10 Things Peru Gets Wrong

November 17, 2013


Obviously, I have to add a disclaimer for a travel piece with that kind of title. I don’t intend this to imply my American, male, white wily ways are the only way one can view the Earth. Rather, I personally just found some aspects of life in Peru (particularly #3) frustrating, as I have in every country in which I’ve lived. You be the judge, if you’ve lived there and noticed some of the things below.

1. Making change

Money in Peru is easy to handle and identify, with papers from ten to two hundred soles. Maybe that’s why it’s often counterfeited and every time you hand over a bill, whether it’s to the small souvenir stand owner or to a cashier at Saga Falabella, they instinctively hold it up to the light to check whether it’s fake. To be fair, I know many paranoid cashiers in the US who check anything higher than twenty dollars, but usually you only get checked if you hand over a hundred.

Even if you should have legal currency, there’s no guarantee the recipient can provide change. I heard about this, and took it in stride when a small shop wasn’t able to give me change for a 5-sole coin paying for 1.2-sole water. However, as the weeks went on and my laundry service not only seemed unable to give me change for a 11.60 purchase with a 20-sole bill, but seemed to act as though it was unreasonable of me to expect otherwise, I grew frustrated.

2. Noise

Taxis and stray dogs in Peru have a lot in common: both make an absurd amount of noise, linger longer than necessary to get your attention, look dirtier and older upon closer inspection, and once they realize you have absolutely no interest in them, wander off to find someone new. It’s common practice in Peru for taxi drivers to honk for nearly every conceivable reason: if they want to get your attention for a fare; if they’re passing by; if they’re full and want to let you know to look elsewhere; if they’re standing still; if they want to warn you; if you look pretty today.

I didn’t realize how ridiculous this was until several occasions had me walking down an empty street: no people save myself, no cars. I was walking with determination, well off the road, clearly not looking to hail a cab, and yet every taxi that passed honked a few times.

Apparently, an American such as myself isn’t the only one to get worked up about the noise. There have been stricter laws concerning horn usage, and it’s even forbidden in the Miraflores District of Lima.

3. Punctuality

I’m incredibly biased here, having lived in Japan. Peruvians are practically expected to be late for everything. My 9:00 class wouldn’t start until 9:15 at the earliest, when 1-2 students might walk in. Lacking a cell phone in Peru, I arranged to meet someone at a popular spot in Arequipa, stressing that she should please, please, please be on time, as I didn’t have a way to contact her if either of us should be late. After twenty minutes, I walked away.

Again, I know this is a difference in perception, but I can’t stand it. Being late, to me, is the ultimate form of disrespect, screaming that the other person’s time is worth nothing.

4. Eating out

I usually develop a routine in my restaurants early on in my abroad experiences. Wataminchi in Higashi-Hiroshima is probably still waiting for me to come in at 9:30 and order some fried chicken and sashimi. In Arequipa, Delicias de mi Tierra had my number; every time I sat down the waitress would confirm my previous order of grilled chicken with chicha and no salsas.


Although I love Peruvian food, and am biased as a citizen of a country where it’s possible to eat almost anything at any time, I couldn’t help but notice something amiss in Peruvian restaurants. Eating breakfast outside of one’s home isn’t impossible, but it is rather difficult, especially before 8 AM, and usually limited to eggs, toast, coffee, and jam. The main staple time to eat out in Peru is for lunch, between 11-4. As a result, many restaurants that offer delicious midday meals aren’t open for dinner or at all on Sunday.

5. Littering

I saw at least a dozen people openly littering, tossing cups, flatware, cigarettes on the street and sidewalk in front of others. When children did this, their parents did scold them, but left the garbage where it had landed.

6. Pets

I don’t know how dogs behave for the average pedestrian, but for me, as a runner, there wasn’t one time when a canine didn’t bark, snarl, and try to bite my ankles off. This isn’t even limited to strays; one woman saw me running towards her and her dog and instinctively grabbed him (not on a leash), knowing he was likely to attack. Dogs are placed on rooftops while their owners are out, much to the chagrin of people below.


As far as cats are concerned, I can’t complain about the plethora of kitties in Parque Kennedy, Miraflores; those ones are soft, mellow, and always in the mood to be petted. However, I was a little surprised to hear of the custom of eating cat meat in cities like Chincha and Huaraz, where there are many indigenous people still practicing these traditions. I’m definitely not one to say eating any one type of animal is wrong; Koreans’ roots of eating dog trace back to times when little protein was available, as do many Asian countries’ origins of eating insects. Nevertheless, it still surprised me to hear of this practice in Peru, where there seems to be a better relationship with pets than in Asia‚Ķ poor gatos.

7. Security

I suppose this would fall under the things Peru gets right category, but there are a few aspects of being in a developing nation with uncertainty in security that troubled me. Although I am an American, I am strongly opposed to the use of firearms; seeing guards carrying semi-automatic weapons outside major banks and police stations was a little unsettling.

Most buildings have at least some form of deterrent beyond a hefty lock: bars on windows, shattered glass bottles built into concrete on top of exterior walls, electric fences. Some places, including many hostels, won’t even allow you access without someone on the inside physically opening the door. No free access for backpackers.


Traveling by bus is not without its risks, either. I had heard stories of pickpocketing en route to Puno and even drivers being forced off the road at gunpoint in the middle of the so passengers could be removed and robbed; I’ve since realized this is rare at best, and usually limited to routes in northern Peru.

8. Exercise

I’m a runner, but I have been known to hit the gym on occasion. In Arequipa, at 2400 meters above sea level, I suddenly found my training set back for days while I adjusted to the altitude and lack of oxygen. This isn’t about that; there are thousands of places across the globe where runners struggle with ambient temperature, weather, and air. And it’s not like Peru is lacking in athletes; I saw plenty of runners going on similar paths.

However, I would say Peru is definitely not a runner-friendly nation. With the exception of Salaverry in Lima and the trails outside Nazca (very nice, by the way), I found running in Peru to be dangerous within any populated area. Taxi and bus drivers may have sharp eyes, but that doesn’t mean they won’t kill you if you’re in the street. Trails are difficult to find, and hampered by pollution. This affects cyclists as well; when I mentioned to my students I saw someone on a bike in Arequipa, they reacted as though he didn’t have long to live.

9. Cleanliness

Wearing a white shirt? It won’t be white for long. Every day, my jeans and khakis were coated in a layer of black grime from simply walking outside. Most urban centers are polluted, not with a thick cloud of smog like you’d see in Los Angeles or Shanghai, but rather just a constant influx of emissions from taxi and bus drivers, managing vehicles well beyond their expiration dates.

With some exceptions, there’s not much of a divide between inside and outside in Peru; some buildings have air conditioning and heating, but in general, there’s no difference between stepping into a restaurant or out of one. Weak insulation means the noise and temperature is roughly the same, and with doors propped open the majority of the time, the floors can often be as dirty as the streets.

From a visitor’s perspective, I take issue with the way laundry is handled. The only way to get clean clothes as a tourist is to deliver your bag of goodies to a service and wait 24 hours. No option for coin laundry or hanging things out to dry. This is more of a personal gripe, as I don’t enjoy washing clothes by hand, or paying several dollars each time I need clean jeans.

10. Walking

I’m still wondering whether I just imagined this, but I think I’m right. Walking on the sidewalk is a bit more uncomfortable in Peru. Not because it’s very blatant, mind you, but people are just slightly more inconsiderate, not making room for those passing by ballooning out and stepping in front of them without apologizing.

Consider these just the biased opinions of a first-world citizen visiting a developing nation.

2 Responses to 10 Things Peru Gets Wrong

  1. Mahlon Barash on November 17, 2013 at 7:13 pm

    You forgot to mention the plethora of obnoxious taxi drivers. The majority of them usually do one of three things: 1) Try to overcharge, sometimes even double or more what the fare should be. It seems they would rather have no fare instead of charging a reasonable amount. 2) They simply say “I don’t go there”. The obvious question is if you don’t want to go there, why are you driving a taxi? Why not just park your taxi and reduce the traffic congestion. 3) This is one that just came up about two months ago and completely amazed me. I got in a taxi and told the driver the route I wanted him to take, but he had his own route and refused to use mine. When I insisted, he stopped and told me to get out of his taxi. When I told this story to some other taxi drivers, even they were amazed that any driver would be that arrogant. On the positive side, I do have to say that once and only once when I got into a taxi, the driver said “Sir, do you have a particular route you would like me to take?”

  2. KIKO PRUGUE on November 18, 2013 at 6:13 am


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