Peru is an incredible country to visit, so in order to make sure your trip is as pleasurable as possible, here are some insider tips about what to pack, what to leave at home and what to expect once you’re here.
EVER PRECIOUS WATER
Firstly, you mustn’t drink the water here; stay on the safe side and buy bottled water wherever you go. When you drink the refresco that comes with your menu or order a jugo from a cafe, it will be made with boiled water which is generally not a big issue. All the same, you should always keep some stomach medicine on hand because you will inevitably get a small, or big, bout of Peruvian belly at some point. Water scarcity is also a huge issue and a daily struggle for many Peruvians, so be considerate of this and conserve water as much as you can, particularly in provincial areas or outlying parts of Lima where water is only delivered every few days. If you’re in a small town be sure to ask what the situation is and if hot water is very important to you, confirm that your hostel or hotel definitely has it. Particularly in parts of Peru with a warmer climate, the majority of houses and hostels do not have hot water as it’s not considered a necessity. However saying that, you can also be caught off-guard with hot water in Lima, Cusco and Arequipa so to avoid any problems check the water temperature when you first inspect the room.
LEAVE THE BLING AT HOME
Peru, like many South American countries, has a huge disparity between the wealthy and the poor and unfortunately this means higher levels of petty crime. As a general rule it is best not to bring anything with you that you would be too upset to lose of possession of, such as expensive electronics or accessories. It is also a good to idea to dress and act respectfully in order to avoid drawing unwanted attention to yourself, so leave the gold jewelry and expensive clothes at home.
Many establishments don’t provide toilet paper and well equipped public toilets are the exception and not the rule in Peru. So be sure to take toilet paper anywhere and everywhere you go, the best thing is to keep a roll handy in your daypack or handbag. If you’re having difficulty finding a public toilet you can always ask in a restaurant or a bar if you can use their bathroom and for S/1 they will allow you to. Once you make it to a bathroom you may notice a sign advising you not to flush your toilet paper down the toilet, and to put it in the rubbish bin provided. This is the case not only in Peru but across South America, in all toilets, public and private. And last but not least, if you’re finicky about hygiene, carry antibacterial gel with you because soap is even rarer than toilet paper is.
HEALTH & BEAUTY
Small ailments generally don’t require a trip to a doctor in this corner of the world; you can head to your local pharmacy or botica (an informal pharmacy, at times run out of the front of someone’s house) as a lot of prescription medicine is sold over the counter here. Outside of Lima it’s difficult to find beauty and personal care items (including vitamin supplements), so be sure to stock up on your favorite brands before you get on the plane.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE MONEY
The national currency is soles and although some places may accept dollars, it is not to be assumed that this is the case everywhere so you are best to change your money. Contrary to what some expat forums may state, unless you are in the far north of Peru and close to the Ecuadorian border, the majority of people don’t accept dollars and if they do you will be given a low rate. It’s also important to be aware of fake currency, both in dollars and soles, so it’s a good idea to learn how to check if a bill is the real deal. Make an effort to pay with smaller bills and change your money in a casa de cambio as oppose to on the street. Outside of major cities many places only accept cash and there will be limited access to ATMs, particularly in small provincial towns, so plan your cash flow in advance.
Peru will undoubtedly amaze and inspire you and to make the most of your stay, be well prepared and do a little research about Peru before you come. It’s also highly recommended to try to arrive with at least some basic Spanish, as it will help to facilitate your everyday transactions and make the experience even richer by allowing you to communicate with locals.
About the author: Ellie Ryan is an Aussie expat working and living in Peru. She is the Founder of TEFL Zorritos, a TEFL training institute which trains people to become English language teachers and places them in positions in Peru and abroad. She is also the Founder of TEFL Zorritos English Institute, the first ever English institute in the small northern town of Zorritos. This article was originally published on the Living in Peru website as part of her Expat Ellie blog series.