Peru is not what I would call your typical destination to spend a year abroad, but I decided why not?!
Straight after graduation, I got an offer to work in copy writing in Lima, Peru. This was 2008, I was a fresh graduate and left for this adventure with only R5000 (US$500) in my pocket, no camera and not even a computer laptop. After one year of living and working in Peru, I’ve put together this brief list of important things to know about the country. Whether you plan on going on a short or long term visit, these top 10 facts should help get you prepared for your Peruvian adventure!
My job in Peru as a copywriter was probably one of the easiest going jobs I’ve ever had. Work culture in Peru was not nearly as intense as the ESL job I had in South Korea. You work an average 9 to 5 with all public holidays off and an extra 20 days of paid vacation on top of that! My boss was a young entrepreneur, and he had a passion for surfing. So mid-way during the year he decided we all work a half an hour extra during winter, so we can go home earlier in summer to enjoy the good weather!
I was working in Peru to mainly gain experience, but I was also earning a Peruvian salary in the local currency known as Soles. The salary is not a lot, but it was enough to live in Peru. To be fair, this job position also came with enormous perks as the business paid for our housing in the fancy Miraflores in Lima AND Spanish language lessons in the evenings.
Peru’s national language is Spanish. I didn’t know a single word of it before going there. This was my first time living abroad, so it proved a major challenge. The rest of my English speaking co-workers had not yet arrived, so it was up to me to meet people and get a social life.
I had really good Spanish tutors and after 4 months, I was starting to speak Spanish. By the end of that year, I was speaking, reading, writing and thinking in Spanish. Even after leaving Peru, I still love it.
Many locals in the Andes still speak the native language Quechwa which has been around before the Spanish invasion.
Cost of Living
It was fairly cheap. If you have a kitchen, you can cook your food as groceries were not expensive either. Eating out was not that expensive either. Transport was really cheap too.
Clothing prices vary depending on where you shop. In Miraflores, things can be a bit more overpriced, but there are many outlet factories around Lima. I didn’t pay rent, but I was told it was not a lot. Unlike apartments I have lived in big cities such as Seoul and Paris, my apartment in Lima was huge. It included 3 big bedrooms, and a spacious living and dining area, 2 bathrooms, a fully equipped laundry room and another kitchen dining area with kitchen.
Standard of Living
Peru is a third world country. You will get parts of the Lima where you get your average middle class and wealthy, but there is also a lot of poverty. The other cities in Peru, were very undeveloped in terms of infrastructure and many looked like abandoned wasteland. Lima and Cusco are the two most well developed, as they deal with huge amounts of tourist traffic and they are the main hubs for the tourist industry.
Peru is rather safe, and so was Lima. The main sort of crime that does exist is pick pocketing which you should look out for. Otherwise, I found walking alone at night around Miraflores quite safe as it’s filled with tourists and activities whole night long.
I would advise rather bringing cash on your trips to major tourist hot spots and avoid using ATMS in the areas. I used an ATM near Machu Picchu and my account was hacked by a fraud syndicate in Brazil which stole all my money in my Peruvian bank account! Not a nice surprise, but my bank sorted it out within a week.
Earthquakes are a common occurrence in daily life in Peru. The country lies off the west coast off the Pacific Ocean on a few active cracks on the earth bed. I had experienced tremors big and small regularly throughout the year. The big ones are really loud and can be quite scary, while others are a short bump that ripples through the ground. I really didn’t feel threatened overall.
This is the best part about living in Peru! You get the opportunity to explore and travel in a country with so much amazing history and nature! Peru has so much tourist destinations on and off the map to discover. There are so much ancient ruins dating before B.C times to explore, in fact there are a few pyramids and ancient structures smack bang in the middle of Lima!
Traveling costs from within Peru was pretty cheap. It all depends on your priorities as a traveller and time. I had loads of time to look and get around to the places I wanted. Let’s not forget, the amazing Machu Picchu, which you can easily do for under USD$200 if you take the bus.
There’s also nearby sites outside of Lima such as Paracas and Nascar full of mystery and awesome places to explore! Let’s keep in mind that you also have the coast, the desert, the Amazon and the Andes!
Peruvian food was pretty good. There are traditional seafood dishes and over 20 types of potatoes to choose from. Did you know the potato originates from Peru, and was then taken back to Europe to help feed the masses of poor back in the 15th century? Potatoes and fish have always played a big part of Peruvian life and culture, in fact there was even a Potato God!
Images not mine
Be sure to check out the famous fish dish called ceviche and do try the popular Pisco Sours cocktail, made from a local grown fruit near the Amazon!
Transport in Lima was not amazing, but there are working buses daily and they are pretty chaotic. They are however very cheap, and so are cabs. However, the inter-city luxury buses are pretty good, with comfortable seats and clean bathrooms on board. There are domestic flights, but those are mainly to and from Lima and Cusco.
Nightlife and Entertainment
Most of the happening nightlife happens in Miraflores and Barranco. There are many clubs and bars littered all over these districts offering a variety of dance music from raggaetone to alternative. One place, we frequented a lot was Sargiento Permiento (Sgt. Pepper), which offered live bands as well. One night we boldly decided to check out a club in Lima’s city centre, and we landed in a place which had a UFO DJ box and outer space interior décor.
My awesome year in Lima can also be contributed to the fact that I also made such amazing friends that became a part of my life experience there. Peru has tons to offer in terms of travel and I only wish I had had more time and money to explore more of this awesome country.
Travel tips & Fun Facts
- Are you thinking of working there? Guess what? You don’t even need a visa to stay more than 3 months! This includes South Africans btw. Your company can sponsor a work visa, or simply pay USD$1 day for every day you have overstayed your tourist visa period.
- The work opportunities in Peru will mainly reside in Lima. Other towns or cities mainly offer volunteer programs to help build damaged homes from the earthquakes. There’s also lots of opportunities for ESL teaching, however a co-worker of mine has said the pay was not much.
- Travel, if you spend your money on anything there…just travel!
- Buying local made goods are really cheap. My best tip is for you to go to the city centre during the day, and you will find a large old building with many stalls selling real llama and alpaca wool goods, real leather bags and various touristy goods for a fraction of the price than the markets in the tourist hot spots!
- If you are traveling to Machu Picchu or any of the major tourist hot spots, be sure to bring enough cash and avoid using the ATM.
- For accommodation long and short term in Lima, I’d recommend Miraflores. For Cusco, you can choose anywhere as it’s so small.
- It never rains in Lima, and it’s not really cold in winter either. However, it’s definitely cold in winter in Cusco…(click here to read more on my trip to Cusco)