Welcome to Peru
The Peru Destination Guide will provide a historic overview, scholarships, health and safety tips and identity-specific resources to ensure students feel prepared with insight and resources for their global experience in Peru. The information shared below is a bird eye’s view and meant to provide some country-specific context. We encourage students to conduct further research and chat with relevant points of contact including advisors, program leaders, international student services at the host campus, internship coordinators or peers who have traveled to Peru, to gain a greater understanding of their host country and/or city.
Ancient traditions still alive today set against a backdrop of natural wonders make Peru a spectacular destination. Thousands of years ago, the Inca civilization thrived in Peru until the invasion of the Spanish conquistadors. Today, Peru contains a blend of both cultures. Peru’s main attractions for tourists are the stunningly beautiful mountain trails through the Peruvian Andes, the colorful indigenous culture, and the ruins of the once-powerful Inca empire, which extended its influence up and down the Pacific coast of South America in the 15th and 16th centuries. The most spectacular of the Incan ruins, located near the ancient and still populated Incan capital of Cuzco, is the beautiful mountain site of Machu Picchu, the legendary “Lost City of the Incas.”
With a population of over 31 million people, Peru is the 3rd largest country in South America, slightly smaller than Alaska, and is made up of three distinct habitats: coastal plains, Andean highlands, and the Amazonian jungle. In addition to the almost 1500 mile-long coastline along the South Pacific Ocean, Peru shares borders with Chile to the south; Brazil and Bolivia to the east; and Colombia and Ecuador to the north.
Peru is still home to numerous indigenous groups, comprising almost half of the total population. While Spanish is the official language of the country, in zones where they are predominant, indigenous languages such as Quechua and Aymara also have official status. Students studying Spanish, architecture, archaeology, natural sciences (hello Amazon rainforest!) among many other disciplines will find many options for an immersive learning experience in Peru. The country is diverse in its population, culture, cuisine and landscape, offering endless opportunities for unique and unforgettable experiences.
Cities & Education
Peru has a history of high-quality institutions of higher education, especially in the capital city of Lima. Amongst the many academic areas available to explore in Peru, U.S. education abroad students travel to the Latin American country to pursue Spanish and indigenous language study, environmental studies, indigenous studies, and archaeology. Peru is home to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites which attract visitors from around the world. Additionally, travelers can visit the Cusco region where they will find the country’s most important archaeological site and the most familiar icon of the Inca civilization, Machu Picchu.
Lima and Cusco are the two most popular cities for international students. Both cities offer a vast variety of academic opportunities. There are over a dozen top-ranked universities in Lima including Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú and University of Lima. It’s status as the unofficial foodie capital of South America and standout architecture are just a few reasons why Lima is a favorite among U.S. students.
Cusco, the capital of the Inca Empire and located in the Andes mountains, boasts magnificently preserved ancient sites and structures. The city has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1983 and rightfully so! Cusco is full of structures that have been preserved since ancient times and it’s streets are lined with buildings from all eras of its history. Cusco’s proximity to the spectacular ruins of Machu Picchu make it a popular destination. Top universities in Cusco include Universidad Nacional de San Antonio Abad del Cusco and Universidad Andina del Cusco.
Events & Tourism
Students living in Peru have many opportunities to witness cultural events ranging from ancient traditions to events celebrated by Peru’s various ethnic groups.
Many events in Peru are related to the Roman Catholic calendar. Carnaval, like in many countries, is a significant event taking place before the start of Lent. Massive festivals take place leading up to Ash Wednesday - food and dancing galore! Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is also celebrated widely in this majority Catholic country. Ornate processions take to the streets in small towns and large cities all over Peru in this week leading up to Easter. These processions also include art and musical displays, each infused with the unique touch of the town it is held in.
Cusco, Peru is home to Inti Raymi (Festival of the Sun) which commemorates a traditional Incan religious ceremony to honor the god Inti (the Sun god). This celebration was banned during the Spanish colonial period in Peru, but today is considered one of the most recognized festivals in all of Peru. Although the event has become rather commercialized due to increased tourism in the area, it remains an important event for many Peruvians.
Along with the many festivals and events throughout the year taking place in Peru. There are countless natural and architectural wonders that attract visitors from all over the world. Machu Picchu is the most famous landmark in Peru, and although it’s intended purpose is debated, it is undeniable that it’s a spectacular sight to behold. The massive series of structures snug in the Andes mountains is not to be missed!
Hiking and outdoor enthusiasts have no shortage of areas in Peru to explore. From the Cordillera Blanca with it’s vast hiking trails and snow peaks to Lares Trek featuring hot springs at the top, Peru offers countless opportunities to escape the cities and experience truly awe-inspiring nature.
Diversity & Inclusion Climate
Peru is a multiethnic country and today’s Peruvian culture is considered to be a mix of Indigenous traditions, European colonial elements as well as African and Asian influences. Peru was home to various Indigenous groups and thus, widespread cultural diversity, prior to its colonization by Spain. Visitors to Peru will experience diversity in language, religious practices, dress, cultural traditions and cuisine.
Despite Peru’s multicultural society, issues of inequity and discrimination exist. For example, throughout history and into modern day, African-Peruvians have experienced unequal access to healthcare, economic and educational opportunities. Generally speaking, visitors from the U.S. will be identified as tourists, although this experience can differ depending on factors such as racial/ethnic identity and language ability. There is also a significant rural/urban divide, whereas Peruvians in cities are typically more accustomed to seeing tourists from all over the world. Visiting rural areas may bring about more stares or questions for students with diverse racial identities.
In Peruvian society, “traditional” gender roles are considered the norm. This is particularly true in more rural areas where women are expected to maintain the home and raise children while men work outside the home and generally do not engage in housework or cooking. While women’s rights and access to resources have increased over the decades in Peru, women remain largely underrepresented in positions of economic and social power. Although there are legal protections for LGBTQIA+ individuals, discrimnation is common and LGBTQIA+ are generally only “out” in more urban environments.
Due to the historic and ancient nature of many sites frequented by students and tourists throughout the country, students with limited physical abilities will find navigating this terrain to be challenging. There are very few places that are known to provide accommodations for those with little mobility, so if you are a student that identifies as such, be sure to consult with your program or in-country staff for additional information.
For more additional, identity-specific information about Peru visit the Diversity & Inclusion Guides to Peru.
Data acquired via the CIA.gov World Factbook
Population: 31,914,989 (July 2020 est.)
Mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white) 60.2%, Amerindian 25.8%, white 5.9%, African descent 3.6%, other (includes Chinese and Japanese descent) 1.2%, unspecified 3.3% (2017 est.)
Spanish (official) 82.9%, Quechua (official) 13.6%, Aymara (official) 1.6%, Ashaninka 0.3%, other native languages (includes a large number of minor Amazonian languages) 0.8%, other (includes foreign languages and sign language) 0.2%, none .1%, unspecified .7% (2017 est.)
Roman Catholic 60%, Christian 14.6% (includes evangelical 11.1%, other 3.5%), other .3%, none 4%, unspecified 21.1% (2017 est.)
Staying Healthy & Safe in Peru
You cannot always predict everything that may occur during your time abroad, but taking the proper measures to ensure your health and safety in Peru will lessen the risk of health and safety issues.
One recommendation from the State Department is registering in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which allows you to register your trip with the local embassy or consulate which can provide support should you need it.
At Diversity Abroad, we acknowledge that experiences can vary by identities and others’ perceptions of them. To access identity-based resources about Peru visit the Diversity & Inclusion Guides to Peru.
Healthcare in Peru is centralized and administered by the Ministry of Health. Be sure to consult your travel health insurance plan and/or your global program advisor to confirm what is covered in-country and what the process is to access care while in Peru. If you are planning to participate in any rigorous outdoor activities, such as backpacking in the Andes, make sure you have an emergency plan should you require medical attention.
Peru is generally considered safe for tourists and students granted you follow standard precaution and guidelines provided by your host institution and/or program. There are often areas of town that should be avoided - take the time to figure out where these areas are located.
Pickpocketing can happen in city centers and sites that are attractive to tourists. There are many giveaways that can signal someone is a tourist from accent to something as subtle as mannerisms and the way one walks. The goal is not to mask that you are a visitor, but to protect your belongings and ensure you do not fall victim to theft. We recommend following these general tips:
- Be aware of your surroundings
- Leave valuable items at home whenever possible and only travel with your necessities, this includes when you head to the beach! Only bring what is necessary
- Avoid being flashy or careless with valuable items
- Ensure your bags and pockets are tight and completely zipped
- Have a travel partner when possible, avoid going out after dark alone
Funding & Scholarship Opportunities
There are many scholarships to fund your study abroad experience in Peru. Here is a list of Diversity Abroad scholarships available for study in this country:
For more scholarships, visit our Scholarships page.