Frequently Asked Questions - FAQ
Do I need a visa to travel to Peru?
Visas are not necessary for citizens from most countries in the Americas and Western Europe. Citizens of Bolivia, Ecuador and Chile do not need either a passport or a visa to enter certain regions of Peru. Check with the Peruvian consulate in your country for further information.
Visitors entering Peru for tourism are granted a 90-day stay, which can be extended by the Immigration Office.
Travelers must bear a valid passport or safe-conduct pass issued by Peruvian immigration authorities.
Is it safe to travel around Peru?
Of course, we would say yes, but with an eye on the reality. Visitors will probably have seen on the news, read on websites or in the newspapers about terrorism, crime and political and economic instability in Peru in recent years. But we also know that several years ago Peru managed to put down terrorism, and today the country is at peace. The country is now working hard to build a stable democracy.
All travelers have to do is to take the same normal precautions as when traveling to any tourist destination
In the cities:
Take the normal precautions to guard against purse snatchers.
Carry a copy of identification documents. Keep originals and your valuables in the safety deposit box of your hotel.
Carry valuables discreetly. Do not carry large amounts of cash. Keep an eye on your bags and luggage.
Do not exchange money out in the street.
Tourism by Road:
Always carry your driver's license, a copy of your passport and if the vehicle is rented, the rental contract. International drivers' licenses are valid in Peru for a year, while a license from country of origin is valid for 30 days.
If a traffic policeman signals you to stop, do so. He must be wearing a proper uniform and his ID (his last name must appear on a badge over his chest). Police may not enter your vehicle.
Bear in mind that neither your documents nor your vehicle may be taken, and under no circumstance give money.
In case of an accident or a crash, call a traffic policeman. If the vehicle is rented, also call a representative of the insurance company at the car rental company. Wait at the site. Keep windows closed and doors locked.
It is terminally prohibited to photograph airports, military bases, areas near electricity pylons and police stations.
What is the climate like year-round?
Peru is a vast country split from north to south by the Andes, and is covered by the Amazon jungle to the east. Temperatures can vary from one city to another, depending on the time of year.
It almost never rains on the Peruvian coast, and in general, there are two marked seasons: hot and cold. The hot season runs from around mid-November to end-March. The cold weather generally lasts from late April to mid-November, with high humidity.
In the highlands and the jungle, unlike the coast, the rain season is the warmest time of year, lasting from mid-November to end-March. Temperatures are cooler from April to mid-November.
When is the best time to visit Peru?
Lima is temperate all year so other destinations often are the determining factor. The Amazon is hot and humid all year, with the heaviest rains December through April. Cuzco, at 11,600 feet altitude, and Machu Picchu (at only 8,000 feet) are generally cool to cooler, depending on cloud cover, winds and seasons: on a cloudless day in July, the coldest month, shirt sleeves may well suffice but on a cloudy windy day in January, a light jacket might be needed.
Is de Language a problem?
Yes, but no communication problems. Everybody loves to practice the little English they know. But do not expect everyone to speak English fluently. Use body language! In larger cities, everybody knows someone who speaks a bit of English, at least. In the more remote areas, Spanish is best. French, with a bit of patience, is often understood.
Hotels usually carry at least one TV-channel is English (CNN). Many cable channels broadcast their programs (like American sitcoms) in English with Spanish subtitles. Just learn the two magic words:
Please! Por favor! (easy, isn´t it!)
Thank you! Gracias!
No thank you - no gracias
it gets you a lot of friendly smiles.
What about altitude?
When you arrive in Cusco, or when hiking the Inca trail, the altitude can be felt in the form of a mild headache or, more rarely, altitude sickness. When arriving in Cusco, take time to rest, and walk more slowly. Eat plenty of carbohydrates, and avoid heavy meals, drinking and smoking. Coca tea, offered in most hotels and restaurants, helps combat mild altitude sickness.
After a few hours you should be accustomed to the altitude.
Will my credit cards, ATM card, and traveler's checks work in Peru?
The most widely accepted credit card in Peru is Visa. Mastercard is also popular, but American Express and Diner's Club are not that widely accepted.
I find ATMs the best way to get money. Most of them work on the Plus system, although you can find ATMs that accept Star, Cirrus and Interlink. The downside of credit and debit cards is that stores, hotels and restaurants will sometimes add an 8% commission to the final bill. Your best bet is to take money from the ATM and pay for your purchases in cash. Traveler's checks are usually good to take as "insurance", but they are often difficult to change and the exchange rate is not as favorable as if you used cash.
INCA TRAIL FAQ
I heard rumours that they were closing the Inca Trail. Is it true?
The Inca Trail will be closed during the month of February each year. The last group will depart on 31 January and the next group will start on 01 March. The closure is to allow conservation projects to take place, give an opportunity for camping facilities to be improved and to allow the vegetation to grow back. February is also the height of the wet season so you shouldn't miss too much. The shorter 2-day trek will remain open since this trek follows a different route. The ruins of Machu Picchu will remain open as normal as will the train services between Cusco and Machu Picchu.
During February some tour companies are offering an alternative 4 day trek.
This trek starts at km82 but instead of climbing the valley to Wayllabamba the alternative route follows the Urubamba River until km104 where it climbs up to Wiñay Wayna and then on to Machu Picchu. (ie two days walking along the Urubamba river before joining the shorter 2-day trek). This trek is fairly picturesque but does not include visits to the Inca ruins at Runkurakay, Sayacmarka or Phuyupatamarca. Ask the tour operator to clearly describe the trek itinerary.
Can I trek the Inca Trail alone without a travel operator?
No. As from 1st January 2001 trekking independently has been prohibited. The regulation, however, was not enforced until early 2002. Trekkers now have to trek using the services of a licensed tour operator or directly employ the services of a professional guide (about US$50 per day plus expenses).
Walking on your own is now an expensive option. However, if you can get a few friends together then the cost per person drops quickly. If you employ a guide directly you can't have more than 7 persons in your group and the guide must be officially qualified. Trekkers using the services of just a guide are not allowed to employ other services such as porters or cooks so you'll have to carry all your equipment and cook for yourselves. The entrance tickets for the trail MUST be bought in Cusco well in advance. They cannot be purchased at the start of the trail.
Should I make a reservation for the trek in advance or wait until arriving in Cusco?
Because the numbers of persons permitted on the trek has been dramatically reduced it is advisable to make a reservation at least 7 to 8 weeks in advance. This is particularly important if you are planning on arriving in Cusco during the peak season (June-September). However during the quiet months of December, January and March it should be possible to just turn up in Cusco 5 or 6 days before you want to do the trek and make a reservation
When is the best time to go?
The dry season from April to October is probably the most comfortable period as far as the weather is concerned. Even during these months you can still get a little rain. Ideally the month of May is perfect since there is little rain but the vegetation is still rich and lush. June, July and August are the 3 busy months and the numbers of trekkers has been limited so book in advance. Although the weather is sunny during these months the temperature at night can drop considerably, falling to below freezing so be prepared.
The months of November and December can still be very enjoyable with fewer trekkers. Expect at least one day of rain during this period. January and March can be wet - very wet at times. However most of the rain falls late in the afternoon and at night so ensuring you have a good waterproof tent is all important. These months also correspond to Summer in Peru so the sun can be very strong and the nights generally mild. The government has stated that the 4 day trek (at least from km82 or km88 until Wiñay Wayna) will be closed for the entire duration of February.
What about theft?
Many guide books make out the Inca Trail to be a haven for thieves and bandits with tents being slashed in the night and trekkers robbed at gun point. I'm glad to say that these are exaggerations and theft is now quite uncommon on the trail provided that you take basic precautions. Don't take any valuables with you that you don't need for the trek. Leave jewelers, large sums of money in your hotel safe (However you need to take your passport on the trek). Take plenty of plastic bags to wrap smelly socks, boots, underwear and wet clothes in. Don't leave them outside your tent at night or they may not be there in the morning. Carry your valuables in a money belt or neck pouch and keep items such as cameras with you at all times especially at meal times.
What do we do for drinking water?
You'll come across a small stream or mountain spring every 1½ hours along the trail where you can fill up your water bottle. Take a bottle of at least 1½ liter capacity per person.
Although the water is clear always use sterilizing tablets and follow the instructions. The sterilizing tablets 'MicroPur' can be bought in most pharmacies in Cusco (the further away from the plaza the cheaper they are).
With these tablets you have to wait 40 minutes before drinking.
If traveling in an organized group boiled water should be available at meal times. Bottled mineral water can also be taken from Cusco, bought at km82 and km88, just before Wayllabamba and at Wiñay Wayna and Machu Picchu. If you are employing the services of a porter you can afford to take the extra weight of a few bottles of water.
What are the toilets like along the trail?
Toilets have improved a lot in the last couple of years and all of the larger campsites have toilet blocks with flush toilets and running water. On the whole they are kept pretty clean. If you do need to go the toilet between campsites then defecate well away from the trail and water supplies; dig a hole, or cover your aces with a rock, and take the paper with you in a bag to deposit in one of the several bins along the way. There are hot shower facilities are Wiñay Wayna on day 3, although they are usually pretty unclean.
Do I need to be fit to do the Inca Trail?
Yes you do. It is a common misconception that because many people do the Inca Trail then it must be easy ... it isn't. The trail is 45km (26 miles) long and involves great physical exertion to complete. On the second day you climb nearly 1200m (about 4000 ft) in the morning. Combined with high altitude (lack of oxygen) and extreme weather (you can easily burn in the high altitude sun during the day and temperatures can drop to below freezing at night) the trek can be hard work for many. However all this suffering can make the final arrival at Machu Picchu all the more enjoyable. In general if you take regular exercise and spend a few days in Cusco acclimatizing to the altitude you shouldn't have to suffer too much.
We've heard a lot about exploitation of the porters. How can we avoid it?
See our page about Porters welfare
How much should I tip?
Deciding how much to tip the porters, the cook and guide is always a difficult moment at the end of the trek. Some nationalities such as the North Americans are accustomed to tipping while others (name no names) will only find the extra money if the service has been absolutely exceptional.
Generally speaking if all the group have been pleased with the service then try to ensure that each porter takes home an extra US$6, the cook US$10, the guide US$20 and the assistant guide about US$15. A typical group of 14 persons with 12 porters (12 x 6 = $72), 1 cook ($10), 1 guide ($25) and 1 assistant $15) would receive a total of $122, which works out at a tip of about $9 per person. If you have employed a personal porter then you will have to pay his tip yourself.
Remember the above figures are just a guide line. If the food that the cook served up was inedible and you couldn't understand what the guide was talking about then don't tip them. They'll soon get the message and hopefully improve their services. Don't, however, take you dissatisfaction out on the porters who were probably working hard throughout the trek.
Security - Peru
- Take normal precautions against pickpockets
- Carry a copy of identification documents. Keep originals and your valuables in the safety deposit box of your hotel and make sure to list down what you deposit and verify the responsibility assumed by the establishment.
- Carry valuables discreetly. Do not carry large amounts of cash. Keep an eye on your bags and luggage.
- Do not carry suitcases, bags or sac packs on your back.
- Do not exchange money out in the street.
- Do not walk around late at night through areas with poor lighting or without a companion
Telephone - Peru
- International and long distance national calls can be made from public pay phones. Country and city codes are normally shown in the telephone booths.
- To make an international call, dial: 00 + country code + city code + telephone number.
- To call from one city to the next, dial: 0 + city code + telephone number.
- Public phones take coins as well as cards, which are sold in stands and supermarkets. Make sure you are buying the card corresponding to the telephone company of the phone you want to use. No collect calls can be made from pay phones.
- To obtain telephone information, dial 103 (service is in Spanish)
Internet - Peru
- The main cities in the country do have public Internet booths.
- The average cost per hour is US$ 1,3.
Health Matters - Peru
- Only drink bottled or previously boiled water.
- Be careful with raw vegetables and fruits.
- Avoid eating from street vendors.
- Rest on the first day of your arrival to the Highlands, and consume light meals to prevent altitude illness (soroche). Drinking "coca tea" is recommended.
- If you travel to the Highlands or to the Jungle, make sure to carry insect repellent and a raincoat.
- To obtain medical services, contact the staff of your hotel or travel agent.
- If you wish to take travelers' insurance, contact your favorite travel agency.
Banks - Peru
Banking hours in Peru are normally from Monday to Friday, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. In addition, most banks open for the public half day on Saturdays. In the streets of the main cities there are teller machines installed by the different banks.
Money Exchange - Peru
EIt is recommended that money should be exchanged in hotels, banks and authorized money exchange offices (Service hours: 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., approximately). The exchange rate against the US Dollar is variable. Inquire before changing your money. For exchanging other currencies inquiry at money exchange offices
Nightlife - Peru
Most of the cities of Peru have a wide variety of night life entertainment. Information about places of interest can be obtained where you are staying. If you wish to enjoy typical Peruvian music, you can visit the so-called "peñas".
In Lima, the most popular discotheques, pubs and night clubs are in the Districts of Miraflores, San Isidro and Barranco. In other cities they are normally found in city centers (main square and vicinity).
Food and Beverage - Peru
Peruvian cuisine offers a great variety of dishes typical of the Coast, the Highlands and the Jungle. Always first ask about their ingredients, since some dishes can contain hot pepper or be highly spiced. You will also find establishments where international food is prepared.
As far as drinks are concerned, try the very Peruvian Pisco (grape brandy) in any of its various recipes, as well as "chicha morada" (purple corn juice) "chicha de jora" (fermented red or yellow corn juice)and agüaje juice, made from a tropical Jungle fruit
Caral, the oldest town in the New World
The first full-scale archaeological investigation of the region took place in 1941 in Aspero, when Gordon R. Willey and John M. Corbert of Harvard investigated a salt marsh at the mouth of the Supe. They found a big trash heap and a multiroomed building with no pottery and a few maize cobs under the pounded clay floor. They wondered how maize could have been cultivated in a salt marsh and why these people could have agriculture, yet no pottery. Willey and Corbett also found six mounds, some of them nearly five metres tall. They were catalogued as "natural eminences of sand". Thirty years later, Willey, in the company of Michael E. Moseley, revisited the site and realised that these "natural eminences" were in fact "temple-type platform mounds". He also realised there might have been as many as seventeen such mounds, all of which Willey had missed on his first exploration of the site. "It is an excellent, if embarrassing, example of not being able to find what you are not looking for", he commented later. As to its age: carbondating revealed that Aspero could go back to 3000 BC, whereby samples from a nearby site even revealed a date of 4900 BC. Those objective findings were nevertheless seen as impossible - far too old with "what was known" and hence not accepted.
Caral is located 14 miles inland from Aspero. Even though Caral was discovered in 1905, it was quickly forgotten as the site rendered no gold or even ceramics. It required the arrival of Ruth Shady Solis in Caral in 1994 before a genuine paradigm shift would occur. She is a member of the Archaeological Museum of the National University of San Marcos in Lima. Since 1996, she has co-operated with Jonathan Haas, of the American Field Museum. Together, they have found a 150-acre array of earthworks, which includes six large platform mounds, one twenty metres high and more than one hundred on a side. But Shady Solis did not make the same mistake Willey had made: she felt that the “pyramids” were just that: they were not natural hills, as some of her predecessor had catalogued the structures of Caral.
Her subsequent research led to the announcement, in the magazine Science on April 27, 2001, of the carbon dating of the site, which revealed that Caral had been founded before 2600 BC. The "impossible" carbondating results of Aspero now seemed more likely... and Caral had become the oldest city in the "New" World, older than the Gizeh pyramids.
What is Caral like? The site is in fact so old that it predates the ceramic period, the reason why no pottery was found. Its importance resides in its domestication of plants, especially cotton, but also beans, squashes and guava.
As mentioned, the heart of the site covers 150 acres and contains six stone platform mounds – pyramids. The largest mound measures 154 by 138 metres, though it rises only to a height of twenty metres; two sunken plazas are at the base of the mound and a large plaza connects all the mounds. The largest pyramid of Peru was terraced with a staircase leading up to an atrium-like platform, culminating in a flattened top housing enclosed rooms and a ceremonial fire pit. All pyramids were built in one or two phases, which means that there was a definitive plan in erecting these monuments. The design of the central plaza would also later be incorporated in all similar structures across the Andes in the millennia to come – thus showing that Caral was a true cradle of civilisation. Around the pyramids were many residential structures. One house revealed the remains of a body that was buried in the wall and appears to have been a natural death, rather than evidence of human sacrifice. Amongst the artefacts discovered are 32 flutes made from pelican and animal bones, engraved with the figures of birds and monkeys. It shows that though situated along the Pacific coast, its inhabitants were aware of the animals of the Amazon.
iHow did the culture begin? It is suggested that several small villages merged in 2700 BC, quite possibly based on the success of early agricultural cultivation and fishing techniques. The invention of cotton fishing nets, the cotton grown in the Supe valley, must have greatly facilitated the fishing industry. It is believed that this excess of food might have resulted in trade with the religious centres. But apart from an economic model of exchange, the new social model also meant that a labour force existed that had in essence little to do. This labour force could thus be used for “religious purposes”. Caral might have been the natural result of this process – just like the pyramids of Egypt seem to have been the result of an available workforce.
The discovery of Caral has therefore reintroduced a powerful enigma: at the same time, on two different continents, agricultural advancements created a new style of life. The available workforce that agriculture had created was reemployed in the construction of pyramids. This “template” is visible in Peru, Sumer and Egypt, all in the 3rd millennium BC. Coincidence, or evidence of design? Alternative researchers will certainly soon reopen this debate, but archaeologists steer well clear of it.
Caral is indeed hard to accept. It is very old. Still, its dating of 2627 BC is beyond dispute, based as it is on carbondating reed and woven carrying bags that were found in situ. These bags were used to carry the stones that were used for the construction of the pyramids. The material is an excellent candidate for dating, thus allowing for a high precision.
The town itself had a population of approximately 3000 people. But there are 17 other sites in the area, allowing for a possible total population of 20,000 people for the Supe valley. Indeed, the Caral archaeological team broke up to investigate some of the other sites, such as along the Pativilca River, the next river to the north, and the Fortaleza, just north of the Pativilca. All of these sites share similarities with Caral. They have small platforms or stone circles and all were major urban centres on par with Caral – though some of them were even older than Caral. Haas believes that Caral was nevertheless the focus of this civilisation, itself part of an even vaster complex, trading with the coastal communities and the regions further inland – as far as the Amazon, if the depiction of monkeys is any indication
In July 2006, Caral was opened for tourism, even though it had already received 7,338 visitors in 2003, 15,265 visitors in 2004 and 21,068 visitors in 2005. With the support of PromPeru, and its location being just two hours north of Lima along the easily accessible Pan-American Highway, this number is expected to rise in the coming years. It will continue to undergo a series of restorations that will provide an added value to the existing and future tourist circuits in the region.
But some of the other sites of Norte Chico are still the almost exclusive bailiwick of archaeologists. One site, Huaricanga, saw a first paper published in December 2004. The team of Haas, Winnifred Creamer and Alvaro Ruiz found evidence of people living inland from the coast as early as 9210 BC, with the oldest date associated with a city being 3500 BC. Other urban sites in the region are now dated as being older than Caral: Caballete at 3100 BC, Porvenir and Upaca at 2700 BC. Charles Mann writes how "individually, none of the twenty-five Norte Chico cities rivaled Sumer's cities in size, but the totality was bigger than Sumer."
Haas describes the civilisation of Norte Chico as the second experiment Mankind did with government: surrendering personal freedom and liberty to a centralised authority, which then apparently decided to create a ritual centre – a city, asking those who had surrendered their freedom to work hard – if not very hard – for this common or greater good. As to why this central government was created, speculation remains. The cities were not sited strategically, nor did they have defensive walls; there was no evidence of warfare. It seems that co-operation existed, because the population realised that co-operation would benefit the individual and the community as a whole. Though Haas and his colleagues put forward several "logical" reasons, Caral is primarily a religious cult centre. And no-one seems to dare to suggest the perhaps obvious reason: that these people built Caral, because of their belief and adoration of one or more deities.
That the workforce involved were not slaves or oppressed is supported by the archaeological evidence. Haas and Creamer believe that the city rulers encouraged the workforce during construction by staging celebratory roasts of fish and achira root. Afterward, the remains of these feasts were worked into the fabric of the mound. Alcohol is suspected of having been consumed, and music seems to have been played: at Caral, Shady's discovery of 32 flutes made of pelican wingbones tucked into a recess in the main temple provides the evidence for that conclusion.
The creation of a religous complex implies the existence of a pantheon. Little evidence has been uncovered of what these gods may have been, other than a drawing etched into the face of a gourd, dated to 2280-2180 BC. It depicts a sharp-toothed, hat-wearing figure who holds a long stick or rod in each hand. The image looks like an early version of the Staff God, a fanged, staff-wielding deity who is one of the main characters in the Andean pantheon, the deity that is figured prominently on the Gateway of the Sun in Tiahuanaco, on the shores of Lake Titicaca.
For an unknown reason, Caral was abandoned rapidly after a period of 500 years (ca. 2100 BC). The preferred theory as to why the people migrated is that the region was hit by a drought, forcing the inhabitants to go elsewhere in search of fertile plains. The fact that the Staff God is found two millennia later elsewhere in Southern America shows that these people did not disappear; they merely moved elsewhere, and seem to have built other religious centres on their travels.
The harsh living conditions have since not disappeared. According to the World Monuments Fund (WMF), Caral is one of the 100 important sites under extreme danger. Shady argues that if the existing pyramids are not reinforced, they will disintegrate further and money from tourism, as well as private donations, will help preserve the site. Conservation will go hand in hand with exploration. And though Caral continues to steal the limelight, other nearby sites, such as Aspero, are older. Indeed, Aspero might one day lay claim to the title of the world's oldest city – the place where human civilisation began. Perhaps we might all once realise the irony of having labelled this continent the "New World".
Solis came to Caral looking for the fabled missing link of archaeology, a “mother city”. Today, she is still trying to convince people that Caral was indeed the oldest urban civilisation in the world. "The discovery of Caral challenged the accepted beliefs. Some historians were not ready to believe that an urban civilisation existed in Peru even before the pyramids were built in Egypt," she says. "This place is somewhere between the seat of the gods and the home of man."
CARAL THE OLDEST TOWN IN THE NEW WORLD
Peru, the largest area in the Andean countries, was the cradle of the most advanced indigenous civilizations and most powerful empire in South America pre-Columbian cultures. Peru was also the focus of Spanish colonial domination for its first two hundred years of rule. What remained of pre-Columbian America with regard to people, culture, and settlements is perhaps better represented in Peru than in any other country.
The country has a 2,400 kilometer (1,500 miles) long coast on the Pacific Ocean and bordes Colombia and Ecuador in the North, Brazil and Bolivia on the east, and Chile on the south. It is the only country that borders all the Andean state.
Language: the official languages of Peru are: Spanish which is used on a 73% of the population; the Quechua or runasimi, spoken for a 24% of peruvians. Some specialists recognise to especific variations of quechua on the national territory : the huáihuash, which is quite popular on the central part of Peru and the huámpuy, spoken by the rest of the country.
Most of the quechua-speakers are bilingual and have spanish as their second language.
LIMA - "The City of Kings"
The current Capital of Peru, was founded in 1535 by conqueror Francisco Pizarro who built his palace over the old buildings of a local pre-Hispanic settlement. The downtown area of Lima was declared by UNESCO as a Cultural Heritage of Humanity, due to the many remains of Colonial occupation under rule of Spain.