10 Things I wish I knew before visiting Peru

Date
Mar, 05, 2019
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(Last Updated On: May 24, 2019)

I have travelled to Peru twice now in the last 3 years and I find that I enjoy it more every time. There is always something new to discover, especially in a country so big and geographically varied.

View over Ollantaytambo

Peru has it all; one of the highest and most dramatic mountain ranges in the world, pristine beaches, thick, impenetrable rainforest and more. There is so much more to see than just Machu Picchu but don’t dare leave that out of your itinerary. Peru not on your bucket list yet? Do yourself a favour and add it now. ( At least mentally). 

Peru is not a difficult country to travel to and around. Local people are used to seeing tourists and treat them kindly and fairly. As a solo female traveller I rarely got hassled in Peru and felt safe everywhere I went. ( I would point out here that I didn’t put myself at any risk either). If you are a solo female traveller reading this I would highly recommend Peru.  However, there are a few things I wished that I’d known before arriving in Peru. This would have made my trip a little simpler. I’ve now decided to outline these tips for you to make your trip smoother, hassle-free and enjoyable.

#1 Learn a little Spanish

Spanish is the official language of Peru and most of South America. If you are embarking on a South America trip I would highly recommend this tip. A little goes a long way and especially when it comes to language learning. Outside of the tourism industry locals in Peru don’t speak English so if you’re someone who loves chatting to local people then get your learning hat on.. its time to learn the basics or should I say los básicos

#2  Buy your Machu Picchu ticket and train tickets ahead of time.

The Peruvian government caps the number of people that are able to visit Machu Picchu each day. For this reason, it’s a good idea to get your tickets as early as possible to avoid disruptions in your itinerary. Same goes for the trains. If you are planning to visit by train there are a number of daily services to Aguas Calientes from Ollantaytambo and Urubamba. Tickets tend to sell out very quickly especially during high season ( July-September). A great hack is to purchase your tickets with PeruRail online and then pick up your tickets from one of their offices in Lima or Cusco when you arrive.

#3 Don’t drink the tap water. 

Unfortunately, the tap water in Peru isn’t drinkable. You’ll notice some hotels leaving plastic bottles of water for you in the bathroom. Please, please, please however try to be aware of your plastic consumption. Try to use a refillable bottle and fill it up from a safe source or if you have to buy single-use plastic try just buy the larger bottles and reuse them.

#4 Carry small change

From my experience, in many places, locals were adamant about accepting larger notes as they didn’t have change. Keep small change with you to use for public toilets, tips and markets. 

#5 Eat ceviche at lunchtime.

Ceviche is a classic Peruvian dish of raw fish which has been marinated in lemon juice. The acidity of which is known to ‘cook the fish’. Ceviche is delicious and if you’re not plant-based you’d probably want to try it. Ceviche is made in the morning so by dinner time it’s no longer fresh and you risk getting sick when eating it then. Many local ceviche eateries are only open at lunch time so do only eat ceviche for lunch.

#6 Altitude related issues are real in Peru

Most of Peru is high, really high (with the exception of the Amazon regions and the coast). It has the highest mountains outside the Himalayas so if you are in the Arequipa, Cusco and Highland regions, take care! These next tips are all for combating altitude. 

#7 Plan your itinerary around the altitude.

Research the altitude in the places you’re planning to go to and try to plan your itinerary going from the smallest to the highest altitude. This way you’ll be sure to acclimatize  well and prevent those annoying symptoms. Due to this it’s better to visit Machu Picchu before Cusco. Although it doesn’t seem like it, Machu Picchu lies at 2,400m above sea level while Cusco is at 3,400m. Acclimatize in Machu Picchu before moving on to Cusco.  Another thing to note is that altitude affects everyone differently. I met people who did Cusco first and didn’t have problems while other people did. 

#8 Drink Coca tea. 

Peruvians have been using coca leaves for centuries to counter the effects of altitude.  I personally didn’t suffer from any altitude problems apart from shortness of breath while moving fairly quickly so I can’t attest to its effectiveness, however, I did drink it often as I really like the taste. Maybe that’s why I didn’t get sick. You can buy coca leaves in every market and in touristy areas which you just brew in hot water. You’ll also see pre-packed tea bags at hotel breakfasts and at restaurants. 

#9 Bring a lot of insect repellent when going to the Amazon.

If you haven’t been to the Amazon before you’ll never be prepared for the number of insects there are especially mosquitoes. Make sure to bring ample and strong insect repellent. I wish I had. A yellow fever vaccine certificate is not needed to travel to Peru but the shot is recommended if you are heading to the Amazon. 

#10 Your used toilet paper doesn’t go down the toilet.

Peruvian plumbing is designed to deal with human waste only. This is also the case of most of South America. You’ll see a little bin to the side of the toilet and that’s where all paper and sanitary products go. It is a little gross at first but I found myself getting used to it very quickly.

Visiting Arequipa? Check out my guide here for the best things to see and do.

I hope this post really helps you on your first visit to Peru. I’d love to know how your trip went so leave a comment or send me a DM. Any questions? I’d love to help.

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