10 Things that are different in Peru


Welcome to A Little Further South! This blog post is to introduce you to some of the many little differences between life in the States vs life in Peru. Many are small, many more noticeable, some just plain quirky.

1) Peru has two official languages: Spanish & Quechua

While you may have at least some basic Spanish, once you get away from Lima you will encounter Quechua being spoken often. Don’t sweat it, most natives will be able to speak both Spanish and Quechua.

2) Driving

The rules of the road are not the same, and driving can be a bit overwhelming at times. Here’s a few tips: 1) watch for speed bumps! Instead of the ubiquitous stop sign, Peru uses speed bumps (rompemuellas) to control traffic. Many are benign and just serve to slow you down, others can be bone jarring if one is caught unaware. 2) lane changing – it’s not unusual for a driver to make three lane changes on a turn, especially if it can lead to an “advantage” in traffic. Always be aware of what’s going on around you. In heavy traffic areas, it’s not uncommon to see three cars in two lanes, four cars in three etc. It’s a bit of a free-for-all at times!

3) Dinner

The main meal of the day is “almuerzo” or lunchtime for us North Americans. Typically, restaurants will begin serving around noon, but for most folks here el almuerzo is between 1:00 pm & 2:00 pm. In the evening, one might have a smaller meal, or perhaps a sandwich. Although it makes me sleepy in the afternoon, I personally find that eating earlier allows me to sleep better at night.

4) Napkins

While you are enjoying your big lunch, you may notice that napkins are typically smaller here. Generally consisting of a small one-ply sheet, not very useful for eating chicken by hand! Not a bad idea to ask for more up front…

5) Fresh fruit/vegetables

Peru is blessed by an abundance of high quality topsoil & good growing conditions. Here you’ll encounter over 4,000 types of potatoes, fruits that taste heavenly, and a much higher quality than any typical grocery store stateside. There are many varieties of fruit that you will never find outside of the agricultural areas as they are perishable & won’t last to show up on the grocery shelf even in Peru. Savor these gifts whenever you can!

6) Bread Man

I’m showing my age by remembering the milk man. Yes, we used to have milk delivered fresh right to the house! Here in Lima, every morning around 6:10, I’m awakened by the shrill bicycle horn of the bread man. Yes, Virginia there is a bread man. He comes every day with his bicycle and a full display of several fresh warm breads. I really wasn’t thinking of bread so early, but just in case, he’s there for me…

7) Ceviche

Sushi, eat your heart out. Peruvian ceviche is a real treat; one taste & you’re hooked. The dish is typically made from fresh raw fish “cooked” in citrus juices, typically lime, and spiced with aji or chili peppers. Additional seasonings, such as chopped onions, salt, and cilantro (coriander) may also be added. Generally, this tasty meal is accompanied with corn, avocado, and sweet potatoes.

8) Bakeries & Corner Stores

Everywhere you go in most Peruvian cities are the “bodegas,” much like what I remember growing up as “the corner store.” Items for sale will be everything from household dry goods to fresh fruit and some meats & cheeses. There are many that also combine a bakery with their sale items. They generally all provide the basic breads of the day; others have cakes and pies, some have empanadas & tamales.

9) Toilet seats

Unfortunately, toilet seats are optional in many public places in Peru. I’m not really sure why, but it’s a little unnerving at first until you realize that you can still get the job done on a thinner, sometimes colder toilet bowl. Don’t forget the Golden Rule of travel anywhere – bring toilet paper! It’s rare to find it offered anywhere. Many public toilets will charge 50 centavos (about 17 cents) for the privilege, but they’ll give you a small package of toilet paper. (If you don’t need it now, save it for later.)

10) Bus seats

Travel in Peru for the frugal traveler (or any working stiff here) is another whole topic that I’ll save for another post, In a general sense, bus seats are considerably smaller than what one would be used to in the US. I’m not terribly tall (5 ft 8 in) and I’m often smashed up against the seat in front of me. Many people will try to find an aisle seat that at least allows for some movement. In general, public transport means being mighty tight with your new “neighbors.”

River Dolphins

Amazon River Dolphins

Amazon River Dolphins

There are many little things that are different in Peru, I’ll try to post them periodically as I discover/remember them. ¡Que tengas un buen dia! (Have a good day!)

©2014 Ben Gangloff

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