Peru is a country in South America, situated on the western side of that continent, facing the South Pacific Ocean and straddling part of the Andes mountain range that runs the length of South America. Peru is bordered by Ecuador and Colombia to the north, Brazil and Bolivia to the east, and Chile to the south. Peru is a country that has a diversity and wealth little common in the world. The main attractions are their archaeological patrimony (pre-Columbian cultures), their gastronomy (the fifth most important one of the world), their colonial architecture (has imposing colonial constructions) and their natural resources (a paradise for the ecological tourism).
Although Peru has rich natural resources and many great places to visit, many of the people live in poor conditions. 43% of the population live under the poverty line. The rich, consisting mostly of a Hispanic elite, live in the cities. Nevertheless, most Peruvians are great nationalists and love their country with pride (largely stemming from Peru's history as the center of both the Inca Empire and Spain's South American Empire). Also, many Peruvians separate the state of Peru and its government in their minds. Some of them distrust their government and police, and people are used to corruption and embezzlement scandals.
The Peruvian economy is really healthy and strong nowadays but still some Peruvians see their economy as stuck in a rut. It is indebted and dependent on industrial nations, especially the United States. This dependence combined with US foreign policy decisions in recent years has contributed to a widely held negative view about the United States government in Peru, but not against individual US citizens.
The word gringo, which in Mexico means a person from the United States, is used commonly, but is not generally intended as offensive. Its original meaning was to mean all white-skinned people who do not speak Spanish. However, due to Mexican and American influence now many people use the word gringo exclusively for Americans (or American look-alikes, it's not uncommon for blonde people to be called gringo). People with little education especially do not hesitate to greet you with "¡Hola, gringo!".
Peruvians are known for being creative and also hard-working people. Most Peruvians are very busy working to earn their keep and some others to survive. That does not leave much time for travel. Many have not seen more than the surrounding villages or the next city over. There are very few Peruvians that ever have left the country (although the rich often go to Miami for shopping), although many have relatives living abroad. This may explain why Peruvians tend to be quite curious about other countries and lifestyles.
Generally, people are very friendly, peaceful and helpful. When in trouble, you mostly can rely on getting help. But as with any setting, it is always good to watch out for yourself and try to avoid bad situations. If you get into an argument, it is a good idea to remain amicable, but firm. Most of the time, you can find a compromise that satisfies everyone.
Peru is not exactly a haven for efficiency. Do not expect things to be on time, or exactly as they intend to be. Outside of the more upscale tourist services and big cities like Lima, English is uncommon and the people, trying to be friendly, can give wrong or inexact advice, a translator can always be helpful in this cases. Plan ahead and leave plenty of time for travelling. There are too many interruptions of service due to protests, even cutting highways. Even air service is disrupted due to weather or unexpect circumstances, so arm yourself with patience.
You may also want to see Tips for travel in developing countries for some useful hints.
Tourists from North America, Australia, Japan and the European Union (and many others, see link below) receive a visa upon arrival for up to 90 days.
When entering the country, you need to pass the immigration office (imigracion). There you get a stamp in your passport that states the number of days you are allowed to stay (usually 90 days). You can get an extension at immigration offices in any major city for 20US$ per month plus 26 soles administration fee. Make sure to take your time, don't expect things to be ready within less than an hour or even a day. The maximum extension allows you to stay for up to 180 days in total. When those 180 days are up and you would like to stay for longer, it's possible to cross the border to a neighbouring country (Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia or Chile) and return the next day and obtain another 180 days. Of course you can also leave the country before your first 90 days are over.
Furthermore, you will receive an extra official paper to be kept in the passport (make sure you don't lose it!). When leaving, you need to visit the emigration office (migracion), where you get the exit stamp. Imigracion and migracion are found on all border crossing-points. Extensions of the time to stay are no problem. Traveling to and from neighboring countries by land is no problem.
The capital city of Lima has the Jorge Chávez International Airport with frequent flights all over the world. Main airlines are American Airlines, Delta, Lan, Lan Peru, Continental, Iberia, Copa, Taca and others. There are non-stop flights to Lima from Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, and New York City in the United States. There is also a non-stop flight to Toronto, Canada with Air Canada. There are five different airlines that offer non-stop service to Europe. In the future there may be non-stop flights from Oceania or Asia but for now travelers usually connect through Los Angeles.
When leaving the country on an international flight you have to pay a departure tax. The amount changes, but expect it to be US$25-$30 or the equivalent in soles. This has to be payed in cash before entering the departure area.
There is also an internal flight tax, around 6 USD, same conditions as the international one.
In cities and around
Inside the cities, there is usually no problem getting around on city buses or taxis. Buses cost between 0.70 and 1.50 Soles ( US$ 0.20 - 0.40) inside a city, taxis between 7 and 8 soles (US$ 2.00 - 2.40) in Lima, normally less in other cities. "Taxi" does not necessarily mean a car; the term also refers to bicycles, motor rickshaws, and motor bikes for hire. Taxis are divided between "formal" taxis, painted and marked as such, and informal ones, that are just cars with a windshield sticker that says "Taxi". The last ones are better left to the locals, especially if you don't speak Spanish. Apart from the more upscale radio taxi (also the more expensive ones), the fare is not fixed or metered, but it is negotiated with the driver before getting into the vehicle. Ask at your hotel or hostal about the rate you may expect to pay to ride to a specific location to have a point of reference. There is no tipping at taxis.
"Micros" (from microbus), are small minivans or Coaster buses, also known as "combis" and "custers". They do not have actual bus stops (they exist, although in practice the driver won't stop unless you ask), but fixed routes. The direction is shown by boards in the windscreen or painted on the side. If you want to catch a bus, just give the driver a sign (raise your hand similar to hitch-hiking) to stop. If the bus is not completely overfilled (and sometimes when it is, too), it will stop to pick you up. During the ride, the ticket collector will ask you for the fee. If you want to exit, just say loudly "Bajo!" (BAH-ho) or "Esquina baja!" (s-KEE-nah BAH-ha), and the driver will stop at the next possibility. They are cramped and dirty, and not helpful unless in small towns or during off peak hours. They also stop in the middle of the road, so be careful when getting down.
Please note: Micros are very common but known for being quite dangerous, different govermment programms are trying to reduce the amount of micros, its recommendable to not take a micro.
Some main roads, especially along the coastal strip, are paved, but there are still a lot of dirt roads in very poor condition. In the rainy season, landslides may block even major roads.
Inter-city travel is mostly by bus, and some cities have train connections. In contrast to colectivos, buses, and of course trains, start from fixed points, either the central bus terminal or the court of the appropriate bus company. It is a good idea to buy your ticket one day in advance so that you can be relatively sure of finding a seat. If you come directly before the bus leaves, you risk finding that there are no more seats available. In most bus terminals you need to buy a seperate departure tax of 1 or 1,5 soles.
If you are so unlucky as to be taller than 1.80m, you will most likely be uncomfortable on the ride since the seats are much tighter than in Europe or the USA. In this case, you can try to get the middle seat in the rear, but on dirt roads the rear swings heavily. In older buses, the seats in the first row are the best, but many buses have a driver cabin separated from the rest of the bus so that you look an a dark screen or a curtain rather than out the front windshield. In older buses, you can get one or two seats beside the driver, which gives you a good view of the passing landscape. In this case, don't be too surprised when the driver is chewing his coca leaves.
First-class express buses, complete with video, checked luggage and even meal service, travel between major cities. You may need to present a passport to purchase a ticket.
Make sure that your luggage is rain proof since it is often transported on the roof of the bus when travelling in the Andes.
Avoid bus companies that allow travellers to get into the bus outside the official stations. They are normally badly managed and can be dangerous, due both to unsafe practices or to highway robberies, which are unfortunately not uncommon. This should be heeded especially by female travellers going on their own. Get information at the hotel, hostal or tourist information booth before catching a ride.
Even when going by train, it's best to buy the ticket in advance. Buy 1st class or buffet class (still higher), or you risk getting completely covered by luggage. People will put their luggage under your seat, in front of your feet, beside you and everywhere where some little place is left. This makes the journey quite uncomfortable, since you can't move any more and the view of the landscape is bad.
There are three rail lines in Peru:
Service between Arequipa and Juliaca has been suspended as of of early 2007.
For more info, go to PeruRail's web site Peru Travel Agency
Beside the famous Inca trail to Machu Picchu, you can do a lot of more days hikes all along the Sierra, preferably in the dry season. The hiker's Mecca is Huaraz, where you can find a lot of agencies that offer guided tours and/or equipment to borrow. The thin vegetation in the higher Sierra makes off-trail hiking easy. Good maps are hard to find inside Peru. It is better to bring them from home. Make sure you have enough iodine to purify your drinking water. When hiking in higher altitude, good acclimatisation is absolutely necessary. Take a good sleeping bag with you, since nights in the Sierra may become bitterly cold (-10 degrees Celsius in 4,500m altitude are normal, sometimes still colder). Beware of thunderstorms that may rise up very suddenly. Rapid falling temperature and hard rain falls are a serious danger in higher altitudes. Don't forget that the night lasts for 12 hours year-round, so a flashlight is a good idea. When hiking on higher, but not snow covered mountains, water may be rare. Getting alcohol for stoves is easy: Either buy the blue colored alcohol de quemar or, better, simply buy pure drinking alcohol. You can get this in every town for about 3 Soles (US$0,85) per liter. (If you ever should get the idea to drink it, mix it with some other drink, otherwise it will burn like hell ;-)). It won't be so easy to find special fuel for gasoline stoves. Gasoline for cars can also be found in many hardware stores (ferreterias) sold by liters, but you can actually buy it directly on gas stations, provided you bring your own bottle.
It also also possible the tour the innards of the country by car. This gives you a chance to get "off the beaten track" and explore some of the areas that haven't been transformed by tourism. Beware that, aside from a few major roads, most roads are unpaved and your speed on them will be severely restricted. Be sure to bring plenty of gas, as gas stations in unpopulated areas are very rare and will often times be closed. Purchasing gas late at night can be an adventure all its own, as even in more populated areas gas stations tend to close early and the pumps are locked. The owner of the station sometimes sleeps inside and, if you can rouse them, they will come out and let you fill up. Also note that traffic checkpoints tend to be scattered throughout the country and the police may try to extract bribes from foreigners for passage. It would be wise to travel with a native speaker who can navigate the roads and deal with law enforcement.
In tourist centers like Cusco and Machu Picchu or in high class hotels, English is spoken. If you intend to visit other sites, especially in the countryside, you'll need Spanish. Unlike in Spain and some other South American countries, Peruvian Spanish replaces vosotros (and its 2nd-person plural conjugations) with ustedes (3rd-person plural). For example: ¿Cómo están? instead of ¿Cómo estáis?. South American Spanish likes diminutives (gringuito is more affectionate than gringo).
If you should be one of the lucky ones that learns languages very easily, try to learn Quechua, the language of the Incas. It will be highly appreciated in the countryside of the Sierra, where some people (especially the elderly) still speak little Spanish. If you can get a hold on Spanish, most certainly you'll be able to handle it. On the Altiplano, the unofficial language Aymara is widely spoken. Aymara was the language of the Tihuanacu culture.
The currency of Peru is the nuevo sol. US$1 is worth 3.357 nuevo soles (20 Jan 2006). Coins are available in five, two and one sol, and in 50, 20, 10, 5 and 1 cent. 5 and 1 cent coins are not normally accepted outside of big supermarkets or banks, so avoid them. Notes are available at 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 soles denominations; 200 soles notes are uncommon and will not be accepted in the same places that will not accept a 100 USD note or a 50 pound note.
Counterfeiting is common: take time to get familiar with the money and do not hesitate to reject any note or coin (especially the 5 sol coins) that look suspicious, just like any Peruvian would do, If you are stuck with a counterfeit coin or note, if you try to use it at big stores they may want to confiscate it. Don't accept damaged bills, since you will have to take them to a bank in order to change them into new ones before you can spend them. Be especially careful when exchanging money at the border (notably the one with Ecuador).
Travelers checks or credit cards are usual. Although cash has a ca. 2% better change rate, you are strongly advised not to carry large amounts of cash on your journey. The Banco de Credito (BCP) gives good rates on traveler checks. Rates in change offices are often somewhat worse. It's always worth comparing them before changing your money. When changing your money in change offices, control their calculations. Most of them make calculations on the fly for the amount you want using an electronic calculator in plain view, even showing you the process step by step (unless they are brutally obvious, like changing tens or hundreds). If they don't show, keep the money in your pocket and find someone that does. Even in the bank, check your bills for authenticity.
ATMs are available in big cities, upmarket hotels and touristic areas. With a Cirrus or Maestro sign on it, you can withdraw cash easily. Make sure nobody is trying to see your PIN code. The exchange rate is the same as credit cards but fees are much lower.
In smaller towns, it can happen that there are nobody who will accept your credit card or traveler checks. For this case, you should have taken care that you have enough cash with you. Nice new Dollar bills (not too high,10 or 20 US$ bills are fine) can help, too, since they are easier to change than travelers checks. In Peru, it not as common for US$ to be accepted in transactions as in other countries. Often in small towns, local shops will change money for you. If so, it will be clearly marked. Take only US$ bills in good condition since bills slightly torn or even old-looking will not be accepted.
As a low budget traveller, you can live on ca. US$ 15 per day without problems. Basic hotels or hostels (hospedajes) can be easily found in all Peru. The cost per night is about US$ 3 - 6.
There are a lot of very cheap restaurants (US$ 0.50 - 1.50), but maybe this is not the best place to save your money. In somewhat better restaurants you can get lunch and dinner menus for US$ 2 - 3. Of course, in every city you can find restaurants where you can spend US$ 20 and more if you want.
Buses are not very expensive. The usual price for a 10 h bus ride in a normal bus (not "Royal Class" or something like that) is about US$ 6. However, you'd do well in paying the extra buck, the difference between a $6 ticket and a $12 is enormous. Again, avoid bus companies that allow travellers to get into the bus outside the official stations. They are normally badly managed and can be dangerous, due both to unsafe practices or to highway robberies, which are unfortunately not uncommon. This should be heeded especially by female travellers going on their own. Get information at the hotel, hostal or tourist information booth before catching a ride.
Trains (except the ones for Machu Picchu, which are relatively expensive) run for similar fees.
Peru is famous for a lot of different, really nice and relatively cheap handicrafts. Keep in mind that buying handicrafts support traditional skills and helps many families to gain their modest income. Look for:
DO NOT accept any handicrafts that look like (or actually are) precolumbian pottery or jewelry. It is illegal to trade them and there is the possibility not only of them being confiscated, but of being prosecuted for illegal trading, even if the actual artifacts are copies or fakes. Dealing with the police from the criminal side is messy and really unpleasant.
BUYER BEWARE watch out for fake (Bamba)Alpaca wool products many items sold to the unsuspecting gringo are actually synthetic or ordinary wool! That nice soft jumper in the market for $8 or so is most certain to be acrylic. Even in places such as Puno there is no easy way to tell if it is made from Alpaca, sometimes it might have a small percentage of Alpaca mixed in with other fibres. Baby Alpaca is not from baby animals but the first shearing and the fibre is very soft and fine. Generally Alpaca fibre has a low lustre and a slightly greasy hand to it and is slow to recover from being stretched. Shop and compare real Alpaca is expensive.
Bargaining is very common. If you are not used to it, respect some rules. If you intend to buy something, first ask the price, even if you already know what it actually should cost. Then check whether everything is all right. (Does the pullover fit you? Do you really want to buy it? Is the expiration date on the cheese exceeded? etc.) If the price is OK, pay it. If not, it's your turn to say a lower price, but stay realistic. First get an idea about how much you would expect to pay. Then say a price about 20-30% lower. It's always good if you can give some reason for that. Once you have said a price, you cannot give a lower one later. This would be regarded as a very impolite behavior. If you feel that you can't get your price, just say "No, gracias." and begin to walk away. This is your last chance. If you are lucky, the seller will give you a last offer, if not, say "No, gracias." again and go on walking. Keep in mind: Never begin to bargain if you don't really want to buy! It is similarly important not to over-bargain. Poverty can force a vendor to sell, even without making a fair profit. In fact, when dealing with vendors in poorer areas of the country it is worth considering whether getting the "best price" is really what is most important to you.
Supermarkets can only be found in cities and are somewhat expensive. In every town, there is at least one market place or hall, except Lima that has a dense concentration of supermarkets, malls and department stores. In cities, there are different markets (or sections of one big market) for different articles.
Stores with similar articles tend to be grouped in the same street. So, if you once know the appropriate street when looking for something special, it shouldn't be no more problem to find it quite soon.
Giving tips in restaurants (at least when basic or middle-range) is not very common but 10% for good service is polite. In the cities, you will always find some beggars, either sitting on the streets, or doing a musical number on the buses. Many of them really need help, especially the elderly and handicapped. Usual givings are about 0.10 - 0.20 Soles (US$ 0.03 - 0.06). This is not much, but some unskilled workers don't get much more than 10 Soles for a hard working day. Whether you want to give money to child beggars or not is your decision. But consider that doing so may make it more attractive for parents to send their children begging in the street instead of sending them to school. Buy them food instead, they do need it.
For meat eaters Peruvian cuisine is among the most varied in the world. Not only does the country grow a variety of fruits and vegetables, but it does so throughout the year. Peruvian geopraphy offers at least 8 different climates (desert along the coast, steep and high mountains, the Amazon basin). In Lima, due to its history as an important Spanish colonial port, the dishes are a mixture of amerindian, spaniard, african, asian and even italian influences that contribute to the ever changing platos creolos (creole dishes). Rice is the staple foodstuff, and expect many dishes to include rice, in the Siera it's corn and potatoes, and in the Jungle yuca. Meat is traditionally included in most Peruvian dishes. Chicken (pollo), pork, sheep and beef are common. Alpacas are actually kept for wool, not for meat. Mostly, you will find that alpaca meat is rather tough. An Andean delicacy is guinea pig (cuy). Peruvian cuisine includes dishes which use various organs, including anticuchos, a kebab made from a very marinated and spicy cow's heart, and cau-cau (sounds like cow-cow), made from the stomach of the cow served in a yellow sauce with potatoes. Anticuchos are a standard street stall food, be careful with it.
Fish can be found along the coast (of course), but also in the jungle area since the rivers supply fresh fish (but take care with contamination in the area known as high jungle or selva alta, where most of the cocaine is made, using strong chemicals dumped into rivers; mining is a minor source of pollution in this area). In the Sierra, trouts (truchas) are bred in several places. The most valued fish meal is the Ceviche, raw fish cooked by marination in lime juice, popular variations of the dish can include shellfish, even sea-urchin. The preparation of ceviche will vary along the coastal towns and cities. Extremely recommendable especially in summer, but take care about preparation best not buy from street vendors and remember that it is usually served spicy.
In all Peru, there is a big variety of preparing potatoes (papas, not patatas as in Spain), the traditional Andean vegetable.
Nowadays, the transport routes from the flat jungle areas are good enough to supply all the country with vegetables and fruits. Nevertheless, vegetables still have the status of a garnish for the meat. Vegetarian restaurants exist in all cities, but are relatively rare. In many areas, there is a rich offer of tropical fruits and fresh pressed juices.
If you count on international fast food chains, you will be disappointed. You find them almost nowhere except Lima, which to many tourists is a welcome feature.
Be careful: many Peruvian dishes can be too spicy and heavy, so if you have a weak stomach try it with caution.
Peruvians are quite proud of their desserts, especially in Lima. Try them with care, since they tend to be extremely sweet and loaded with sugars, eggs yolks and similar unhealthy ingredients. Try mazamorra morada, or purple custard, made from the same purple corn used for chicha morada drink; together with arroz con leche(rice with sweet, condensed milk) is called a combinado (combination). Picarones are a sort of donut, made from fried yams dough and served with chancaca, a very sweet sugarcane syrup. And the sweetest dessert suspiro Limeño; perfect if you are in sore need of a caloric and glucose shock.
The Pisco-Nasca area is famous for wine cultivating. Their more expensive vintages compare favorably against Chilean imports. Beer is nice, stronger than American brands but less full bodied than European ones. Most of Peruvian beers are made by Backus, currently owned by SAB Miller.
Hotels in Peru are very common and fairly cheap. They range from 1 - 5 stars. 5 star hotels are normally for package tourism or business travel, and very uncommon outside of Lima. 4 star hotels are usually a bit on the expensive side ( > US$30 per night) and not common, but in large cities. 3 star hotels are a good compromise between price and quality and usually US$10 - US$30. 2 and 1 star hotels are very cheap ( < 10 US$), but don't expect hot water or a particularly safe neighborhood.
In many cities there are hotels in residential areas, but they are not tourist hotels but "couples" rooms for lovers.
Peruvian Spanish, particularly in the Sierra and jungle, is pronounced much more clearly than European Spanish and Spanish from other Latin American countries, especially Mexico, Colombia and Chile. People don't tend to speak too fast, although in coastal areas, especially Lima, people speak considerably faster than in other areas, and they also use slang quite liberally. On the whole, Peru is a good and cheap place to embark on Spanish courses (once you are there).
Some slang terms:
Chevere, Bacan cool.
Me da colera, Me llega, it pisses me off.
Ya, right, sure (sometimes "ok" or "yup").
Loco ,crazy person.Usually said in a friendly manner, also means "mate, friend, buddie"
Tombo, is cop (and cops don't like hearing it).
Money is often refer as plata (as in silver). Eso cuesta mucha plata = that's expensive.
While there a very limited options for unskilled work and local wages are very low, teaching English or other language tutoring is an option.
Avoid paying for volunteering. Simply contact a bunch of NGOs and let them know you are interested in working for them. If you are interesting in volunteering to help indigenous people, contact the Movement in the Amazon for Tribal Subsistence and Economic Sustainability (MATSES) . Sometimes you can also get a paid job after doing some volunteer work. Just be clear that you are able to stay a fixed amount of time for unpaid work, and that you would need some money to continue your work.
Emergency numbers in Peru are 011 / 5114. In Lima ring 105. In Lima and some of the larger cities there is a sort of local police called "Serenazgo": you may ask for help but they have no tourist oriented services.
Dealing with the police can take a lot of time. In order to get a copy of a police report you need to go to a Banco de la Nacion and pay 3 soles. Without this the police won't give you a copy, and obviously you can only arrange this during working days. Police officers will often tell you things that are just plain false, so that you will waste a lot of time trying to get a copy.
Many of the aforementioned countries also have consulates in other major cities. See their websites for more details.
Vaccinations and Prophylaxis
For most South American countries, the following vaccinations are recommended or necessary:
Take care of vaccinations at least 2 month before your journey starts since most vaccination schemes need time.
Malaria is a risk outside of the coastal and Andean region; an appropriate course of anti-malarials should be started prior to arrival - consult a doctor. If you should catch malaria, you can find treatment centers in all jungle towns.
If planning on camping, don't forget: Use close-meshed mosquito nets!
Common medicines, like antibiotics, can be bought in pharmacies (farmacias or boticas) quite cheaply and without restrictions. However, make sure the expiry date has not been reached. Pharmacists are mostly very helpful and can be consulted if needed. For less serious illnesses, they may replace a doctor.
Electrolytic drinks help guard against dehydration. You can get powders to dissolve in water in almost every pharmacy. If not, just dissolve sugar and salt in water. Bacterial diarrhea can be treated with antibiotics, if it doesn't vanish during a week. Usually, pharmacies are quite helpful.
Food and Drink
If you stay in good hotels you may be able to avoid catching diarrhea, otherwise you will surely contract it. Just don't worry too much about. There are some rules that could avoid the worst:
If you do not have experience with higher altitudes (above 3,500m), don't underestimate it! Collapses of unacclimatized tourists are not unusual, serious health damage or even death can occur! If coming from sea level, stay at medium height ca. 3000m for at least one week. Then, altitudes of around 4500m should not be a risk, although you still will strongly feel the height.
See also: Altitude sickness
Since Peru is close to the equator, the sun can become dangerous for your skin and eyes. Especially in the Sierra, the strong UV radiation due to the height in combination with the rather cold air may burn your skin before you notice it. Sun-blockers are easy to get in drug stores (boticas). If your eyes are sensitive to light, better bring good sunglasses from home. Of course, you can buy sunglasses in Peru, too, but you should really be sure that they block the whole UV spectrum, otherwise, they might be worse than none.
Outside of obviously well-set up restaurants and hotels in cities and towns, toilets are often quite primitive and sometimes really dirty. It's a good idea to bring your own paper with you,as peruvian toilet paper maybe too rough as well as being one ply. It's usual not to throw the used toilet paper into the toilet, but in baskets besides. This is because the pipes tend to plug up. If there is no basket, it's not unusual to throw the paper on the ground. Toilet doors are marked with "baño", "S.H." or "SS.HH.". The latter two are abbreviations for servicio higienico, which is the rather formal expression. Expect to pay no more than 20 centimos at public restrooms for paper.
In hostels or budget hotels, you cannot rely on having water all the time. In the Andean region, it also can easily happen that showers have more or less hot water only in the afternoon since the water is heated by solar energy only. Electrically heated showers are widely spread, but the electric installation is sometimes really adventurous, since the water heater is mostly situated at the shower head. Have a look on it before turning on the shower, especially if you are tall enough that you could touch the cables or other metal during showering which can electrocute you. Don't be too paranoid though, an electric shock is mostly painful.
As woman, if you use tampons during your period, you should bring them with you from home, because they are not very popular in Peru. In Lima, you'll be able to find them in supermarket chains like Santa Isabel or Wong or at drug stores / chemists, known as farmacias and boticas. When you find them, buy enough for the rest of the trip, they are virtually unknown in the rest of the country. Alternatively you could pack a DivaCup (http://www.divacup.com), which is reuseable and compact.
Don't use the word "indio", although it's Spanish. For natives, it sounds like "nigger" since it was used by Spanish conquerors. The politically correct way of speaking is "el indígena" or "la indígena" - although, like "nigger", very close people inside a circle of friends can get away with it. Another word to be careful with is chola/cholo or cholita, meaning indígena. This may be used affectionately among indigenous people (it'a very common appellation for a child, for instance) but is offensive coming from an outsider.
Even if you have about 20 "No drugs" T-shirts at home, accept that especially people from the country side chew coca leaves. See it as a part of the culture with social and ritual components. And keep in mind: Coca leaves are not cocaine and they are legal. You can and should try them to experience the culture. If you don't like to chew them, try a mate de hojas de coca. Also quite effective against altitude sickness.
Officially, most of the Peruvians are Roman Catholic, but especially on the country-side, the ancient pre-Hispanic religiosity is still alive. Respect that when visiting temple ruins or other ritual places and behave as it were a church.
In all towns and villages that are not too small, it is no problem to find public telephones for national and international calls. Usually, you find them in bars or stores. Some of them accept coins, but watch out for stuck coins or dodgy-looking coin receivers as these might make you lose your money. Don't worry if your 1 Nuevo Sol coins don't get through at first, just keep trying and it will eventually work. You also can buy phone cards with a 12 digit secret number on it. Using a phone card, first dial 147. When done so, you will be told how much your card is still valid and be asked (in Spanish, of course) for your secret number. After having typed it, you are asked for the phone number you want to connect to. Type it in. Then you get told how much time you can talk. After that, the connection is tried.
For international calls, it is often a good idea to go to an Internet cafe that offers Internet based phone calls. You find them in the cities.
Internet cafes, called in Peru cabinas públicas, grow like mushrooms in Peru and if you are not really on the countryside, it should not be a problem at all to find one. Even in a smaller town like Mancora or Chivay you can still find Internet cafes with 512kbps ADSL. The connection is quite reliable and they are cheap (1.50 - 3.00 Soles, US$ 0.40 - 0.80 per hour). Just don't expect most of them to actually sell coffee - or anything at all but computer time or services like printing. It is not uncommon to find cabinas that burn CDs directly from SD, CF or Memory sticks. Many internet cafes have headphones and microphones, for free or for an extra free. See also Online telephone service for travel.