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Frequently Asked Questions about Peru II: Food and health

In Part I, we focused on the physical appearance of Peruvians. We continue our quest to answer your most frequently asked questions about Peru (according to the almighty Google) in Part II. This time, we focus on the very popular subject of food and health in Peru.

Is it safe to eat street food in Peru?

Street food is very popular in Peru and a fundamental part of the local (food) culture. In other words, if you want to really immerse yourself in Peruvian culture or have an authentic gastronomic experience, you need to try some of its street food. Peruvian street food is very diverse with different types of vendors showing up at different times of the day. We love our emoliente and tamales in the morning, ceviche at lunch time and some anticuchos at night.

But is it safe to eat street food in Peru as a tourist? Sure, with a bit of caution. We always take the following guidelines into account:

  1. Wait a few days to adjust your stomach if you’re not used to the Peruvian spices and herbs.
  2. Cooked food is a lot safer than raw food. For fruits, pick the ones you can peel.
  3. Choose a food cart or stand where Peruvians are waiting in line. Peruvians are very picky, so if there are many people in line, it must be tasty. Also, that way you make sure you’ll get fresh food and not leftovers that were there for a few hours.
  4. Look at the hygiene of the food stands before choosing one: Are there many flies? How are they getting rid of their waste? How are they handling cash money?
  5. Try to avoid using eating utensils (they might not be washed properly or with dirty water). It’s hard to eat ceviche, and other foods, with your hands, of course, so you could have your own utensils with you if you want to play it safe.

In our experience, you can get food poisoning in nice-looking restaurants as well, so don’t be afraid to try Peruvian street food. Just follow your guts (literally I guess) and common sense when choosing where to eat.

What is the national dish of Peru?

Surprisingly, there is no official national dish of Peru. But, if there would be one, it would very likely be ceviche (raw fish marinated in citrus juice). Without a doubt, ceviche is internationally the most famous Peruvian dish. But it is historically mainly a dish of the coastal regions of Peru, for evident reasons.

Peruvian food is extremely diverse and to put one dish to represent Peruvian cuisine is very unfair. While ceviche is the most popular and best-known dish of coastal Peru, we would nominate cuy (guinea pig) for the Andean cuisine. Juane (seasoned rice dish with chicken, egg, olives wrapped in (what looks like banana) leaves and cooked) would be our nominee for the Amazonian one. And even this is an unfair generalization as every region has their own gastronomic specialties.

Is it safe to eat Ceviche? What is the national dish of Peru? Is it safe to eat street food in Peru?
Peruvian Ceviche

Which vaccines do I need for Peru?

No vaccines are obliged for Peru but there are several that are strongly recommended. For any destination (in Peru or anywhere else) you should be up-to-date with routine vaccinations. Including the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine and polio vaccine. It is recommended for travelers to Peru to also get travel vaccines for Hepatitis A & B and Typhoid because there is a risk of contaminated food or water (regardless of where you stay). You don’t need to get these vaccines just for this trip, because they are very useful for many other countries you might travel to in the future. If you’re less than 30 years old, you were probably already vaccinated since these have been routine childhood vaccines since the mid 1990s.

The Yellow Fever vaccine is not required but it is officially recommended if you travel to the jungle areas of Peru. To be precise, if you’ll visit areas that are below 2,300m (or 7,546ft) elevation in the regions of Amazonas, Loreto, Madre de Dios, San Martin, Ucayali, Puno, Cusco, Junín, Pasco, Huánuco, the far north of Apurimac, northern Huancavelica, northeastern Ancash, eastern La Libertad, northern and eastern Cajamarca, northern and northeastern Ayacucho, and eastern Piura. For areas east of the Andes, as well as touristic places such as Cusco, Machu Picchu, the Inca Trail, Titicaca Lake, Arequipa and Colca, the yellow fever vaccine is not recommended.

In conclusion, the Yellow Fever vaccine is recommended but not required for jungle areas below 2,300m.

There is no vaccine for malaria, but we are often asked if it’s necessary to take a malaria prescription medicine. For most of Peru, it is not recommended. Only if you travel to the jungle, including the city of Iquitos and Puerto Maldonado and the remote eastern regions of La Libertad and Lambayeque there is some risk, especially if you’ll spend a lot of time outdoors. There is no risk along the Pacific Coast or areas above 2,000m elevation where most of the tourist destinations are.

Which vaccines should I have to travel to Peru?
Malaria incidence in Peru 2019 @MINSA

Which medicines should I take to Peru?

Of course, you need to bring your own prescription medication. But you should also bring over-the-counter medication you use regularly, as these might not be available in Peru. One you should definitely bring with you, unfortunately, is something to treat diarrhea.

Mosquito spray and sun screen are essentials as well, but you can of course also buy these in Peru.

What about medication to prevent altitude sickness? If you’ve suffered from high altitude sickness before, you should probably take medication as a precaution. For other travelers, it is impossible to predict whether you’ll have issues. Altitude sickness can even strike the fittest and healthiest person. To take medication before leaving to Cusco or Arequipa is really a personal choice. Most people will only have a bit of a headache and/or shortness of breath when they arrive (in my experience, it’s gone the next day). Even if you do take medication, it is still important to follow a few recommendations. Take it easy the first 24 hours at high altitude. Avoid alcohol and smoking. Ascend slowly. Drink plenty of water or coca tea and eat high-carbohydrate food.

Which medicines to take to Peru?
Coca tea @Alfredo Bendezú