So you have decided that you would like to travel to Peru. Good choice. Peru is an amazing country with beautiful scenery, a plethora of culture, and just enough tourist attractions without feeling too touristy. When I went to Peru, I traveled first to Lima, then Cuzco, and finally, a struggling town on the coast called Huarmey, where I met some of the most amazing people I know. In this guide I will speak of what to bring with you to Peru, what to make sure you see and experience in Peru, and also a few things to look out for – small reminders I wish someone gave me before I went to Peru.
First things first- what to pack.
Depending on where you plan to go and what time of year you are traveling, this list fluctuates greatly. Peru itself is contains three basic weather “zones.” There is the jungle in the east, desert in the west, and mountains in the middle. In general, most of Peru experiences its wettest months during the period that takes place between December and March. Aside from that, most tourists travel to Peru over their summer, between June and August. For this reason, I recommend going during a different break, perhaps in February or April. Because the weather is so timid, I suggest packing for it all.
A raincoat is a must
A mixture of shorts and pants, however put more emphasis on the pants. Additionally, although Jeans are rugged I recommend corduroys or khakis of some sort because jeans can take a long time to dry out after getting wet.
A bathing suit. There are some nice beaches along the coast providing the weather is warm, and there is also another great opportunity for getting wet that I will describe later. If you do not have much room though, don’t worry. Most places requiring bathing suits sell them nearby.
A bug net might is absolutely necessary if staying outdoors at any point or in a cheap hotel. Where there are flies there are diseases (although you should be vaccinated before traveling). If not a bug net, bug repellent will come in handy.
Bring a fanny pack to put your camera and other small items you will be accessing frequently into. There are pickpockets all over Lima and the cities.
In accordance with the above, bring one of the made for traveling neck purses that you wear under your shirt and keep your passport, ID, and money in.
Phone cards, a prepaid travel phone, or Iphones will all satisfy your communication needs in Peru. Take note, however, that you must notify your Iphone service provider that you will be traveling and pay a small fee for it to be usable in Peru.
Regarding money- Peru uses currency called “nuevo sol“. Around 3.5 – 5 soles equates to $1. This is good for you because your money will go slightly further. However, in touristy areas expect the opposite to be true. Bring around $40 per day if you plan on going to any tourist sites (which charge entrance fees like museums) and also for food.
Also, go to a nearby Hospital’s Travel Clinic and tell a doctor of your plan to travel to Peru. You will be required to get some vaccines and have the opportunity to ask for altitude medication. This is fast acting medication that will instantly cure any dizzyness or naseau you begin to feel in high elevation areas of Peru.
What to see in Peru
Lima is an amazing city totally unlike any I’ve ever seen before. For the value of culture shock alone, a day or two in Lima is absolutely necessary. You will likely fly in to Lima, so take a day to acclimate to your new surroundings and explore this area. BE CAREFUL, however, because Lima is FULL of pickpockets. If you arrive at nighttime do not dilly dally outside of the airport with your luggage, go straight to a cab and have the driver take you to your hotel.
Cuzco is a great stop to make because of its proximity to Machu Pichu and its quaint feel. You will instantly recognize that it is the opposite of Lima. It is quaint and pretty, sunny even though cold (due to its elevation), and clean. There is a massive central marketplace where cheap tourist items can be had. These include T-shirts, pens, hats, shot-glasses, pipes, sunglasses, jewelry, magnets, and almost everything else one could possibly think of. During the night, Cuzco is a pretty safe area. Obviously use typical common sense and don’t travel alone, but two or more should travel unscathed through the moonlit streets of Cuzco. The nightlife is also pretty bustling. There is a downtown area with a square around which there are a few discotheques. These places are nightclubs with a mixture of American and Spanish music where drinks are served and the party is boppin’. Be careful and keep your personal belongings close to you, as a friend of mine had her camera stolen right out of her pocket inside a discotheque.
Machu Pichu is an absolute “must-see” if there ever was one. The ascent to the top of the mountain is an experience in itself. Be sure to find a tour guide who looks like he knows what he is doing, because the history is mindblowing and the experience is nothing without understanding a little background. Also, make sure your camera is charged because you will definitely want to show your friends back at home a photo of yourself atop this mind-blowing mountain upon which Machu Pichu is situated. This is also a place where you might want to bring your bathing suit to. On the side of the mountain there are some hot springs that you can take a dip in. I personally found them to be extremely dirty, in a most revolting sort of way. However, I wouldn’t have been happy with myself if I missed the opportunity to take a dip in the side of such an immense mountain, so bring your suit and you’ll have the option. Access to the springs costs money, but only about $3-5.
I also recommend traveling to a generally “lesser-traveled” part of Peru. For instance, I traveled to Huarmey, on the coast of Peru. A place such as this allows you to see what Peru really is. You can interact with the people, talk with them a little if your Spanish has improved at all since you embarked on your journey, and witness Peruvian life from a candid viewpoint. I attended a few masses at the local Church in Huarmey and noticed how deeply religious the townspeople were. I also was able to talk to the locals and listen to the problems they see on a day to day basis. I felt good eating at local restaurants because I was circulating money into this town, and I got a great feeling from how thankful the people there were for my open ears.
There are of course a few important things you should keep in mind before you travel to Peru.
1. Plan your trip. Begin thinking of the hotels you will stay in, transportation, tours you want to go on, and any tour companies you might use. You will want to have all of this sorted out when you touch down in Peru, and to have phone numbers and location names at your fingertips.
2. Do not overpack. You can purchase anything you think you might need in Peru, and it might even be cheaper.
3. Be conscious of the fact that nothing is really regulated in Peru. That is to say, there aren’t any “food standards.” The chicken you buy on the side of the street could’ve been killed in someone’s back yard. Tour buses stop at rest stops and a group of Peruvians will run up to you as you get off the bus to stretch selling food that looks delicious and smells delicious. Worms eating away at you from inside your stomach is not delicious.
4. Lastly, have an open mind to new things. Peru is not the typical “island getaway,” that Costa Rica is. Peru is full of history and culture. Be open to eating guinea pig (a Peruvian delicacy) and also to lifestyles which might not agree with your own.
I hope you have a blast, and safe travels!