The three letters that define much of the world's wireless capabilities are GSM (Global System for Mobiles), a big, seamless network that makes for easy cross-border use. In the U.S., T-Mobile, AT&T Wireless, and Cingular use this quasi-universal system; in Canada, Microcell and some Rogers customers are GSM, and all Europeans and most Australians use GSM. If your cellphone is on a GSM system, and you have a world-capable multiband phone such as many Sony Ericsson, Motorola, and Samsung models, you can make and receive calls throughout much of Peru. Just call your wireless operator and ask for "international roaming" to be activated on your account. Unfortunately, per-minute charges can be high.
For many, renting a phone is a better idea. While you can rent a phone from any number of sites in Peru, including kiosks at airports and at car-rental agencies, I suggest renting the phone before you leave home. North Americans can rent one before leaving home from InTouch Global (tel. 800/872-7626; www.intouchglobal.com) or RoadPost (tel. 888/290-1606 or 905/272-5665; www.roadpost.com). InTouch will also, for free, advise you on whether your existing phone will work overseas; simply call tel. 703/222-7161 between 9am and 4pm EST, or go to www.intouchglobal.com/travel.htm.
If you decide to wait to rent a phone once you land, Peru Rent-a-Cell (tel. 01/517-1856) has representatives and a booth awaiting flights in baggage claim at the Lima and Cusco airports and rents small Nokia cellphones for just $10 per month. Incoming calls are free. If you use your phone only to receive incoming calls, either from within Peru or from any other country, you only pay that one-time activation fee. Otherwise, domestic calls cost 70¢ per minute, and calls placed to other countries cost $1.50 per minute.
Anyone headed to more remote parts of Peru might consider renting a satellite phone ("satphone"). It's different from a cellphone in that it connects to satellites and works where there's no cellular signal or ground-based tower. You can rent satellite phones from RoadPost. InTouch USA offers a wider range of satphones but at higher rates. Per-minute call charges can be even cheaper than roaming charges with a regular cellphone, but the phone itself is more expensive. As of this writing, satphones were outrageously expensive to buy, so don't even think about it.
Peru's telephone system has been much improved since it was privatized and acquired by Spain's Telefónica in the mid-1990s. (There are now several additional players in the market, including Bell South.) It is relatively simple to make local and long-distance domestic and international calls from pay phones, which accept coins and phone cards (tarjetas telefónicas). Most phone booths display country and city codes, and contain instructions in English and Spanish.
Your best, cheapest bet for making international calls from Peru is to head to any Internet cafe with an international calling option. These cafes have connections to Skype, Net2Phone, or some other VoIP service. International calls made this way can range anywhere from 5¢ to $1 per minute -- much cheaper than making direct international calls or using a phone card. If you have your own Skype or similar account, you just need to find an Internet cafe that provides a computer with a headset.
The easiest way to make a long-distance call within the country is to purchase a phone card (maximum S/30). Many of these cards, purchased at newspaper kiosks and street vendors who sell nothing else, are called Tarjeta 147. To use such a card, first rub off the secret number. Dial the numbers 1-4-7 and then dial the 12-digit number on your card. A voice recording will tell you (in Spanish only) the value remaining on the card and instruct you to dial the desired telephone number. It will then tell you how many minutes you can expect to talk with the amount remaining. You can also make international calls from Telefónica offices and hotels, although surcharges levied at the latter can be extraordinarily expensive.
Toll-free numbers: Numbers beginning with 0800 within Peru are toll-free when called from a private phone (not from a public pay phone), but calling an 800 number in the States from Peru is not toll-free. In fact, it costs the same as an overseas call.
More and more hotels, resorts, airports, cafes, and retailers are going Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity), becoming "hotspots" that offer free high-speed Wi-Fi access or charge a small fee for usage. Most laptops sold today have built-in wireless capability. To find public Wi-Fi hotspots in Peru and throughout South America, go to www.jiwire.com; its Hotspot Finder holds the world's largest directory of public wireless hotspots.
For dial-up access, most business-class hotels throughout Peru offer dataports for laptop modems, and a growing number offer free high-speed Internet access. Wherever you go, bring a connection kit of the right power and phone adapters, a spare phone cord, and a spare Ethernet network cable -- or find out whether your hotel supplies them to guests.
In Peru, by far the easiest way to check your e-mail and surf the Web is to drop in at the Internet cabinas (booths) that can be found in virtually every city and even small towns. Connections are usually fast, and the service is as little as S/2 per hour. Although there's no definitive directory for cybercafes, two places to start looking are www.cybercaptive.com and www.cybercafe.com. I've also included specific recommendations in the "Fast Facts" section of most destinations.
Aside from formal cybercafes, most youth hostels and many hotels nowadays have at least one computer with Internet access. In Peru, many nightclubs and bars offer Web hookups. Some hotel business centers charge exorbitant rates; be sure to ask before assuming computer usage is free. Most major airports now have Internet kiosks scattered throughout their gates. These kiosks, which you'll also see in shopping malls, hotel lobbies, and tourist information offices around the world, give you basic Web access for a per-minute fee that's usually higher than cybercafe prices. The kiosks' clunkiness and high price mean they should be avoided whenever possible.
Where Are You @? -- The @ symbol is hard to find on a Latin American keyboard. You must keep your finger on the "Alt" key, and then press "6" and "4" on the number pad to the right. If you're still unsuccessful and at an Internet cafe, ask the assistant to help you type an arroba.