Nothing will earn you more kudos with Peruvians than knowing and using some of their most typical slang words during your trip.
Whether travelling in Peru for just a few days, or staying there for months on end, you’ll benefit from knowing some of the local lingo. Master some of this and it’ll open up a whole new world of experiences to you during your stay.
Take a look at our selection of some of the best and most common bits of slang used by Peruvians (some of which are also heard in other countries):
One of the most common ways for Peruvians to express a favourable opinion of something or someone. It's a rough equivalent of “cool”.
It might seem rather brusque to us foreigners, but in Peru “habla” (“speak”) appears to be a perfectly acceptable way to greet an old friend.
Running into your buddy on the street you could just go for the boring old “Hola, ¿cómo estás?” (“Hi. How are you?”). But, then again, you could inject more life into the thing and say “Habla, José, ¿qué me cuentas?” – which it’d be more like “José! What’s going on man?”.
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3. ¡Ya fuiste!
A popular Peruvian way to say something like “you’ve missed out”, “you’ve lost your chance”, “that ship has sailed” etc.
See below for a sample of how it’d be used in conversation:
This means 1. “I really liked her a lot, but I never did anything about and she’s got a boyfriend now”; 2. “You’ve lost your chance now!”.
As you might gather, it’s not the most sympathetic response to the traumas of others.
4. ¡Qué roche!
“¡Qué roche!” is basically the Peruvian version of the standard Spanish phrases “¡qué vergüenza!” or “¡qué pena!”. If you already know how to use these expressions, then just substitute in the odd “¡qué roche!” here and there, and you’re away.
Imagine, for example, that your friend has got a little drunk the previous night and proceeded to embarrass himself in front of a big group of people. Rubbish for him, certainly, but for you it presents the perfect opportunity to show off your knowledge of the local lingo.
Translation: “It was so embarrassing the other night when Felipe got really drunk and started fighting with everyone”.
Not exactly slang, but an essential term for any traveller to Peru. It is the word always used by locals to describe altitude sickness; a problem affecting many of us lowland dwellers when we head to the country’s mountainous areas.
This most widely recommended local remedy to this ill is to drink “mate de coca” (coca leaf tea); a mild stimulate which alters the regulation of oxygen in the bloodstream.
A word for “cool” or “great” that is heard in Peru (as well as other countries like Colombia and Venezuela) e.g. "Sería chévere ir a la playa" - "it'd be cool to go to the beach".
It also works as a throwaway response in conversation; a bit like saying “OK”, “sure” or “cool” in English. In conversation this would sound like:
That is: 1. “Let’s meet around Barranco at about 8.30pm”; 2. “Cool”.
Another local alternative for the above. For example:
Meaning: “What a cool/awesome movie!”
8. Al toque
“Al toque” is an expression locals use for “immediately” or “straight away”.
For example: “Me dijo que sí, pero al toque cambió de opinión” would translate as “He said yes, but then he changed his mind immediately afterwards”.
Remember also that this is Latin America, after all, and so the meaning of “straight away” can get stretched to breaking point. (Especially, if you’re asking staff at a bus station when your long-delayed transport is supposed to be arriving).
In theory, at least, it means “instantly”.
In standard Spanish, “calabaza” is the word for “pumpkin”. In Lima, it also means someone who’s rather slow or dim witted. (Like carved out pumpkins on Halloween, they have nothing inside their head).
Make it sound a little less harsh by adding the diminutive on the end to make “calabacita”. This changes the meaning from just “he/she is stupid” to something more like “he/she isn’t the sharpest tool in the box”.
Still insulting, of course, but it somehow seems a little less mean.
Peru’s currency is the “sol” and this is a very informal alternative word for it. A bit like using “buck” instead of “dollar”, though not so widely accepted.
In the following example use, a young Peruvian guy complains that the ticket price has gone up to 20 soles:
A useful term to bear in mind when browsing the wares for sale at Peru’s many street markets.
A product that is described as “bamba” is a fake – a knock off. Pick up a fancy new Rolex watch for a handful of soles at the market? You’ve just bought “un reloj bamba” my friend.
12. Hacer chancha
If a Peruvian friend suggests to you “hagamos chancha” – literally, “let’s make a pig” – you’d be forgiven for not knowing what the hell they were on about.
You might even be horrified: translate the above phrase another way and it could read “let’s do a (female) pig”.
Fortunately, the real meaning is rather more palatable. “Hacer chancha” is a local phrase for “to have a whip round” or “to make a kitty”. Most often used when a group of friends all chip in a few "lucas" to buy some beers.
13. Chelas, chelear
Come Friday night you might get invited to throw back a couple of cold ones with your new found local friends. Chances are that they will describe “beers” as “chelas” rather than the more standard international Spanish word “cervezas”.
With a slight tweak, “chela” becomes the verb “chelear”: the practice (some might say, art) of drinking beer.
14. Estar huasca
Too many “chelas” on a night out, especially at high altitude spots like Cusco, and you’ll quickly get “huasca” – Peruvian for “drunk”, “wasted”, “smashed”.
A party in Peru may be called a “fiesta”, but a popular local alternative word is “tono”. “Tonear” for a Peruvian is a perfectly acceptable way to say “to go partying”.
Another option is “juergear” – also meaning “ir de fiesta” – which comes from the slang word for party, “juerga”.
Look up “pata” in the dictionary and it’ll tell you that the word means “animal leg or paw”.
But a Peruvian is more likely to use this term as a way to refer to a close friend (either male or female).
So, you could say: “Miguel es mi pata del alma” to mean “Miguel is one of my very closest friends”. An even more colloquially version of the same thing is “causa”, though this one is so slangy that it’d sound very odd for a foreigner to use it.
17. Estar CocaCola
”Su prima está media CocaCola”: an odd, but legitimate, local way to say “his cousin is a bit crazy”. This horse seems to be suffering from the same condition:
”Estar CocaCola” then is just another way to say someone is a bit mental. No-one seems to quite know why, but it can’t be a coincidence that “cola” is an anagram of “loca”; the word that every Spanish student knows for “crazy”.
18. Ahí nos vidrios
Why just say goodbye with a simple “hasta luego” when you could use this Peruvian expression instead?
It’s a strange little phrase that is sometimes heard instead of “nos vemos” and means “see you round” or “see you later”.
Translation: “Right, I’m off. See you in a bit”.
And lastly, “la yapa”
A fitting term to finish on, “la yapa” in Peru means “something extra thrown in for free”.
The most common circumstance to come across this is when ordering a fresh fruit juice in little informal eateries or street stalls. Normally, they’ll make up a whole blender full of juice, but only serve you a glass full to start with.
Once you’ve drunk a bit and made some more room in the glass, they might offer you “la yapa” and top you up with the juice that remained in the jug.