12 Tips For Traveling In Peru
1. Getting To Machu Picchu
There are several options for visiting the world heritage site of Machu Picchu depending on what experience you are looking for. If you are into trekking, you can hike from Cusco via the infamous Inca trail, which takes 5-7 days (staying in hostels along the way) and requires a guide whom should be reserve VERY far in advance since there is a limited number of people allowed on the trail at one time. Also take into consideration the rainy season, which begins around November-December and last until April. If trekking is not your thing or you are limited on time like we were, you have two options: take a bus or train from Cusco/Ollymtatambo. The Bus will definitely be the cheaper option, but we opted for the panoramic train ($65-100 each way, yeah not cheap) but it was a very pleasant 2.5 hour ride with amazing views of the country side as well as in car service of snacks/drinks. The train/bus will get you to the Aguas Callientes station at the foot of Machu Picchu, a tourist trap of a city but hey they kind of have us cornered. From the city you can either choose to hike early in the morning (and I mean early, we left at 3:30am to beat the buses) to the gate of Machu Picchu, or take a bus up to the entrance for $24 round trip. P.S. we would advise buying your Manchu Picchu at least a month in advance, buying them online can be a bit of a hassle, but there are some good how too blogs to help you find your way, see more about our Manchu Picchu experience here.
2. Dealing With Elevation Change
Peru has some of the highest mountain ranges in the world and the city of Cuzco itself sits at over 12,000 feet above sea level. The internet will point you in the direction of Diamox to mitigate altitude sickness, however we suggest saving your money and loading up on Coca tea/candies which you can find at almost any shop in Cusco. And if you think you are fit and wont be effected by the altitude like we did, think again and save yourself a splitting headache. We also would advising spending at least a day to adjust to the altitude in Cusco before attempting any exerting activities (like Rainbow Mountain).
3. Don’t Be Afraid To Barter
You can barter for almost anything (ok maybe not entrance/train tickets) but don’t be embarrassed to not accept the first price you’re offered, you’ll be surprised how much you can bring down prices of things like cabs and merchandise.
4. Book Tours From Your Hostel
Rather than booking in advance online, we have found that booking day trips, tours and or treks are both cheaper and more convenient to do from your hostel/hotel because the tour company will come pick you up directly from wherever you are staying and drop you off afterwards. We find great places to stay on a budget using both Airbnb and Hostelworld.com. Tours that we enjoyed included Rainbow Mountain and Lake Parón, which we booked through our hostels, and a Via Ferrata/Zipline tour that we did through the SkyLodges at Natura Vive.
5. Have Cash
Peru is largely a cash economy. Some nice restaurants will take cards but there is often a 50 S minimum. We would recommend having cash to exchange rather than withdrawing money from an ATP due to the high withdrawal fee. Note that 1 USD is about 3.15-3.25 Peruvian Soles. You’ll get a better exchange rate in town than in the airport.
6. Do I Need A Converter?
Outlets are conveniently the same as the US and they also work with the European 2 prong.
7. Drinking Water
No you cannot drink the water in Peru, but bottled water is fairly cheap (especially if you buy it in the 2.5 liter bottles which are about 4 soles or $1.25 depending on which city you are in).
8. Brush Up On Your Spanish
You’ll find a few people that can speak English in Peru, mainly in the Airports, Hotels/Hostels and MAYBE a few cab drivers. But don’t leave it to chance, we would recommend knowing how to order food and knowing how to ask how much something costs. P.S. Always ask how much a cab ride costs BEFORE you get in.
I would like the chicken please: Podía tener el pollo por favor
How much does this/it cost: cuanto se questa
9. Stay Strapped With Your Passport
You need your passport to check-in for trains, buses and to get in the gate at Machu Picchu. We recommend carrying it on you in either a zipper pocket or safe pouch close to your body when it is not locked up at your hostel/hotel.
10. Long Bus Rides
The buses in Peru are very nice, comfortable and relatively cheap. Over-night rides are convenient for traveling while you sleep so you can save on accommodation and wake up at your destination. We enjoyed all of our trips using Oltursa, Linea and Emtrafesa. We would also recommend downloading episodes from Netflix while you have wifi to keep you entertained on long rides.
Local buses are a little more tricky but they are safe and saved us a lot of money; rides around town are 1 sole (verses 5 soles for a cab), and a 2 hour ride to Puerto Chicama for a surfing day was only 5 soles each way ($1.50 USD).
11. Malaria Medication
The Malaria risk depends on which part of Peru you will be traveling to, if you are considering going to the Amazon area definitely get the meds, but if you will be in the Andes and the Cusco/Machu Picchu areas that are at high elevation you are fine to forgo the medication. There are two options when it comes to Malaria medication, one is an anti-biotic and the other (Malarone) is not, I would ALWAYS opt to forgo anti-biotics.
12. Sunscreen Doe
Yes you will get sunburnt even when you’re cold. Remember you’re close to the equator and the altitude makes a significant difference in UV exposure. I made the poor decision of leaving my back exposed during a hike to Rainbow mountain (highly recommend this hike) for a mere 15 minutes and had a burn right where my backpack straps then had to rub over the next few days…learn from my mistakes. And while you’re at it, opt for eco friendly sunscreens like Sun Bum and Kiss My Face.