Planning your first trip to Peru? You’ve come to the right place! Before heading to the land of the Incas, there are a few things you’ll need to know when traveling to Peru in order to stay healthy, save money and have an enjoyable trip.
Despite researching Peru travel tips before I left on my own 3-week journey, there were still things I wish I’d known before traveling to Peru. Things like: what exactly to pack and what to leave at home (especially for my multi-day Inca Trail hike), how to stay healthy (I failed miserably), and how to keep my valuables safe (RIP smartwatch).
So whether you’re leaving in a week or in a month, here’s everything you need to know before traveling to Peru!
Table of Contents
Essential Items to Pack for Peru
Peru was definitely one of the more challenging places to pack for due to the incredibly diverse landscape and weather (it didn’t help that I was also hiking/camping on top of it). I plan on writing an ultimate packing list soon, but in the meantime, these are the essential tips you need to know for packing for Peru.
Here’s the thing: Peru doesn’t look that large on a map, but it’s surprisingly big – with an incredibly diverse landscape and weather to match. I’m talking 80 degrees (Fahrenheit) and warm in Lima and 55 and rainy in Cusco. It doesn’t exactly make packing a breeze but my biggest recommendation is to pack good quality layers. I’m talking temperature-regulating t-shirts, long-sleeved tops, a packable down jacket, and a rain jacket. Also, quick-dry, moisture wicking pants are a must, even if you aren’t doing the Inca Trail hike. It was much easier for me to manage my wardrobe and the frequent weather fluctuations when I had layers on.
Earplugs are a must
One thing I really regret NOT bringing on this trip was a pair of earplugs. If you’re doing the Inca Trail (or any kind of overnight hike), you’ll be sleeping in a tent – and you can definitely hear your neighbors. Even if you aren’t planning on sleeping outside, some cities are just plain noisy and the walls are pretty thin. Huacachina comes to mind – it’s a notorious party town so even if you want to see the oasis and and retire back to your room, you’ll have a really hard time avoiding the noise since almost all of the hotels have bars on-site. Lima was also particularly noisy, but I think that’s just the product of being in a big city. Either way, do yourself a favor and pack a few of these.
Pack in lockable bags
Chances are, if you’re traveling on a bus or on a tour, you’ll be moving from city to city a lot and / or leaving your stuff behind in luggage storage at hotels. Multiple people will be handling your bags. I always like to be safe rather than sorry, so I highly recommend packing both luggage locks and a lockable purse. Luggage locks are super handy for your main bags and will give you peace of mind whereas a lockable purse is excellent for keeping your valuables safe while you’re out and about. The lockable purse travels with me on every trip, and I’ve never had anything stolen from it. Just to clarify: I’m not saying that Peru is unsafe but it’s always wise to do your part in keeping your items safe.
Psst: Check out my complete Inca Trail and Machu Picchu packing list HERE.
Peru Travel Tips for The Inca Trail and Machu Picchu
The Inca Trail is worthy of its own blog post entirely (coming soon), but for the sake of this Peru travel tips posts, here are the top things you need to do.
Yes, it’s worth it to hike the Inca Trail
I’m not going to lie to you: hiking The Inca Trail is hard. The majority of the trail is rocky, a lot of it is steep, and the downhill part has plenty of rocks for you to potentially slip on (in case you’re wondering, I have a few bruises as souvenirs). That being said, there are really no words to describe the feeling of arriving to Machu Picchu after three and a half days of hiking and camping. Plus, you get the added bonus of seeing several Inca ruins along the trail that you can ONLY access if you do the hike. I booked this tour and it was spectacular. Psst: read the complete review here.
Test ALL your gear beforehand
You know what sucks? Starting a hike only to realize the water bladder you bought specifically for the trip leaks (this one is awesome though). Or buying new hiking shoes and getting blisters. Or realizing your bag isn’t actually waterproof. Whatever it may be, make sure that everything you’ve purchased for your trip works like it’s supposed to. And if you purchase new hiking shoes, be sure to break them in as much as possible before you get to Peru!
Book The Inca Trail far in advance
Only 500 permits are issued for The Inca Trail per day. That may sound like a lot but that number actually includes porters and guides. Considering the sheer number of people who want to do The Inca Trail, this really isn’t a lot of permits.
I am the queen of last-minute bookings and this trip was actually no exception. I booked about a month before it was time for me to leave. However, I traveled during shoulder season, which was my saving grace in getting an Inca Trail permit. Booking with Intrepid Travel also made a huge difference because they reserve their trail permits in advance so you *might* get lucky and be able to do the trail with them, even if you book last minute. Even so – don’t risk it and book early!
Book Machu Picchu tickets ahead
Even if you decide you don’t want to hike, you still need to secure tickets and transport to Machu Picchu. If you’re traveling during peak season, I strongly recommend purchasing your tickets ahead of time, online because only 2,500 visitors are allowed in per day and visits are timed (four hours max between 6am – 12 pm or 12pm -5:30 pm). The cheapest way to purchase tickets is on the Ministry of Culture website (approximately $46 per adult). However, you’ll still have to purchase train tickets to Aguas Calientes ($140+ round trip from Cusco using Peru Rail or Inca Rail) and pay for the bus from town to the site itself ($24 round trip). Therefore, I highly recommend booking a tour from Cusco. Yes, it’s a little more expensive than booking everything independently but you save yourself the hassle of trying to figure out the logistics yourself. Plus you’ll have a guide inside Machu Picchu as well, which is invaluable.
Despite drinking liters upon liters of water per day, I could not stay hydrated on the hike, thanks to a bunch of stomach issues on the trail. Plus, a side effect of altitude sickness medication is dehydration, which didn’t help. If you’re planning on doing the hike and / or are taking altitude sickness medication in Peru, I highly recommend bringing electrolyte packets and rehydration salts. I used nearly my entire supply and didn’t regret bringing them along one bit.
Peruvian Food and Drink Travel Tips
Drink Inca Kola
Confession: I’m not a fan of the national drink of Peru. It kind of reminds me of bubble gum soda. But for some reason, Peruvians (and lots of visitors) go bananas for it. So you should sample it at least once. Either you’ll become an addict or hate it. There is no in-between.
Get your caffeine fix
When I was in Arequipa, my guide told me that one brand of Peruvian coffee (called Cafe de Las Nubes) won the award for the best coffee in the world in a contest. But it’s only sold in Peru. So I bought some and sampled it for myself for…research. It is SO good. That’s not the only good coffee I had in Peru, either. I tried a bunch of different coffee shops all over the country and was very impressed. Don’t leave Peru without sampling some of their coffee.
Don’t drink unfiltered water
Guess what I did on my second day in Peru? You guessed it: I accidentally drank unfiltered water. I had an iced tea at a market before belatedly realizing that the water probably wasn’t boiled. Guess who had food poisoning the next day? THIS GIRL. I mean, I ate a bunch of random things that day so it might not have been specifically the water but…don’t think you’re invincible like I did. That being said, you CAN drink filtered water.
I always bring a water bottle with me when I travel because single-use plastic sucks for the planet and buying lots of bottled water is expensive and inconvenient. I bring along a Steripen, a UV water purifier that gets rid of 99.9% of bacteria, viruses, and protozoa and use it in combination with my CamelBak Insulated Water Bottle. This bottle is particularly awesome because it holds 20 oz and keeps liquids cold. If you’d rather purchase an all-in-one solution, Grayl’s water filtering bottle is a great alternative so you can fill directly from the tap and drink almost immediately.
Be careful of what you eat…
Me on day two in Peru: I have a strong stomach! I can eat a meal at the local market. Me on day three in Peru: *gets food poisoning and diarrhea.* This happened RIGHT before hiking The Inca Trail too. It was truly awful. So here’s a rule of thumb: save your sampling of street food, market meals and other adventurous eats for after The Inca Trail, just in case. That way, if you get food poisoning, you can suffer in bed instead of on a hike. I rarely get food poisoning when I travel but my stomach never felt settled in Peru, unfortunately. I’m not saying it will happen to you, but be careful.
…But try local cuisine
Peru has been named the best culinary destination for for 7 years in a row and it would be a crime not to sample some of the best food in the world. Peruvians eat some less common delicacies like cuy (guinea pig) and alpaca but if you aren’t particularly adventurous, don’t miss out on eats like ceviche (a raw fish bowl), lomo saltado (beef stew with potatoes), and pollo a la brasa (rotisserie chicken). ALSO: Peru is very dietary restriction-friendly, especially Cusco. There are tons of vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options so it’s really easy to eat no matter what restrictions you have.
Pro tip: Most restaurants offer a menu of the day (menu del dia) during lunch – 2-3 courses for a set price. Not only is it usually a steal, but you also get to sample more dishes. Keep an eye out for it when eating lunch.
Responsible Tourism Travel Tips for Peru
Don’t support animal tourism
There are a lot of photos floating around the internet of older Peruvian women with llamas or alpacas in the middle of the city. I learned from my Intrepid tour guide that many of the animals are mistreated and used by their owners to get tips in exchange for photos from tourists. If the animals get sick or injured, the owners simply replace them. By continuing to tip people for photos, this practice of animal exploitation will continue. Let’s NOT support this practice so it will hopefully fade out!
Choose your Inca Trail company carefully
I get it. Permits to do The Inca Trail are pricey and there are local tour companies that will do The Inca Trail for less than it costs with Intrepid Travel. But if you choose to go with an alternate tour company, be sure you vet them carefully. Many local companies don’t all abide by weight limits for porters or pay them well. I’d rather spend a little more knowing that the porters (the people who carry all your stuff on the trail) are ultimately benefiting from my tourism dollars. That’s part of what responsible tourism is all about!
How to Keep Yourself (and Your Valuables) Safe in Peru
Watch your stuff on public transport and in Lima
When I did a walking tour in Downtown Lima, our guide warned us to keep an incredibly sharp eye on our things because pickpocketing is notorious on public transport in Lima (and in a lot of countries, really). I’ve heard stories of pickpocketing and attempted (non-violent) robbery on public transport from multiple people who have visited Peru. In order to combat this, I recommend taking “luxury” long distance busses and / or trains instead. I traveled to various cities with Peru Hop and it was nice to have peace of mind about my things, knowing that everyone else on the bus was a tourist too. I also always travel with a lockable purse, which is designed to be incredibly difficult to pickpocket. It’s one of my best travel safety investments.
One weird thing that did happen to me (and my friend) in Lima: our smartwatches were stolen right off our wrists – without us noticing. Those pickpockets are slick! We both had lower-end watches, not Apple watches or anything, but I’d say this is one thing to be wary of. RIP Garmie.
Don’t be afraid to take cabs
If you’re really worried about public transport or just don’t want to deal with the hassle, don’t be afraid to take licensed cabs. They’re inexpensive (be sure to negotiate prices before you get in, though) and safe. Make sure the cab is a licensed cab because there are plenty on the streets of Lima that I was uncertain about. Also – I’ve been told by multiple locals that it’s better to avoid taking Uber in Lima as the safety is questionable. I never tried attempted to test this statement out myself – I’m just the messenger.
Get travel insurance
As a follow up to the first point – get travel insurance. You’ll need it for if things (hopefully don’t but often do) go wrong. I already told you that my watch was stolen on this trip. On other trips, I’ve had an impressive variety of struggles too: I’ve been sick, needed stitches, crashed a rental car, had cash stolen and have dealt with luggage delays on various trips. I’ve learned my lesson about travel insurance the hard way. My go-to insurance is World Nomads cause they’re awesome, straightforward and easy to deal with. Be sure to check out the different plan options to pick one that’s right for you – and read the fine print!
Peru Travel Tips for Staying Healthy
Keep hand sanitizer and toilet paper handy
Bathrooms in Peru are of…questionable cleanliness, even in the big cities. The existence of toilet paper seems to be hit and miss and the same goes for soap. I’m a little OCD about personal hygiene so I often travel with hand sanitizer and baby wipes anyway, but if you don’t, you’ll want to pack some for Peru. I like this hand sanitizer that you can just attach to your bag – it’s also very handy for hiking. For toilet paper, you can always grab some from your hotel room or just keep these small toilet paper rolls handy. For the Inca Trail, you’ll want both baby wipes (both for the bathroom and your body because there are no showers) and a SheWee for the squat toilets…or bushes.
Bring a first-aid kit
I normally have a pretty decent immune system and strong stomach but for some reason, Peru got to me. I had various ailments the entire 3 weeks I was there. I recommend packing blister plasters, pain reliever, and anti-diarrheal at the very least. Bengay or Tiger Balm are particularly helpful for muscle relief on The Inca Trail. You can easily pick up things at the local pharmacy as well, but I suggest packing what you need on The Inca Trail from home.
Acclimate to the altitude
Altitude sickness is both unpredictable and sucky. How fit you are has nothing to do with whether or not you’ll get it and symptoms mainly include headaches, dizziness and vomiting. FUN. There are several ways to acclimate to the altitude, however. Firstly, you should definitely arrive to Cusco at least 2-3 days before you hike to acclimate because Cusco is at a higher elevation than the trail and than Machu Picchu. Also take it easy. The first day I was in Cusco I went all out and started climbing to viewpoints and things then felt terrible when I got back to my hotel. So be chill.
Secondly, drink coca tea, the all-natural remedy to altitude sickness in Peru. It’s available in all hotels and in cafes and locals say it helps. Coca tea is made out of the same leaves as cocaine – while it’s not illegal, it is a stimulant, so don’t drink it at night. If both of those options don’t work, you can take medication. You can get a prescription for Diamox from your doctor at home or get some medication once you arrive to Cusco. The meds make you dehydrated and side effects include stomach pain, nausea and loss of appetite (all of which happened to me) so monitor your body for symptoms.
Apply and reapply sunscreen
You know what makes you sunburn really quickly? High altitudes. And just Peru in general because it has some of the strongest UV rays in the world. Eeep. So pack some high-SPF sunscreen and reapply it. And wear a hat. And if your skin is particularly sensitive, wear some sun-protective pants and shirts. I’m 100% African and got sunburned both in Lima and at Machu Picchu. Don’t be like me.
Other Peru Travel Tips
You get what you pay for
This rule is really a global one but applies universally to both products and services in Peru. Here are a few examples:
- When shopping, many vendors at the markets like to claim that certain items are made of real baby alpaca. The labels confirm this. But if you’re spending 20 soles on a scarf (~$6), it’s not made of alpaca, no matter how soft it feels. If you want to buy alpaca items, go to the licensed alpaca stores.
- There are lots of flight options between Lima and Cusco, but they aren’t all created equally. The budget, local airlines are great for saving money but they will charge you a fee for checking a large bag, their flight desks don’t open early and they’re prone to delays. It’s a little more expensive to fly with Latam or Avianca, but it’s worth it.
- There are quite a few tours on offer locally that are cheaper than booking online, ahead of time. However, cheaper isn’t always better. For example – I booked a local sandboarding tour that was pretty inexpensive but the safety was questionable at best. Don’t get me wrong – I still had fun. But the guide just sort of gave some vague instructions (in Spanish and luckily I mostly understood him and translated for the group) and off we went. I would have rather paid for a tour that includes a lesson knowing I wouldn’t accidentally fall off the board (which happened to me and it was terrifying. Thankfully, sand is soft).
Learn a few Spanish phrases
Spanish is the national language of Peru (although some people also speak a second native language like Quechua or Aymara), but English is also spoken in parts of the country that are visited by lots of international travelers. That being said, not everyone speaks English and it would be helpful to learn a few key Spanish phrases to get by. This is a nice and respectful thing to do no matter which country you visit and locals usually appreciate it.
Travel during shoulder season
So when is the absolute best time to visit Peru? April. April is the start of the dry season in Cusco (I mean, no guarantees but significantly less rain) which is excellent for hiking The Inca Trail. I hiked at the end of March and we had some rain, but April would have been perfect. The weather is also nice in April all over Peru and pleasant weather makes for a much nicer travel experience. Because April is still shoulder season (peak season is May – October), prices and crowds are significantly less compared to visiting just a month later. In fact, at the end of March, I maybe saw 2-3 groups on The Inca Trail, which surprised me. I expected a lot more people. If you can get away with visiting Peru during April, do it!
Don’t skip Lima
I was surprised to learn that most visitors hardly spend any time in Lima – maybe a day or two maximum. But having spent four days in Lima, I’d say it’s a huge shame to skip it entirely. Spend 2-3 days in this cool capital city: there’s plenty to do, see, and most importantly – eat. Check out my Lima guide for an awesome itinerary!
Keep your change
There seems to be a weird, perpetual shortage of small change in Peru. It’s just at small kiosks either. I even went to a few restaurants and markets (big ones) that told me they couldn’t make change with big bills. I imagine there’s just one Peruvian guy somewhere hoarding all the coins and small bills of Peru. Either way, whenever you get the opportunity to break a large bill while in Peru, do it. Not only will you want the 1 sol coins for bathroom visits (that’s the entry fee) but you’ll also want them for small purchases as well.
Bring extra room in your suitcase
I’m going to be honest – I don’t usually buy souvenirs when I travel, besides fridge magnets and maybe a specialty food item. But Peruvian souvenirs were an exception. All the accessories, clothing, and jewelry are brightly colored and beautifully patterned. Lots of items are hand-made. And most items aren’t too expensive. I happily supported locals by purchasing an impressive amount of items for myself as well as souvenirs for others. In fact, I ended up buying a duffel for my mom that I actually had to “borrow” for my trip home so I could fit everything. My bad. The good news? You’ll come home to some very happy friends and family (I know I did).
So there you have it. You are now armed with the best Peru travel tips for your first visit. I highly recommend booking a group tour to Peru: either just for The Inca Trail or for the full Peruvian experience (this is a very similar itinerary to mine – I just did part of my Peruvian travels independently). So what are you waiting for? Travel to Peru and see what this historically-rich country has to offer!
More Peru ResourcesPlanning a trip to Peru soon? Check out ALL my posts on Peru below:
- Peru Travel Guide
- Peru Travel Tips: 28 Things to Know When Traveling to Peru
- The Complete Inca Trail Packing List: What to Pack for Trekking Machu Picchu
- The Perfect Lima Itinerary: 2 Days in Lima
- An Honest Peru Hop Review of Peru's Hop On Hop Off Bus
- Exploring and Hiking in Peru with Intrepid Travel: A Review
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