Spend a bit of time in Peru, and you’ll come to realise that there are three distinct lands here, and each of them has their own stories to tell.
Most people will first arrive in the flatlands that stretch along the enormous western coast, where the capital Lima is located and where the continents earliest civilisations emerged.
Then, heading up into the mighty Andes mountain range, you’ll find some of the most iconic sites in the country – like Machu Picchu, of course, but also the remains of other fascinating cultures, as well as some of the most dramatic landscapes of Peru.
And down the other side of the Andes, the Amazon awaits for the most adventurous travellers. The thick and untouched jungle offers countless opportunities to explore away from the crowds and come face-to-face with nature.
Peru is vast – much larger than most people realise – and there is so much to see and do here. It’s almost impossible to fit everything into one trip, which is why many travellers just focus on the highlights, but trust me when I tell you that it’s worth giving yourself time to see more than just the famous landmarks of Peru.
Because of the extreme variety of landscapes in Peru, the optimal time of year to visit each of them is slightly different. Generally winter (June to August) is the most popular because it’s dry in the mountains, which is great for trekking and visiting the Incan sights. But it’s also busy, and so I would recommend visiting in September or October instead, if possible.
Summer time (December to February) is wet in the Amazon and in the mountains (the Inca Trail closes), but it’s a great time to explore the coast and enjoy the beaches, plus you’ll find the cities a bit quieter.
But the shoulder season from March to April is the quietest part of the year and you can pick up some good deals. As the weather improves, it can be quite nice to explore all the different regions before the winter crowds start to arrive.
When it comes to safety, Peru is like many of the western South American countries. Generally, it’s relatively safe in the busy traveller areas because tourism is such an important business that authorities make an effort.
However, there’s still a fair amount of petty crime and you need to be careful with your belongings and not wander off alone down dark alleys. I would definitely recommend taking some precautions, but also don’t spend your whole time stressed about major crime.
The currency is the sol, usually written as S/.
Peru uses the A power plug (like the US), and sometimes the C (like the EU).
The main language is Spanish and it’s worth knowing some basic phrases.
It may be worth considering taking a tour for some parts of your time in Peru because transportation can be a bit tricky to some of the sights, and you’ll need support if you’re doing any long hikes or planning to tackle the Inca Trail, for instance.
But getting between the main cities of Peru is really easy with fast and comfortable tourist buses travelling regularly along the popular routes. The drives can be long, but there are usually overnight options so you don’t have to waste a day just sitting on a bus.
Because of the large distances, you may consider flying to some of Peru’s popular destinations, particularly into the Amazon (there is no road connection to Iquitos, for instance) but I would recommend booking these flights in advance.
Generally, though, you’ll find people to be helpful and there’s a fair bit of information if you’re sticking to the more-travelled tourist trails.
It’s hard to do everything in Peru in just one trip, unless you’ve got lots of time. But getting off the typical trail to see some of these sights opens up a whole different part of this fascinating country.