Top Ten Things to Do, See, and Eat in Peru: Prologue


I originally wrote this series in 2012.  As it has turned out to be quite popular, I am in the process of updating it to reflect current information for 2016. 

“Top 10 Things to Do, See, and Eat in Peru” Series Index

Why Peru?

There’s no country I know better than Peru, and I’m including the United States in that statement. Over the course of five trips, I’ve spent about six months in Peru. I even made it on a mistake fare for only $238 roundtrip from Los Angeles a few years ago.

Just to give you a taste…Peru has Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, the Andes, the Amazon Rainforest, awesome beaches, interesting deserts, amazing history, internationally-acclaimed gastronomy, one of the world’s mega-cities, friendly people, a neutral Spanish accent, cheap everything, and great mileage-redemption opportunities. 

A field of wild growing quinoa

I get a lot of questions about what to do, see, and eat; where to stay; and how to get around in Peru, so this series is for all those that are curious.

In the coming weeks I will be updating this series I originally wrote in 2012 (linked above), with new and relevant travel logistics, prices, insight, and tips. This post will talk about some Peru basics like how to get there, when to go, and safety. I’ll start with safety because I think fear is what keeps a lot of people from seeing one of the best countries for tourism in the entire world.

Peru Safety

Peru is a developing country where you should take all the normal safety precautions. If you do, you will be in no more danger than many European countries and substantially less danger than in Central America or Mexico. In my opinion, by far the number one danger to tourists in Peru is taxis.

Not their driving–although I’ve definitely been in a taxi that reversed several blocks against oncoming traffic–but the possibility of an armed robbery by a person posing as a taxi driver. Peru, like many developing countries, has a lot of unregulated taxis operating. And anyone who slaps a taxi sticker on the window of a car is operating a taxi business.

That means enterprising criminals slap a taxi sticker on a car to rob tourists. Luckily this is very easy to avoid. You are most vulnerable at airports or bus stations when you have all your luggage and don’t know anything about the new city. At major airports, there will be an official taxi service. At the Lima airport, it is right outside the exit from baggage claim/customs. Take a taxi from there and you pay double the street price but ensure your safety.

At hotels, casinos, and nice restaurants, the doorman will assist you. He knows the safe taxi drivers, and sometimes only lets those he knows into the taxi area. Ask for a taxi de confianza, and you’ll  be on your way.

If you find a trustworthy taxi driver, ask for his card. He will love the prospect of future business, and you can call someone you know from then on.

If for whatever reason, you find yourself in a situation where it is impossible to follow these tips, at least mitigate the danger of picking a robber by only traveling in taxis with a driver and no other passengers, picking a car that has been painted such that it is a full time taxi, and pick an older driver.

From the preceding, you might conclude that taxis pose a grave risk to a traveler in Peru. In my experience, taking street taxis without following the foregoing precautions for six months, I’ve never had an issue. But for the utmost safety, choose your taxis as I’ve outlined.

An important side note about how taxis function in Peru: they do not use meters. You will need to negotiate a price to where you are going before you get in to avoid getting ripped off. If it’s your first time going to a new location you have no idea how much it should cost, ask someone trustworthy before heading off to flag a cab.

Other Safety Risks

There are other safety risks like the remnants of the Shining Path–Sendoro Luminoso–in the rural, mountainous east, and growing cocaine production in the jungle northeast. But you won’t be going near those places, so they won’t endanger you.

When to Go

The bad stuff is out of the way. Your fears have been allayed. When should you go? Anytime!

Peru is a tropical country, so the seasons are less hot-cold and more wet-dry. High season is North American summer as American and European travelers have more time to visit. That’s a fine time to visit as it’s the dry season and mild temperatures prevail.

My favorite time to visit is North American winter. January and February are the warmest months in Lima, and they’re the only time of year when the Lima isn’t covered in a low, persistent cloud cover that makes the city seem uglier and more somber (not to mention extremely humid).  Unfortunately January and February are the wet season in-and-around Cuzco, where you’ll probably spend the majority of your time. But I think Machu Picchu is especially mystical shrouded in cloud and fog, and there are less people.

All times of year are fine for visiting, and all times of year have drawbacks.

Pisac, Peru in the Sacred Valley

How to Deal with Money

Avoid the ATMs and money exchange houses at airports as they have the worst rates (this advice does not just apply to Peru, it applies to basically anywhere). If you really need to, change a tiny bit of money at the airport just to pay your taxi driver, and then use an ATM or change house around your first accommodation to get more cash. If you are a serious international traveler, you should consider opening a Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account. It sounds a lot more serious than it actually is–the basic gist is that you will pay zero ATM fees worldwide.

There are a good deal of places in Peru (especially the smaller and more rural areas) that only take cash, so it’s good to have on hand. Small change is handy for tipping as well. Standard tipping rates are 10% on meals.

If you’re going to use a credit card abroad, it should go without saying to use one with no foreign transaction fees. And if you can, use a Mastercard as opposed to a Visa or American Express as you’ll probably lose less on currency conversion fees (a whole different beast than foreign transaction fees).

How to Get There

Lima (LIM) is the international hub in Peru with direct flights to many US cities on the following airlines:

  • American Airlines- Dallas, Miami
  • Avianca- Miami
  • Delta- Atlanta
  • LATAM- Miami, Los Angeles, New York-JFK, Washington, D.C.
  • United- Houston and Newark
  • Spirit Airlines – Fort Lauderdale

In addition, many people find great deals to Lima on Aeromexico (via Mexico City) and Avianca (via San Salvador, airport code SAL).

Lima is an easy place to get to with a cheap cash ticket or a miles redemption. American Airlines has the most options since it partners with LATAM. From North America to Peru (South America Region 1), American Airlines charges:

  • 17,500 miles one way in economy from January 16 – June 14 and September 7 – November 14 flown exclusively on American Airlines planes
  • 20,000 miles one way for other economy awards (flying partner LATAM or American outside of the Off Peak dates)
  • 30,000 miles one way in Business Class

If you have them, the cheapest ways to get to Peru from the United States are:

  • with 15,000 Alaska miles each year from January 16 – June 14 or September 7 – November 14 on American Airlines flights
  • with 15,000 Etihad miles each year from January 16 – June 14 or September 7 – November 14 on American Airlines flights

This is because you can still book old American Airlines chart prices with Alaska or Etihad Miles, at least for the moment.

For other ideas about how to get to Peru cheaply with miles and points when your origin isn’t the United States, read this post about how to book a round-the-world trip in 2016.

How to Get Those Miles

American Airlines Miles

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® 60,000 mile offer has expired. Check out the current best credit card offers here.


Limited Time Offer: The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® with 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles and Admirals Club lounge membership
Screen Shot 2016-06-05 at 4.28.39 PM

Alaska Airlines Miles

The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Card’s and the Alaska Airlines Visa® Business Card’s are both currently offering 30,000 miles for spending $1,000 within three months of opening the account (on each). Alaska cards are, as far as I know, still churnable.

Etihad Miles

Etihad miles are most easily accrued via transfer from SPG Points, ThankYou Points, and Membership Rewards.

The Citi Prestige® Card comes with 40,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $4,000 in purchases are made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open. Read my review of the Citi Prestige Card.

Bottom Line

Stay tuned for the following posts with updated travel information about all the highlights of Peru.

My next post in this series will start the Top 10 countdown. Is there anything you want to make sure I cover or add to this series? Leave it in the comments.

Machu Picchu

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  1. The other thing I think is important to mention about Peruvian taxis (not the secure ones) is that you negotiate before getting in the car – unlike other places, there are no set rates between distances. Ask a local how much it should cost you to get where you’re going and be ready to send a taxi away if they want to gouge you.

    Granted, I haven’t been in Peru for four years, so things may have changed.

    • What you’re saying is still very true. No meters, up-front negotiation. They’ll only gouge you for a few bucks, but I love to negotiate and hate to be suckered for a few bucks. My brother’s attitude was “let’s go, stop haggling over 30 cents.” Mine was “there are a line of cabs waiting behind him and one will take me for the price I know to be the rock bottom locals’ price.” Ask locals for their estimate, but I usually aim even lower because not a lot of locals have a ton of taxi experience, so they overestimate in my experience.

      • Not a lot of locals have taxi experience?

        Taxis are their main source of transportation …

        Also… The best way to get cash is exchange USD on the streets at a cambio, where you get almost bank rate .

  2. This is so timely. Thanks to your post I also jumped in on the mistake fare. Please include in one of your posts, if you can, details on how to tour Machu Piccu and the area around Cusco on the cheap. I’ve read a few tips when searching keywords like “Machu Piccu by car”, but have not read anything very detailed like how to deal with purchasing tickets when you don’t know the currency, or have US cards that don’t participate in “Verified by Visa” or “Mastercard SecureCode”.

  3. Having just returned from Peru last month (Lima, Cusco, Ollantaytambo, Machu Picchu), I would strongly encourage anyone that is planning to visit the Sacred Valley or Machu Picchu to stay in the small village of Ollantaytambo. We stayed at Hostel Iskay (check them out on Trip Advisor) and it was absolutely amazing and very cheap. The owners speak very good English and are very helpful with planning excursions. They also provide private taxis to and from the Cusco airport for approx $40 each way. If you are looking for a more authentic experience, this village trumps Cusco or Aguas Calientes hands down.

    I would also suggest purchasing train tickets and access passes (if you plan to climb either of the two mountains) immediately when you get to Cusco. We asked our cab driver to stop at the Peru Rail office when departing the airport for our hotel and paid for everything then. Although if you are able to purchase your train tickets before arriving in the country, even better – just note that their website is finicky and many people (myself included) experienced problems trying to purchase them online.

    • Good advice. I’ve spent a few nights in Ollantaytambo. Getting Peru Rail tickets is the key step in do-it-yourself Machu Picchu stops.

  4. Really enjoy your site and have added it to the list of travel blogs I read daily. I second the comment by Gary S. I would be interested in your experiences on touring Machu Picchu and would look forward to your recommendations on that. I’ll be planning my honeymoon for next summer (possibly hawaii) and was thinking going to M.P. as part of a free oneway stopover itinerary months prior to the honeymoon. (Home airport is JFK) Any info you can provide would be great.

  5. Very timely for us , as we are going in Feb ’13
    Just 3 days in and around Lima – any recs on places not to be missed , money changing to local currency vs $$ usage, safety in walking around Lima at nite & food & restaurants appreciated.

  6. ATMs Plenty? Bring cash or can I withdrawal from ATMs?
    Info on reward for Easter island
    Food to eat at locations, and mind sharing the numbers to the taxi drivers u know
    Should I get a moped for touring?

    Actually how much of coco leaves should we consume, what’s the limit? Never had any

    Equipments must haves

    Do we need a visa?

    • Cash or ATM. I do cash to avoid ATM fees. Coca is safe; it’s a mild stimulant. Cocaine is made from it through a crazy process that, among other things, converts 100kg of coca to 1kg of cocaine. You just put a few leaves in hot water for a tea. It’s available at any hotel or restaurant. No visa for Americans. I’ll try to answer more fully in a post.

  7. this is very timely as I also took advantage of the mistake fare (going there thanksgiving week).

    As others have mentioned, it would be nice to hear more about machu picchu tours, and also hotel recommendations in Cusco. As far as I can tell, the only point option I can see is the Marriot. Any other hotel that we can redeem points on?

  8. PERFECT timing… I’ve just discovered your blog and I’m simply devouring the information you have here on your site. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. I’ve had an AA and British Airways card for about 4 years and have been stumbling around on my own trying to get the good deals. I’m not going to “cram” the cards because I need by credit score to stay high… but, that’s ok… I’ve got plenty of travel in the works for a working mother. I have a trip to both Hawaii and Peru upcoming this year.
    Now, could I have gotten the LAN flight out of LAX for the same discounted miles as AA offered me (I’m routed LAX-Miami-LIMA)? Or I had switched to LAN, would I have to pay the “affiliated airlines” rate of 20K each way instead of 17.5 using AA metal? It would have saved me about 3 hours travel time to route directly LAX-LIM.

    • 17.5 is the price whether flying LAN or AA. That’s a typo in my post, that I just corrected. Thanks for catching it. BTW, there is no penalty to change the flight to a LAN flight as long as you’re 22+ days out.

  9. Your posts on Peru have been a great help as we plan a trip for this fall. Wondering if there is a travel guide book you’d recommend for travel in Peru?

  10. Looking to rent a flat for at least a month somewhere in Peru. Do you have any suggestions for where we should stay/how to go about renting a basic flat?

  11. I am so thankful that I’ve found your site. I just started traveling a few years ago.
    My BFF and I are planning a trip to South America, March 23-April 7, 2015. Visiting Machu Picchu is on my LiveLife List so I’m in charge of the 1st half of our vacation (March 23-March 31). I understand it’s still rain season until mid/end April in Cusco/Machu Pichhu. Will it be too damp to visit the end of March? We are not avid trekkers, we plan to take the train and bus. How and what should we prepare for the end of March? Option 2 is to visit Easter Island instead, if the weather is too wet and foggy. Any suggestions is very much appreciated. Thank you in advance.

    • Unless you melt, a little water shouldn’t be a problem. I think Machu Picchu is beautiful shrouded in cloud and fog. Just bring whatever you’d normally bring to keep you dry.

  12. The tourist pictures i have seen from March were all dry, so I think it is hit & miss with the weather. I am going at exactly the same time as you (23-28/3), but taking the Avitour package with the archaeological guide (depart from Cusco @ 4am… so maybe take in the sunrise! One off my bucket list too. J

    • That’s good to hear. The weather report shows rain and thunderstorm all day and night. However, I have read not to go by that. We’ll probably head directly to Ollantaytambo from CUZ and stay a few nights there, visit Machu Picchu, then take a taxi to Cusco. That way it’ll minimize our chances of getting AMS. Thank you for your blog and your reply. It’s very helpful as I plan our visit to Peru. Enjoy your holiday. 🙂

  13. Regarding ATMs at the Lima airport… as soon as you arrive & have your bags, go upstairs and there is a whole cluster of ATMs from different banks (I think in the arrivals area they only have ATMs from Interbank which charges a high fee). Use the Scotiabank ATM because they don’t charge anything to withdraw from their machines. I would request 90 soles, or 190 soles because you are likely to get some 20 soles notes that way. If you request 200 soles, it may give you two 100s or four 50s and those are harder to break.

    Regarding taxis, keep in mind that Uber operatres in Lima. It works the same way as in the USA, and you can use my Uber Peru referral code to get 20 soles off your first ride (thank you)
    I think the fixed rate for Uber from inside the airport to Miraflores is 50 soles. You can request the Uber using free WiFi inside the airport, but you will not have a Peruvian cell phone number for the driver to call you (which they love to do), and it’s too chaotic for them to find you. It’s really best just to take an official airport taxi (Taxi Green is the name), which currently costs 50-55 soles (less than US$20) if you are going to Miraflores (about 40 minutes). You pay at the little kiosk when you leave the baggage area, they give you a receipt, and a driver helps you with bags out to the car. No need to tip. Then use Uber within Lima, and for your return trip to the airport.

    While in Peru, haggling with the taxi drivers can be tiring, because as soon as they hear an accent, the fare usually is high. But as a general rule, a taxi from the historic center to Miraflores should be no more than 20 soles at an absolute maximum, and anywhere within Miraflores should be no more than 8 (10 soles maximum). I usually take public transit, but for first time visitors that would be challenging.

    I have been to Peru over 15 times since 2003, and I recommend that people spend at least a few days in Lima (most people go directly to Cusco). Miraflores is beautiful, especially December through May when you get some sunshine. I recommend AirBNB, as hotel prices have tripled since I was first there in 2003, and quite frankly aren’t worth what they charge nowadays.

  14. You should update “how to get there” part of the post with the news that JetBlue now flies to Lima, connecting in FLL. Since I’m newly flush with TrueBlue points as a result of the credit card and Virgin America match (and now Mosaic to boot), I’m strongly considering that option.


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