Peru: ‘an ugly country with bad food & thieving locals’?
comment 31 Written by on October 12, 2009 – 2:27 pm

Thinking about going to Peru? How’s this for advice?

The water? Is poisonous. The food? Gives you diarrhea. The country? Is ugly. The pollution in Lima makes you choke. And everyone, and I mean everyone — taxi drivers, hotel owners,tour operators, souvenir vendors — tries to rob you. It makes you paranoid. I went to Peru, and I thought everyone was out to get me. Then I realized — they were out to get me!

Sound like like the Peru you know? No, me neither.

This was a comment from a talk Lonely Planet author just gave in Colombia. It was given in front of an audience of the country’s tourism professionals – all looking at ways to increase tourism, make the most of the country’s pros and look at how it can pitch itself against other South American countries with more a established tourist industry. But among the very well thought-out observations on what a gringo crowd wants and some excellent advice about not overlooking the backpacker market, there were a couple of throwaway comments that seemed to undermine the debate. The one that stood most for me – and made me shiver – was the above statement on Peru. (Although Ecuador and Venezuela didn’t come out too well either. But for other reasons.)

In his speech, the writer looked at how Colombia is fighting back against generalisations with their ‘the only risk is wanting to stay’ campaign and yet he then makes one of the most extreme generalisations against a country I’ve heard for a long time.

I first saw a link to this speech on South American travel blog, TravelOjos. I’ve been having an email discussion about it with the blog’s editor, Steven Roll. We both have mixed feelings about the speech. Generally, our thoughts are that it has good foundation (ie – Colombia has a lot to offer and it needs to work to its strengths), but this could have been expressed without an attack on Peru.

Was it a joke? We wondered. Apparently not. Steven emailed the writer to check.

This was Steven’s take on the speech:

Writing about Latin America means acknowledging that certain problems exist. While his characterization seems overly broad and probably is unfair, I find his frankness somewhat refreshing. It’s not as if no one else thinks these things. I wouldn’t trust a restaurant reviewer who liked everywhere she ate. A larger question raised by his speech is: where do you draw the line with generalizations/stereotypes etc. To entirely disregard all of them seems like political correctness run amok. To buy into them too much smacks of bigotry.

Interesting. There’s a bigger question here for sure and frankness can be good. A travel writer is being responsible if advising people not to turn up in Lima with an expensive camera slung over one shoulder or drink tap water. However, this is extreme and I don’t think it’s political correctness gone mad to be astounded when someone says all Peruvians working in tourism are crooks.

Back to Colombia, the fundamental point was that although it doesn’t have a Machu Picchu, it has a whole lot else on offer if it finds the right market (less tourists looking for sights, more travellers looking for experiences). The idea of people needing to look beyond the travel icons for their travel experiences? I agree wholeheartedly; I’ve said it time and time again myself. I also agree that Colombia is an amazing country with hugely untapped potential and it’s wise for them to compare their situation with that of other Latin American countries in order to find their niche.

I would love to be blogging now about the good points that were made in the speech, but sadly this Peru comment stuck in my head and I can’t let it slide. Neither, it seems, can the Peruvians that have already got hold of the text from the speech, which is circling on the net. They are, quite rightly, not impressed.

Peruvians, Colombians, travel writers, travellers, anyone: what do you think? Any thoughts on the wider picture of generalisations in South American tourism?

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31 Responses to “Peru: ‘an ugly country with bad food & thieving locals’?”

  1. Vicky, while you have quoted my e-mail accurately. You’ve skipped over a key sentence. I said that: “There are also plenty of people out there who will move the discussion forward by disagreeing with him.”

    Thankfully, you’ve risen to the task. If we really debate this, it’s impossible to ignore positive things about Peru such as how great the food from there is.

    I’ve never been to Peru, so I don’t have first-hand experiences in the country. Lima is on my short list of places to visit–despite what Porup says.

    In any case, I support Porup’s right to say what he thinks of the country as much as I support your right to dispute it.

  2. I would seem that he didn’t meet your shaman friend, Vicky…

    By Matt Chesterton on Oct 13, 2009 | Reply
  3. Hi Vicky,

    Vivek here from Lonely Planet. I’ve responded over at travelojos, but I wanted to let you know that Jens stopped working at Lonely Planet in June 2009, and we do not support the views he’s expressed.

    We have some major fans of Peru here, and we’re disappointed that Jens has tried to associate Lonely Planet with such a nonobjective view of that country and its neighbors.

    vivek

  4. Reading the speech, and considering that it was tailored for a Colombian audience, it would seem that Porup was playing to his audience by relying on caricatures (and therefore generalisation) to engage his audience. Unfortunately, this is where stereotypes and myths are perpetuated.

    As someone who’s only ever been to Peru and yet to visit the rest of the continent, I must say that while this snippet has some truth to it, I would add that it’s equally applicable to any other developing country out there to varying degrees. Lack of sanitation, infrastructure and widespread theft are all part of the experience and if you can’t take it, then don’t visit the place.

  5. Ja Ja, I love these “20-something” slackers who say, I’ve never been there, but I don’t agree with your opinion. Go back home and get a job. You don’t have any education or skills, you say? So taking a year off to party at hostels in Latin America is your way of reaching out to society? They call it the Third World for a reason. Enjoy it, but don’t defend it.

    By Juan Twotree on Oct 14, 2009 | Reply
  6. Juan – I’m not quite sure who that’s addressed to. A general rant? Or me? If it’s the latter, you’ve jumped to the wrong conclusion.

    Vivek – Thanks for stopping by. Please do read the rest of Jens speech if you haven’t already. Shame about the Peru slip, but the rest of it showed he was v clued up on your market and Colombian tourism.

    Danielle – You’re dead right. It was geared to a Colombian audience. And actually underneath it all is a fair point. Peru does have its problems; people do get sick from the water; and there are people looking to take advantage. Colombia has some advantages over Peru that people may not have thought about. The speech was about getting Colombia to play to these advantages. I just found it odd that someone who clearly knows a thing or two about national stereotypes should fall into the same trap.

    By Vicky Baker on Oct 14, 2009 | Reply
  7. It seems to me that these particular elements of Porup’s speech can lead to nowhere but a facile argument about X country being better than Y country, which is probably exactly what he wanted to achieve in the first place – but it seems a very simplistic line for a professional travel writer to take!

    For my 2 pennies worth, I’ve lived and worked in Lima for the past year and I’m planning on staying for a while – I love it here (and Juan, I think I’m reasonably educated & skilled so I hope I have your assent to comment).

    But more importantly, I have countless Peruvian friends, in and out of the travel industry, who are all outright offended by Porup’s shameless misrepresentation of their country.

    Finally, it’s obvious that Porup has failed in his original task because rather than focusing the discussion on how great Colombia is, we’re all here defending Peru.

    So, in light of the new terms of the debate, for a more realistic picture of Peru as a travel destination, feel free to check out this recent interview in which another Lonely Planet author shares some more positive Peru experiences.

  8. Vicky, REALLY?

    Do you think you are the only person to travel off the Gringo Trail in Latin America on a chicken bus and write/blog about it? REALLY? There must be 5000 entries on blogs in the last year about this. REALLY? And what was you last job before you becmae a world renowed travel journalist? Did you wait tables in an Irish pub somewhere? REALLY? There are 1000+ people sailing around the world on small sailboats at any one moment. REALLY? People have been doing this baackpacking thing since the 60’s.Really, they have. Who are you related to at the Guardian?

    By Juan Twotree on Oct 14, 2009 | Reply
  9. Vicky, REALLY?
    In the 1st world, what you are doing would be considered a PAID VACAtION !

    By Juan Twotree on Oct 14, 2009 | Reply
  10. Hey, my first troll!

    By Vicky Baker on Oct 14, 2009 | Reply
  11. If you want to read some REAL travel journals, read:
    “The Innocents Abroad” by Mark Twain 1869
    “Sailing Alone Around The World” by Joshua Slocum 1899

    By Juan Twotree on Oct 14, 2009 | Reply
  12. See here.

  13. Do we call them trolls? That’s a nice name for them.

    I went to Peru and got robbed AND arrested. Good trip.

  14. Hello, I has a lovely time in Lima, people were very sweet, they tend to smile , of course if you are an Idiot dont visit that country, Peru is a developing country so people who visit should be aware of certain facts, those facts will change is you dont like to see porverty dont visit Peru, Colombia is much more conflictive country at least if I visit peru I might be aware of some facts in Colombia people are extremely skill at deciving people, Peruvian people ten to be much more humble. if someone is robe well you shouldn have visit that country in the frist place, Peru has MachuPichu and the beautiful Jungle, Colombias tend to have big mouths, drog dealers, lose women and they are going to get you….

    Peru Is a poor country, what do you expect! Colombia is poor too and corupt … how is that for steretyping… colombias are famous for scammers and drog dealers… please do not write to my email i never ever read anything it all goes to my trush bin… Peru lovely people.

    By Helen Beuvier on Dec 6, 2009 | Reply
  15. oh forgive my english Iam German who tends to travel frequently, Iam a proffesor in modern studies.

    By Helen Beuvier on Dec 6, 2009 | Reply
  16. do you really belive all the things u say….i mean i have been to peru since i was 4 and im 18 now and nothing is wrong with me. I never got robbed or said this is country “is ugly”. Macchu picchu one of the most interesting and coolest places i have ever been to and the food is amazing. Yeah some of the food and water maybe unhealthy or dirty but peru is not the richest of most perfect country ever. Maybe you were out of your confort zone and you were “paranoid”. Get your facts straight cause you are wrong..

    By chris on Mar 20, 2010 | Reply
  17. Wow, you are very ignoramt. Have you even given the though that you were in a bad part of Peru? Like the center of L.A. You get robbed there too. EVERY country has it’s bad parts. So for you to be going around calling Peru ugly and judging it is VERY childish. I have been to Peru and plan on going back since it was beautiful and the peeople there are very friendly. They gave me this fruit there it was delicious. Oh and they gave it to me for free. The kids there are always smiling playing their games. Maybe YOU are ugly. At least on the inside.
    Very immature of you.
    sincerely,
    annoyed Peruvian tourist
    P.S- Please don’t write back to me, wait of time. Honestly

    By Alexia Roberts on Jul 25, 2010 | Reply
  18. I think you have just read the title and not my whole post.

  19. hi i am a 20 years old peruvian, you people who havent been here…what r u waiting for??either if u r gonna talk shit about of peru or all the opposite you need to experience it and then speak. i dont need to defend peru but you need to be more realistic, we are a third world country, we have very beautiful places, things and people here but there are also ugly and bad people, places, etc…just like in the whole world!!:)
    COME AND DONT BE AFRAID, IT S NOT EVEN THAT EXPENSIVE

    By ANDREA on Jan 26, 2011 | Reply
  20. hello im peruvian and im disgusted that people would be so ignorant to write stupid things like these!! peru is a beautiful country and if you havent been there youre missing out come on i cant beleave people take the time to to this kinds of things. im very angry to find these comments about my country. Have more respect!!!

    By angella on Jul 28, 2011 | Reply
  21. I stumbled with this post while looking for some outside opinions about Peru since I’m no longer living there, 23 year old peruvian here. I’ll say I’m not the proudest “viva el peru carajo” guy I always take a hard edge when it comes to giving opinions about my country, no one gets to choose where to be born. I’m living in the first world now and yeah Peru IS a third world country and yes it will bring u all the things mentioned in this article (maybe not the food is fing good, give it some time and it will be the best). Peru is a place you learn to love, like a bad marriage, it takes time to get used to but you do it for the good, so don’t bash it if you’ve never been there first worlders you people are lucky to be able to judge the lower level, so don’t push it but now Peru ir rising rapidly and will not be the same as it is for now, so enjoy it while you can, sooner than u think it WILL become part of the first world and then bye bye exotic backpacker country. Don’t believe me, read the news.

    By Santiago on Dec 6, 2011 | Reply
  22. this is totally not true hahaa, dont mean to brag but peru is prob the best country in latin america along with brasil, and thiefs??? get your facts straight, check out perus economy we are the fastest growing economy in latina america right now along with brasil and chile, our gdp right now is 5.5, ugly? dude i came to the united states and every girl from here wants me lol ( dont mean to brag) very true, and we got two world wonders both amazones and macchu picchu!! we right now have been named one of the best foods in the world what are you talking about bad food? lol are you ignorant???? that is like the best thing from latin america, peruvian food!

    By uuuuuu on Dec 12, 2011 | Reply
  23. POR FAVOR: lea todo el artículo antes de dejar un comentario. Mucha gente aquí han entendido mal. No pienso, ni por un momento, que Peru es un pais feo. Si no entiendes mi punto de vista, dejame un comentario y haré una traducion.

    BEFORE COMMENTING: PLEASE read the whole piece, not just the headline. I’m fed up of getting abusive emails by people who misunderstand my point. Sigh.

  24. i am peruvian and that is sooo offensive to me. go to hell you bastard.

    By Ally on Jan 17, 2012 | Reply
  25. Colombia Speech Now Available As An Ebook

    hi Vicky,

    I am floored by the persistent interest — and occasional outrage — my speech has provoked. A reliable source in Bogota recently informed me that my speech is being used as a textbook in Colombian universities!

    As a result of this sustained interest, I’ve decided to publish the speech. Kindle owners can grab a copy from Amazon (link deleted; I think it was causing your wordpress to go barf.)

    I hope to have the ebook available through other channels (Smashwords, B&N, Apple Store, etc) by the end of next week. The paperback should be out by the end of April.

    cheers
    J.M. Porup

  26. Peru might be fastest growing economy in south america but it is still a dump. Lima is dirty full of quasi taxis. The food is nothing to write home about peruvians think that overdosing your food with their condiments is good cooking? Everything has cilantro I dont mind cilantro but please learn how to use it same with their chili’s they are on everything. Plus they exagerate everything from cooking to sports to politics, intolerant and obnoxious

    By esteban on Apr 13, 2012 | Reply
  27. what are you smoking? peruvian food is great you probably got on the wrong plane to Cuba and went to a wanabee peruvian restaurant

    By franco on May 21, 2012 | Reply
  28. Jeez, can’t you guys read or what? Vicky Baker is not saying Peru is an ugly country or bashing Peru, lol.
    But anyways, I’m peruvian and I’m not a hypocrite like these “offended peruvians” who live in fantasy land, telling everyone “oh my country is so beautiful, respect my country” Peru is the best country, yeah sure? I’ve live in Peru all my life, I’m 20 now, and I have a miserable life here, in this third world country full of indians and robbers.

    Maybe the “offended peruvians” that comment here, are the ones who belong to the middle high class, which by the way only make up 7% of the population of Lima, the rest are poor, I’m poor, and I hate having to deal with the filthy “combis”. Our transportation is mediocre, lets admite it for fuck’s sake. Even though, we have now the Metropolitano it does not connect all the city, just some places and parts of the City, and not to mention the fact that you have to walk blocks, just to take the freaking bus.
    Now let’s talk about crime, gosh, you can’t even own a Toyota Yaris, or Corolla, robbers tend to rob these kind of cars the most, and they are ready to kill for it.
    I live in a poor district called, La Victoria, I can’t actually explain how it is but maybe we can compare it a little bit with Bronx or Queens from New York. It’s horrible, I can’t even wear a decent pair of shoes because I’m afraid of the robbers, every single day there are these bunch of idiots standing in the corners, wanna be gangsters, waiting for their victims, I’m sick an tired of this, now many people will say, well that’s only in your neighborhood, BS! It’s almost everywhere in the city now, specially because the indians who came from the mountains to invade the city stablished in the hills and they have 3 to 5 kids per family who can’t even take care of, can’t educate them, can’t feed them, so as a result they become criminals, and no, these are not stereotypes, these are facts, 98% of the criminals come from these backgrounds.
    Now, let’s talk about education, I think education in Peru is filthy and retarded, after attending school for more than 12 years, all I can say is I learned nothing there, I was forced to take english classes for 12 years, and for what? I did not learn english there. I studied english at a private american institude for 3 years, and I won’t even bother talking about the infraestructure of the peruvian schools, they’re all filthy lol.

    But well, I don’t want to bore you guys with my complains, now, I’ll mention some good things about Peru, First the food, It could give you diarreah if you eat in cheap places, I mean why in the world would you have lunch or dinner at a cheap restaurant, I don’t even eat at those places, and I’m poor, lol. I always cook at home, otherwise I get sick if i eat at cheap restaurants, my advice is, if you are going to try peruvian food, eat at a descent restaurant, i suggest find a nice peruvian restaurant at a middle class district at least.
    Another good thing about Peru is the freedom, yep, we got a lot of freedom here, we are not poisoned by the so called “multicultural lie” here, there is no political correctness BS, I can make jokes about blacks, call them niggers, and whites crackers, and ugly indians, and muslim camel riders, deny the holocaust, and I don’t go to jail for it.
    You people actuall believe you have more freedom in Europe or U.S.A? just look at the case of Emma West, she got arrested and lost her children only because she dared to talked about immigration. And Geert Wilders almost went to prison for telling the truth about Islam.
    Well, that’s it, Peru sucks yep, there are a few things that are good, like food and freedom, but If tourist come here just for a couple of days or weeks then it’s ok, you should only visit the nice places, such as, Miraflores, Bars and restaurants in San Isidro, and then visit Cuzco. If you go to Lima I suggest you stay at Marriot Hotel, if you have no money, don’t even bother coming, lol.
    And by the way if you visit Cuzco, I suggest you avoid talking to the indians, they usually tend to hit on tourist girls because they have the hope that someday they will get a “gringa” that will take them out of this hell, lol. And they tell a lot of lies to them just to make them fall in love with them, so avoid them.
    Well, that’s it and for the “offended peruvians” the truth hurts huh? if we don’t start admiting that our country sucks then how are we going to make it better?

    By John on Jun 18, 2012 | Reply
  29. Come to think of it, I’ve never had Peruvian food, but I can only imagine how hrugny a doc devoted to cooking interesting dishes would make me (I can barely watch Top Chef without pausing to make dinner). Too bad they didn’t go all-out on the photography, but perhaps it was a good thing to avoid massive stomach rumblings mid-viewing?

  30. you’re so wrong that’s a stupid statement every contry has something to offer i am brazilian and i love peru as i love brazil peruvians are very friendly and theyre food is the best there is a lot of difference of estereotype in brazil like peru so go fuck you self and dont come back to my lovely south america anymore asshole or your ganna get robbed lol jk

    By marinoh on Jan 4, 2013 | Reply
  31. I’ve travelled all over the world and spent quite a bit of time in South America. The two countries I will never bother returning to: Peru and Cuba. Why not Peru? For all the same reasons the Lonely Planet author gave. Sorry, there are too many places to go and not enough time to waste with Peru.

    By Lara on Feb 21, 2013 | Reply

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