Driving offers a certain amount of freedom on any trip, especially the ability to set your own schedule and choose a route that lets you experience the most out of your trip. If you are going to Peru in South America, the country is home to hundreds of miles of open roads that offer locals and tourists alike breathtaking views of the countryside. However, driving can be challenging, as others behind the wheel are often described as aggressive, and the city streets are bustling with traffic almost constantly during the day.
Scammers are another unfortunate part of the system. While some roads are in nice condition, others have inadequate signage and are poorly-maintained, so it is helpful to investigate your route in advance and be familiar with how you'll arrive at your destination. This guide will provide you with the necessary information for driving legally and safely as well as what you can expect from other drivers on the road so that you have a smooth trip.
It's mandatory that you are 18 years of age to drive in Peru, and carry with you proof of your car insurance; a minimum of third party insurance is required. Plus you'll need to have your valid driver license from home, along with your International Driving Permit (IDP), if you choose to get one. Don't forget to have your valid passport with you at all times.
A driver’s license from your own home country is sufficient for renting a car. An IDP is only required if you’ll be driving in Peru for more than 30 days or are planning to drive frequently in the country. The IDP is valid for one year—negating the need for a Peruvian driver's license after six months. They are not, however, a replacement for a driver’s license, as the document acts only as an authorized translation of a driver's home license. In the United States, the only place to get an IDP is at Automobile Association of America(AAA) offices.
An IDP offers many benefits compared to just bringing your passport and driver's license. Primarily, it's helpful when dealing with stubborn, ill-informed, or possibly corrupt police officials—some of which may try to take advantage of international travelers—and proving the validity of your original license. Additionally, since the IDP is written in multiple languages, it's easier for Peruvian officials to understand the document.
Rules of the Road
While some things will be very different to what you experience driving at home, there will be some similarities driving in Peru. For example, driving is on the right side of the road, like in the U.S.
- Speed limits: In general, drivers are permitted to drive at speeds up to 90 kilometers/hour (56 miles/hour) on open roads, 50 kilometers/hour in towns (31 miles/hour), and 100 kilometers/hour (62 miles/hour) on motorways. Additionally, traffic cameras have been in place since 2018 to ticket speeding drivers even when officers aren't around, so you should never exceed the speed limit.
- Cell phones: It is against the law to talk or text on a cell phone while driving in Peru, unless you have a hands-free phone. Unfortunately, many people don't abide by the law.
- Seat belts: Every passenger in a moving car in Peru must be properly secured with seat belts, whether in the front or rear seat of the car.
- Children in the vehicle: You must use child safety seats in the back seat of the vehicle for children 3 years old and younger. It is mandatory that any kids under the age of 12 wear seat belts in the back seats.
- Drinking and driving: Drivers may have no more than 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood. Just one drink can take you over the limit so in addition to not driving under the influence for obvious safety reasons, it’s best to completely avoid drinking and driving.
- Driving at night: Once it is dark outside, driving in Peru is not recommended. The conditions are not ideal, and you'll encounter trucks not properly lit and buses speeding along.
- Honking horns: Horns are used liberally both in the city and the countryside—but especially around blind mountain turns or to alert other drivers—which could add stress to your driving adventure.
- Gas stations: Gas or petrol stations (grifos) are not as frequently-seen as you may be used to. When filling up your tank at a gas station, make sure the meter starts at zero.
- Vehicle theft: Unfortunately, people stealing cars is common, so it is not a good idea to park your car on the street if you are spending the night somewhere. Parking in a lot with a guard would be safer, and some hotels offer this service.
- In case of emergency: Dial 105 for the National Police emergency number; you can also use 911 in Peru for emergency services. For a medical emergency requiring an ambulance, call 106.
Renting a Car
To rent a car in Peru, drivers usually must be over 25 years of age, though it may vary by rental company—the minimum age is 23 for most companies, and drivers need to have at least a year’s experience of driving. Those under 25 probably have to pay extra costs. There are various rental agencies across the country, mainly in the big cities, and they are known to be expensive, but as prices drop, more tourists are taking to the roads of Peru. Traveling in bigger groups is one way to save on costs, from sales tax to gas to insurance.
If you do want to rent a car, it would be more relaxing to do so outside of hectic Lima. Ensure that you are familiar with everything you are signing on the rental agreement and have a credit card with you. In jungle towns, you can rent a motorcycle for quick trips.
Dealing With Peruvian Transit Police and Scammers
Peruvian transit police, which must wear uniforms and display their identification cards on their chests, can be difficult to deal with, especially when they are sniffing out a potential fine (legitimate or otherwise) or a bribe.
While it's important to be compliant when dealing with traffic officers, you should also be aware that Peru has many scammers posing as officers as well as many officers who are themselves corrupt. For this reason, international drivers should be aware of what officers are supposed to look like and what they can legally do during a traffic stop. If you have contact with police at random checkpoints and border crossings, typically police or military will conduct thorough document checks. Unless you are carrying drugs (a very bad idea) or doing something illegal, usually you will just find this stop to be an inconvenience.
Traffic officers are not allowed to keep your personal identification or vehicle documents and must write a written ticket for a traffic violation. According to the U.S. Department of States' Bureau of Consular Affairs, you should never offer or agree to pay money to traffic officers directly, as the ticket issued to you should include a fine amount, the offense committed, and where to pay the fine.
Helpful Phrases in Spanish
Since English is not usually spoken outside of tourist areas, it is helpful to familiarize yourself with some Spanish phrases before arriving in Peru. Many locals also speak indigenous languages like Quechua and Aymara.
A few key phrases that may make your driving experience easier include:
I am lost: Estoy perdido (man)/perdida (woman)
How do I get to __? Como puedo llegar a __?
Help me!: ¡Socorro!
I need a doctor: Necesito un doctor
Where is the tourism police?: ¿Dónde está la oficina de la Policía de Turismo?
I have an emergency: Tengo una emergencia
To the right: A la derecha
To the left: A la izquierda
Detour: El desvío
Stop (noun): Parada