Because of its role as an international tourism destination, it’s totally possible to visit Machu Picchu without speaking a lick of Spanish at all — let alone any specifically Peruvian words. However, there’s no denying that the ability to communicate with the local people will only make your Peruvian adventure more fulfilling.
If you’re new to Spanish, it probably doesn’t make much sense to try and learn the language prior to your trip. However, it’s certainly a good idea to learn the basics — “hello,” “thank you,” that kind of stuff. This is considered polite and will at least communicate to your Peruvian hosts and guides that you value their culture enough to learn a few words.
But if you do already have some basic Spanish under your belt, there’s still some additional work you can do to make full use of your language skills during your trip. Just like everywhere else in the world, there're plenty of Peruvian words and phrases unique to the country - and you probably didn’t learn any of them in your Spanish class.
If you want to really impress your Peruvian acquaintances - or if you’re gossipy and you want to understand what people around you might be talking about - it’s a good idea to learn some of these “slang” Peruvian words and phrases before your Machu Picchu adventure. Let’s take a look at a few of them below, focusing especially on Peruvian words that will be good to know as a tourist:
Throughout most of the Spanish-speaking world, the word used for beer would be cerveza, in fact, cerveza is so common that it’s often one of the few Spanish words that English-speaking tourists learn! If you’ve stopped for lunch or you're out for a night on the town during your Machu Picchu adventure and you want a beer, asking for a cerveza certainly isn’t wrong. However, if you want to blend in or impress a Peruvian companion, chela is probably the way to go. It might also help you to decipher the promotional signs placed outside of bars and restaurants throughout Cuzco and other Peruvian towns and cities.
This Peruvian word has two slightly different, but related meanings: it could be a Chinese restaurant or it could just mean Chinese food in general. At this point, you might be wondering why exactly it’s important to know how to say “Chinese food” in Peruvian Spanish. It’s a valid question, but it’ll make much more sense once you arrive in Peru. Chinese food is incredibly popular in the country, and most large cities, including Cuzco, are full of great places to eat it. Chinese food in Peru is a bit different from in other places around the world - it’s really more of a Chinese-Peruvian fusion, and it’s quite delicious. That’s why we recommend that you stop at a chifa at some point during your Machu Picchu adventure!
The streets of Cuzco are full of chifas serving delicious Chinese-Peruvian fusion
This is a simple expression that is similar to exclaiming “cool” in English. It is very much a slang word, but that being said it’s not offensive in the least. ¡Bacán! is a fine word to use if you want to surprise a Peruvian guide, he or she will most likely be surprised (and quite impressed) that you know it. Simply put, this is one of our favourite Peruvian words.
This word is used for a passenger bus, kind of an elongated van used to shuffle people (especially tourists) around. As there’s a decent chance that you might end up on a micro at some point during your Peru adventure, it could very well be a useful word for you to know.
Unfortunately, this Peruvian word and the one following it are slightly less fun, but equally important to know and understand. Choro is the Peruvian word for thief, and it is often used to describe any number of unsavoury characters such as pickpockets that hang around in popular tourist areas, like markets, in Cuzco. Though the vast majority of Peruvians are fine, upstanding people who go out of their way to welcome foreign tourists, you should always exercise caution, especially in crowds. If by chance you think you hear the word choro being thrown around, pay attention and keep your guard up, you wouldn’t want any petty theft putting a dampener on your Machu Picchu adventure.
These two words are the male and female equivalents for the same thing, a person who goes out on the town in order to meet a foreigner and take advantage of him/her in some way. Of course, if you meet a Peruvian companion and you’re having a good time, you shouldn’t automatically assume that this was part of some 'master plan'. However, if you find that a new Peruvian acquaintance seems to be paying you an unwarranted amount of attention, you may want to ask yourself if he or she falls into the brichero/brichera category.
Though this is just the tip of the iceberg as far as Peruvian words go, it should still serve as a useful selection for visitors to begin with.