Peru is having a major moment right now, attracting 4 million travelers per year. Tourism numbers have quadrupled over the past two decades and still, people continue to flood into this South American country for ceviche and Machu Picchu. It's no wonder why Peru has become such a popular destination and, yes, it's perfectly safe to visit. But first, there are some things you should know not to do.
Don’t Take Cheap Buses and Dubious Taxis
Transport accidents are woefully common in Peru, a country plagued by careless drivers and poor road conditions. As a rule, bus travel in Peru is safest if you go with the best bus companies. Spending 60 nuevos soles to travel with a company like Cruz del Sur or Ormeño is a far better deal than paying 35 soles to an antiquated company with rickety buses and unreliable drivers. When hailing a taxi in Peru, pick a cab that looks modern, is in good condition, and has obvious signage.
Don’t Be Too Relaxed About Health Concerns
It’s easy to have a slightly blasé attitude toward certain health concerns when you’re traveling, but it pays off to at least do the basics. For example, you should avoid drinking tap water and treat altitude sickness with respect. Most importantly, you should have all the recommended vaccinations for Peru.
Don’t Always Book the Cheapest Tours
It's usually best to avoid tours when a site or attraction can be explored independently. There are situations, however, when a tour — or at least a guide — offers a far more rewarding experience. If you plan to hike the Inca Trail, for example, then spend a little extra and go with one of the best Inca Trail operators in Peru.
Don’t Be Too Frugal When it Comes to Food
Peruvian cuisine can be wildly cheap, but if you treat yourself to an upscale restaurant every once in awhile, you'll realize just how delicious it can be. Popular dishes include cuy (guinea pig), aji de gallina (chicken), causa (potato casserole), and ceviche. Keep in mind that fast food establishments like McDonald's and KFC are actually not that cheap by Peruvian standards.
Don’t Just Go to Machu Picchu
Many people come to Peru just to visit Machu Picchu and while there's nothing at all wrong with that, tourists should branch out if they have the time. Ideally, hit a coastal city and visit the Peruvian Amazon to compliment your time in the Andean highlands. Each of Peru’s three geographic regions (coast, highland, and jungle) has its own character and culture. The Peruvian capital is also a fascinating destination. It may not have the best reputation, but there are plenty of things to see and do in Lima.
Don’t Annoy the Locals
Some tourists, whether deliberately or not, have a talent for seriously irritating the locals. This could involve classic tourist faux pas like speaking loudly in English to a Spanish-speaking Peruvian, all the while getting frustrated at their failure to comprehend. Being grumpy, negative, or angry won’t get you very far here. Be respectful, keep your criticism to yourself, and try not to be intrusive when you're taking a photo.
Don’t Take Photos Without Asking
Speaking of photos: If you want to take a photo of an individual or a group of people, always ask beforehand. If you don’t, your unwilling subject may well start shouting at you, perhaps with a financial compensation in mind. You should also be wary when photographing police or military personnel, as well as their respective buildings and installations. Always find out in advance if photography is permitted (especially in churches and other religious buildings).
Don’t Always Trust the Local Authorities
Many Peruvian police officials are poorly paid and poorly trained. Some border officials are equally haughty, making the border crossing process needlessly troublesome. Whenever you are faced with government officials or local authorities, always try to remain calm no matter how bureaucratic or frustrating the situation becomes. Police corruption, particularly the acceptance of bribes, is also common. In some cases, a police official may expect a bribe (especially for traffic violations, real or otherwise).
Don’t Buy Drugs
On paper, Peru’s drug laws may seem lenient. In reality, poorly trained or just plain corrupt police officials might hold you against your will — and possibly intimidate or mistreat you — for even a hint of drug-related activity (including possession of certain drugs in supposedly legal quantities). The easiest way to avoid potentially traumatic drug-related hassle is to steer well clear of drugs in Peru. Keep in mind that although it's legal to possess a certain amount of marijuana, you can still be penalized for it.
Don’t Be Afraid to Haggle
If you like to shop, then don’t be afraid to haggle. Peru is a haggling nation, so don’t always accept the first price given. This is especially true in touristy markets and souvenir stands. The same applies for taxi and mototaxi fares (not buses), with most drivers giving you an inflated price when first asked. Foreign tourists are prime targets for inflated prices, so always ask first and be prepared to haggle to a certain extent.