In my years as a guide in the city of Cusco, I saw that tourists who learn some phrases in the local language and try to speak with people experience more of the local flavor. People in Cusco and the surrounding areas are more likely to open up when a tourist tries to communicate in their language.
Definitely learning a few words and phrases in Spanish will surprise the people you’re speaking to, be it in a restaurant, cafe, or wherever you find yourself. As a guide, I often saw my tourists try out a few words in Spanish and get a smile, and sometimes even a discount.
While there’s no guarantee that you will get a discount on your purchases, you will have a tool to make your visit to the city of Cusco more enjoyable and meaningful.
First things first. Español or Castellano?
If you haven’t heard the word Castellano before, it’s another way to refer to the language of Spanish. Español is commonly used in Cusco to refer to a person from Spain. So if someone asks you, “Hablas castellano?” they are asking if you speak Spanish.
These formal greetings will be understood by any local, even as you travel deep into the Andes mountains on your treks to Machu Picchu. While the locals in these places mainly speak Quechua, they understand these formal greetings and will feel appreciated when you speak to them in this manner.
You can always say Hola to anyone you meet. It is always nice to be recognized and greeted. However, to greet someone formally shows more acknowledgement and is definitely appreciated when used with adults. Consider using Hola with kids and young people, and formal greetings with adults that you meet on your travels in Peru.
Kisses and Handshakes
Another common way that you will see the locals greet each other is with kisses and hand shakes. Handshakes are more common among men. Between men and women, or between women, it’s common to give a kiss on the cheek as a greeting. In some cultures, a kiss is a common greeting. In other cultures, a kiss is more intimate and only shared between people that know each other very well, like family. As a visitor, don’t feel pressured to greet people with a kiss. A simple buenos días / buenas tardes / buenas noches and a small wave hello is sufficient. A lot of communication can be read from your friendly manner of interacting with people, even when you don’t speak the language.
From experience as a guide in Cusco, these are phrases that I recommend that you use to introduce yourself to a local in or around Cusco:
Bueno días (tardes, noches)
Good morning (afternoon, evening)
Me llamo Raúl
My name is Raúl
Soy de los Estados Unidos (Australia, Inglaterra, Canada, etc)
I’m from the United States (Australia, Inglaterra, Canada, etc)
Yo hablo un poco de español (castellano)
I speak a little Spanish
This is will usually make the person you’re speaking to feel a little more open and friendly towards you. Even if you don’t pronounce all the words perfectly, they appreciate that you tried. It also will make them feel more comfortable trying out a little English with you, knowing that they don’t have to pronounce all the words perfectly either.
After your introduction, try out some of these words and phrases:
Como te llamas?
What is your name?
Eres del Cusco?
Are you from Cusco?
Useful phrases for shopping:
Cuanto cuesta esto?
How much does this cost?
Puede hacer me una rebaja?
Can you give me a discount?
Tiene otro color?
Do you have another color?
Useful phrases for restaurants:
Quiero probar el cuy!
I want to try the guinea pig! – A local delicacy in Cusco
Tengo mucha hambre
I’m really hungry
Estoy de sed
Puedo tener hielo?
Can I have ice? Not common Cusco, since the weather is cold and only bottled water is consumed.
Puedo tener sal?
Can I have salt?
Una cervesa/un café, por favor
A beer/coffee, please
La cuenta por favor
The check, please
How delicious! Always complement your cook in the city and on the trail.
Useful phrases for hotels/hostels:
Una frasada más, por favor
Another blanket, please. At over 11,000ft, Cusco can be pretty cold at night. This one might come in handy.
A que hora es la entrada/salida?
What time is Check-in/Check-out
Puedo guardar mis maletas aquí?
Can I store my luggage here? Comes in useful to store your extra luggage when you are trekking.
Useful phrases for using around Cusco:
Donde estan las llamas?
Where are the llamas?
Que hora es?
What time is it?
Puedo tomar una foto?
Can I take a picture? It’s always polite to ask before taking pictures. Keep in mind, you may be requested to give a tip, so negotiate a price ahead of time.
Necesito un taxi
I need a taxi
Donde está el baño?
Where is the bathroom? Be sure to carry your own toilet paper, since most bathrooms do not provide it.
No thank you – this one is particularly useful in the Plaza de Armas, if you want to avoid the vendors.
Like any place in the world, trying to speak in another person’s language shows respect and interest in their culture. As a local, it makes you feel like a visitor values your home and way of life. This is a great way to make a connection with people and get more out of your travels. We hope you’ll try out some of these phrases and make some unforgettable memories in Peru.