Here’s the short answer: no, you don’t need to learn Spanish for traveling in Peru. Great: no classes, no Spanish language CDs, just a little phrasebook and off you go. Hang on now, nothing in life is so simple…
Is it Necessary to Learn Spanish for Peru?
The short answer was an honest answer. You don’t need to learn Spanish for traveling in Peru. But it sure does make a big, big difference.
Forget about that whole “Oh, you really must learn Spanish, it is so very impolite to go to a country and not speak the native language” speech. Few Peruvians are offended if you can’t communicate, they just think that you’re kind of lazy and/or stupid.
The thing to remember is that the quality of your trip to Peru is at stake.
Sure, you can have a great time hanging out with other backpackers and occasionally coming across an English-speaking Peruvian, but you’ll be very limited in terms of understanding the culture or getting to know any regular Peruvians.
As for your day-to-day practical interactions, boy is it tough without some basic Spanish — especially if you’re an independent backpacker.
How Many People Speak English in Peru?
You won’t find many English speakers in Peru, especially away from the big cities. If you are sticking to the Gringo Trail and hopping from one organized tour to the next, you won’t have too many problems. English speaking guides and other backpackers will be there in abundance, so a lack of Spanish won’t necessarily hold you back.
Independent backpackers, however, are in for some mental exhaustion after a few days of trying to accomplish even the simplest of tasks.
Ordering food, asking for directions, buying a bus ticket, getting a haircut… it’s not easy when you can’t speak Spanish. So, do yourself a huge favor and try, at the very least, to learn some of the basics. If you put in just a little bit of effort before your trip to Peru, you will reap the rewards a thousand times over once you touch down on Peruvian soil.