Traveling to the beautiful south American country of Peru? Do you want to understand the locals and sound like a local when you speak? Or maybe you just want to ask for directions or advice when you speak Spanish? Even in touristic places like Machu Picchu, English will only get you so far. It’s always good to have some useful phrases for your trip to Peru. Whether you’re visiting Lima or the Sacred Valley, these colloquial expressions and slang words will get you far. They’re also fun to learn and are a great new way for language students to learn phrase formation and common expressions.
Although born among the lower social classes, the expressions below are commonly used along the whole social spectrum and geographical areas of Peru. Some of them, sometimes with slight variations, may be found in neighboring nations. They are an excellent reflection of Peruvian idiosyncrasy and culture.
1. Matar el hambre – Literally: to kill hunger. To eat something in the meantime until you can have a full meal. “Voy a matar el hambre comiendo un sandwich”. (I´m going to eat a sandwich to fill up my stomach a little).
2. Sacar la vuelta – To double-cross, to betray, to deceive. Usually used concerning unhappy love affairs. “Esa chica me sacó la vuelta con un amigo”. (That girl double-crossed me with a friend).
3. Hacer de la vista gorda – To look the other way, to pretend not to know. It might occur after someone gets bribed. “El policía se hizo de la vista gorda”. (The policeman looked the other way).
4. Meterse una tranca – To get very drunk, to “get wasted”. “Me metí una tranca con mis amigos”. (I got wasted with my friends).
5. Hacer el avión – To trick or fool someone. It usually involves payments or deals. “El taxista me hizo el avión”. (The taxi driver fooled me).
6. Hacerse el sueco – Literally: to behave like a Swede who does not know Spanish. To pretend to ignore the meaning of someoné’s words or actions. “No te hagas el sueco. Esto está muy claro”. (Don´t behave like a Swede. This is quite clear).
7. Cabecear a alguien – Literally: to give a head butt. To rip off, to swindle. “En esa tienda me cabecearon”. (I got ripped off in that store).
8. Romper la mano – Literally: to break someone’s hand. To bribe, to corrupt. It involves illegal payments to government officials for favors. “A ese congresista le rompieron la mano”. (That congressman was bribed).
9. Ser pepeado – To be drugged with sleeping pills and then robbed. It usually occurs in discotheques, carried out by pretty women called “peperas” who slip the drugs into the drinks of unsuspecting men. “Mi primo fue pepeado anoche”. (My cousin was drugged and robbed last night).
10. Fumar marimba – To smoke marihuana, an illegal but fairly common action in Peru. The weed is also known as “macoña, yerba, troncho”. “Había gente fumando marimba en la fiesta”. (There were people smoking pot at the party).
11. Meterse tiros – Literally: to shoot yourself. To inhale cocaine. Also known as “jalar”. It occurs among high class persons who can afford the drug and wish to carry on drinking but minimizing the effects of alcohol. Not so common as smoking pot and also illegal. “A un amigo mío le gusta meterse tiros”. (A friend of mine likes snorting coke).
12. Saludo a la bandera – Literally: a salute to the flag. An inconsequential or worthless act. It sometimes involves words or actions carried out by government officials to pretend they are doing something useful for the people. “El discurso del ministro fue un saludo a la bandera”. (The minister’s speech was inconsequential).
13. Al toque – Right away, immediately. A fairly common expression used to convey alertness and prompt action. “Terminé mi trabajo al toque”. (I finished my work right away).
14. Sin pelos en la lengua – Literally: with no hair on the tongue. An idiom usually referring to someone´s unadorned, direct and unafraid words. “Mi amigo me contó la historia sin pelos en la lengua”. (My friend told me the story in straightforward words).
15. Manyar – a) To realize, to know, to understand. “¿Manyas lo que te digo?” (Do you understand what I say?). b) To eat. Peruvian slang word derived from the Italian “mangiare”. Also known as “jamear”. “¿Quieres manyar en ese restaurante?” (Would you like to eat in that restaurant?)
16. Fumar pasta – To smoke a derivative from the coca leaf known as “pasta” before it becomes cocaine. A highly addictive substance employed by the lower classes because of its cheap price and linked to criminal behavior. Users are known as “pasteleros”. “Habían hombres fumando pasta en un callejón”. (There were men smoking pasta in an alley).
17. Comer en un huarique – To eat in a secluded, usually unexpensive restaurant but serving very tasty food. Huariques are known only by locals and offer an interesting alternative to tourist traps. You’ll need someone to take you to one because they are not well known by most people. “Comí muy rico en un huarique del Callao” (I ate very well in this huarique in Callao city).
18. Hacerse la vaca – Literally: to act as a cow. To miss work or school classes due to lazyness or to have a free day. “Mi compañero se hizo la vaca el viernes”. (My classmate missed classes on Friday).
19. Tirar cuetes – Literally: to toss firecrackers. To effusively praise someone. “Me tiraron cuetes por mi trabajo”. (I was highly praised for my job).
20. Estar misio – To be broke, usually temporarily due to overspending. “Estoy misio después de mi viaje a Europa” (I am broke after my trip to Europe)
21. Agringarse – To adopt the looks and behavior of Anglo Saxon white people. “Él está muy agringado después de su viaje a los Estados Unidos”. (He acts like a gringo after his trip to the United States).
22. Estar arrecho – To be eager for sexual intercourse, to be sexually aroused. It´s a vulgar expression which should only be used among intimate friends. “Estoy arrecho después de ver una película porno” (I am horny after watching a porno film).
23. Hacer un cachuelo – To carry out a temporary job, usually unskilled and informal until you can get proper work. “Hago cachuelos para sobrevivir” (I do any temporary jobs to survive).
24. Estar mostro – Outstanding, great, remarkable. Oher equivalent words are “bravazo, alucinante, bacán”. “El auto de mi amigo está mostro”. (My friend´s car blows my mind).
25. Chamba – a) Work, job, employment – “Estoy buscando chamba”. (I’m looking for a job). b) Hard-working – “Ella es muy chamba” or “Ella es full chamba” (Shé’s very hard-working). c) Carelessly, without rigor – In this case the expression is “a la chamba”. “No debes trabajar a la chamba” (You mustn´t work carelessly).
Enjoyed these? Here’s 13 more slang phrases to use on the streets of Peru