I traveled to Peru in the summer (actually: the winter there). I visited several cities in the center and the south of the country. Next to all the things I discovered in Peru, these things were what I would call unexpected:
The power of the dollar
Soles is the local currency, but Peru knows that most tourists carry dollars. The US dollar is not only accepted as currency, but most ATM’s allow to withdraw in Soles, as well as in Dollars. When paying in US Dollar however, there will be a change fee added to the bill. Not unusual in most countries in South America.
Also note the lack of change, even in government locations. When I bought my ticket to access Machu Picchu for 128 Soles, I paid the woman 130. Let it be a try to get a tip (yep, government employees, this is after all Peru), but those 2 soles were hard to return. When buying a ticket for an archeological site in Cusco, I had to wait till a next customer would pay using a 10 Soles bill, so that could be returned to me.
Peru has no grip on sustainable tourism
I’m writing a larger article about this, so keep an eye out for the updates. But the lack of management for some of world’s most incredible archeological sites is unbelievable.
Every car can be a taxi
The absolute minimum for a taxi in Peru is having wheels and a propulsion system. All other items, such as actually closing doors, seat belts and so on, are optional.
Also unexpected in Peru to me, was that they did not collide more often. The drivers know their cars and the road pretty well, but are all convinced they have the right of way, everywhere.
My Spanish is rather limited. Most drivers where willing to engage in a conversation with me. Their limited English combined with my limited Spanish, some French and a lot of hand-signs. Actually, it did not felt too safe when the drivers started explaining things with both hands, while facing the Peruvian traffic.
When using any type of taxi in Peru (as in most places in the world where meters aren’t present), make sure you discuss and agree on the price before the ride starts. Beware that the price is for the full ride (and not per person) and that the driver will not charge extra for luggage. I’ve met several travelers who had huge discussions at the end of the ride after failing to have this easy conversation.
Seen the safety (or lack thereof) in the city of Lima, I decided to stick to Uber there, or use taxis and cars ordered by the restaurant where I was. Hailing a cab in Lima is, as I’ve been told by locals, a very dangerous activity for gringos. Numerous stories go around explaining how these taxis take people to an ATM, forcing them to withdraw cash and hand it over.
Cigarettes in the hotel minibar
Admitted, since I live in the city where smoking is not allowed in the parks, my judgment might be clouded. But it still came as a surprise to find a pack of cigarettes in the first hotel where I checked in. Peru has some very strict laws on smoking in public areas, but the amount of smokers I met showed that they are nowhere near the results that smoking ban laws had in Europe and North America.
And, as unexpected in Peru that was, I wasn’t tempted to restart smoking!
The mosquitos and other biting insects are the real wildlife
While I’m writing this, I’m using the third tube of bite calming medicine. It took just one small walk in Aguas Calientes to transform my legs in a collection of insect bites. Wearing a short, and no repellent are a mistake. I had read about how fast it happens here and how you don’t feel it at first. And it’s all very trough. So there’s only one rule when you’re out in Peru: get that repellent out and keep it handy the trip. I should have known better. But this came as unexpected in Peru as I would have imagined. The repellent now has it’s place (with the sun screen) in the easiest accessible compartment of my backpack.
Oh, and did you know that scotch tape helps to avoid the scratching in your sleep? At least, that’s what some of my friends told me when I discussed my being bitten issue. Hairy beasts such as me don’t have much help from this. Not only is it less effective, it ends up being a painful hair-removal situation in the morning…
When out, and in need of an immediate itching relief from these bites: hand sanitation is actually a pretty good help in the treatment of these, I found out.
Machu Picchu can not be described or photographed and done justice
It’s overwhelming. It’s large. The site is magnificent. The mountains surrounding it are impressive. There’s no way I could bring back an image that does this all justice. I’ll post the ones I made here on my blog. For now I give you the postcard-cliche I shot above.