10 things I loved about Peru (and 5 I didn't!)
Charlotte studies Arabic and Spanish at Durham University. She spent 4 months volunteering as an English language teaching assistant in Peru, and is currently studying Arabic for 6 months in Oman. These are her ten favourite things about the home of Machu Picchu! For more on Peru and Oman, read Charlotte's blog.
1. The natural beauty: mountains, sea, sand, and jungle
Peru is split into three main geographic areas: coast, highlands and jungle. All three are beautiful in their own way, and you have to visit all three to get a real feel for the country.
I started off my placement in Arequipa, a highland area with active volcanoes towering over the city. It was beautiful to wake up each morning and see the famous Misti volcano out of the window. The highlands offer stunning views and great hiking opportunities. Just watch out for altitude sickness! I lived in Lima for the majority of my time in Peru, which is located on the coastline. This means that the coastal fog does make the winter season a gloomy one, but in the summer the beaches are wonderful!
If you’re brave enough, you can also do paragliding in the Miraflores region of Lima, which gives you a great view of the beach below. There are also desert areas which add to the diversity of this beautiful country.
Finally, I can’t forget to mention the jungle, with its vast array of wildlife, hot weather, and stunning scenery. I visited Tarapoto, a jungle region in the north of Peru, and was struck by the beauty of the place. It’s not deep in the Amazon jungle, but you can still see the green backdrop, crashing waterfalls, and some of the many species of wildlife present in the jungle. Life in the jungle is at a slower pace to that of Lima, and it’s nice to sit and watch the tuk tuks zoom by with a cocktail in hand, surrounded by greenery.
2. The Nightlife
If you love British/American club music and dancing that consists of shuffling from foot to foot with the occasional hand in the air, then you might not enjoy the Peruvian nightlife (although I’m sure you could find a club like that somewhere). However, if you like shaking your hips like Shakira to Latin club music all night long, then it’s probably your cup of tea. If you want to brush up on your salsa, bachata, or the likes, then this is the place to be! Also, the drinks are generally cheap in comparison to the UK, and you can find some very tasty cocktails. Try Calle de Las Pizzas in Miraflores or the Barranco district for bars and clubs in Lima, and look out for those free Pisco Sours (which I’ll talk about later).
3. The markets
There are markets everywhere in Peru, and you can find just about anything in them: clothes, fresh fruit (that you’ve probably never heard of before), meats, handicrafts, medicinal herbs, etc. … They are well worth a visit (or two) and great places to find souvenirs and gifts to bring back to friends and family. You can barter for a lower price and remember to ask for the yapa, a little something extra from the vendor to the buyer as a gift.
4. Machu Picchu (and lots of other exciting tourist places)
Of course, you can’t really go to Peru and not visit the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. They are breath-taking, even in thick fog, and the history behind them is fascinating. Make sure to explore Cusco before you go to Machu Picchu as it too boasts lots of interesting historical artefacts and tourist attractions.
In Arequipa, the Santa Catalina monastery with its blue and red walls is a must-visit destination if you find yourself in the city. Scattered around the country are beautiful churches and other pieces of architecture, so just go out and explore!
5. The people
From my experience, Peruvians are very friendly and welcoming people, and always happy to let you practise Spanish with them. Family is highly valued, and so is having a good time! Of course there is good and bad in every society, but overall I had a very pleasant experience in Peru. I learnt a lot from just chatting with people, and they were all interested to learn more about my own country and culture.
6. The Pisco Sour (and other Peruvian delicacies)
Food and drink is obviously a very important part of the year abroad, and Peru didn’t disappoint. Each region has its own dishes, and drinks, and it’s probably impossible to try them all, but you should definitely give it a go!
The jungle region has lots of banana-based dishes which are very tasty. In general, Peruvians eat a lot of potatoes, and take pride in the hundreds of potato varieties that the country has to offer. My host mother once told me that I was ‘more Peruvian than the potato’. I’ll take that as a compliment!
The coast is famous for its cheviche, raw fish marinated in citric juices, among other sea food dishes. I also tried cuy, guinea pig, which was served whole, teeth and all. It was actually very tasty!
My favourite ‘Peruvian’ food would have to be chifa, a mix of Peruvian and Chinese food. I can’t name even a handful of the typical foods found in Peru, but I can tell you that they are (mostly) delicious!
Finally, Pisco Sour is the national alcoholic drink and is made from key lime juice, egg whites and a few other ingredients. It is a wonderful-tasting drink, and also quite strong…
7. Lima and all of its craziness
The capital city, with its population of nearly 10 million people, is a bustling, lively and diverse area where there is always something to do, whatever your tastes. I am a countryside girl, and this was my first experience of living in a big city. Although it was intimidating at first, I soon became accustomed to the noise of traffic, the large volume of people in the streets, and the sheer size of the city. Once I got used to it all, I started to venture out of the apartment and see the sights and things that the city has to offer. The plaza de armas (the main square) is surrounded by the impressive cathedral and government palace. The coastline offers lots of pretty parks, and there are so many activities to take part in, including exercising with the outdoor gym equipment overlooking the sea. I loved the endless opportunities that Lima had to offer, and it converted this country girl into a (bit of) a city girl.
8. The slang
I love Spanish; it is, of course, a big part of my degree. However, I love Peruvian Spanish more. It’s rich in slang, and varies greatly from region to region. I learnt lots of slang words from my host families, and they thought that it was hilarious when I used it myself. But it is especially useful when talking to younger Peruvians, and will make you seem that little bit more impressive when you talk to them. There are a couple of great Peruvian slang dictionaries on the Kindle store that you can purchase before arriving. There is a slang word for every occasion so get creative!
9. The celebrations
Peruvians love the chance to celebrate, and there are many opportunities throughout the year! During my second week teaching in Arequipa, the city was celebrating Arequipa day (which lasted about a week). The school in which I was teaching went into full festivities and there was music, food, and, looking back on it, not many lessons. Their love for their country is clear and even I started to feel pride each time something was celebrated. As Peru is a predominantly Catholic country there are lots of religious celebrations throughout the year too, which are interesting to experience whatever your beliefs might be.
10. The mix of cultures
It’s not just geographical diversity that is present in Peru. Because of its rich history, the country is made up of a mix of cultures. There are colonial Hispanic influences, indigenous influences, and influences from other peoples that immigrated to Peru in the past. In fact, Spanish is not the only language widely spoken in Peru; you will also hear Quechua and Aymara, indigenous languages, spoken mostly in, but not limited to, the rural areas. The rich mix of cultures make living in Peru all that more interesting (and surprising) at times.
And here are some of the things I didn’t like so much (it was hard to come up with 5!)
1. Peruvian time (aka ‘not on time’)
I’m a punctual person. Or at least I was before my Year Abroad started… I used to arrive five minutes before the scheduled time just to be sure I wasn’t late. However, my British love for punctuality was definitely tested in Peru. It was frustrating when people were late to events, and when I waited on the corner of a street for someone to arrive who said they’d be there an hour or two before. But, this is all part of the Year Abroad experience; understanding and participating in others’ culture. I’ll probably go back to punctuality once I get back to the UK though…
2. Feeling unsafe in the capital
Lima is not known for its safety, especially in particular areas. I was constantly checking my bag, and tried to be aware of my surroundings at all times. Taking public transport can be uncomfortable for a foreign girl and you should avoid it at night-time. Petty crime is very common, and foreigners are usually the victims. It is essential to keep your bag close by your side, and if possible not to carry any valuable items with you that you don’t need. I was lucky enough to not to experience any crime personally, but one of my (Peruvian) friends got her bag with all of its contents stolen on a night out. Taking taxis is also something which should be done with care in Lima. Never hail a taxi, as there are many bogus ones driving around. Instead call one from a reputable company or use ‘EasyTaxi’, a useful phone app that rings a safe taxi for you.
3. Stray dogs
I am a dog person, and in Peru you see a lot of dogs. But a lot of these dogs will be strays, and most are malnourished and sickly-looking, which made me sad whenever I saw them (which was often). It is just something that you have to accept, and try not to let it get to you too much if you are an animal person, like me. As much as you dream up an animal shelter to take them all in, it’s most likely not going to happen, unfortunately.
4. Too much rice!
Despite Peru’s wide variety of foods, I ate so much rice. Sometimes twice a day. As nice as rice can be, it soon gets boring (and fattening!). You can avoid this if you are not living with a host family; if you are, you just have to get on with it. When I went home for Christmas and my mum didn’t cook rice at all, I actually kinda started to miss it…
5. Lima’s winter weather
Peru is hot, they said. You won’t need winter clothes, they said. Not entirely true. Lima in winter is not pleasant, so bring clothes for cold, cloudy days. Because of its geographic location, there is a constant blanket of thick fog every day during the winter season, and this can be depressing. Wrap up warm, and try to look forward to summer!