Peru | Everyday Life

by Melanie and Jim

As tourists, we were able to experience some of Peru’s highlights. We enjoyed high-quality accommodations, comfortable travel, and excellent food. Most Peruvians’ everyday life is not as carefree and luxurious. Our tour guide Walter made sure we had some opportunities to see the ways Peruvians really live.


Peru is the land of potatoes, a crop domesticated thousands of years ago. More than 3,000 varieties are grown in the Andes, well-adapted to the elevation and harsh conditions. Along with corn (maize,) quinoa, beans (legumes,) and tomatoes, potatoes make up a large part of the native diet. Chicken is a favorite, too, evident by the popularity of chicken restaurants including KFC fast food.

Another typical meat is cuy, or guinea pig. Though most of the world knows guinea pigs as pets, they are another indigenous food and a convenient way to add protein to the diet. Walter told us they are a favorite for feasts and special occasions, and often a whole one is roasted for each person. For all the galleries below, click any picture to open the gallery and see more detail. 

We were treated to a home-cooked lunch that featured cuy and stuffed peppers,  and a beverage made from Peruvian purple corn. White corn was also a side dish, sporting kernels as big as a pistachio nut in the shell.

Outside of larger cities, supermarket-style grocery stores are not widely available. Single-commodity shops and markets with a variety of vendors are available all over. Markets are like U.S. farmers’ markets, with produce, butchered meat, and various breads on display.


Education is free and compulsory for children through secondary school. University is free for poor students but only available based on high performance on entrance exams. Children attend primary school close to their homes for first through sixth grades, or until they are approximately 12 years old. Older children have five years of secondary school. For those who live in the country or small villages, this can mean walking miles across mountainsides. All the school children wear uniforms to school.

Our group visited a primary school in a small village. A wall and gate enclosed the school property with grassy yard and small classroom buildings, garden, and a separate outbuilding for the bathrooms. The two classrooms each held about 14 children. The children we joined were in fourth through sixth grades. The uniforms they wore were hardly standard, as some had uniform sweaters but no matching trousers or skirts, or other combinations of non-matching items. The families of many are very poor.

To thank the teacher and students for hosting us, we each brought some school supplies for their use. Also, we stopped on the way and bought reams of paper, something the teacher requested. Tripmates brought maps, including a map of the U.S. that Walter and another traveler showed. We used the map to point out our home states and tell them a little about our country.


A large amount of our tour group’s travel was in a comfortable bus on well-maintained highways. Roads within villages and in the countryside were more variable in quality. The city streets of Lima and Cuzco were hectic with traffic, but with the apparent chaos, we only witnessed one minor fender bender. Pedestrians cross streets at their own peril; jaywalking is not advised, and even crossing with lights requires caution. Lima has a number of in-city private bus companies running designated routes for mass transit. There also is a public metro rail, though the one time we used it, the scheduling seemed quite random for arrivals and departures at the terminal.

Besides the transportation infrastructure, another element that creates challenges is the public water systems. It’s not unusual when traveling to use bottled water to avoid digestive distress and other illnesses. Walter told us even Peruvians don’t drink tap water without boiling it first.

Also, the sewage system isn’t sufficient to deal with human waste. Toilet paper is disposed in trash rather in the toilet, a minor inconvenience, but not always easy to manage. Many growing urban areas in the Sacred Valley dump human waste directly in the Urubamba River. The tourism that supports and grows the economy creates costly problems, as well.


The home we visited for our lunch was large and comfortable, but probably not typical. The host family has been providing these lunches for years, earning income that allowed the addition of an extra kitchen space. The kitchens and dining room are arranged around a central courtyard.

It’s common for families to start with a small home and add on over time. We saw many buildings obviously unfinished, with concrete columns jutting into the sky, creating the base for upper floors. Later when finances allow, the walls will be filled in with clay tile blocks, and windows added when able.

A hillside home in some places would be a prime location for the views. Instead, the slopes surrounding Cuzco are filled with slum housing. The city has expanded rapidly in the last 30 years, as more people have resettled from the countrysides for better job opportunities. While this provides opportunity and resources, the risks of landslides are continual, and a moderate earthquake could be a major catastrophe.

Peru Post Links

This is our final post about our trip to Peru. If you’d like to see more, all the posts including this one are listed below. Please take a look and feel free to ask if you have questions. Thanks so much for spending time with us on our trip of a lifetime!

Peru | Lima | First Impressions
Peru | Textiles and Ceramics
Peru | Arts & Crafts
Peru | Pisac & Ollantaytambo
Peru | Machu Picchu
Peru | Tipon and Sacsayhuaman
Peru | Beer Bar – Oxen – Blessings
Peru | Hillside Homes | Traffic Woes
Peru | Everyday Life
Inca Pot | c 1500
Noon @ Ollantaytambo
Peru | Machu Picchu Plus Much More


14 thoughts on “Peru | Everyday Life

  1. BJ Good

    I haven’t read and looked at quite all of your so interesting posts but will get to them all yet. In this one I particularly enjoyed the section titled “Schools”. The quality of your experience with this tour entity was reinforced for me as you described how you got to participate -give & take- in a classroom.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Yes, I have only heard good things about OAT as a tour company. However, I think our own tour guide was spectacular in many regards, and it was clear he loved the children and loves teaching.

  2. Eliza Waters

    I loved the mercados and often ate there. You had many more opportunities to meet locals than were availabe when I visited so many years ago. I hope tourism has brought much prosperity to the locals.

  3. shoreacres

    I really was surprised to hear about the potatoes. I had no idea that they were part of the diet there; I wouldn’t have expected it. I keep seeing parallels between my time in Liberia and your visit to Peru, and the schools are another example. It was expected that we would have a houseboy, and part of his payment would be school uniforms and books, along with a hundred pound bag of rice each month for his family.

    I keep looking at those hillsides and thinking about what a disaster an earthquake could (would) be. Perhaps they’ll be spared for a good, long time.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Oh my gosh, yes, the awareness of the earthquake risk was ever present. In Lima outsides taller buildings, there were large circles (maybe 10′ across) painting with the circumference in yellow and a large S in the center. These were supposedly “safe” zones. The ONLY thing that would make these safe is that they were outside the buildings. In the cathedral in Cuzco there were markings for where to stand (not under the domed ceilings!) and where the exits were, specifically for earthquakes. But even without that, there is the aura (if that’s the right word) of the risk, always everywhere. I’m not anxious by nature and I was never *worried* about it. But I was aware of it. And totally okay with it, in the sense of, if bad things happen, that’s okay. It was very interesting for my overall perspective.

      1. shoreacres

        It sounds like those signs and markings were much like the ubiquitous “Evacuation Route” signs that are all over our area. There are certain highway lanes now that are marked as potential contraflow lanes, too. And when hurricane season begins, the electronic highway signs always begin cautioning people to keep their cars full of gas, and pay attention to the weather. Even when there’s no specific threat, everyone’s aware that “The Season” has arrived.


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