If you're planning to travel in Peru, you've probably done a lot of research on how to have a rewarding experience. But what should you avoid doing if you want to get the most out of your trip to Peru? Read on to see some top Peru travel "don'ts."
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 awful buses and even worse drivers. When hailing a taxi in Peru, pick a cab that looks modern, is in good condition and has obvious taxi signage. Unmarked “taxis,” incredibly old taxis and taxis decorated exclusively with dents are always best avoided.
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 generally pays off to at least do the basics. In Peru, for example, you should avoid drinking tap water and you should 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 a great idea 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. When you book a tour, don’t always settle for the cheapest option. A good tour, with a good guide, can be a truly memorable experience and potentially the highlight of your trip. Many travelers, for example, come to Peru specifically to hike the Inca Trail; in that case, 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 has a growing international reputation and there are many fine dishes to try during your stay. But you won’t necessarily have a great culinary experience if you always stick to the cheapest restaurants (which can be very cheap). In other words, treat yourself occasionally and go to an upscale restaurant, even if you’re on a super-tight budget. Certain classic dishes, like cuy (guinea pig), reach an entirely different standard when you pay a few dollars more. Oh, and if for some bizarre reason you want to go to an international fast food chain like MacDonald’s or KFC, remember they're not that cheap by Peruvian standards (and... well... you're in Peru, so why bother?).
Don’t Just Go to Machu Picchu
Many people come to Peru just to visit Machu Picchu and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But if you have the time, try to visit somewhere other than Cusco and Machu Picchu. 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. One other thing: don’t forget that 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 local population. This could involve classic tourist no-nos like trying to speak loudly in English to a Spanish-speaking Peruvian, all the while getting more and more frustrated at the monolinguist's complete failure to understand your foreign words. Other tourists, meanwhile, are just generally arrogant and annoying. If you want to criticize Peru -- be it the people, the food, the transport or whatever -- either keep it to yourself or make your point in a reasoned and ideally lighthearted manner. Being grumpy, negative or angry won’t get you very far. And when you are taking photos in Peru, try not to be too intrusive.
Don’t Forget Basic Security Advice
There are some basic security tips that -- if followed -- will serve you well in Peru. Ignoring them won’t mean certain disaster, but it will increase the chances of something bad happening, be it a relatively insignificant and opportunistic theft or something far more serious. There are two key aspects to staying safe in Peru or anywhere else: don’t be too quick to trust anyone, especially when approached by a stranger, and never ignore your instincts.
Don’t Take Photos Without Asking
If you want to take a photo of an individual or a small group of people, always ask beforehand. If you don’t, your unwilling subject(s) 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. You should also exercise restraint in churches and other religious buildings; find out if photography is allowed and always be respectful of worshippers within the church or cathedral (and remember to remove your hat upon entering).
Don’t Lose Your Cool with Local Authorities
Many Peruvian police officials are poorly paid and poorly trained. It can be frustrating dealing with them, even during routine car or bus inspections. The process is often slow, pedantic and, at times, unnecessarily overbearing. 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). It’s your call, obviously, but the easiest way to avoid potentially traumatic drug-related hassle is to steer well clear of drugs in Peru.
Don’t Be Afraid to Haggle
If you like to shop and you like to pay a fair price, 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.
Don’t Be Too Easily Swayed by Sex, Lust, or Love
Holiday romances, whirlwind one-night stands, seedy sessions in pay-per-hour hotels: they all carry their own risks. You certainly don’t need to be prudish in Peru, but exercise caution and treat your Peruvian hosts with respect. Remember that STIs and unscrupulous partners still exist even while you're on vacation. Falling in love, meanwhile, can seriously alter your travel plans!