, do buy all the affordable jumpers and blankets you want, but don’t kid yourself that it’s actually alpaca, OK?
Machu Picchu is not the be all and end all. Peru has so much more than Machu Picchu, yet plenty of travellers land in Lima and hop straight on a plane to Cusco. Do not do this. The capital is worth more than a couple of days of your time.
Consider whether you really want to take part in some exploitative tourism on Lake Titicaca. OK, this is possibly a bit dramatic, but during my research into Lake Titicaca, numerous opinions kept cropping up that shared the same opinion—going to the Uros Islands is mutually exploitative. I will be writing about this soon, but of course, it’s just my opinion; so, do your research and draw your own conclusions.
Related Post: Why I Didn’t Go To The Uros Islands, Peru (COMING SOON)
The PeruRail trains don’t run from Poroy (Cusco) during rainy season. Of course, if you do go to Machu Picchu, keep in mind that during rainy season (January to April), the trains from Cusco (Poroy) don’t run. We learnt this the hard way after missing our connecting bus one very early and stressful morning. Editor’s note: This is listed on the website of PeruRail, but…who’s actively looking for that kind of information?)
Peruvian food is heavily Chinese and Japanese influenced. Think about it, ceviche is just raw fish. Sushi, anyone? Add to that the presence of numerous chifas (restaurants serving Peruvian-Chinese dishes) in and around any town in Peru and the Chinese and Japanese influence is clear. This is thanks to waves of Chinese and Japanese immigrants that headed to Peru in the 19th century, give or take, with promises of better wage and job prospects. The reality was very different, but communities established themselves, and it also explains why there are so many Japanese surnames floating around the Peruvian populace. (Like Fujimori…)
In Arequipa, the binmen’s van plays the song from The Little Mermaid. Every day. We thought we were hallucinating this for so long.
If in Lima, the 301 bus route connects the centre with Miraflores. Running right down Avenida Arequipa, this bus will shuttle you from one end of the city to another and connect the rough around the edges centre with the upscale Miraflores.
If using the bus, keep your ticket. Inspectors came on the check our tickets three or four times, and we weren’t using the bus enough for that to be an insignificant amount of random checks.
Chicha morada is basically Peruvian jamaica. Jamaica is a Mexican drink make from concentrate of hibiscus flower mixed with sugar and water. Chicha morada is a Peruvian classic made from purple corn mixed with water and sugar. While jamaica is definitely sweeter (#mexicansugarlife), chicha morada is also pretty good too.
Maracuyá (passionfruit) is widely available. If, not unlike me, you’re from a country where passionfruit is wildly expensive (the UK) or you live in a country where it’s not really available all year round (Mexico), you should take advantage of all the maracuyá smoothies, juices and ice cream you can in Peru. Be careful when ordering without added sugar though, because sometimes it’s way too acidic.
Craft beer bars are abundant, if not exactly cheap, in Lima. There are plenty dotted across the country as a whole, but in Miraflores (particularly around Parque Kennedy) there are tons. I recommend BarBarian, if just for their four-glass flight taster option and also Lúpulo for their chicken wings. And you have to try the Piña Cheliada at BarBarian if they have it on tap!
Cusqueña is the best commercially available beer. Fight me.
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You can find DAIRY-FUCKING-MILK in petrol stations. You can even find dusty versions hawked at Ollantaytambo train station and some not so dusty versions in Tambo.
Speaking of Tambo, it’s basically the Peruvian equivalent of Oxxo and it’s just as much of an…experience. Change was once again just about the only thing they didn’t have.
You have to pay terminal taxes in Puno of 50 centavos per person. These must be paid before they’ll let you through the doors and into the departure zone and the place where you pay is right next to the bathrooms.
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Cusco is heaven for vegans and veggies and Lima is hell. This is not my recommendation, but rather one from a friend we met in Cusco, Riya. If you’re veggie or vegan, prepare to hunt around a bit more for decent food in Lima, and revel in all the meat-free options you can in Cusco.
The best bar of commercial and affordable Peruvian chocolate is Fondy La Ibérica. This is another shout out to Riya, who told me about this great dark chocolate. She was right, it is delicious.
Peruvian tamales are kind of mushy. They also have olives in sometimes, for what it’s worth.
Which brings me onto…olives are weirdly common in Peruvian food. I don’t know why, but they kept cropping up in things like rocoto relleno and papas a la huancaína too.
Weed is illegal. FYI.
What do you think to these things to know before you go to Peru? Did I miss anything off? Let me know in the comments!