South America Natural Adventures

nature travel, wildlife tours, adventure travel and general travel to Chile, Peru, Central America and Antarctica






Peruvians are generally casual people, except with some of the upper classes, who can be fastidious. With the ethnic variety in Peru it’s hard to generalize on customs, as what’s normal in the Incan highlands may be unusual in Lima. People generally shake hands when meeting and often when departing. Close male friends may give a hug, and women a kiss on the cheek. Children are often greeted with an arm around the shoulders. Friends greet each other by their first name, but elders are accorded respect by using surnames and titles. Don’t be surprised if asked some rather personal questions; this is a sign of polite interest not prying. Generally Amerindians are reserved, and this trait is common in much of the Andean highlands. Extended eye contact is unwelcome, and eye contact generally is usually very brief. Boisterous and loud behavior is generally out of place. As with many Spanish settled countries, eating, especially and mainly the midday meal, is a long, late affair, and a main time for socializing. Evening from about 8pm on, especially Friday and Saturday, is the time to head to the plaza to see and be seen, usually be walking, gathering into small knots and breaking up, greeting friends etc. This will happen in every town, large or small, and should be a feature of your travels in Peru. Expect to see whole families out at 10pm, but especially younger and older people, meeting for the former and observing for the latter. The national religion is soccer, followed by Catholicism. Do not venture onto the streets on the evening when Peru has won or lost to another nearby country. Peruvians like getting out, and Sunday is their favorite day to do so. Parades are also a favorite, and in main cities it’s unusual for there not to be some gathering in the Plaza de Armas each week, often with awards being given out.
Traveling in Peru, especially in the Andes, will provide many human photographic opportunities. Always ask permission before taking photographs, and expect that anyone with a prop – sheep, llama, colorfully wrapped baby or costumed children, weaving equipment, etc, will expect to be paid, usually $1. While children or young animals being carted about for the purpose of tourists’ photographs raises ethical questions, the need to provide food for the family does not. But don’t be surprised to hear cell phone chimes coming from under those traditional clothes as the blanket is being woven.

Toilets may not have paper; carry a little with you.


Peru operates more on European meal times, and there isn’t the rush to eat as there is here – eating out is more of an event than a routine part of the week’s meals. Lunch, often take for much of the afternoon, is the most important meal. Most restaurants take and expect bookings – a line of people waiting for a table is rare, as restaurants only allow for one or two covers per session. If a table is booked for 10pm, the restaurant will not sell it to diners at 9pm, or even 8.30pm. In many restaurants there is no hostess station and you seat yourself. Servers will not hover over you, and won’t tell you their name and personal history. Once seated, it’s common to have a pre-dinner drink – this is done at the table, not at a bar. When you are ready to order, signal (politely) to a server. The same goes when you need anything additional, and when you are ready for the bill (check). You’ll often take this to a cash register at the front for payment, depending on the class of the restaurant. Tables will get one bill; it’s up to you to sort out who pays for what, not the restaurant or the server. Soft drinks are single serve, no endless refills, as is coffee (although at US tourist oriented hotels breakfast coffee may be unlimited, but if you have to order another cup, you’ll probably pay again.). Coffee is served in much smaller cups than typical in the US, and is often an after-dinner drink. Southerners especially beware, if you order tea, you’ll get it hot, in a cup. As with other developed nations, there are a range of restaurant types, from upscale to basic to regional styles.

Peru has one of the best cuisines in South America, if not the best, and has become famous for its food. Even one of fast food chains is operated by one of Peru’s foremost chefs, and the food reflects it. A combination of several cultures, including Japanese, has led to the diversity of food, plus of course some of the world’s richest fishing waters (sadly now considerably depleted), tropical forests and Andean highland food – there are nearly 3000 – not a misprint – of potatoes along in the Peruvian Andes. Most famous of Peru’s dishes is ceviche, seafood and a few vegetables stewed in lime juice, peppers and garlic. While historically a coastal dish, it can be had all over the country, but the coast produces the best and freshest. Once again, there are nearly as many varieties of ceviche as people making it.

Wine is not a universal drink in Peru, and most comes from Chile. The couple of local ones we’ve tried suggest there’s a reason for this. However, near Ica and the Nazca lines is the town of Pisco, and this is the national drink of Peru. Second to this is beer, and of the available one the most commonly seen and drunk is Cristal. It’s more a bulk American style, and unsurprisingly therefore is also the worst. Pilsen Callao and Cusqueña, good enough to be exported, are much better options. In the highland chichi is popular, brewed from corn. You’ll see a red flag outside some doors in the highlands; this tells you chicha is served there. But there’s a small detail to be aware of before plonking down your soles on the counter. Before it’s brewed, the corn is chewed (by people hired to do so) to mix with saliva enzymes, then spat out into a communal container. Although it’s boiled along the way, this production detail tends to put some potential drinkers off.


Other than the Panamericana, divided multi-lane freeways are virtually non-existent, and as the maximum speed limit is usually100km/hr (62mph), long distance highway driving should be calculated at about 80km (50m) per hour effective travel or less. There are quite a few good paved roads connecting various cities from north to south, evening going to the edge of the Amazon jungle at Tarapoto, but there are more that are dirt, especially once away from the main cities. Driving, or being driven, in Peru can be dangerous due to bad drivers, bad roads, and livestock. Driving at night is especially hazardous. Better quality tour outfitters use good drivers (in the main), but smaller agencies and individuals up the risk factor considerably. Don’t even consider using the public bus/truck systems in the high Andean valleys, where towns are joined by winding dirt and often mud narrow roads with steep – sometimes over 1000ft –drops to the side.


Most food in good restaurants and hotels, and cooked food elsewhere is usually safe to consume, but always drink bottled water without ice. It comes Con Gas – carbonated – or Sin Gas – flat. (we know there’s a market for bottled sin gas in the US!). However, it’s not uncommon to get an upset stomach and diarrhea, so take medicine with you for this. Treated quickly and properly the bout should not last long. As it’s impossible to say who or where an attack might occur – most travelers have been in a party where one person came down with problems alone, despite everyone eating the same meal. So just enjoy and be prepared.

A real danger in Peru is altitude sickness if the higher parts of the Andes are in your itinerary. The best remedy is to sleep low and have fun high. Acclimate by spending a couple of nights around 5-6000ft before going higher, and remember to keep your activity level low for the first couple of days. If you feel sick, go low – altitude sickness can be fatal. Every hotel in the Andes will have a container of coca tea available for drinking, and this traditional treatment is recommended. It also helps to overcome dehydrations, another concern in the thin air.


Peru has a reasonable and simple phone system, and cell phone use is extremely high; like most other countries in-coming calls are free, so the phone are mostly used for receiving calls.. All phone kiosks are operated by coins or tarjetas telefonicas - phone cards - which are available in a variety of denominations, and nuevo sol coins. You can buy phone cards from corner shops, farmacias or on the street from cigarette stalls in the centers of most towns and cities. There are currently two phone outfits, Telefonica del Peru and Telepoint, each of whom produce their own cards for use in their phones only. Cheap international calling cards are also good, but if you are using them from a hotel check for surcharges. Unless you have a Triband GSM model (T-Mobile and ATT now some Verizon models), and an appropriate international plan, your cell phone won’t work overseas; even with such a plan the calls will be far more expensive, and incoming calls will cost considerably more for the caller than their normal international rate. If you want to have a cell phone either get your current GSM one unlocked and buy a sim card such as that offered by GoSim, or rent one at the airport. The former is cheaper, and you won’t be spending your money just for Peru access; remember that incoming calls are free. Cheapest of all is to set up a Skype account and use and Internet café; for a few dollars you can log on to check and send emails as well. You can also download Skype onto your Iphone. But remember, being on vacation means just that – you’ll enjoy your stay more by saying to your friends and family “talk to you when we return.”


No immunizations are required for Chile, but a Yellow Fever immunization is strongly recommended. You should also be covered for all the other usual travel shots. This is especially true if you are continuing to travel; next door Chile will not let you in without the yellow fever immunization certificate if you have been in Peru in the previous six days; some countries it’s even longer (eg Singapore, where it’s six months). We highly recommend that your tetanus shot is up to date – though no more prevalent down there than here, tetanus can stop a vacation in its tracks. Peru has so-so medical facilities, and remote areas may only have a simple clinic. Doctors, hospitals and medicines tend to be cheaper than in the US. Many US insurance plans do not cover or restrict services overseas – please check with yours. We highly recommend travel insurance; although excellent care is available locally, associated transport costs, especially from remote areas can be high, and aren’t usually covered by your own insurance. We can advise you about insurance, and assist you in obtaining travel insurance from a reputable third-party insurer. Many US prescription-only drugs can be bought over the counter in Peru, and pharmacies will issue medicines without a prescription and with their own suggestions. However, this can be unwise; a visit to a doctor, where you will have to pay cash or sometimes with a credit card, is advised. If you wish to replenish your own supply while overseas take your prescription with you for filling at a pharmacy with an exact replacement. Please note that some specialized drugs may not be available overseas, and some have different names.

Sunburn is a real risk in Peru, especially at altitude when there is little to block the sun’s rays and on the coast. For fair-skinned people skin damage can occur in as little as 20 minutes in summer. Cover up with a hat and sunscreen.


To help recover lost cameras or memory cards photograph your name address and leave the image on each card. Taking a photo of your hotel name when you arrive may also help quickly return a lost camera, or just photograph your hotel list. Although large capacity memory cards can hold all your photos, they do get corrupted, and we recommend using several smaller cards rather than one large one. Downloading photos via the internet from time to time can also prevent loss of those precious memories. Don’t wait until you arrive to learn about your new camera – saving $50 at the duty-free store or on a last-minute web bargain isn’t a deal if you lose the memories of a $5000 once-in-a-lifetime trip.

As you enter each town or area take a photo of the town’s name, as the first shot and when you depart. Six months later you’ll be able to tell where you took the shot and work out general scenery in between. This also works for hotels, attractions, etc.

Ziplock bags are the duct tape of travel; always carry a few of various sizes. In flight they can be used to enclose tubes that might leak due to pressure changes, including ballpoint pens. Large sizes can hold wet swimsuits, useful if you want to be in the water on the day of your return. They’re also good for smelly or just dirty socks. Also take a few plastic grocery bags for larger dirty items, such as shoes. A little laundry detergent in a ziplock will also be useful along the way. On the beach or in a boat a ziplock is useful for carrying your camera to avoid sand and salt spray; securely fastened it will keep water out for long enough if your camera (or phone) is briefly dropped in water.

While a poncho or other wet gear should be part of your luggage, a decent travel umbrella is very useful in the tropics especially, as the rain is often of short duration and comes straight down. Umbrellas roll back up into their sheath, and can be placed in a grocery bag when wet, whereas bulkier wet weather gear is harder to keep separate from dry clothes, and is often makes you pretty steamy while wearing it.

If you plan to buy clothing locally, save space on your return by taking old clothes that you no longer wear, wear them until you replace them during your stay with local goods, then leave them in Belize, preferably with locals who will use and appreciate them. This way your bag will be no fuller on the return then when you departed the US.

Save space by putting non-prescription pills in one container, but don’t forget to include a guide – colors, eg – as to what each one is. Prescription pills are best left in their own container, or if you buy them in bulk transfer to a small one but make sure you take your prescription with you to avoid problems at borders.

If you a birder, and taking a guide, here’s a suggestion to make IDs easier. Go through the book, and work out which birds occur in the area you’ll be visiting, and maybe the altitudes. Use colored dots from the office supply store to mark the plates of the possibilities. We use codes such as blue for lowland only, green for above 1000m only, etc; dots can be overlapped for wider ranges. An “R” for “very rare” can be written on the dot to further refine things. When you have to quickly look at a page of unfamiliar and confusingly similar birds, the possibilities will stand out from the rest. It’s quicker, and more concise than making written notes.



The following is a general list – your own itinerary may require changes, depending on your season of travel. We’ve left off the more obvious things, such as underwear and toiletries.

Things to leave at home
1. most jewelry
2. suits, jackets, ties and other formalwear– unless you intend to dine at top of the line restaurants.
3. high heels
4. fussiness, exactitude, meticulousness and need for precision

Things to pack
1. *easy-going attitude (keep on your person at all times)
2. 3 or 4 cotton or modern synthetic mix shirts – not plain synthetic which can be hot
3. 1 pair of shorts
4. 2 pants – zip-offs legs are useful; one pair should be heavier especially if you are going south
5. light/medium sweater
6. fleece vest or jacket depending on itinerary (for altitude and the south)
7. medium to heavy rain-proof/resistant jacket
8. swimwear for pool, spa or sauna
9. a couple of t-shirts – or buy them there
10. good medium weight walking shoes/sneakers
11. moisture absorbent easily washed socks
12. hat – not just a cap, but one with a sun brim that gives protection to the ears
13. light-weight pocket hooded poncho – one that covers all of you, including your head and camera in case of unexpected rain
14. thermal underwear is useful for outdoor activities in the high Andes.

15. *camera and film
16. *If you have just bought one or more new cameras for the trip, you may want to take a copy of the receipt for customs on your return
17. *binoculars – 8x32 0r 8x40 are ideal
18. small flashlight
19. a few ziplock bags of various sizes – very useful for wet swimwear, dirty socks etc
20. small travel alarm clock
21. small ziplock bag of laundry detergent
22. electrical inverter kit if taking any appliances or chargers that are not 220V switchable.
23. small day use backpack &/or waist pack
24. a few band-aids, antiseptic cream, anti-itch cream, anti-diarrheal and similar items

25. *medicines – if you don’t bring the original containers, have a copy of the prescription with you. Medicines should be in your carry-on, not checked luggage
26. extra pair of eyeglasses and repair kit
27. sunglasses
28. *ear plugs – make for a much more restful flight and in some hotel rooms when you are still out of synch. Neck rest if you like them.
29. facecloth – smaller hotels often don’t have these
30. *passport, tickets, travel insurance certificate, credit cards, cash, itinerary
31. copies of travel and personal documents

*on person or in carry-on

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