I originally wrote this series in 2012.  As it has turned out to be quite popular, I am in the process of updating it to reflect current information for 2016. 

“Top 10 Things to Do, See, and Eat in Peru” Series Index

Why Peru?

There’s no country I know better than Peru, and I’m including the United States in that statement. Over the course of five trips, I’ve spent about six months in Peru. I even made it on a mistake fare for only $238 roundtrip from Los Angeles a few years ago.

Just to give you a taste…Peru has Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, the Andes, the Amazon Rainforest, awesome beaches, interesting deserts, amazing history, internationally-acclaimed gastronomy, one of the world’s mega-cities, friendly people, a neutral Spanish accent, cheap everything, and great mileage-redemption opportunities. 

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A field of wild growing quinoa

I get a lot of questions about what to do, see, and eat; where to stay; and how to get around in Peru, so this series is for all those that are curious.

In the coming weeks I will be updating this series I originally wrote in 2012 (linked above), with new and relevant travel logistics, prices, insight, and tips. This post will talk about some Peru basics like how to get there, when to go, and safety. I’ll start with safety because I think fear is what keeps a lot of people from seeing one of the best countries for tourism in the entire world.

Peru Safety

Peru is a developing country where you should take all the normal safety precautions. If you do, you will be in no more danger than many European countries and substantially less danger than in Central America or Mexico. In my opinion, by far the number one danger to tourists in Peru is taxis.

Not their driving–although I’ve definitely been in a taxi that reversed several blocks against oncoming traffic–but the possibility of an armed robbery by a person posing as a taxi driver. Peru, like many developing countries, has a lot of unregulated taxis operating. And anyone who slaps a taxi sticker on the window of a car is operating a taxi business.

That means enterprising criminals slap a taxi sticker on a car to rob tourists. Luckily this is very easy to avoid. You are most vulnerable at airports or bus stations when you have all your luggage and don’t know anything about the new city. At major airports, there will be an official taxi service. At the Lima airport, it is right outside the exit from baggage claim/customs. Take a taxi from there and you pay double the street price but ensure your safety.

At hotels, casinos, and nice restaurants, the doorman will assist you. He knows the safe taxi drivers, and sometimes only lets those he knows into the taxi area. Ask for a taxi de confianza, and you’ll  be on your way.

If you find a trustworthy taxi driver, ask for his card. He will love the prospect of future business, and you can call someone you know from then on.

If for whatever reason, you find yourself in a situation where it is impossible to follow these tips, at least mitigate the danger of picking a robber by only traveling in taxis with a driver and no other passengers, picking a car that has been painted such that it is a full time taxi, and pick an older driver.

From the preceding, you might conclude that taxis pose a grave risk to a traveler in Peru. In my experience, taking street taxis without following the foregoing precautions for six months, I’ve never had an issue. But for the utmost safety, choose your taxis as I’ve outlined.

An important side note about how taxis function in Peru: they do not use meters. You will need to negotiate a price to where you are going before you get in to avoid getting ripped off. If it’s your first time going to a new location you have no idea how much it should cost, ask someone trustworthy before heading off to flag a cab.

Other Safety Risks

There are other safety risks like the remnants of the Shining Path–Sendoro Luminoso–in the rural, mountainous east, and growing cocaine production in the jungle northeast. But you won’t be going near those places, so they won’t endanger you.

When to Go

The bad stuff is out of the way. Your fears have been allayed. When should you go? Anytime!

Peru is a tropical country, so the seasons are less hot-cold and more wet-dry. High season is North American summer as American and European travelers have more time to visit. That’s a fine time to visit as it’s the dry season and mild temperatures prevail.

My favorite time to visit is North American winter. January and February are the warmest months in Lima, and they’re the only time of year when the Lima isn’t covered in a low, persistent cloud cover that makes the city seem uglier and more somber (not to mention extremely humid).  Unfortunately January and February are the wet season in-and-around Cuzco, where you’ll probably spend the majority of your time. But I think Machu Picchu is especially mystical shrouded in cloud and fog, and there are less people.

All times of year are fine for visiting, and all times of year have drawbacks.

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Pisac, Peru in the Sacred Valley

How to Deal with Money

Avoid the ATMs and money exchange houses at airports as they have the worst rates (this advice does not just apply to Peru, it applies to basically anywhere). If you really need to, change a tiny bit of money at the airport just to pay your taxi driver, and then use an ATM or change house around your first accommodation to get more cash. If you are a serious international traveler, you should consider opening a Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account. It sounds a lot more serious than it actually is–the basic gist is that you will pay zero ATM fees worldwide.

There are a good deal of places in Peru (especially the smaller and more rural areas) that only take cash, so it’s good to have on hand. Small change is handy for tipping as well. Standard tipping rates are 10% on meals.

If you’re going to use a credit card abroad, it should go without saying to use one with no foreign transaction fees. And if you can, use a Mastercard as opposed to a Visa or American Express as you’ll probably lose less on currency conversion fees (a whole different beast than foreign transaction fees).

How to Get There

Lima (LIM) is the international hub in Peru with direct flights to many US cities on the following airlines:

  • American Airlines- Dallas, Miami
  • Avianca- Miami
  • Delta- Atlanta
  • LATAM- Miami, Los Angeles, New York-JFK, Washington, D.C.
  • United- Houston and Newark
  • Spirit Airlines – Fort Lauderdale

In addition, many people find great deals to Lima on Aeromexico (via Mexico City) and Avianca (via San Salvador, airport code SAL).

Lima is an easy place to get to with a cheap cash ticket or a miles redemption. American Airlines has the most options since it partners with LATAM. From North America to Peru (South America Region 1), American Airlines charges:

  • 17,500 miles one way in economy from January 16 – June 14 and September 7 – November 14 flown exclusively on American Airlines planes
  • 20,000 miles one way for other economy awards (flying partner LATAM or American outside of the Off Peak dates)
  • 30,000 miles one way in Business Class

If you have them, the cheapest ways to get to Peru from the United States are:

  • with 15,000 Alaska miles each year from January 16 – June 14 or September 7 – November 14 on American Airlines flights
  • with 15,000 Etihad miles each year from January 16 – June 14 or September 7 – November 14 on American Airlines flights

This is because you can still book old American Airlines chart prices with Alaska or Etihad Miles, at least for the moment.

For other ideas about how to get to Peru cheaply with miles and points when your origin isn’t the United States, read this post about how to book a round-the-world trip in 2016.

How to Get Those Miles

American Airlines Miles

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® 60,000 mile offer has expired. Check out the current best credit card offers here.

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Limited Time Offer: The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® with 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles and Admirals Club lounge membership
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Alaska Airlines Miles

The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Card’s and the Alaska Airlines Visa® Business Card’s are both currently offering 30,000 miles for spending $1,000 within three months of opening the account (on each). Alaska cards are, as far as I know, still churnable.

Etihad Miles

Etihad miles are most easily accrued via transfer from SPG Points, ThankYou Points, and Membership Rewards.

The Citi Prestige® Card comes with 40,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $4,000 in purchases are made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open. Read my review of the Citi Prestige Card.

Bottom Line

Stay tuned for the following posts with updated travel information about all the highlights of Peru.

My next post in this series will start the Top 10 countdown. Is there anything you want to make sure I cover or add to this series? Leave it in the comments.

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Machu Picchu

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