Do You Need to Speak Spanish in Peru? A Gringo’s Guide
Being able to speak Spanish in Peru is important, but it’s not the end of the world if you’re still learning.
My first trip to Peru I could barely utter a word in Spanish. I was luckily to get past “Como estas?” without sounding like a complete and utter moron.
Luckily, I was traveling around with my buddy who was fluent in Spanish. So, I didn’t need much Spanish speaking ability. If we ever got in a sticky situation, he handled all the talking and translating.
I just stood there looking like a charming, handsome gringo and flashed the occasional nod with a smile – like I understood what the hell was going on.
I didn’t. But, I quickly learned it wouldn’t have really mattered.
See, Peru is a hotspot for international tourism. Due to Machu Picchu being one of the world’s greatest tourist attractions, the country is filled with tourists all year long.
As such, many a Peruvian are used to interacting with travelers who can’t speak a lick of Spanish. Many locals, especially those involved in tourism, speak decent English and have no problem communicating in the language.
You can get by in Peru without speaking Spanish, especially if you spend most of your time in Miraflores and Cusco.
English Levels in Peru
Why is it easy to get by without speaking Spanish in Peru? Because many Peruvians speak English due to the tourism sector being such a major part of the economy.
If you spend most of your time in the tourist districts of Lima, like Miraflores and Barranco, you’ll interact with a plethora of people who can speak some English – no matter what you’re doing.
Miraflores is an upper class neighborhood in Lima filled with tourists. Speaking some English is pretty important for a number of Peruvians working and living in the area.
In Cusco, the city thrives on tourism. The locals have a huge incentive to learn some English. If they can communicate in English, they’ll get a better job in the tourism industry.
As Lima and Cusco are the two most visited cities in Peru, you’ll probably be spending most of your time in the country in them – where you can get by without much Spanish.
Now, if you venture off the beaten path in Peru, you’ll want to learn some Spanish. You won’t find a ton of English in the north of Peru.
English levels aren’t horrible in Arequipa, but speaking Spanish is more important than in Lima.
Overall, if you plan to visit Peru with little to no Spanish speaking skills, I’d recommend spending a lot of your time in Lima and Cusco. Once you get outside those areas, things will become a lot more difficult without Spanish.
Does Speaking Spanish Make Life Better In Peru?
While you can get away without speaking Spanish in Peru, I’m not sure I’d recommend it.
My second trip to Peru I was able to communicate in Spanish. I’m by no means fluent, but I can have conversations and understand nearly everything people say – as long as they leave out the local slang.
It made the trip so much better. I could relax a bit, interact with people, and enjoy myself. I didn’t have to ask every person who I was speaking with if they spoke English.
There’s really no comparison. If you have the ability to speak Spanish in Peru, the whole country opens up and you’re sure to have a much better time.
Sure, you can get by with English in Peru, but the experience just isn’t the same. With a little Spanish, you’ll have such a better time exploring Peru.
Bullfighting in Peru.
How to Learn Spanish
If you’re ready to learn a little Spanish before heading to Peru, you’ve come to the right place. After trial and tribulation, I found three great ways to learn the language before a big trip.
The absolute fastest way to learn a language is to travel in a Latin American country. You’ll hear the accents, understand how people communicate, and pick things up 10X faster than if you were back home.
You’ll want to have some type of baseline before you head out, but the easiest way to learn is by getting away from English speakers and having almost all of your daily conversations in Spanish.
The learning curve is steep, but you’ll retain so much more by doing it this way.
Now, you want to have some type of baseline before you go. If you’ve never even muttered an “Hola” – then things are going to be pretty tough on you.
One of the best ways to learn before traveling? Taking Skype lessons with native Spanish speakers.
That may sound a little expensive to you. I know I figured Skype lessons would break my bank, too.
Travel junkie turned blogger. Location independent. From the Midwest, but often based in Latin America. Big on beaches, rumba, and rum. Addicted to the gym. Committed to showing a different style of travel – one that involves actually interacting with locals and exploring different cultures.