What to Know Before You Visit Peru
Ah, Peru. I’ve been all around the world, and read about Peru before taking my first trip, but nothing prepares you for the real thing. Still, it is better to have some idea before embarking on your journey so here are some need-to-know ideas that will help you prepare for to visit Peru.
*Peru has three regions: the jungle, the Andes, and the coast. Spiritual travelers are going to focus on the Andes, so this article really pertains to that area only.
Never Stop Altitude Sickness Prevention
You’re going to get sick. Just factor that in. Seventy-five percent of people get altitude sickness at heights over 10,000 feet. That’s just about everyone and just about everywhere unless you stay coastal or in the jungle. So, what do you do? Stay hydrated. Take it easy. Eat lots of carbs. Stay away from alcohol and sugar. Drink up to three cups of coca tea per day every day. If you get sick, rest. If you get sicker, seek medical attention. Seriously. Hard headed people die from altitude sickness. It’s no joke. Take care of yourself. It’s part of what comes with visiting Peru.
There is no way to know who will get sick or how hard it will hit. Know the signs of altitude sickness so that you are always aware of just how sick you are. If you are in trouble, tell someone. Ask for help. You can get a drug at the local pharmacy. Someone may be able to help you locate oxygen. You can also go down in elevation. Don’t be stubborn and try to tough it out. People die that way.
Layer Your Clothing
Peru has many microclimates. If you go up or down a few feet, the temperature can change drastically. Even if you stay at the same altitude, you will need layers because the weather is always changing. Dress in layers so that you can easily adjust to the temperature and rain. You will also need to protect your skin from the sun. ALWAYS have a sun hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
I highly recommend wearing long sleeves regardless of the time of year. The sun is strong here. Even if you never burn anywhere else, protect your skin here. Another reason to wear long sleeves and long pants is bugs. If you are in a buggy area, they will bite you through your clothing, but long sleeves will provide more protection than bare skin.
If you are not athletic, I wouldn’t invest in new clothing just for this trip, but if you will get some regular wear out of clothes that are designed to be lightweight, warm/cool, and dry fast, I’d bring that. It will not wrinkle and will take up little space in your suitcase. You can either wash it out at night or drop it off at the many laundry facilities and pick it up in a few hours so that you always have fresh clothes.
Bring Good Sturdy Shoes
This is not the pool. Don’t bring sandals or flip flops. Yes, the locals wear them, but they are also used to the rough walking conditions. Cheap shoes will not hold up. Poorly made shoes will not give your feet and ankles the protection and support you need. However, don’t bring new shoes. You will be doing a lot of walking and need some shoes that are well worn in. You also want to make sure that your shoes have non-skid tread. When stones are wet, they can be slick.
Think About the Season
There are two seasons in Peru: wet and dry. It can rain anytime, so always have some sort of rain gear available. If it’s the dry season, a plastic poncho will do. If it’s the rainy season, you will want something a bit more substantial and longer – especially if you are planning to tour. The tour goes on rain or shine.
It’s easy to change money in the tourist areas. Tourist services are easy to find. You can either bring cash and exchange money or just use your ATM card to get what you need from a machine. My suggestion is to do both. Sometimes your card may not work. Even if you let your bank know in advance it happens. If you have cash, you have options.
There is a Hotel for Every Budget
There are a variety of hotels in every tourist locale. Trip Advisor is the best bet for the most up to date information on that. You are sure to find something to suit your budget and comfort level.
Bartering is Expected
When you are shopping for souvenirs in the bazaar, bartering is expected. Don’t just pay the first price offered. It’s part of the local custom. Make it fun. Go for around 50% of the first asking price unless it’s really ridiculous. The prices and offerings are different from city to city, so if you really want something, don’t pass it up. You may not see it again.
Bartering is NOT done for things like restaurants or other services.
Knowing a Bit of Spanish Helps
This is not America. While some people speak English, many don’t. You are a guest there so Peruvians will go out of their way to help you out; however, you’re going to get along best if you can help yourself to a a language lesson before you arrive.
Use Common Sense
I found the Peruvian people to be really calm and pleasant people. The companies I dealt with were very professional. But like everywhere, there are good and bad people. If you dress modestly, don’t wear flashy clothes or jewelry, and don’t display wealth, you won’t stand out as a target for those looking for easy prey.
Common sense extends to being aware of your surroundings and being careful too. There are many ways to die, get sick, or get hurt in Peru: altitude sickness, death-by-selfie, falling, twisting your ankle, eating street food, getting hit while crossing the street… you’ll catch on when you get there.
What is “stuff?” It depends on how adventurous you are. Peruvian food is tasty and there is lots on offer. You are taking a risk if you eat any fruit that is not peeled, drink the local water, or eat anything with ice in it. Raw vegetables with the skin left on is a risk as well. Peruvians are known for their ceviche. It’s essentially raw fish. It’s caught in the morning, so the later in the day that you eat it, the riskier it becomes. I don’t want to dissuade you. I eat everything! If you want to follow in my footsteps, eat yogurt for breakfast daily and consume lots of acidophilus. It will help keep the bad bugs tame.
Speaking of what you put in your mouth, be sure to brush your teeth with bottled water as well. The local water is fine to bathe in, you just don’t want it in your mouth or stomach.
The Drivers are Crazy
If you are used to everyone proceeding in an orderly fashion and stopping for red lights, forget about it. Driving is nothing like that. It’s just something you have to get used to. This is a right brained country. Except for touring outfits, everyone is creative. If you think of it that way, it may be a little easier to take. I was never close to getting killed in a vehicle, so I am telling myself that they know what they are doing and leaving the worrying to someone else. I suggest you do the same or you will be an anxious mess.
That Big Mountain in All the Pictures is Huayna Picchu
Yep, I didn’t know that either. If you want to climb that, there are two groups available daily. Arrange for it before you get there because group size is limited. The view is fine, but it’s tough! There is no OSHA demanding that the stairs be equidistant and handrails be provided. This is true wilderness. If you want to get really up close and personal, you need to be fit and know your limits. If you visit Peru only once, you may want to consider if this is how you want to spend your time. It really is a once in a lifetime experience.
You Can’t Breathe Here
You will say this over and over to yourself, “I can’t breathe.” If you want to know how necessary oxygen is to life, go to the Andes. Your chest will scream. Your body will sway when you stand up or lean over to tie your shoes. The oddest things that you never think about will trigger a gasp of air. And if you’re unlucky, your body will absolutely revolt. Not trying to scare you. Just saying that it’s something you really need to know. People say, “Hey, it’s high altitude” but when you’re in it, it takes on a whole new meaning.
Get Out of Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is lovely. There is nothing like it. See it. Really. All of it. And then get out of Aguas Caliente. It’s a tourist town that is overrun with the types of things you see all over the world. This is not Peru. Peru has tons to offer that looks nothing like this. See some of it. You will be glad you did.
What to Pack
- sun hat and a skullcap or some cold weather type of hat
- sturdy shoes – consider rain boots or water resistant footwear
- gloves or mittens
- mosquito repellent
- ATM card
- electrical converter
- backpack or some sort of day bag to carry your gear
- toilet paper (some public bathrooms do not have it. By the way, toilet paper goes in the trash after you use it, NOT the toilet. The Peruvian pipes cannot handle it)
- baby wipes
- panty liners (for women)
- hand sanitizer
- antidiarrheal medication
- water bottle
Leave Your Agenda Behind
Peru has some surprises. Remember when I said it’s a right brained type of place? It will creep up on you if you let it. So leave your agenda and expectations behind. Be there. Enjoy what it has to offer. Prepare the best you can and then let things flow as they will. When you visit Peru, you will get far more than you planned for.
Peru is Not For Everybody
I’d feel really irresponsible if I left you with the “Come on in! The water’s fine!” feeling. Peru is definitely not for everybody. It’s dirty. The air is filled with auto exhaust. It’s poor in most places. It is really easy to get sick because of the altitude. It’s hard to walk up steep hills day after day. It’s strange. People don’t speak English. All that can be a challenge under the best of circumstances.
If you are not particularly fit, have a fear of heights, are not adventurous, don’t like crowds, or are overweight, it can be too much. Before you go, I’d ask myself, “Do I really want to visit Peru? Am I ready for this?” If so, go for it. Love it. There is tons to enjoy. If you like a sweeter, gentler type of experience, maybe Rome or London is more for you.