If you’re planning a trip to Cusco in the near future, you won’t want to miss these tips and facts about life in Cusco! Let Proyecto Peru guide you through your trip! We offer Spanish classes, local trusted and affordable tours, and homestay accommodations to help provide the experience of a lifetime. Register with us and receive even more tips and information about Cusco before you arrive.
Day time temperatures in Cusco are typically around 20°C/68°F year round. At night time, it typically drops to 46.4°F / 8°C from November through March. It gets colder at night from April through October. During the coldest months (June and July) the night time temperature can hover around freezing due to the high altitude.
The rainiest months of the year are December, January and February. Outside of Cusco, the coast has moderate temperatures, low precipitations and high humidity, except for its warmer, wetter northern reaches. The Jungle is characterized by heavy rainfall and high temperatures, except for its southernmost part, which has cold winters and seasonal rainfall
Cusco is located at a very high altitude in the mountains ( 3,399 meters/11,152 feet), so the air is dryer and thinner and altitude sickness can be a potential health risk. It’s wise to take it easy during your first few days so that you can acclimate. During this time, get plenty of rest, don’t eat heavy meals, drink plenty of water and coca tea, and avoid alcohol.
Even the healthiest of individuals can be affected by altitude sickness, as there is really no way to predict whether you’ll feel affected by it or not. To keep healthy and comfortable, consider bringing nasal spray, throat lozenges, moisturizing lip balm and face/body cream. You may also ask your doctor to prescribe medication to help prevent altitude sickness or “soroche”. If you’re anaemic or asthmatic (or have any other concerns), always be sure to visit a doctor before your trip to have your health needs addressed by a medical professional.
Water and Food Safety
Aside from altitude sickness, one of the most common illnesses experienced by travelers to Peru are stomach problems due to water or food contamination. The water in Peru is not safe to drink. Only drink water that is bottled or boiled. To be extra safe, don’t order drinks with ice. Further, brush your teeth with clean water to avoid swallowing tap water. Some local restaurants may wash fresh produce with unfiltered water, but most touristic restaurants will prepare food and drinks with the stomachs of foreigners in mind.
Just be careful, and listen to your body. Lettuce can be very risky, as it can carry lots of bacteria. Hold the salad for a touristic restaurant. Street food is generally not a good idea unless you are in Peru for a while.
Money in Peru
The local currency is the Peruvian Sol (PEN). You will find the currency in both paper and coin forms. It is highly recommend to exchange your money to soles or to withdrawal soles from an ATM. If you plan to exchange US Dollars, the bills have to be almost new to be accepted. Credit cards can be used in more upscale establishments. Don’t forget to call your bank to let them know you and your credit cards will be in Peru, and tell them the dates you will be traveling, including airport days. Otherwise, you will probably have your account frozen as soon as you swipe.
If you are going to exchange money, be sure to ask around first to get the best exchange rate. Do not exchange money in the street, only go to store locations. If you decide to withdraw soles from an ATM, it is better to have one big transaction instead of a bunch of little ones. This way you only pay for the international transaction fee once. Be sure to cover your pin and quickly place the cash in a secure location. Take the cash back to your accomodation in a locked, safe place. Only carry with you what you need.
Central Post Office (Correo): the Post Office is located on Avenida el sol. Please keep in mind that shipping packages internationally is risky. If you receive a package you will need to bring your passport to pick it up.
Banks (bancos): most of the banks are located on Avenida el sol and Plaza de Armas
There are so many taxis in Peru that it is hard to differentiate between a taxi and a regular car. Look for a verified taxi, especially at night. Verified taxis work for companies, and will have a number on the top of the cab.
Before you get in the taxi, tell the driver your destination. It is good to know street names or landmarks around your destination, and better yet to have the address or a screenshot of the map. That way you can help the driver out if they are unsure of the area. After the driver confirms that he knows the destination and will take you there, ask him how much it costs (cuanto cuesta?). The general rate for taxis is 4 soles. If you are asked to pay more, try to negotiate. Always make sure you’ve agreed on a price before you hop inside for a ride. Otherwise, it will not be easy to negotiate and you will probably be asked to pay more.
Peru has public bus transportation as well, which is the cheapest way to get around. Destinations will be printed on the side of the bus. There are bus stops all over the city. Buses pass every 3-5 minutes, there is no set schedule. In addition to the driver there is always the person who goes around and collects money (80 cents). When you are approaching your stop, just say baja to indicate you are getting off the bus.
There are a few different ways to use a cell phone in Peru. You can rent a Peruvian from us (ask about it in the office)! Another option is to take your current phone into one of the Peruvian provider offices (Movistar or Claro) and purchase a SIM card and minutes to use locally during your visit. You will need to remove your phone’s current SIM card and insert the Peruvian SIM. You can usually do this with a paperclip on smartphones. iPhones can communicate with other iPhones for free using WiFi and FaceTime and iMessage. Lots of people like to use WhatsApp, which can be used on any phone and is free when your phone is connected to WiFi. Yet another option is to purchase a local phone to use on the go.
Although Cusco is a relatively safe place, one of the biggest safety issues for foreigners in Peru is pick-pocketing and theft. If you ride public transportation, keep your bag on your lap and stay alert. If you are exploring the city during especially crowded festivals or holidays, be aware! The most reported cases of pick-pocketing occur on these days. Keep valuables out of your hands and pockets, and make sure your bag is properly zipped or closed.
To be extra cautious, keep your hand near the opening of your bag, and carry backpacks on your front. It is never a good idea to carry valuable documents and passports with you. Keep a copy of your passport with you, and one with your actual passport, in a safe a locked location. If you will be carrying cash and credit cards, don’t keep them in the same place.
Always let us know where you are going if you head out for the night or for a weekend trip. Make sure your cell phone is charged and that you have enough money with you. Use common sense. Cusco is as safe as the average city, but avoid walking alone at night, especially if you have been drinking, and especially if you are a solo female traveler. Use caution and stay alert!
Some quick tips to stay out of trouble:
- Don’t walk around with your passport: take a copy of your passport instead.
- Don’t walk around with credit card, debit card, laptop, smartphone, a lot of money etc if not necessary.
- Don’t keep your credit cards and cash in the same place.
- Scan your passport and other important items so you can always have access to it.
- Never put important things in your backpack when walking around town, it can be zipped open
- Put your backpack on your lap if you are sitting in a bar/restaurant, never on the ground or hanging at your seat.
- Don’t put your wallet/phone/keys in a back pocket, always front pockets of your jeans. Watch out for pickpockets, especially around markets and in local and national busses.
- Don’t walk on the streets at night, take a taxi (with a phone number on top).
- Don’t invite people you have just met to your place and don’t tell them your address. Just ask their phone number so you can call them to meet again.
- If you are in a club or bar alone, keep an eye on your glass.
- Don’t go to illegal / underground parties.
- Don’t ever get involved in drugs in any way!
Electricity and Power
Voltage in Peru is 220 volts at 60 hertz. Check your electronic appliances including chargers, hair straighteners, etc. to make sure that they can handle the voltage. Most laptops and iPhones can handle this voltage, but check just in case. If not, there are plenty of voltage converters you can purchase to prevent overloading your electronics. The plugs in Peru are two-pronged, usually flat (USA) but sometimes round (EU). You can also purchase a plug adapter to make sure your items can be plugged in.
In general, people in Peru do not have washing machines, and instead do their laundry by hand. Others take their laundry to Lavanderías. These are businesses where you drop your laundry off to be washed, dried, folded, and returned the next day. They are usually around 5 soles per kilo. We work with a partner here in the office where you will have a nice discount of 3.50 soles per kilo. You can drop your laundry off here in the office and pick it up in the office as well the next day.
Proyecto Peru students and volunteers receive many discounts at local restaurants and bars. During your first week, you will receive a discount card with your name on it. You can view the discounts on the bulletin board in the office. Simply present you card at these locations to enjoy great discounts!
Local Culture and Respect
Peru is a country with a very conservative and traditional culture. Dress is an important method for conveying respect. Travelers, volunteers, and interns should generally avoid wearing anything that could be considered revealing (e.g. refrain from wearing short shorts or sleeveless tank tops, which the climate in Cusco is not well-suited for anyway.
Peruvians generally uphold traditional family values of politeness, modesty and respect. Pleasantries are very important and greetings and handshaking will often take place when greeting and departing friends and associates.
Peruvians greet and depart typically by a friendly gesture with acquaintances and friends. You press the right side of your cheek against theirs, and simply make a kissing noise (don’t actually kiss their cheek).
Punctuality in Peru is somewhat fluid. Things tend to move a bit slower. Do not be surprised if appointments or meetings or mealtimes start 15-30 minutes later than the start time. Meal times are important and considered an opportunity to relax and spend time with friends and loved ones. At restaurants, you have to ask for the check (la cuenta, por favor) as it is considered rude for wait staff to bring it to the table before you ask for it. Generally tipping doesn’t occur in restaurants unless there is a tip jar.
Most importantly, never take photos without permission. People (in any country) do not like to be treated like animals at a zoo. While the large majority will be more than happy for you to take their photo, it is imperative to always ask for permission first. You may see women walking around in traditional garments with alpaca. They will ask you if you’d like to take a photo, and request a tip. The same applies to individuals performing on the street. If you want a picture, pay a few soles.