Machu Picchu is a Must but…
There is more to Peru!
To most, Peru is the country where Machu Picchu is located. Yes, this is true, and what an incredible landmark to boast: the incredible Inca ruins made up of huge rock structures built without mortar—so perfect that not even a piece of paper fits in between the slabs—miraculously and majestically sit up on a cliff in the middle of the lush Cuzco vegetation.
But having been born there, Peru is about bok choy the size of your head and chirimoyas the size of your heart. As a Peruvian living outside of that wonderland of a country, Peru is much more than the Valley of the Incas.
I say my background because the information you will get in this article (and future articles) is not what you would get from a travel agent, a foreign backpacker or a native. You will get all three. This is the perspective of someone who knows the place, left it for years and returns to check on it annually.
Let’s get started.
Most want to visit Peru because Machu Picchu was recently officially named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. However, the way to Cuzco is through Lima, the capital of Peru. Because visitors will have to stay a day or two in Lima – and should visit – let me tell you about your inevitable and highly rewarding stop: the city of Lima.
Lima used to be called “the city of flowers” because its gardens were abundant with geraniums and bougainvilleas burst from every house. Not the case anymore. Now, Lima could very well be called the land of dirt, because it is pretty dirty. Somehow my fingernails are never fully clean there. In spite of this – and all the casinos that have been built there in the past five years – Lima is a beautiful, fun and hospitable place to visit.
When visitors arrive at the Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima, you will need to know a few things:
There will be about thirty taxi drivers chasing you as you walk out of customs. They will tell you they are official or ‘secure’ taxi’s (‘taxi seguro’, pronounced ‘taxi say-goo-row) and some of them will be. Picking a taxi is important because you cannot just walk out of the airport in Lima and start sightseeing. Lima can be a strange place if you don’t know what you’re doing, and what you need to do is get to the ‘good part’ of town, which is, definitely, NOT by the airport.
What you need to know to pick a taxi:
1. There is such a thing as a ‘secure taxi’ and the airport officials can point you to those.
2. Airport taxis will probably be more expensive, about US$5, and if that means nothing to you, this is the safe route to take.
3. To us natives, this five dollars difference is an insult, so we go for the other, unofficial taxis.
4. With unofficial taxis, bargaining is a must. For those with fantastic negotiation skills, this is where you can test them. Negotiating a fare price is the way of life for taxis in Lima, so go for your best and don’t be afraid to say ‘no, that is too expensive’ (“no, muy caro”, pronounced ‘no, mooee cah-row’) or ‘are you freakin’ kidding me?’ (“esta loco?”,pronounced ‘ehs-tah loh-coh’) because there are plenty of more taxis. Natives negotiate and so should you because we wouldn’t want you coming into the country, paying your top dollar, and spoiling things for the rest of us. An official airport taxi will charge you at least 30 Soles to get to Miraflores, one of the nice Peruvian districts, and an unofficial taxi should be about ten soles less.
5. Before bargaining, pick a taxi driver that looks safe. You do this by seeing his car and making sure it is not a ‘tico’, a tiny car that looks like a Citroen or a Mini Cooper. You do not want to get in these smaller vehicles because while they are probably the cheapest, car accidents are common in Lima’s ‘pedestrian-is-last’ chaotic traffic (you most certainly will not be able to rent a car and drive there, so drop that delusion off with your customs form). The car you choose should have the red and white Peruvian flag stripes and its license plate number painted along the side of the car. These are safety tips but the bottom line is: go with your gut. When hard times fell on Peru, many ‘limeños’ (Lima residents) had to leave their engineering and administrative jobs and taxi around to make ends meet.
6. Last precaution: If the car is a station wagon, check the trunk before you get in. A few months ago it was in style for robbers to hide in the back of stations wagons and when people got in the car, the guy would jump out and rob the passengers of their belongings. Lima has its dangers, like most places, but it is NOT Mexico City, Colombia or Venezuela. I assure you, crime is not that common. But naïve tourists stand out like a sore thumb and following these tips, you are more likely to be respected.
Photography by Prom Peru
Additional photography by Martin St-Amant under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported.