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Educators Programs in Peru

Exploring Peru

Exploring Peru

Many Rustic Pathways students say Peru is one of the most beautiful places they’ve ever been. The nation has stunning landscapes from the rocky peaks of the Andes Mountains to the lush vegetation of the Amazon rainforest. At every turn there are dramatic features.

Almost two-thirds of Peru is covered by the Amazon rainforest with its diversity of flora and fauna. At a spot where the Andes meet the rainforest is the famous Machu Picchu site, which may be Peru’s most famous treasure. The 15th Century Inca citadel is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Country Basics

Peru is almost twice the size of the U.S. state of Texas with a population of nearly 34-million people. It’s bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west, Ecuador to the north, Chile to the south, and Colombia, Brazil, and Bolivia to the east. Peru has many climates including desert, mountain and tropical, which enables the nation to have a high level of biodiversity.

In addition, the country has a large number of indigenous people. Overall, about 45% of Peru’s population are members of groups like the Quechua.

Local Andean women


Peru has three official languages. Spanish is the most widely used and is spoken by about 83% of the population. The native language of Quechua is spoken by nearly 14% and Aymara is  spoken by less than 2%. In addition, there are dozens of other indigenous languages, particularly in the Amazon regions.

Before traveling to the country, it’s helpful to have some Spanish phrases ready to go. Here are a few words and phrases that may help:

Hello: Hola
How are you?: ¿Cómo estás?; Good: Bien
Good morning: Buenos días; Good afternoon: Buenos tardes; Good night: Buenos noches
Welcome: Bienvenido
Goodbye: Adios
Please: Por favor
Thank you: Gracias
Excuse me: Perdón

What is your name? ¿Cómo te llamas?; My name is ___. Me llamo ___.
Where are you from? ¿De dónde eres?; I am from ___. Yo soy de ___.
Do you speak English? ¿Hablas inglés?
I don’t understand. No entiendo
Where is the bathroom? ¿Dónde está el baño?
How much is it? ¿Cuanto vale ___?

Here are some Quechua phrases that may come in handy while interacting with local indigenous people.

Good morning: Allin p’unchay
Good afternoon: Allin sukha
Good night: Allin tuta
Goodbye: Tupananchiskama
How are you? ¿Allillanchu?
Thank you: Solpayki

Social Norms

In Peru if a local person invites you into their home for a meal, it’s a welcoming gesture. Saying no to food is considered impolite in rural villages. In these situations and others, here are a few social norms to follow:

  • Always try to finish your food or share with those around you.
  • Respect people’s privacy by not taking their picture without asking first
  • Greet passersbys with a friendly buenos días
  • Be respectful
  • Dress conservatively. For community service, we recommend T-shirts and tank tops with no visible undergarments and shorts with a 3” or more inseam.

On a general note, in Peru local villagers may want to get close to you. South America is one continent where less personal space is the norm.

Food & Drink

The potato, tomato and avocado are all native to the Andes region. Peru has over 3,000 different types of potato. More than 50 varieties of corn are also grown in the country, including one with the largest kernels of any type.

Not surprisingly because of the abundance of these crops, corn and potatoes are staples in Peruvian food, along with chili peppers. These peppers are used in Peru’s national dish  – ceviche. It consists of fresh raw fish in citrus juice spiced with the chili peppers, onion, salt and coriander.

Guinea pigs, called cuy, are considered a delicacy in Andean culture. During special occasions and celebrations, it’s roasted whole and served on a special plate called a merienda.

In many restaurants you may see large bottles of Inca Cola. It’s a bright yellow soda that some foreigners find to be too sweet, tasting like a mixture of bubblegum and cream soda.


The official currency of Peru is the nuevo sol (S/). It’s divided into 100 céntimos. One U.S. dollar will get you about 3.75 Peruvian nuevo soles. With that exchange rate, you may benefit from using an exchange calculator for quick calculations.

In the country, paper bills have denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100 or 200 soles, though it’s better to carry the smaller denominations. Coins come in values of 1, 2 and 5 soles, along with 10, 20 and 50 céntimos. Like a number of other countries in the Americas, U.S. dollars are accepted at a number of places.

Counterfeiting is a large problem in Peru. Therefore, you may need to study the currency appearance so you could possibly spot fake money. There also are scams such as short changing, which is one of the reasons you’ll want to use smaller denominations.

Haggling is also common in Peru. Prices for tourists can be inflated, so that is when negotiating can come into play. However, it’s also good not to take it too far and to respect artisans by giving them a fair price.


The weather across Peru varies greatly depending on which climate zone you are in. Keep in mind that June-August are winter months in the Southern Hemisphere. However, temperatures are relatively warm and dry during the day in the Sacred Valley from June-August. Here are the average weather conditions you may expect around Machu Picchu.

June July August
High Temperature 77 F 77 F 77 F
Low Temperature 48 F 48 F 50 F
Average Daylight 11 hrs. 22 minutes 11 hrs. 26 minutes 11 hrs. 41 minutes
Average Rainfall 0.67 inches 0.87 inches 1.73 inches
Monthly Rainy Days 2 days 2 days 7 days

Incan & Indigenous Influences 

Peru is most famous for being home to the Incan Empire, the largest pre-Columbian civilization in the Americas. However, hundreds of pre-Incan cultures populated Peru long before the Incan Empire and contributed to their many world renowned achievements. Travelers get a taste of these cultures while traveling through the country.

Among the things you may see are statues of the ninth king of the Incan Empire, Inca Pachacuti. He’s credited with the construction of Machu Picchu and the unification of the four regions of the Incan Empire.

You’ll also get a taste of local art and indigenous clothing. While in Cusco and other areas near Machu Picchu, indigenous villagers may be seen weaving textiles and wearing bright clothing.

The Incas gave a lot of weight to colors that were made from plants, insects and other elements in the environment. Among the colors of significance was red that was associated with conquering and ruling. Also, purple was associated with the founding mother of the Inca people.

Other highlights in Peru include the architecture and ancient Incan trails. Among the challenges you may see are issues related to land rights and poverty.

Indigenous people in both Ecuador and Peru have struggled with copper mining and other similar extraction activities, often led by foreign corporations. They are fighting to keep the mining off their lands. However, they’ve faced an uphill battle since elements like copper are used for electrical wiring in products like computers, appliances, and electric cars and is a profitable venture.


A mixture of religions are practiced in Peru. About 76-percent of the population are Roman Catholic.14-percent are Protestant, mainly Evangelical. Five percent are nonreligious and five percent are other faiths.

Ethnic Groups

Peru also has a mixture of ethnicities. About 60% are Mestizo, which is a mixture of Amerindian and White. 25% are Amerindian. Nearly 6% are white and 3.6% are African descent, while the rest are other ethnicities.

Other Key Facts About Peru

  • The Incan Empire prospered until 1532 when it was attacked by Spanish conquistadors.
  • The Spanish built on top of the Incan buildings, making for interesting architecture. Many buildings have Incan structures on the bottom and Spanish ones on the upper levels.
  • Peru was the last Spanish colony in South America to gain independence, which was in 1821. Simon Bolivar is recognized as Peru’s famous liberator.
  • The Amazon River begins in Peru.
  • Three-quarters of the world’s alpaca population live in Peru, numbering about 7.5 million alpacas.

  • The Andean Condor that lives in Peru is the largest flying bird on earth. It has a wingspan of up 10.5 feet, can stand nearly four feet tall and weigh more than 30 pounds.
  • There are pink river dolphins that swim in the Amazon River.
  • It’s estimated that more than three million species live in the Amazon rainforest.

  • Historians believe the origins of surfing began in Peru. For about 4,000 years, fishermen used a woven reed watercraft that they would stand, kneel or sit on to get back to shore after laying fishing nets. Some uncovered Inca artwork from the time period features depictions of wave riding.

Rustic Pathways in Peru

It’s a Wrap! A Summer of Service in Peru

Students explored a region that once was the center of the Incan Empire. Along the way, they learned about local village life in Peru while also giving back.

The Beauty and Ruggedness of Peru: Why Rustic’s Programs in this Nation Are So Popular

Rustic Pathways’ programs in Peru are quite an adventure, and there are pictures to prove it.

A to Z: Everything You Need to Know About Traveling to Peru
A collection of Peruvian quirks and attractions from A to Z to give you a window into life in Peru.

Student Story: Climbing to New Heights

Mackenzie loves to talk about her homestay experience in Peru during the Sacred Valley Service program.


Folklorico Music of Peru

Traditional sounds of Peru.


Girl Rising: Peru

Meet Senna and see what her life is like in Peru.


Best Street Food in Peru

Take a look at all the amazing dishes that Peru has to offer.

Make Lomo Saltado

Make one of the most famous national dishes in Peru, lomo saltado. An excellent example of chifa, a traditional cuisine that combines Peruvian and Chinese flavors.

Try It Out

Learn Quechua on Your Own

Quechua is an indigenous language to the Andes, and is an official language in Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia with roots that go back hundreds of years.

Make Inca Quipu (tying knots)

Quipu or khipu is a Quechua word for knot. The Incans used knotted ropes as a counting system to store information.

The Peru Experience

Student Travel Stories