Lima, Peru Report of what it's like to live there - 05/05/15

Personal Experiences from Lima, Peru

Lima, Peru 05/05/15

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

Second experience; we have also lived in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Seattle, Washington. About an eleven hour trip total, with a two-hour layover in Houston.

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3. How long have you lived here?

We are just concluding a two year tour.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Two primary types for embassy personnel. For those with families and small children, most live in houses with walled yards in La Molina or Camacho. For singles or couples, most live in apartments located in Miraflores or San Isidro. All housing is quite roomy and comfortable.
The downside is the commute. Lima traffic can be TERRIBLE! You have to time your commute; if you leave Miraflores at 6:30am, the commute will take 20 minutes. If you leave at 7:00am, expect to triple or quadruple that time. Same thing for the evening commute, worst between 5:00 and 7:00pm. Saturday traffic isn't much better as most people are using it as a shopping day. Sundays are a relief and a nice time to get about.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

There are huge grocery stores here with a broad selection of goods. Prices are decent, though imported goods can be expensive. In addition, there are many markets that sell fruits and vegetables, as well as small "bodegas" shops and even kiosks on the streets with fresh produce. An added benefit are bio-markets on weekends (think "farmers markets") with fresh, organic produce, eggs, yogurt, cheeses, and even meats! Expect to pay a bit of a premium for that.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

None that I can think of. If you get here and think of something you miss, you can either (a) find it or something very similar to it here, or (b) order it through Amazon.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Tons of American fast food - McDonald's, KFC, Burger King, TGIF, Dominos, Pizza Hut, the list goes on and on. Costs are usually less than in the states. And the town is awash with "Chifas" - cheap Chinese food joints that serve lots of variations of fried rice and noodles. Nothing exceptional, but incredible cheap and available.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Insects seem almost non-existent in Lima. There are the occasional spiders and one sees cockroaches on sidewalks, but very few flying insects.
The jungle region is a different story. Mosquitoes are present nearly everywhere, particularly bad in mornings and evenings, and they can carry malaria, dengue fever, and chikungunya. Use insect repellants and long clothing and you should be okay.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

We have a DPO (Diplomatic Post Office) at the embassy as well as pouch mail. Most mail and packages can go through the DPO (with certain size and weight limitations), and order-to-delivery can take as little as a week. Some shippers won't accept a post office box number and those would go through the pouch, but that can take three weeks or more for delivery.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Lots of help available, though of varying quality. Cost is very reasonable, about US$20 for an eight hour day. Full time (5 or 6 days a week) could probably negotiate a slightly lower rate.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes, many gyms like Golds and others. I believe the costs are similar to those in the States. Personally, the weather is so mild and there are a string of ocean-front parks in Miraflores with workout stations, that I do my workouts in the parks.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

ATMs are okay, just be aware so that no one is "shoulder surfing" or waiting to relieve you of your cash once you get it. Lots of ATMs in brightly lit commercial areas lower that risk.
Lots of folks use credit cards here (the waiter will generally bring a card reader to the table so fraud from "side swiping" is diminished), but I usually just used cash.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Not too many Peruvians know English, so some Spanish speaking is very helpful. I have found that while I'm by no means fluent, my "combat Spanish" gets the job done. Talking on the telephone without a good command of the language can be daunting, however.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Yes and no. There is no such thing as ADA here, but many of the newer buildings have made accommodations with ramps and elevators to assist the less-abled. Still, may places can be difficult as this is a country of much antiquity and limited access.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Lima has a commuter train, but it is limited and didn't work for our travels. The city is rife with buses, small commuter vans, and especially taxis.
Buses are incredibly cheap - 1.5 soles (about 35 cents) to go from Miraflores to the embassy, a distance of six kilometers - but slow as they are constantly picking up and dropping off folks. Some express caution about pickpocket problems on the bus, but again, be self-aware and you'll be fine.
Avoid the commuter vans. They're also cheap, but drive crazily and look like they could fall apart at any moment.
Taxis vary greatly, from the guy that rents a beater from someone else to use as a job, to the relatively sophisticated satellite-based sedans. Costs for taxis are greater, but reasonable. The taxis have no meters, so negotiate the fare BEFORE you accept the ride. The high-end taxis (you can use apps to summon them much like UBER) have set fees for most routes.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

If you're just planning to drive in Lima and some of the other major cities, most any kind of sedan or van will work fine. We're a little more adventurous and brought an AWD Subaru with a little higher clearance to the country - nice for gravel roads as well as the ubiquitous speed bumps of Lima.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, there are providers that give decent access, which can be US$50-100 a month, depending on speed you require. A frustration is that these are basically DSL lines, which can slow down dramatically during the high use times in the evenings.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

There are three primary carriers in Lima; Claro, Movistar, and Entel. The three are comparable, though we have found that Movistar seems to have better coverage in the more remote areas of the country. You can either have a "post-pay" plan (a fixed monthly rate), or a "pre-pay" plan where you purchase minutes to re-charge as necessary. I've always opted for pre-pay and find it to be very cheap, only 30-40 soles (US$10-13)a month.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

Pets need to have their vaccinations, particularly rabies, but no quarantine requirements.
Quite a few good veterinarians in town, with most having been trained in the States.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Yes, but limited.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

We found several through the embassy; no doubt there are many others through church groups and NGOs.

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Within the Embassy, usually a shirt and tie with slacks. Meeting with Peruvians would also call for a sport coat or suit.
In public Peruvians are generally casual - open collared shirt with slacks. But shorts and sandals are often seen as well.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

There are still some regions of Peru where there are remnants of the Shining Path, who nowadays are more about narcotrafficking than any political ideology. For tourists, the bigger threat are pickpockets and petty theft. "Smash and grab" is popular in the seedier parts of Lima, but being "self aware" and avoiding nastier neighborhoods (as you would in any large city) will limit the risk. We have never felt our security threatened the entire time we've been here, whether in Lima or in outlying areas as we traveled the country.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

I mentioned the mosquito-borne illnesses in the jungle - malaria, dengue fever and chikungunya are all possible. Use precautions as necessary.
Most tourists will run into gastrointestinal issues, either from the water or perhaps from fresh, unwashed produce. Solution: drink bottled water and be a little careful what you eat. I found that eating a lot of yogurt when I first arrived in Peru helped to gently introduce local bacteria into my system.
There are some excellent medical facilities in Lima, particularly in Miraflores and San Isidro. I broke my arm here and felt that the surgery and care I received from American-educated doctors was every bit as good as that in the States.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Greater Lima is a city of nearly 10 million people (nearly a third of the entire population of the country), so naturally the air quality suffers some. But we lived right on the coast in Miraflores with near constant on shore ocean breezes, so we didn't find it to be too bad.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Not a sufferer personally, but I think some pollens might affect some folks during various seasons. MSG is used in the Chifa restaurants... Peanut exposure might be a problem in many places - ask about it when ordering. Am seeing more and more gluten-free products in the markets.

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5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

On the coast (Lima) the climate is mild all year. Summers (Dec-Mar) are sunny with highs in the mid- to upper- seventies (F); winters (Jun-Aug) have many cloudy and foggy days with temps about ten degrees cooler. Much of the coastal climate is driven by the offshore Humboldt Current, which keeps it cool and often foggy. Very little "weather" here; the Andes wring out all moisture so it almost never rains, but cool ocean breezes can bring drizzle at times.
Inland has two distinct seasons - wet in the summer and dry winters. Thunderstorms are not uncommon, particularly in the Amazon region.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

We don't have school-aged children, but from what I've heard from others that do, there are wonderful schools. Most all of the embassy kids to to Roosevelt School, located in Camacho, not far from the U.S. Embassy. In addition, there are several British schools as well as a German one.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

There's a sizable expat community here, both Americans and Europeans. In addition, all international tourists have to go through Lima when visiting Peru, so there are always a lot of visitors in restaurants, on the Malecon, etc. speaking English and any number of other languages.
Also, it's easy to make friends with Peruvians, a very friendly people!

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Number one are the restaurants. Peru has a tremendous gastronomic culture. They LOVE their food and have great ingredients to create many wonderful dishes. They take great pride in their food and have many internationally known restaurants here. You can eat out every night and never run out of good places to eat!
There are also lots of bars/clubs around, though we don't frequent them so I can't comment there.
Peru also has a somewhat unique social event, called a Pena. It's a kind of a nightclub/dance hall/comedy club/amateur hour all rolled together and lots of fun! The downside is that they generally don't get started before 11pm and last until 3 or 4am, so if you're not a night owl, this may not be for you.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Yes, I think so. But since most families live in La Molina and singles/couple live in Miraflores (an hour or two apart, depending on traffic), there isn't a lot of "mixing" between the two groups.

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

I think so, there are several gay bars and I think the public is generally accepting of gays and lesbians.

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5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Not terribly so, but there does exist a situation between locals where more fair skinned Peruvians (with Spanish blood) look down on the darker, indigenous people from the country. This also translates from an economic perspective, where the wealthier folks have domestic help that could be seen as "second class."

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6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

My wife and I are outdoors people and the opportunities to explore the variety of the countryside are almost endless! Peru has three distinct regions - the arid coastal zone, the altiplano (Andes), and the jungle of the Amazon.
On the coast, one can explore ancient ruins of Nazca, Pachacamac, and one of the oldest civilizations in South America at Caral. The surfing on the coast is world-renowned, and there are wide varieties of mountain biking trails, dune buggy and sandboarding near Paracas, and even paragliding on the cliffs of Miraflores!
The pearl of Peru is Machu Picchu and nearby Cusco, but the Andean region of Peru also includes the Sacred Valley, Huaraz and the Cordillera Blanca mountains, Cajamarca (where the Spanish conquistadors first encountered the royalty of the Inca), Puno and Lake Titicaca, and Arequipa and the Colca canyon, one of the deepest canyons in the world.
Lest one forget, geographically speaking, Amazonia is the largest of the three regions of Peru. Iquitos lies right on the Amazon in the northeastern part of the country and is accessible only by air or boat. There are numerous eco-lodges nearby to satisfy one's craving to experience the deep jungle. Similar experiences can be found further south, near Puerto Maldonado.
The opportunities are endless - we had two years here but could not get to all of the places we wanted to see.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Too numerous to mention all of them, but lots of cool museums, archaeological ruins right in Lima, and of course, fabulous restaurants!

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Tons of weaving items, mostly made from alpaca. Make sure it's authentic; some try to pass off wool as alpaca. There are also nice pottery items available, and lots of items made from silver, if you're into that kind of thing. Lima is also building an art community with some very good artwork. There are also some stores that sell very nice, unique furniture.

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9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Peru is a special place. From the vastly differentiated geography, to a very friendly and inclusive culture and an incredible food scene, it was an incredible place to live. The weather in Lima is quite mild year round, with a sunny yet pleasant summer and a somewhat cooler, grayer winter season, all moderated by the proximity to the equator and the marine influences of the Humboldt current.
Peru has enjoyed an extended period of good economic growth, promoting a strong middle class and new opportunities for dining and entertainment about. Even so, prices are modest by international standards and one can "live well" and still save money.

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10. Can you save money?

Sure, it's relatively inexpensive here. One exception is gasoline (about US$5 a gallon), but even that's not too outrageous. We found that we got spoiled with the low costs so we ate at restaurants much more than we would normally do. Gonna be rough going elsewhere!

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

The huge variety of things to do and places to go. The list becomes so long that you can't find time to do it all.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

In a heartbeat. We're really sad that we only had two years here, just a great place to live!

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Notions of Peru, particularly Lima, as a third world country. While there still is some pretty rough living in the Andes and the jungle areas, many places have thriving economies and lots to offer both the traveler and the resident expat!

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4. But don't forget your:

Surfboard, sunscreen, insect repellent, sense of adventure!

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Not sure, but check out You Tube videos, I'm sure there's a bunch.

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6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

The typical tour books - Lonely Planet, Fodor's, etc.
Novels by Mario Vargas Llosa - Nobel Literature Prize winner.

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