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PERU – GENERAL INFORMATION

   
                      Fig.1 – Peru Flag

GEOGRAPHY

Peru is divided into three regions. Although this simple division is a fair portrait of Peru’s geography, the reality is much richer and far more complex: in Peru nature appears to have taken on characteristics which have turned its mountains, plains, jungles and valleys into unique habitats. An extraordinary variety of eco-systems shelters a wide diversity of plants and animals. The Highlands of Peru are a mountainous area dominated by the Andes, where Mount Huascaran soars to 6,768 meters. The coast of Peru features deserts, beautiful beaches and fertile valleys. The Peruvian coastline is formed by a long snaking desert hemmed in between the sea and the mountains. The Andes to the east and the cold Humboldt Current that runs along the coast are what make this area so arid.

From the Sechura desert to the Nazca plains and the Atacama Desert, the dry coastal terrain is occasionally split by valleys covered by a thick layer of cloud and drizzle in the winter. The jungle of Peru includes a vast region of tropical vegetation in the Amazon River Basin, home to Peru’s largest natural reserves.

HISTORY

Credit: Central Intelligence Agency

The first inhabitants of Peru were nomadic hunter-gatherers who lived in caves in Peru’s coastal regions. The oldest site, Pikimachay cave, dates from 12,000 BC. Crops such as cotton, beans, squash and pepper chili were planted around 4000 BC; later, advanced cultures such as the Chavín introduced weaving, agriculture and religion to the country. Around 300 BC, the Chavín inexplicably disappeared, but over the centuries several other cultures – including the Salinar, Nazca, Paracas Necropolis and Wari (Huari) – became locally important. By the early 15th century, the Inca Empire had control of much of the area, even extending its influence into Colombia and Chile.

THE PEOPLE

Peru people are of several origins. This is the only South American country, where there are found the maximum percentage of native people. There are people belonging to several races, but among these almost 45% are native Peruvians. Among other races there are people from several ethnic groups. There are many Asian people like the Chinese and Japanese. Apart from them, African people also live in Peru.

Most of the native people are to be found near the Andean ranges.

Apart from the southern part of the Andean range, in the south and central coastal areas and also in the Amazon regions, a maximum of the native Peruvian people reside. Among the native Peru people, most are of Amerindian origin. The two major native races that inhabit Peru are the Quechua and the Aymara people. These people comprise the largest portion of the native people in Peru. The second largest group is the Mestizo people. All these people, together with other ethnic groups, have created a diverse and colorful pattern of Peru culture.

 SOCIAL CONVENTIONS

Foreign visitors are often shocked by the overwhelming machismo in some parts of Latin America. Women in bars—and foreign women in general—are often regarded as promiscuous. Females who drink and act rowdy, or even just express their opinions in a public setting, will shock men who expect and prize meekness in women. Whether you’re male or female, be sensitive to rising testosterone levels. Never say anything about a man’s mother, sister, wife, or girlfriend.

Personal hygiene and appearance are often difficult to maintain while traveling, but they are very important in Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia.

Clean-shaven men with short hair and women who don’t show much skin are more likely to receive respect. Men should remove hats while indoors. Latin Americans hold politeness in high esteem, both in acquaintances and strangers. When meeting someone for the first time, shake hands firmly, look the person in the eye, and say “Mucho gusto de conocerle” (“Pleased to meet you”). When entering a room, greet everybody, not just the person you came to see. Females often greet each other with a peck on the cheek or a quick hug. Sometimes men shake hands with women in a business situation, but the standard greeting between a man and a woman—even upon meeting for the first time—is a quick kiss on the cheek. Salutations are considered common courtesy in small towns. “Buenos días” in the morning, “buenas tardes” after noon, and “buenas noches” after dusk should be said to anyone with whom you come into contact. Another custom is saying “buen provecho” (“enjoy your meal”) in a restaurant upon entering or leaving.

When signaling for people, don’t use one finger pointed upward; simply motioning with your hand in a sweeping motion is more polite. The American “OK” symbol (a circle with the thumb and forefinger) is considered vulgar and offensive. Punctuality isn’t as important as it is in Europe and the US (as bus schedules will quickly confirm), but there are, of course, limits. A different perspective on time is apparent during meals, which are rarely hurried. After a big meal, enjoy the ingenious tradition of siesta, a time in the afternoon when it’s just too hot to do anything but relax, have a drink, or nap; don’t expect much to happen during the mid-afternoon, as banks and shops often shut their doors.

LANGUAGES

Peru’s official languages are Spanish and Quechua. Spanish is spoken in practically every city and town in the country, while Quechua is mainly spoken in a few places of the Andes. In the highland plains, called altiplano, in the department of Puno, Aymara is also spoken, although it is not held to be an official language.

 GOVERNMENT

Peru is a presidential representative democratic republic with a multi-party system. Under the current constitution, the President is the head of state and government; he or she is elected for five years and cannot seek immediate re-election, he or she must stand down for at least one full constitutional term before reelection. The President designates the Prime Minister and, with his advice, the rest of the Council of Ministers. There is a unicameral Congress with 120 members elected for a five-year term. Bills may be proposed by either the executive or the legislative branch; they become law after being passed by Congress and promulgated by the President. The judiciary is nominally independent, though political intervention into judicial matters has been common throughout history and arguably continues today.

TIME ZONE

GMT/UTC -5. Peru does not observe daylight saving time and is in the same time zone as the US east coast.

 ELECTRICITY

220V, 60Hz.  Most four and five-star hotels provide 110-volt electric current.

CLIMATE

There is no single climate in Peru – the deserts, jungles, mountain villages and coastal cities are each under the influence of different natural forces. And while there is no perfect time to see them all, February and March are fairly tolerable everywhere. The rainy season (a misnomer, really – it rarely rains) is June-September in Lima (humidity can be as high as 98% during this time) and November-March in the mountains. North and east highlands are subject to heavy rain from October-April. Along the Amazon, it’s always hot and humid (it is a jungle, after all). Average temperatures come in at 57°F. During the summer, temperatures can peak at 82°F or over.  In the Highlands, the sun, shines all year round during the morning, but temperatures descend at night, averaging 41°F.   The climate in the Amazon jungle is tropical all year round.

In both regions, the rain season runs from December through April.  Lima is a city that features a moderate climate, ranging from a light drizzle in winter to a warm summer.  Average temperature in summertime -from mid-December to mid-March is 77-82°F.  Winter, which usually features overcast skies and high humidity, has temperatures ranging from 50-61°F.

Clothes to Wear:

It is best to dress in layers that can be shed as the day really heats up. Essentials include light-colored cotton pants; shorts and shirts; good, rubber-soled walking shoes or sandals; a wide-brimmed hat; a light raincoat or windbreaker. This type of clothing is practical and there is no need for “dressy” clothing unless you plan on visiting an upscale restaurant in Lima or any other large city.

Other items that may be of use:

  • Good quality sunglasses – preferably polarized. Tinted fashion glasses are not good in strong light
  • Shorts/skirts
  • Long trousers/slacks
  • Good walking shoes (running/tennis shoes or broken-in hiking shoes are fine)
  • Sandals or rubber flip/flops for poolside
  • Swimsuit with light cover-up garment
  • Jacket or sweater for cooler mornings or evenings

LOGISTICAL

Entry and Exit Requirements:

A valid passport is required by U.S. citizens to enter and depart Peru. Tourists must also provide evidence of return or onward travel. For further information regarding entry requirements, travelers should contact the Embassy of Peru at 1700 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036. Tel: (202) 833-9869; or the Peruvian Consulate in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Hartford, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Paterson (NJ), or San Francisco.

Americans traveling in Peru are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration page in order to obtain updated information on local travel and security. US citizens without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Registration is important; it allows the State Department to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency.

The U.S. Embassy is located in Surco, Monterrico, a suburb of Lima, at Avenida Encalada, Block Seventeen. Tel: 51-1-434-3000 during business hours (8am – 5pm), or 51-1-434-3032 for after-hours emergencies. Fax: 51-1-618-2397, or 51-1-618-2724 (American Citizen Services Unit). Web site:  http://lima.usembassy.gov. The Consular Section is open for American Citizens Services, including registration, from 8am – 11:30 am weekdays, excluding U.S. and Peruvian holidays.

Embassy Locations:

Embassy of the United States of

America

Surco, Monterrico, Lima, Avenida

Encalada, Block 17

Tel: (51-1) 434-3000

Weekdays, 08:00 am – 5:00 pm

http://www.peruvianembassy.us/en.html

 Canadian Embassy

Libertad 130, Miraflores

Lima

Tel: (51-1) 444-4015

http://www.international.gc.ca/peru/

Health:

Peru does not require any immunizations for entry, although it recommends vaccination against Yellow Fever. In jungle areas east of the Andes mountain range (cordillera), chloroquine-resistant malaria is a serious problem. Cholera, yellow fever, hepatitis, dengue fever, and other exotic and contagious diseases are also present. Yellow fever is endemic in certain areas of Peru; in general, those areas are located on the eastern side of the cordillera and at lower elevations in jungle areas. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Peruvian government recommend that travelers to Peru receive a yellow fever vaccination and carry documentation of the vaccination with them on their trip. Diarrhea caused by contaminated food or water is very common in Peru, and is potentially serious if suffering from persistent symptoms, seek medical attention. Local tap water in Peru is not considered potable. Only bottled or treated (disinfected) water should be used for drinking. Fruits and vegetables should be washed and/or disinfected with care, and meats and fish should be thoroughly cooked. Eggs, meat, unpasteurized cheese, and seafood are common sources of the bacteria that can cause travelers’ diarrhea, and they should be properly prepared or avoided. Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or via the CDC website at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/topics/infectious_ diseases/en/. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.

Banks and Currency:

The official currency of Peru is the Nuevo Sol (S/.), which is divided into 100 cents. Coins in circulation include the amounts of .05, .10, .20 and 50 cents, as well as 1, 2 and 5 Nuevo Soles. Paper bills come in 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 Nuevos Soles.

Carrying cash, an ATM or traveler’s check card and also a credit card that can be used for cash advances in case of emergency is advisable. When receiving local currency, always ask for small bills (billetes pequeñas), as S100 bills are hard to change in small towns or for small purchases.

The best places to exchange money are normally casas de cambio (foreign-exchange bureaus), which are fast, have longer hours and often give slightly better rates than banks. Many places accept US dollars. Do not accept torn money as it will likely not be accepted by Peruvians. It is best not to change money on the street as counterfeits are a problem.

Cajeros automáticos (ATM’s) are found in nearly every city and town in Peru, as well as at major airports and bus terminals. ATM’s are linked to the international Plus (Visa), Cirrus (Maestro/MasterCard) systems, American Express and other networks. They will accept your bank or credit card as long as you have a four-digit PIN. Before you leave home, notify your bank that you’ll be using your ATM card abroad. Even better, leave your bank card at home and buy a traveler’s check card instead. ATM’s are a convenient way of obtaining cash, but rates are usually lower than at casas de cambio. Both US dollars and nuevos soles are readily available from Peruvian ATM’s. Your home bank may charge an additional fee for each foreign ATM transaction. Surcharges for cash advances from credit cards vary, but are generally expensive, so check with your credit-card provider before you leave home. ATM’s are normally open 24 hours. For safety reasons, use ATM’s inside banks with security guards, preferably during daylight hours.

US dollars are accepted by most tourist-oriented businesses, though you’ll need nuevos soles to pay for local transportation, most meals, etc.

Paying in nuevos soles can be a time-consuming hassle at some midrange hotels and many top-end establishments. Carrying cash entitles you to get the top exchange rates quickly. The best currency for exchange is the US dollar. All foreign currencies must be in flawless condition.

Cambistas (money-changers) hang out on street corners near banks and casas de cambio and give competitive rates (there’s only a little flexibility for bargaining), but are not always honest. Officially, they should wear a vest and badge identifying them as legal. They’re useful after regular business hours or at borders where there aren’t any other options.

Many top-end hotels and shops accept tarjetas de credito (credit cards) but usually charge you a 7% (or greater) fee for using them.

The amount you’ll eventually pay is not based on the point-of-sale exchange rate, but the rate your bank chooses to use when the transaction posts to your account, sometimes weeks later. Your bank may also tack on a surcharge and additional fees for each foreign-currency transaction. The most widely accepted cards in Peru are Visa and MasterCard, although American Express and a few others are valid in some establishments, as well as for cash advances at ATM’s. Before you leave home, notify your bank that you’ll be using your credit card abroad.

If you carry some of your money as cheques de viajero (traveler’s checks), these can be refunded if lost or stolen. However, exchange rates for traveler’s checks are quite a bit lower than for US cash.

With the commissions sometimes charged, you can lose over 10% of the checks’ value when you exchange them, and they may be impossible to change in small towns. Almost all businesses and some casas de cambio refuse to deal with them, so you will need to queue at a bank. American Express checks are the most widely accepted, followed by Visa and Thomas Cook. Reloadable traveler’s check cards work just like ATM cards, but are not linked to your home bank account. These cards enjoy some of the same protections as traveler’s checks, and can be replaced more easily than a bank ATM card. During your trip, you can add more funds to a traveler’s check card either online or by making an international collect call, or you can authorize someone else at home to do this for you, which eliminates the need for emergency wire transfers. Many Visa providers (www.cashpassportcard.com) offer traveler’s check cards.

 Communications:

The country code of Peru is -51. All city codes begin with -0, however, when calling Peru, drop the -0. In order to call out of Peru you will have to dial -00 then the country code followed by the phone number. If you want to make phone calls, the best thing to do is to go to a Locutorio, which is a place that has phone booths. They charge much less than if you use a public phone.

Cell phones are very common and there are three servers: Telefónica/Movistar, Claro and Nextel. You can either buy a post-pago or a pre-pago cell phone. Post-pago means that you sign a contract and Pre-pago means that you buy phone cards and can use your cell phone as long as it has money on it.

Internet cafes or cabinas can be found just about everywhere and charge between .50 soles to 2 soles a half hour depending on where you are. Internet connections tend to be fast and many have USB ports as well. WiFi places are popping up all over the place.

Fax services can be found in cabinas and locutorios or photocopy places. Faxes inside the same city are around 1 or 2 soles. National faxes are around 2 and 3 soles and International are about 3-5 soles.

The national postal service is called Serpost.

Cell Phone Usage:

Please contact your cell phone provider to determine whether your contract includes coverage in the country you are visiting. Depending on your contract you may have to add international services and/or country specific services.

ENTERTAINMENT

Food and Drink:

Sample the local food – Peruvian dishes can be outstanding – but to be on the safe side, dine in the better hotels and restaurants. Much of the food is highly seasoned – in fact; it can be hot and spicy. Lomo saltado is a hearty beef, vegetable and rice dish that seems to appear on every Peruvian menu: When in doubt, order it (vegetarians excepted). Ceviche de Corvina (deep-sea fish marinated in lemon, chilies and onions, served cold) is a Peruvian specialty.

On the basis of restaurants alone, Lima is a cosmopolitan city. There are excellent Creole (native) dishes, and restaurants, which offer German, Arab, French, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese and vegetarian specialties. Many of these restaurants are located in lovely colonial mansions, or along the seashore. TLC’s Sunday luncheon is held at Rosa Nautica, one of the most famous and romantic restaurants extending into the ocean.

Ocopa (boiled potatoes in a seasoned sauce of cheese and nuts), aji de gallina (shredded chicken in a spiced milk sauce) and rocoto relleno (meat-stuffed pepper) are typical dishes. Unlike much of South America, Peruvians generally eat at about the same time as North Americans, with lunch beginning at noon-1 pm and dinner at 7-8 pm. A late afternoon snack, called lonche, is often eaten around 5 pm. Restaurants typically open at noon and close at 11 pm.

Try the local drinks (except for the wine, which is not that good), the pisco sour, a cocktail made with Peru’s grape brandy, lemon juice, egg whites and sugar, is world famous. Mate de coca, an herbal tea brewed from coca leaves, is a popular energy booster and is said to relieve symptoms of altitude sickness. (It’s available free in many hotel lobbies.) Inca Kola has a very sweet, bubble-gum flavor that does not appeal to everyone.

Nightlife:

Nightlife in Peru is lively, particularly on weekends. Many cities offer penas and picanterias, restaurants with entertainment, which ranges from Andean song and dance to Latin rhythms such as salsa.

Cultural activities are as varied as opera and experimental theater, with listings in both Spanish and English in the local press. Many of the main festivals favor the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar. These are often celebrated with great pageantry, especially in highland Indian villages, where the Catholic feast day is usually linked with a traditional agricultural festival. Some of the major events include: Carnival (February-March), which is particularly popular in the highlands and features numerous water fights; Inti Raymi (June), the greatest of the Inca festivals with spectacular dances and parades; Peru’s Independence (July); All Souls Day (November), celebrated with gifts of food, drink and flowers which are taken to family graves; and Puno Day (November), which features flamboyant costumes and street dancing in Puno.

Shopping:

Visitors to Peru won’t have trouble finding places to shop: The main tourist centers all have markets. But Lima, as the country’s main port of entry and cosmopolitan center, and Cusco, as the former capital of Incan Peru and the current gateway for travel to Machhu Picchu, deserve special mention.

Lima: Has the biggest number of shops and selection of goods. The relatively upscale Miraflores district is popular with tourists, and hence has a wide selection of shops that carry handicrafts including ceramics, textiles, and carvings from all over Peru. There are also a few mini-malls of many stalls selling souvenirs, along with higher end shops that carry better silver jewelry and antiques. San Isidro is Lima’s other high-end district, and the capital’s other place to shop for higher end goods, especially silver.

Cuzco: Cuzco’s main tourist stalls are found in the Plaza de Armas. Look for wool and alpaca clothing, weavings, pottery, silver jewelry, and watercolor paintings featuring local landmarks and people.

Just outside Cuzco, in the hillside neighborhoods of San Blas, tourists can explore a picturesque neighborhood filled with artists’ studios and galleries. Some artists open their workshops and sell directly to visitors. There are also a number of shops and galleries featuring local crafts, paintings, and ceramics; the work here has a more original, less tourist-trinket feel. Also in the Cuzco area, the town of Pisac hosts a famed Sunday market that draws vendors from all over the surrounding region. Prices are reputed to be the lowest in Peru; certainly the market, located in the town center and spilling over into side streets, is one of the most vibrant.

  • Pottery comes in three basic styles: Copies of pre-Columbian artifacts, idiosyncratic and artistic modern renditions on ancient themes, and delicately painted bowls, plates, and cups with geometric designs. Note that it is illegal to export pre-Columbian artifacts (luggage is checked carefully at the airport). The painted pottery is extremely fragile, so pack it carefully in hand luggage.
  • Simple market-stall watercolor paintings depicting cobblestoned streets, local people, and Peru’ Inca ruins and landscapes are available for a few dollars. Framed, they make attractive mementos and gifts of a Peru vacation.
  • Silver necklaces, earrings, and rings are traditional Peruvian handicrafts. Also available are spoons and other silverware with decorative handles picturing llamas or the “tumi” a pre-Columbian symbol that looks like a mushroom, and represents the curved blade of the knife of a god.
  • Weavings can be large wall pieces or small dishcloths embroidered with pictures of local people, animals, and scenes. The style of a “stuffed wool weaving” originally from San Pedro de las Cajas is considered a traditional Peruvian technique.
  • Made of different colors of alpaca skins sewn together in geometric patterns, Alpaca rugs and throws make lovely gifts. They fold down into a surprisingly small package for travel.
  • Woodwork carvings feature local animals such as llamas, pumas, and condors are widely available, as are the traditional colorfully painted wooden flutes, Pan-flutes, and rain sticks.
  • Colorful rough woolen sweaters with striking geometric patterns cost around $10 – $20, depending on the traveler’s bargaining prowess. Some of the dyes are not colorfast, so sweaters should be dry-cleaned. The traditional woolen hats that come down over the ears are inexpensive (a couple of dollars), and are also useful in the cooler temperatures of Peru’s higher elevations.
  • Two drinks are characteristic of Peru. The sticky sweet and slightly medicinal tasting Inca Cola is ubiquitous, but most tourists don’t pick up a taste for it. Pisco, on the other hand – the liquor used in making the national cocktail, Pisco Sours — is another story. A bottle of it makes a nice gift.

BAGGAGE

Baggage rules for international and domestic air travel have changed much in recent years, differ from carrier to carrier and these days even may cover your on-board bags. Checking luggage may cost a separate fee or may be free depending on your personal status with the carrier. We therefore encourage you to read your ticket’s small print and/or contact your carrier for exact rules.

BAGGAGE FOR MACHU PICCHU TRAIN

  • Hand baggage must include those items that due to its significance; a traveler shall take along on board.
  • All hand luggage must be store in/on the compartments provided by PERURAIL for this purpose, that is why it is not allowed to exceed the regulations bellow:
    • 1 bag or backpack (5kg/11lb) measuring 62 inches/157 cm (length + height + width)
    • Baggage that exceed the measures will not be allowed
  • Blocking exits is prohibited by law. Hand baggage must not be placed on aisle, exit doors, emergency windows, or on the seats.
  • Hand baggage will be transported on board the train, under the passengers´ custody and liability.
  • In case passengers are staying in Sacred Valley before traveling to Machu Picchu, they can leave their baggage at the hotel and pack only a small backpack for Machu Picchu. The rest of the baggage and will be transported to Cusco.

TIPPING

A combination of taxes and service charges are added to bills in the best hotels and restaurants and can total as much as 28%.

The cheaper hotels and restaurants don’t add taxes. Tipping is not expected in budget restaurants. A tip of 10-15% is fine in up market restaurants if a service charge has not already been added to the bill. Taxi drivers are not tipped – bargain hard beforehand and stick to your price. Local guides should be tipped US$3-5 per day and driver $1 per day. Bargaining is a way of life in markets.

LAUNDRY

Laundry service is available at most hotels in the main centers. Generally you should allow 24 hours before the item is returned to you, however, some have an emergency service available at an extra charge.

PHOTOS & VIDEOS

In some countries you must refrain from photographing sites such as Military bases and industrial installations. Also be aware of cultural sensitivities when taking pictures of or near churches and other religious sites. It is always courteous to ask for permission before taking photographs of people.

USE OF DRONES 

The use of drones is being legislated by many countries. In some cases drones are already forbidden and their unauthorized use may carry severe penalties. If you plan to travel with a drone please contact the embassy or consulate of the country you wish to visit.

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