Lima, the Capital of Peru is home to more than 11 million people. The capital’s local airport, Jorge Chavez, offers a 1-hour flight to Cusco making it an extremely accessible (and popular) destination for locals and tourists alike.
Lima is located by the Pacific Coast and provides all kinds of facilities of major cities. You might want to spend at least a night there or connect directly to Cusco. If you decide to spend some time in Lima, you definitely need to treat yourself with seafood. That is a must as Lima has some of the best seafood restaurants in South America. One of the best neighborhoods to stay in is Miraflores, a beautiful and safe area with a view of the Pacific Ocean, incredible parks and outdoor spaces, all types of restaurants and bars, entertainment, shopping and more.
The city of Cusco derives its name from “Q´osqo” which means “navel” in the Quechua language. This city was the Capital of the Tawantinsuyo Inca Empire and it’s the gateway to visit the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. A UNESCO World heritage Site, Cusco is located in the eastern Andes mountain Range and has a population of approximately 430,000 people.
The Sacred Valley towns and sites (Chinchero, Pisaq, Ollantaytambo, Urubamba) go down the valley to 2,000 meters (or roughly 6,500 feet) above sea level in Aguas Calientes Pueblo. Here you will take a bus for 20 minutes to Machu Picchu Citadel. You can also chose to trek up instead of taking the bus, which will take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on your personal skills and abilities as well as external factors, such as weather and crowds.
Continue reading to learn more about everything you need to know before you go: Peru edition!
One thing to keep in mind is the change in altitude. If you are coming from sea level, it’s important to pay attention to your body’s adaptation as you ascend to higher altitudes. Everyone reacts in a differently – some might feel energetic and hungry while some others might feel sleepy, lose their appetite or experience headaches. We have also heard from passengers that the first night can be difficult to sleep.
All hotels will offer you “Coca Tea” which is a good digestive and helps alleviate the “soroche” (local name for altitude mountain sickness). Glucose also is also very good for high altitude so candy will keep your energy high – and provide a perfect excuse to indulge in your favorite sweet treats. Overall, it’s strongly recommended to take it easy the first day, walk slowly, stay hydrate and eat light, as your digestion will be slower than you’re used to.
In Peru, the currency is known as “soles.” It is very easy to exchange dollars or Euros, but you can also use major credit cards and withdraw cash from ATMs in big cities like Lima and Cusco. Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu also have a handful of ATMs, but it’s common for them to run out of cash. High-end restaurants, hotels, and boutiques will also gladly accept credit cards for the most part (always confirm before you make a purchase just to be safe!). But keep in mind that you must bring brand new bills before exchanging for soles. If the currency is deteriorated (even just a small tear), you won’t be able to exchange (or it may be devalued). Bargaining is accepted in the local culture, so you can feel comfortable asking for a discount, as long as it’s fair for you and the seller.
Peru is growing as a culinary destination, attracting more and more foodies each year. Its huge range of ecosystems has created a vast diversity of regional cuisines with very different products. As mentioned, seafood is especially popular! The best and most fresh seafood can be found in Lima and along the coast (we recommend ceviche, tiradito, jaleas and chicharrones in particular).
The Andes also offer many superfood grains such as quinoa, maca and kiwicha. Peru holds a genetic bank of 3,000 species of potatoes. Recently, Alpaca steak has become more common and if you feel more adventurous, the Incas consider guinea pig a delicacy.
We strongly recommend avoiding consuming uncooked meat and raw salads – and be sure to peel all fruits (especially in the Andes). The most popular drink is “Pisco” which is a grape brandy. Mix it with lime and sugar to taste one of the region’s most popular concoctions, the infamous Pisco Sour!
The weather of Peru will definitely depend on when you visit. In Cusco and the Andes, rainy season lasts from October to March, with the heaviest rains in January and February. Spring and autumn are transitional and fluctuate. Even though conditions tend to basically stay dry, you can still get some rain. Temperatures in the Andes dramatically change from morning to evening, even if it’s sunny or windy or cloudy. So be always prepared with a variety of clothes, sunscreen, and an umbrella.
We always recommend bringing a money belt because it’s practical and you won’t have to worry about pickpocketing. And it’s also a good idea to bring locks for your suitcases, just in case. It’s better to be safe than sorry!
Packing & Clothing:
Ideal is a soft-shell suitcase that is easy to move around, but if you don’t have one on hand, a big backpack or duffel bag will work just fine. Be aware that traveling from Cusco to Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu will involve a lot of moving around in very irregular terrain, and some hotels might not have elevators. Also, most of the trains from Cusco/Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu have a strict weight limit, so be sure to research any limitations before packing your bags.
If you plan to spend one or two nights in Machu Picchu or Sacred Valley, you will only have to pack for these days. The hotel in Cusco will most likely be able to keep your big bag in storage (most hotels will have free storage, but that will depend on capacity and the actual property).
Don’t forget a small comfortable day pack – this will be very useful for the day tours, hikes and carrying necessities such as a water bottle, camera, snacks, and extra layered clothing for warmth.
For this destination consider outdoor clothes that are lightweight, quick drying and weather-resistant. You should bring at least one full hiking outfit, and obviously more if you plan to stay for an extended duration.
Hiking boots will be helpful if you plan to trek the Inca Trail, or good walking shoes for exploring the sites. In the warmer months, many visitors also opt to bring trekking sandals. You can expect to encounter cobblestone streets, some steep inclinations, dirt paths and many, many rock steps along Cusco, Sacred Valley and the other archeological sites. So it’s safe to say you can leave the flip-flops and high heels home, or in the hotel if you plan on bringing them to wear casually or for a night out.
During the day, it stays pretty warm in dry season, so you’ll be comfortable in shorts and tank tops or t-shirts. However, as soon as the sun goes down, or if it gets cloudy or windy, temperatures can drop 15 °C or colder (59 °F). We always recommend having some layered warm clothing on hand for this temperature fluctuation – just be sure to check the daily forecast so you’ll always be prepared.
Pack a warm jacket for mornings and evenings (especially June-August) or a comfortable fleece as a second layer along with a windproof/waterproof jacket. Appropriate rain gear is also a must during the rainy season. Consider investing in a good poncho and a daypack/backpack cover, which will keep your valuables dry during an unexpected rainstorm. You can always buy reasonably-priced ponchos throughout the trip, but the quality will differ.
Here are the essentials that should be on your list: sunscreen (at least 30+ SPF), sun hat, sunglasses, moisturizer, and lip balm. The sun hits hard in the afternoon, and due to altitude, temperature drop, and general dryness, it’s important to keep your skin and lips hydrated. Sun protection for the head, neck, and eyes is also mandatory, as the strong reflection can amplify the altitude’s effect.
Whether you use a bug spray, dryer sheets, lotions, or other mosquito repellant gadgets, these will be very useful for Machu Picchu and Sacred Valley – especially if you are planning to use shorts or have your arms exposed.
The tap water in Peru is not drinkable, so you must buy bottled water or ask hotels if they have filtered water to refill your water bottle. As a way to reduce plastic waste, we strongly recommend buying a big 1.5 or 2 liter water bottle (or larger!) and leaving it in your room or bus. This will be helpful for you to refill your water bottle or canteen throughout the trip. We also recommend brushing your teeth with bottled water and avoiding ice from restaurants – again, better safe than sorry!
You may want to bring additional hats, scarves, and gloves, especially for evenings and early morning adventures. You can also find these goods in Peru and Cusco in a wide array of designs, prices, and materials (but remember: this is the native land for alpacas!) which will make for practical purchases and special souvenirs. Zip lock bags can come in handy (the change in altitude and pressure makes bottles pop, so keeping them in sealed bags will avoid a mess). Don’t forget a small flashlight or headlamp, which always comes in handy. When it comes to electronics, Peru uses 220 voltage and power sockets type A and C, so make sure to bring a power adapter if you need to. Last but not least make sure to pack a camera a wide-angle lens will help you capture the best shots possible, and memories that will last a lifetime!