Smoking cigarettes in Peru

An old cigarette sign in Aguas Calientes, Peru. Photo by Ryan McFarland,

You might be thinking “Yeah, I’ll go traveling in Peru for a month, it’ll be a great opportunity to quit smoking!” Well, let’s be honest, that’s not going to happen. So now that we’ve agreed on that, let’s talk about cigarettes in Peru…

(And if you’re partial to an occasional joint, read Is Marijuana Legal in Peru?)

The Price of Cigarettes in Peru

According to the World Health Organization, the average price globally of a pack of 20 cigarettes was $4.87 in 2016. That figure has probably gone up since then, but it still places Peru a bit below average when it comes to the cost of a pack of 20.

Cigarettes in Peru are certainly way cheaper than in countries like Australia, the U.K., Canada, France and Germany, and a fair bit cheaper than in the United States. In the U.S., the average hovers around $7, with New York at around $13 (among the world’s most expensive) and Missouri at about $5.25.

As of April 2018, prices for some of the most popular cigarette brands in Peru are as follows (pack of 20):

Cigarette prices in Peru

It’s safe to say those prices will continue to rise. When I first came to live in Peru in 2009, a packet of Hamilton cigarettes was about S/ 4.50, less than half the current price.

If you’re one of those annoying “social smokers” who only ever wants one or two cigarettes during a night out, there’s good news: You don’t have to blag them off your smoker friends, as in Peru it’s easy to buy just one cigarette. You can do this in some small stores (bodegas), and you can buy them from street vendors. One cigarette normally costs S/ 1 from a bar-cruising street vendor.

Rolling Tobacco and Mapachos

If you like rolling your own cigarettes, then you’ll have to go on a hunt once you’ve smoked all the Golden Virginia you brought from back home. Rolling tobacco isn’t common in Peru, and can be difficult to find outside of Lima. In Lima you’ll find a few specialist tobacconists who sell it, like the Casa de Fumidor at Av. Larco 590 in Miraflores (not far from Parque Kennedy). There are also a few head shops scattered around in Lima and elsewhere, where you might find rolling tobacco and where you’ll definitely find rolling papers (and pipes, bongs etc.).

For a cheap alternative to cigarettes and rolling tobacco, you could try smoking mapachos. Mapachos are made from nicotina rústica, or wild tobacco, and are often used in shamanic ceremonies. They’re pure, but rough as hell. On the positive side, they don’t contain chemicals and they’re ridiculously cheap. You can buy about 100 of them, pre-rolled, for about S/ 5 or S/ 10 (less than $3) in markets throughout much of Peru. If you have iron lungs, then go for it.

Mapacho cigarette Peru

A shaman using a (super fat) mapacho cigarette during a ceremony in Iquitos, Peru. Photo by Apollo,

E-Cigarettes and Vaping in Peru

As far as I know, you’ll need to go to a specialist tobacconist like the one mentioned above for all your E-cig and vaping needs. Or go to a head shop like 420 Smoke Shop, also in Miraflores. Just make sure you’re buying something genuine rather than some weird rip-off product, or you’ll probably kill yourself.

Cigars in Peru

You can buy cigars in tobacconists and some supermarkets. You’ll find plenty of international brands, but if you want to try some Peruvian cigars look for anything by the Tabacalera del Oriente.

The Tabacalera del Oriente makes a wide range of cigars in Tarapoto (where I live), and they’re good. They make premium cigars that are sold in Peru and exported to Europe, as well as more basic mild cigars for casual smoking. Prices vary greatly depending on size and quality. On the cheap end of the scale you can buy packs of five cigars for as little as S/ 8 (Rio Mayo and Puritos Chicos), and they’re not bad at all (well, I smoke them quite often, but I’m no connoisseur). For something more refined, try the San Martín, Miguel Grau or Señor de Sipán varieties.

Smoking Laws in Peru

Peru’s smoking laws are defined in Law 28705, which covers all the standard stuff from advertising to age restrictions. By law, no one can sell tobacco products to people under the age of 18.

It’s also illegal to smoke in any establishment, private or public, dedicated to health or education (schools, hospitals etc.). Smoking is also prohibited in all forms of public transport, but that’s a slightly grey area. Sure, you can’t smoke in buses or on planes, but plenty of taxi drivers will let you have a cheeky smoke out the window of their cab. And once you start traveling around the jungle by boat, no one seems to care.

The law also states that the owners of workplaces, hotels, restaurants, cafes, bars and other entertainment centers have the option to allow the consumption of tobacco in designated smoking areas. These, however, must be physically separated from any areas where smoking is prohibited. But like the legal drinking age in Peru, this is a law that is often ignored. You can still smoke in many bars and clubs in Peru, as well as in some cafes and a few grimy restaurants.