Peru is an incredible country, full of astonishing landscapes, welcoming people, and delicious food. However, like all countries, it has its little quirks which, as a visitor, can take some getting used to.
Here are 25 things I had to adjust to whilst living in Peru! Hopefully, knowing these before you go will help reduce the culture shock a little and prepare you for a brilliant adventure.
- You cannot flush toilet paper, nope never. You have to put toilet paper into small bins next to the toilet. Forget this at your peril – nobody likes a blocked loo!
- In Northern Peru, much of the landscape is a coastal desert, meaning it very rarely rains. Therefore, you’ll find, in these regions, many establishments lack a full or proper roof. So be prepared for people to really freak out when it starts raining. Coming from England, rain is part of everyday life, but in Huanchaco, it struck genuine fear into the hearts of grown adults!
- If you are eating in a restaurant or cafe, do not politely wait for your companion’s meals to come out, especially if you are in a large group. Many of the smaller establishments are family run and therefore the kitchen is run by one or two people cooking on a normal stove. Therefore, it is quite commonplace for somebody’s entire meal to have been served before your starter arrives!
- Also with regards to eating, you’d better practice your fork skills! In Peru, using a knife to eat with is virtually unheard of and some restaurants will not even provide you with one!
- If it’s your birthday whilst you’re in Peru, be warned. It is traditional to crack a raw egg over someone’s head on their birthday. Don’t ask, I have no idea why!
- On the subject of egg, the national drink of Peru is ‘Pisco Sour’ which is made with pisco, lemon, and raw egg whites. Despite the fact that this sounds pretty disgusting, it is actually delicious. However, if you’re still skeptical, there are plenty of other pisco-based drinks for you to try!
- A fun little language trope that I learned from the surfers in Huanchaco. If somebody calls you ‘Calificas’ you may be flattered as this translates to ‘qualified’. However, don’t look too pleased – this means the equivalent of ‘loser’ in English!
- Like in many countries, Peruvian people like to kiss on the cheek as a greeting. Unlike many European countries, however, this is just one kiss coupled with a handshake, not a kiss on either cheek.
- One thing which absolutely blew me away was the sheer number of banana varieties. You may want to be careful here, some kinds are more similar to plantain and really need to be cooked before being eaten. I would recommend the tiny bananas – they are super sweet!
- The public transport system in Peru is absolutely wild! Buses are not publicly owned, so anyone can buy a bus or minibus and ‘buy’ a route from the local authority. There are no bus stops, the ‘autos’ as they are known, simply drive along the street whilst someone yells the destination or route. If it’s your bus, you simply flag it down and it stops as close to you as possible!
- On the subject of buses, be prepared to get up close and personal with other passengers. There’s no such thing as a capacity limit and they will keep on loading far beyond the point where you think it’s impossible to fit anyone else on board. I had one rather uncomfortable experience sitting on a stranger’s lap! If this sounds like too much, don’t worry because taxis are pretty cheap!
- Speaking of taxis – do not expect these to have seatbelts. Also, be prepared for them to still be loaded above capacity. If you are a group with more people than the taxi has seats, never fear! Taxi drivers are more than happy to load more than one person to a seat and I even had one interesting drive in the boot!
- Another interesting form of transport in Peru is the moto-taxi. These are basically like a tuk-tuk – a small wheeled carriage attached to the back of a motorbike. They are generally cheaper than taxis but again, do not expect them to be on top of their safety features!
- If you’re a carb lover, then Peru is the place for you. Every meal will come with at least two different carbohydrates. You will experience pasta dishes with potatoes, soups containing potatoes and rice (probably also served with bread), and stir fry dishes with a side of rice. It’s no surprise really, they’re cheap and they’re filling!
- Interestingly, despite being a very Catholic country, Halloween is celebrated in a big way in Peru. Dressing up is a must and it’s one of the biggest nights out of the year. So, if you’re visiting in October, prepare to get spooky!
- Another interesting birthday fact. Cakes are a huuuuuge deal! All over Peru, you will see bakeries with the most beautifully decorated cakes and everyone will have one on their birthday!
- Something rather strange you are likely to see in Peru is dogs on rooves. It is quite uncommon for houses to have their own private gardens so the solution – put dogs on the roof to get them outdoors. This can be a bit of a surprise when you’re walking down a street and suddenly hear a torrent of barking from above!
- Sadly, it is also very common to see stray dogs in Peru so be prepared for this. However, if a dog is wandering the streets, don’t automatically assume it is a stray! For the same reason as above, many people allow their dogs to roam free on the streets during the day and call them back at night!
- Back to road safety, it is pretty common to see multiple people – up to whole families (including their pets) all riding a motorbike at once. I had multiple children picked up from school on motorbikes by their mum, dad, dog, and siblings!
- Compared to entire families on motorbikes, it may seem a no-brainer that very few cars have seatbelts. If you find a taxi that does have these in place, then you’ve really hit the jackpot.
- Seatbelts would really be handy, as there seems to be virtually no road rules in Peru whatsoever! If you are planning to drive at all in Peru, be prepared to experience some pretty dodgy road conditions. One of the wildest things I saw, was that people joining roundabouts have right of way, so people will actually stop on the roundabout to let you on!
- Beer is a staple in Peru. Particularly in the Trujillo region where ‘Trujillo’ is the beer of choice. You can pick up a bottle in any bodega but be aware if you want to drink on the go, you will have to pay extra to have your bottle uncapped. Never fear, however, if you return your bottle to the same shop, your fee will be reimbursed as they take the bottle back to the factory to be cleaned and reused!
- Back to the subject of sanitation, once water is gone, it’s gone. Because of the dryness of the coastal desert, people’s individual water tanks are filled at the beginning of the day from a central tank. Once you’ve used the water in your tank, you have to wait for it to refill the next day. So be sparing with your water use, and always drink bottled water!
- Also on the subject of water, be aware of the showers! Most showers are electric and often very basic. I had my fair share of ‘shocking’ experiences whilst washing my hair – be particularly careful if you’re tall and most Peruvians are quite small so showers will below!
- Finally, we come full circle back to the toilets. When you’re out and about, you need to basically be prepared for the festival toilet experience. So practice your squats, gather your hand gel, and pack some paper. If you come across a toilet in a public place which has a seat, running water, paper, soap, and a towel – well, you have struck gold my friend!
Has anyone else been to South America and experienced some of these quirks? Or can you think of more to add to the list? Comment below!