Hilary Bradt, founder of Bradt Travel Guides, reflects on the pros, cons and ultimate ambiguity surrounding cultural tourism.Read more...
Peru - Travel and visas
All visitors to Peru require a passport valid for at least six months after the end of their stay. Most nationalities, including those in the European Union, North and South America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, do not require a visa to enter the country though; visitors are allowed a 30- to 90-day stay.
This is stamped into your passport and onto a tourist card – an Andean Immigration Card or Tarjeta Andina de Migracion, which must be returned when you leave the country.
Ask for the maximum allocation upon arrival. If you lose this card you will be forced to queue up at the immigration office for a replacement. If you do require a visa, you will need a valid passport, a departure ticket from Peru, two colour passport photos, an application form and proof that you have sufficient funds to support yourself during your stay.
Thirty-day extensions can be obtained at immigration offices in major cities such as Arequipa, Cusco, Lima, Puerto Maldonado, Puno and Trujillo. Technically you can extend your stay three times, up to a maximum of 180 days in total.
After this you must leave the country but can cross back over the border immediately, at which point you will receive a new 90-day stay and the process begins again.
Lima is the focus point for arrivals. The main airport, Aeropuerto Internacional Jorge Chávez, is a major transport hub and has a mass of modern facilities. Direct flights from Europe originate in Amsterdam and Madrid. From other European cities, including London, connections must be made in one of these, or in gateways including Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Miami, Los Angeles and New York in the US. Airlines with routes to and from Peru include KLM (www.klm.com), Iberia (www.iberia.com.pe) and LAN (www.lan.com).
From the US, American (www.aa.com), Continental (www.continental.com) and Delta (www.delta.com) also fly routes to Lima. Air Canada (www.aircanada.com) flies to Lima from Toronto. Once in Lima there is an extensive network of domestic flights to a number of cities within Peru operated by airlines including LAN, StarPeru and Toca. Most popular is the flight from Lima to Cusco; if Cusco is your intended destination when flying to Peru, you are likely to land in Lima, where you’ll have to overnight, before continuing your journey the following day.
In terms of availability, public transport is excellent in Peru. Any village served by some sort of road will have some sort of vehicle running there on some sort of irregular schedule. In terms of quality on the major routes, it’s up to you whether to go for comfort or for cheapness.
These come in various shapes and sizes, from luxury vehicles speeding along the intercity routes to ramshackle affairs serving the rural villages. You can get luxurious buses on the well-travelled routes (mostly along the coast and on paved roads into the mountains) with video, toilet and reclining seats.
Make sure you buy a ticket with a well-known company where the buses mostly leave on time, stick with the route and don’t stop at every corner. The smaller bus companies never leave on time or cancel the scheduled departure altogether if there are not enough passengers.
Try to travel during the day for more comfort, safety and scenery. Also avoid long bus rides; break your journey. You’ll enjoy the trip much more, avoid problems with theft (most of which happens when you are tired), and arrive in better shape.
The cheaper buses have more character, and more sights and smells. The amount of fruit peel, paper, babies’ pee and vomit that the average Peruvian family can dispose of during a lengthy trip in the mountain region has to be seen to be believed.
All buses stop for meals, but not necessarily at mealtimes. Make sure you understand how long you will be stopping for, or the bus will leave without you. Better still, have your meal within sight of the driver.
Plenty of snacks are available from local vendors who will pour on to the bus and crowd round the windows at every village. Remember to fill your water bottle before you leave although soft drinks are usually available from vendors.
Your luggage will be lashed to the roof or, on bus routes along the coast, be stowed away in the luggage compartment. Either way, it will be inaccessible, so bring warm clothes and something to use as a pillow during night trips (those crescent-shaped inflatable neck pillows are ideal).
You’ll also need games or a book for entertainment during unexpected delays or breakdowns. Keep your passport on you for police checks, and watch your luggage like a hawk. Padlock small items to the luggage rack or seat. Robbery is common on buses, but by professional criminals not your fellow bus passengers. Checked luggage is safe: most bus companies have an effective security system to prevent someone else claiming your luggage.
Lorries/trucks form the backbone of public transport. Remote villages are served by trucks carrying cargo and a few passengers, but vehicles carrying only people run between the larger towns. In general, truck prices are roughly the same as cheap buses, although private colectivos or pick-up trucks will charge a bit more.
Although buses are more comfortable – and warmer – the views from an open truck are so fantastic that these should be your choice for short journeys through spectacular scenery. Although some trucks run to a schedule, most wait until they have collected enough passengers to make the trip worthwhile. Don’t be misled by the driver telling you he is leaving ahorita. His and your concept of ‘now’ will be different; you may wait for hours before he makes a move.
Remember, it is bitterly cold riding in an open truck in the Andes. Keep all your warm clothes (including gloves, cap and even your sleeping bag) handy, and carry your foam pad to cushion those bare boards. Not all trucks have a tarpaulin, so bring protection from rain and snow. It’s a good idea to strap your pack on to the side of the truck (inside) so that it’s neither trampled by other passengers, nor resting in a nice pool of oil or urine during the trip.
Protect it from the effluent of furred or feathered passengers by putting it in a strong bag such as a flour or rice sack (which can be purchased at any market). Bring something to eat and drink during long trips, although long-distance trucks, like buses, stop for meals.
Don’t take a truck at night unless you’re absolutely desperate and well prepared for freezing weather. Assume an afternoon departure will become an evening/night departure.
These are vans or cars which use the same routes as buses, but the long-distance ones are about double the price. This is because they are more comfortable and faster, but since they only leave when they are full there might be a long waiting time. The short-distance colectivos, mostly between towns, are the same price as (or a little more than) the buses. They are a comfortable option (if not filled up to the roof!) and very popular.
There is no shortage of taxis in Peru. If you can join up with other travellers to share the cost, and strike a good bargain with the driver, a taxi need cost little more than conventional transport and will save you a lot of time and effort – for example when you need to get to the trailhead and are carrying a heavy backpack. Save your energy for the hike.
Always settle the price beforehand and make sure the taxi is reasonably likely to make the journey without breaking down. Make sure, too, that the driver knows where you want to go (in the hiking areas most know the most popular trailheads) but don’t expect him to know how to read a map.
Although slower than buses, trains are a pleasant alternative – and the views are better. On the negative side, however, is the increased risk of theft. Professional teams work the most popular tourist trains and even experienced travellers can fall prey to their tricks.
Thieves commonly slash bags left under the seat or take them from the rack and throw them through the open window to an accomplice. Padlock your stuff to the luggage rack and try to team up with other travellers to watch each other’s luggage.
Train schedules are reduced or cancelled in the rainy season. You can usually buy a ticket the day before, and reserve a seat (but this still doesn’t guarantee that your seat will not be occupied!). It is worth going first class if you are carrying much baggage.
Second class throws you into the hub of local life and conversation but it is difficult to enjoy this if you are trying to watch your luggage, and a moment’s inattention may be fatal. You may also have to fight for a seat since they cannot be reserved.
In first class you are still exposed to plenty of local colour when vendors stream on to the train at stations, and some of the more well-to-do Peruvians (those that are likely to speak English) travel first class. Note, however, that first is not actually the best class.
The authorities have taken notice of the gringo fear of robbers and on some lines have provided them with a carriage protected from the incursion of any but the most respectable locals. Buffet- or tourist-class carriages have locked doors and only ticket holders are allowed on. There will be no vendors so no local colour, but you will be safer.