This is a reprint from an e-mail I sent to one of my blog readers, a black woman, inquiring about my trips to Perú seeking my advice before taking her own trip.
Visiting Perú for the first time? Here is a little advice. The locals are very welcoming of gringos. Just beware of the gringo tax, where you'll be charged higher prices for cab fares and other things because you don't know better. When catching a cab, bargain hard before you get in. In fact, it's a good idea to ask a locals for the normal price of anything you seek to pay.
Forgive me if you heard all of this before. Wow, I can tell you stories about my first arrival at the airport and how cabbies did some far out things to try to hustle me. I guess now they can sense I'm a seasoned veteran so they don't bother me anymore.
My primary reason for traveling is to be immersed in the Spanish language. My second reason is the music. I like what they call in Perú, música criolla, a mixture of Spanish, indigenous, and African music. I don't know if you've heard of the Peruvian singer who travels the world, Susana Baca, but she sings música criolla.
If you take the private lessons at a Spanish school to learn or improve your Spanish, like I did, you can use those sessions to talk about the things of interest, such as the libraries, theaters, and other things that local people do.
In terms of where to stay, I liked the District of Barranco because it's so artsy, especially around the Plaza De Armas (the main square). But I've also stayed in Central Lima and in La Victoria (a rough area, but I know people).
However, one thing I liked about El Sol Spanish School is that before your arrival, the school will gauge your interests and objectives and put you with a family who lives in a neighborhood that best matches your interests and objectives. El Sol put me in Barranco because of my love for salsa and música criolla.
You ask, who I feel my experience is different from that of a white person? First of all, once I started roaming about town, I was generally not perceived as an American. Many think I'm Afro-Peruvian until they hear my Spanish, then they think I might be from Cuba, Panamá, or Brazil. They learn that I'm an American only after some conversation.
The reason it might not be polite to ask about race relations is because many Peruvians really believe that there is no racism in Perú. However when I travel about and do not see any black, Asian, and indigenous faces working in government and commerce, I get a completely different picture. You walk into a bank and all the employees are as close to white as possible. Even in an area heavily populated by blacks and browns.
In order to get to Chincha, the hub of Afro-Peruvian culture, you will have to take the Soyuz bus or the Ormeño bus. Let me know if you want to visit; I can hook you up with a family.
It's a Latin American custom that whoever does the inviting pays! By the way, expect people to think that you are in the same income bracket as Bill Gates. Your money will go a long way in Perú. I've lived on as little as $10 per day, minus the splurging and souvenir purchases. Once I took 15 people out for chicken and fries and the bill was $45. That was a joy of my own doing. I was not coerced. LOL. However, you will have to put your foot down and do what you can afford.
In terms of friendships with the opposite sex, you can expect to find people who will want to hook up with you hoping you will take them home. This is not all people, but it happens more often than not. I've been asked by woman from nine different countries to marry them, and when I tell them I only marry for love, they back off. Just keep talking about your boyfriend and the future you two have. LOL.