This time a few years back, Ian and I were planning our incredible trip to Peru. Peru takes some serious planning. Looking back on our photos, I can’t believe this trip happened. Similarly to Iceland, this was the trip of a lifetime. This trip reminds me of why we travel so much; there is so much different culture out there, inexplainable ruin existence, nature, and adventure. Instead of coming back well rested and pampered, we came back in awe, hungry for what else is out in the world. THIS hunger is why we travel.
Before anyone can go to Peru you must read up on its history. Most go to Peru for Machu Picchu. In order to fully take in the miracle which is Machu Picchu, you must understand the history. The tour guides will tell you a snippet of it, but don’t settle for this.
One of the BEST books I have ever read and subsequently re-read was Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams. He actually follows and mimics Hiram Bingham’s exploration of Machu Picchu. The book parallels Adams’ stories at certain points on the trail with Bingham’s. Additionally, he gives you a history lesson on why the Incas felt the need to make a safe haven bordering the Amazon Jungle. I don’t want to ruin this book for you, but it is a must read in order to fully appreciate the innovation of the Incas.
Tipping is required in Peru. Something as simple as asking a Peruvian which way to go would require a tip. Don’t make a scene, don’t fuss. You are inserting yourself in their culture and it is required.
Guinea pig and alpaca are quintessential meals. Do not try them for the first time before a big adventure day. You don’t know how your stomach will handle it yet. More so, the combination of high altitude, exhaustion, travel, and sun exposure may make the problem even worse. For example, a man who hiked the trail with us had to turn back after a few hours because he got sick from the guinea pig he ate the night before. Also, do not drink the water unless it has been boiled or is from a bottle.
In an effort to conserve Machu Picchu, Peru is slowly decreasing how many people can go per day. To put it into perspective, they dropped the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu visitors by 75% the year we went. Additionally, they have been talking of shutting down the Inca Trail because of the danger of the trail. There are no railings, sometimes no stairs, and extremely uneven paths. The majority of the trail you are hiking on the edge of a cliff. With this being said, book quickly and book as soon as companies open their tours. In order to hike the Inca Trail, you have to go by guided tour. Most companies release travel date packages in February and the Inca Trail sells out within a week or less of being open. There will be other trail availability but if you go to Peru, you want to do the Inca Trail. This is the trail the Incas used to build Machu Picchu. For the most authentic Peru experience, this trail is a must.
Traveling to Machu Picchu is at one’s own risk. Whether it be by trail or foot. The grounds are so unstable that jumping is prohibited. More so, hiking up Machu Picchu’s Wayanapicchu Mountain is one of the most dangerous hikes in the world. So much so that it is called the “death stairs.”
Two people died in Machu Picchu the day we were there. One man fell off a cliff and another girl jumped for a photo and fell. Respect the rules. They are there to keep you safe. Because of the dangers, Peru may make Machu Picchu only visible by aerial view in the future. If this trip is on your bucket-list, you must go quickly as they are only getting more conservative and restrictive with visitations!
No matter where you go in Peru, there will be high altitudes. For someone (like myself) who has no experience in high altitudes, this can be tough. Flying into Cusco puts you at 11,000 feet!
Ian and I trained for our adventure by hiking local mountains in California to gain altitude, running up San Francisco hills, and generally exercising more than our usual routines. All I knew about high altitude was it made my mom pass out and my sister vomit. So the odds were not in my favor. I truly believe our preparation and practice lead to our altitude success because we did fine! We also brought ginger to chew and drank coca tea to help us cope.
Another huge trip planning point is figuring out where you want to go. Cusco, the main town which will connect you to Machu Picchu, can be fully taken in within three days or less. Additionally, Machu Picchu can be done in one day. For Ian and myself, we were trying to figure out what would be the best to bundle with this trip to make it worth it. Some people venture south to Lake Titicaca, others to Rainbow Mountain. For those wanting a little adventure with food and culture, I would suggest spending a few days in Peru’s capital, Lima. You can even fly out of Lima to see the Nazca Lines.
Ian and I chose only adventure this trip. We began in Cusco, hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, and then headed to Iquitos to the Amazon Jungle. We found the other attractions like Lake Titicaca, Rainbow Mountain, and the Nazca Lines to be all over the place making traveling to them more difficult than we would have liked.
Ian and I would only go to Peru if we could hike the Inca Trail. If the trail is too wet, it gets shut down. December to March is the wettest season for Peru, and is surprisingly their Summer season. For the most part, this is when they shut down the trail. This is something to strongly consider depending upon your travel priorities. It can get extremely hot in Peru. The best advice we got was to travel during their winter, May through September. This way the trail would be dry and we wouldn’t be baking in the heat.
Even traveling during their Winter had scorching moments. We had to pack a little bit of everything: down puffer jackets, raincoats, wool socks, tank tops, shorts, windbreakers, hats, etc.
LEISURE OR ADVENTURE
What is your goal with traveling to Peru? A leisurely trip to Peru is completely possible, but it will cost you. You can stay at the base of Machu Picchu at the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge for only $1,150 a night! (insert eye roll). I wish I could stay at a hotel like this but for Ian and myself, this was not an option. Additionally, we wanted to sweat and work for our Machu Picchu revelation, so we camped and hiked nearly 30 miles to this wonder!
There are so many other things to do and see in Peru aside from Machu Picchu and they can also be done in a leisurely manner. In order to plan your best trip, figure out what kind of a trip you want to have.
If you plan to travel to Peru during their winter like we did, you will be faced with every type of terrain. We had scorching heat, snow, rain, winds, and hail. Because of this, waterproof hiking boots were essential. I purchased the Ahnu Waterproof hiking boots and these babies were a God-send. We both had full Smart Wool base-layers and socks. We also both had Patagonia down puffers, NorthFace windbreakers, and Penfield Parkas. Beanies and baseball caps were worn within hours of each other as the weather flip-flopped. Layers are everything in a climate like this!
IMMUNIZATIONS AND MEDICATIONS
Please please please don’t travel to Peru without the necessary immunizations and emergency medications. Make sure you have received Yellow Fever, Typhoid, Hep A, Hep B, Rabies, and your routine vaccinations. Also, ask your travel nurse for Immodium (anti-diarrheal), Anti-Malaria, and Dramamine (helps with altitude) prescriptions.
Lastly, you must use and bring with you mosquito repellent. As you know, Zika is prominent in South America and spreads through mosquito bites. Use bug repellent and citronella candles or bracelets to help keep the mosquitos away.
The below two points are for my adventurers. You will need to seriously plan this trip and anticipate the worst conditions so you are not left high and dry….or high and wet! Here is a list of miscalaneous items you may not think to bring and don’t want to forget:
- Backpack covers
- Waterproof gloves
- Bug repellent and TONS OF IT
- Anti-mosquito bracelets
- Sun screen
- Electrolyte tablets, we used Nuun
- Easy and light snacks
- Beanies and baseball caps
- Baby wipes
- Tide detergent packs
- Portable charging stick
- Tons of pre-charged backup batteries
- First aid kit with blister bandaids, Benadryl for allergic reactions, and Tylenol
- Alcohol wipes
- Copies of all important travel documents and immunizations
- Watch with GPS, we had Suuntos
DITCH THE SUITCASE
Do yourself a favor and purchase a hiking backpack. Honestly, the suitcase will just frustrate you on a trip of this nature. Pack all your items in easy to find packing cubes. You’ll be organized and ready to go!