If you would have asked me one month ago I would have name some place in Asia, but due to some last minute news I changed my direction from East to West. I went as West as my passport would allow me to go without a visa. And although this was a short trip, filled with bad luck and lots (and I cannot even stress enough that) of misfortune there were many things I learned during my first trip in South America, mostly about me but, also, about this wonderful country and why it should be your next destination.
If you are planning to go just don’t think twice. Peru is such a diverse country and it has something to offer to anybody: it offers a stunning Pacific Ocean, breathtaking Andes mountains, a luscious Amazonian rainforest, unbelievable history lessons from the Inca Empire and the Spanish colonization and the possibility to learn from the mistakes of the most recent tragic events. Peru is all about inclusion and feeling as relaxed as possible.
But, there were some things I wish I would have known in advance, because there were a couple of moments when I said “Wait, whaaat?” and I wish I hadn’t. These are my own remarks and I always travel alone.
As always, when you travel you must be very careful with your belongings. Unfortunately, Peru is widely known for pickpocketing so take a lot of measures of precaution. Also, when you are in a cab make sure to put your luggage on the floor between your legs or in the trunk to avoid curious bystanders from the street to steal something when you are at a stop light. I honestly did not get anything stolen (except for my hand cream and sunblock) but I was at all times aware of my surroundings and I felt very safe.
You must bring with you medicamentation to help with the high altitude (especially in Cusco) and the motion sickness (which usually appears on their curved roads). Also bring sun block and anti-mosquito cream for all the hiking. The high altitude sickness has different symptoms for everybody: I was ok in the first evening (I even had a good dinner) but on my second night due to increased efforts from the day I really needed something to calm me down. Coca tea is always a good idea.
If you decide to go to Cusco you must bring with you a hat, a cap, a good scarf and gloves. The nights here are really chilly and if you decide to go to Rainbow mountain you will be so glad to have them.
You should be able to speak Spanish (at least conversationally) and if you don’t you must be able to understand it. Few people speak English (even at the airport) but they will do their best to accommodate you. I had most issues in Lima but thanks to google.translate I got out of it. Also, there are many tours which are only in Spanish and it would be a shame to miss them.
One of my favorite aspects from Peru involves food – everything is based on potato, chicken and rice but, even the most simple meals, taste fantastic. Also, if they ask if you want to add guacamole just say yes. You won’t regret it.
Be sure to have your passport at handy – you will need it when you enter museums or when you buy train/tour tickets.
When it comes to money you should have Peruvian soles, although some stores accept US dollars (but not taxi and not most of the hotels) and credit cards are not widely accepted. Be sure to have small bills – the 100 soles is regarded with a lot of questions. You will see them looking at it with suspicion – they will test it against the light, they will smell it, sometimes even lick it. Be very careful where you will exchange your money.
Due to weather conditions some flights (especially from Lima to Cusco and back) can get cancelled out of the blue. So, if you want to buy a flight with connection it is better to spend a couple of hours in Lima airport than to miss an intercontinental flight. Do not be surprised if they will inspect your luggage when you are at the check in line – if the smelling dogs will stop at your bag chances are that the police officer will just open your luggage without even asking. Just be patient and cooperative – everything is done in the name of passengers’ security.
Peru was, for me, an unexpected experience – vibrant, colorful, with days that usually started at 3am, hikes and many nice people. It was nice to discover that Peru is more than Lima and Cusco – I will like to go back and have a different itinerary and to check Arequipa, Pisac, Lake Titicaca, Cotahuasi Canyon and so many more from my bucket list.