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The Spanish of Peru


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More about travel in Peru and South America

If you're looking for an adventurous vacation and a chance to practice your Spanish, consider a trip to Peru. The South American country features varied terrain (everything from Pacific Ocean beaches to snow-covered peaks to Amazon jungle), a fascinating history, and majestic archaeological sites. And outside Lima, other major cities and the main tourist area near Machu Picchu, costs are quite low — short taxi rides are less than $1 U.S., you can get a safe and tasty meal for $2 to $3 (and will have a hard time spending over $10 if you don't drink alcohol), and wool or alpaca sweaters and blankets can easily be found for under $10.

But if you're going to enjoy the country outside the main tourist areas you're going to need to communicate in Spanish at least enough to arrange transportation, read a menu, and make money transactions.

If you already are conversant in Spanish, you'll find Peru as good a place as any to use your skills. Pronunciation in Peru is straightforward, with few of the dropped letters or peculiarities found in some other countries. And Peruvian Spanish (or castellano, the more common term there) doesn't seem to use a lot of slang, although there are anglicisms that are creeping into the language, words such as marketing and delivery (as of pizza).

As you might expect, many of the words distinctive to Peruvian Spanish that you're likely to come across as a tourist are related to food. Here are some food terms and other examples of Spanish you may be more likely to hear in Peru than elsewhere:

el agua mineral — Mineral water, often carbonated even if it doesn't say so on the bottle.

los antojitos — Marinated and then fried or barbecued pieces of beef heart are very popular.

¡Buen día! — The singular form of buenos dìas is often used for "good morning" or "good day."

la cabina Internet — A computer and desk or table set up in a booth for Internet use, payable by the hour. Many of them are occupied by teenage girls enjoying chatear (chatting).

el ceviche (often spelled cebiche) — Marinated seafood.

la chifa — A Chinese restaurant. You'll find them all over Peru.

criolla or a la criolla — "Creole" or other types of spicy food.

el cuy — A large guinea pig. At least in the sample tested by this writer's son, its pinkish meat tastes something like chicken but is somewhat tougher.

el hostal — A common term for "hotel." A hostel is often referred to as un albergue.

Inca Kola — A ubiquitous brand of soft drink that is extremely sweet and tastes something like bubble gum.

el lomo saltado — Chopped meat fried with onions, tomatoes and potatoes. Numerous other types of lomos (which generally means "sausages") also are popular.

el menú — This term often refers to a daily lunch special, similar to the term comida corrida in Mexican or Chilean Spanish. If you'd like a menu, ask for la carta.

peruano, peruana — Peruvian.

el quechua — The second language of Peru, used most in the Andes outside large cities.

el servicio — The most common word for a toilet room, although baño and W.C. also are used.

el sol — The Peruvian unit of currency, equal (as of August 2000) to about 28 cents U.S. A hundred centimos equals a sol.

la trucha — Trout.

Related pages:
    Impressions of Lima (on About's South American Travel site)
    Huancayo: Where You Can't Rely on English
    Quechua, Peru's Second Language (to come)
    Spanish for Travel

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