10 Things I wish I Knew Before Visiting Peru
Peru had been on my wish list for quite sometime. Just like visiting the Colosseum, the Eiffel Tour, the Taj Mahal, Macchu Picchu is a classic tourist destination, especially for backpackers. Like most places I have visited, I did some research about what to see, scams to watch out for, dangerous places to avoid. But research can only get you so far. Thanks to some awesome travel sites, blog posts, and forums, I had a pretty good idea what I could expect from my trip to Peru. And naturally, I picked up my own tips along the way and wanted to share some things I wish I knew before I visited Peru.
1. Safety at the Lima International Airport
The Jorge Chávez International Airport in Lima is located in a rather dangerous neighbourhood of Lima. This neighbourhood is called Callao. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to visit it during the day; but I heard at night time, you should avoid Callao at all costs. Coincidentally for me, my flight arrived at 2AM. So, I didn’t have a choice.
Do not hop into just any taxi at the arrivals gate. There are many stories of express kidnappings from the Airport in Lima. Taxi drivers will kidnap you for a couple hours, steal your valuables, bring you to ATMs, and force you to withdraw as much money as your daily limit allows. Here is one account of someone who did get kidnapped at the airport. Unfortunately, this scam isn’t specific to just Peru.
To keep things simple (and safe), take a taxi recommended by the airport. At the arrivals section, after you collect your bags but before you leave the secure area of the airport, there are desks for these taxis. I took Taxi Green and had a good experience. Depending on the time of your flight departure or arrival, you can take the Airport Express Bus.
2. Ensure your vaccinations are up-to-date
Before you go hiking through the Peruvian wilderness to Macchu Picchu or boating down the Amazon River, make sure your vaccinations are up-to-date!
Specifically, Yellow fever is recommended by the American Centre for Disease control1 if you are visiting the regions highlighted in yellow above. If you’re visiting Lima, Macchu Picchu, or Cusco (city), then you are at a low risk of contracting yellow fever, however if you are visiting any region along the Amazon, it is highly recommended.
Fortunately, I was able to get my Yellow Fever vaccine at the last minute! I’m glad because it does not sound like a good time.
3. The Altitude in Cusco
Cusco is one of the highest cities in the world, sitting at 3400m above sea level! Tourists not accustomed to this altitude are at risk for altitude sickness. Altitude sickness occurs in 20% of the population after 2500m above sea level and in 40% of the population after 3000m2. If you intend to visit the nearby Rainbow Mountains, these are much higher at 5200m above sea level.
There are many activities to do in Cusco province, including visiting the infamous Macchu Picchu (super cool, by the way!). If you can, visit Macchu Picchu first (at 2400m above sea level) or the Sacred Valley (at 2900m above sea level) once you get off the plane. This will help your body get used to the high altitude before making the jump to Cusco city at 3400m.
I was a bit sensitive to the altitude. I often experienced the pins and needles feeling in my feet and lower legs, especially when laying down. It was hard for me to catch a full breath and I kept getting mild headaches. It freaked me out a bit at first, which gave me a bit of a panic attack. But Cusco is definitely a must see!
4. Peru Hop
There is this super awesome company called PeruHop which will bring you from Lima to Cusco by bus. The trip will take a couple of days, however you can hop on and hop off the bus at any of the locations. The bus runs both directions. The really cool thing about this bus is that you can take an optional route to cross into Bolivia via Copacabana.
To find out more about their tours, visit their website at peruhop.com.
5. Temperature Variation
Never have I experienced such different temperatures in a single country during the same trip! Because of Peru’s unique terrain, be prepared for all sorts of temperatures.
The sun is strong in Lima, but there is a strong breeze which made it feel about 20° C when I was there. It’s easy to forget about getting a sun burn because the sun doesn’t feel that strong!
Closer to the Amazon, there is a lot of humidity and strong heat, unsurprisingly.
In Cusco, the high altitude can bring the temperature down, especially at night. I remember wearing my winter jacket one night out to dinner in Cusco because it was below 10° C.
6. La Isla de los monos
La Isla de los monos (or Monkey Island in English) was one of my absolute favourites! There are a lot of wildlife sanctuaries to see around Iquitos, and this was one of them. The island, primarily run by volunteers, works to take monkeys from the illegal animal trade. While the monkeys are unable to return to the wild, the volunteers rehabilitate the monkeys so that they can be released into the island’s wild forest, under the care and protection of the volunteers. Aim to spend 1.5-3 hours on the island for a full tour. Here’s a link to their website for more info.
Beware: around Iquitos, there are a lot of “fake sanctuaries” where animals are kept in the sanctuary illegally. These “fake sanctuaries” are kept to draw in tourist, and not to help the animals. There is a “fake isla de los monos” in the centre of Iquitos, so steer clear.
When researching, I found that Miraflores is the best neighbourhood of Peru to stay in. It’s relatively central and there is a lot to see. It feels very safe and there are many tourists around.
If you’re like me, and you enjoy experiencing more “local activities”, there are a few authentic Peruvian activities you can experience. Check out the Parque Central de Miraflores, where you can find locals dancing and street food vendors selling delicious desserts! You can find some good grocery stores as well to check out some of the local groceries.
8. Bug Repellent for the Amazon
Bring insect repellent when you visit the Amazon. This may seem a bit obvious (but not that obvious because I forgot). When I visited the Amazon, it was the most humid place I have ever been. The mosquitoes were insane! I ended up buying bug spray when I got to Iquitos and applied it just before I went for a short trek through the Amazon. The mosquitoes were insanely aggressive.
Remember to bring something STRONG!
9. Making it to Macchu Picchu
I was a bit confused about how to actually get to Macchu Picchu. I found there was surprisingly fragmented information about this online. Most people take one of two routes (or a combination of the two):
- From the Cusco train station, you can take PeruRail or InkaRail
- You will arrive in Macchu Picchu city (actually called Aguas Calientes)
- You need to purchase a bus ticket to get from Aguas Calientes to the Macchu Picchu ruins (20 minute bus ride). Ask any information booth how to find the ticket kiosk, as the location may change.
- Hike from Cusco to Aguas Calientes
- There is a slightly hidden forest staircase which leads up to Macchu Picchu from Aguas Calientes. There are many tourists who take this route daily (including those who have taken the train to Aguas Calientes). So simply follow the tourists.
10. Ceviche is delicious!
There are many reports online recommending that tourists avoid ceviche, due to possible bacteria. Ceviche is fish which has been marinated in citrus fruit (usually lemon). The strong acidity of the lemon partially cooks the fish, but the fish is still mostly raw.
I waited until my last night in Peru to give it a try and it was the BEST dish I ate while I was in Peru. I highly recommend it and I’m glad I gave it a shot. To decrease your risk of possible food poisoning, try eating from a restaurant which frequently serves tourists – that could possibly decrease your risk (although I make no guarantees!).
Headed to Peru? Let me know how it goes and if you found my tips useful!