Spanish Phrases You Need to Know in Peru

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La bienvenida a Perú! (That's how to say "welcome to Peru" in Spanish, for the uninitiated). Before you set foot on Peruvian soil, even if you don't speak Español, it’s a good idea to know the basic etiquette behind greetings and introductions.

Formal Greetings

Being overly polite is preferable, so stick with formal greetings if you have any doubts. They are easy enough to remember, you just need to use them at the correct time of day:

  • Buenos días — Good day or good morning. Used from morning until midday.
  • Buenas tardes — Good afternoon or good evening. Used from midday until nightfall.
  • Buenas noches — Good night. Used at night as both a greeting and as a way of saying goodbye in Peru.

Peruvians are particularly polite when speaking to their elders, so bear that in mind as a basic rule. You should also use formal greetings when addressing people of authority, such as police officers and border officials. For extra politeness, tag on a señor when addressing men or señora for women (i.e., “Buenos días, señor.")

Formal greetings aside, it’s not uncommon to hear Peruvians using a quick “Buenas!” as a greeting without the time of day attached. While that’s fine among friends and acquaintances, try to use the full version when addressing strangers.

Saying Hello

A simple hola is the standard way of saying hello in Peru. It’s friendly but informal, so stick with formal greetings when addressing elders and authority figures. You can add a little color to the standard hola with some informal phrases such as:

  • ¿Cómo estás? — How are you?
  • ¿Qué tal? — What’s up?
  • ¿Como va? — How’s it going?

Just keep in mind, it’s not strictly correct to use hola when answering the phone. Instead, you should say aló as you take the call.

Physical Gestures and Introductions

Peruvian greetings and introductions are generally accompanied by a handshake or a kiss on the cheek. A firm handshake is customary between men, while a kiss is standard practice in most other situations. Peruvians kiss each other once on the right cheek. Kissing on both cheeks is unusual, so keep it nice and simple.

Handshakes and cheek kisses are particularly important during formal introductions. In such circumstances, you can also say, "mucho gusto" or "it’s a pleasure to meet you."

As a rule, limit your handshakes and kisses to social situations. Apart from a smile, you don’t need to use any physical gestures in the day-to-day, non-social situations. These include interactions with shopkeepers, taxi drivers, government workers, and anyone else working in a service capacity (although an introductory handshake might be a nice touch).

Greetings in Quechua and Aymara

More than 80% of Peruvians speak Spanish as their first language, but you will probably hear both Quechua and Aymara in the Andean highlands and around Lake Titicaca. Here are some basic greetings in both languages.

Quechua greetings:

  • Rimaykullayki — Hello
  • Napaykullayki — Hi
  • Allillanchu? — How are you? (formal)
  • Imaynan kashianki? — How are you? (informal)

Aymara greetings:

  • Kamisaraki — Hello
  • Kunjamaskatasa? — How are you?