TEN THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE GOING TO PERU
Peru Travel Tips
Even though I had been to Peru before and was comfortable with the idea of traveling there, I was still a little surprised (or at least reminded) about the quirkier aspects of traveling in this South American country. Here are some important Peru travel tips.
1. You will need your passport, even when you think you don’t.
I knew I would need my passport to leave the US and enter Peru (and vice versa) but what I didn’t know was that we would also need our passports to travel within Peru. When we flew from Lima to Cusco, we needed to show our passports. We also needed them when we bought tickets for the bus that ferries tourists up to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes. And when we entered Machu Picchu, we needed to show our passports. I learned to just keep my passport with me at all times in a zippered pouch that hung around my neck. I always had it with me, but didn’t need to worry about losing them.
2. Before leaving the airport is the best time to change money, buy SIM card, get information.
When you arrive in the luggage claim section of the Lima Airport, you will see some kiosks set up in between the baggage carousels. There are three that are particularly helpful. First is an information desk, which is a great place to get recommendations, directions, etc. Second is a cellular phone provider. Buy yourself a local prepaid SIM card and forgo paying for international roaming charges. Third is a currency exchange kiosk. Some may disagree, but I found that the rates at the airport kiosk were comparable to those elsewhere in the city, and the convenience factor was a big plus.
3. You don’t have to know Spanish, but it sure does help.
Nearly everywhere we went in Peru, we found individuals who spoke English. However, we did notice that when I spoke Spanish with people, they were more receptive, helpful and friendly. While they might view my tendency to only speak in the present tense as quirky or improper, they appreciated the fact that I was at least making an effort to speak in their language rather than expecting them to speak in mine.
4. You can bring luggage on the train to Machu Picchu
Everything I read when I was planning our trip said that no luggage was allowed on the trains to Aguas Calientes. As far as I could tell, that left me with three options: (1) find out if we could leave our luggage at the place we were staying after checking out, (2) pay for an extra night at the apartment, and leave the majority of our things there, or (3) be a rule-breaker and bring the luggage, pretending I didn’t know about that rule. I went with option 2. We put toiletries and a change of clothes in a backpack and left everything else in the apartment we were renting. Imagine my surprise when I boarded and saw a sturdy luggage rack right by the door. So yes, you can take luggage with you.
5. Learn to say “no, gracias.” A lot.
We could not walk, stand, or sit anywhere in Cusco without being approached by someone who wanted to sell us something. Sunglasses, tours, bags, hats, jewelry, decorative gourds, shoe shines, and so on. It only took one afternoon to see that this would be an ongoing issue. At first we listened politely and declined politely, but we soon learned that these vendors would not take no for an answer. After that first afternoon, we learned to keep our eyes down, our pace brisk, and a “no, gracias, ” on the tip of the tongue, ready to turn the street vendor away.
6. Don’t wait for the waiters to bring your check.
If you finish your meal and sit around the table waiting for your waiter to bring the check, you will be there a long time. Americans tend to get in, eat, and get out, but we are in the minority when in comes to dining out. You will find neither hovering nor impatient waitstaff in Peruvian restaurants. When you are ready to leave, simply motion to your server and ask for the bill (cuenta in Spanish).
7. A double room might not be what you think it is.
I booked a double room at a hotel in Aguas Calientes for the three of us. I assumed that it would be like a hotel room in the States — two double beds, bathroom, TV, and some furniture in which to place clothing. Imagine my surprise when we arrived and discovered that a double room was two twin size beds. Fortunately, they had a room available that could accommodate three people without one having to sleep on the floor. Be sure to ask when booking what size bed(s) you will have in your room.
8. Lima’s rush hour can mess up your plans.
I heard from more than one taxi driver in Lima that their evening rush hour lasts from 5:00 until 9:00 PM every weekday. What I didn’t hear was how that could adversely affect our plans. It became glaringly obvious on our last day in the City of Kings when we found ourselves near the Plaza de Armas around 5:00 PM, needing to get a cab back to Miraflores where a driver would be picking us up at 8:00 PM to take us to the airport. Nearly every cab that passed us already had a passenger. One cab stopped but when we told him we wanted to go to Miraflores, he drove off, unwilling to drive that far in rush hour traffic. We walked for a while, stopped and ate dinner at a KFC, and walked some more. We called for an Uber car twice; they never showed up. Finally someone stopped and asked if we needed a taxi. We reached the apartment at 8:10 PM. Fortunately, our driver was waiting for us and we made it to the airport on time.
9. The Toilets.
I will try not to be too indelicate, but the toilets in Peru are different from what we are used to here. While some are exactly the same, others are noticeably different. The first glaringly obvious difference is that many do not have seats. The second big difference is that in most places, you are not supposed to flush your toilet paper. The infrastructure is not equipped to handle it. So regardless of what you do in the toilet, you are supposed to fold up your used toilet paper and place it in a nearby trash can. Not so bad when you are sharing a bathroom with your family, but when you’re out and about and using a public restroom, the ick factor increases exponentially.
10. It’s worth it to pay for a guided tour.
We paid a nice young man to give us a tour at the Cusco Cathedral. It cost just $10 and lasted about an hour. That was probably the best $10 I’ve ever spent. He gave us so much more information than we could have possibly picked up or learned on our own. Definitely money well spent. We did the same at Machu Picchu and also at the Archbishop’s Palace in Lima. Each time we felt like we got a lot more from our sightseeing because we learned the history and significance in a way that only a local could explain. Paying for a guide is a great way to add depth to your travel experience and is well worth the small fee.
I hope these tips help you prepare for your journey to Peru! Are there any you would add?