In August 2014, I planned a trip to Peru for five friends and myself with the focus being on Machu Picchu. I thought it would be helpful to share some tips and resources for anyone planning a trip to Peru! If I forgot anything and you have questions, feel free to ask!
1. Decide how you want to get to Machu Picchu
There are a ton of ways to get to Machu Picchu including by trek, bus/hike, and train. We only had a week and we weren’t the most athletic group, so we decided to take the train.
2. Purchase a guide book
Once I knew we weren’t going to trek the Inca Trail, I purchased Lonely Planet’s “Discover Peru” book. It not only had great ideas of things to do in each city, but it also included maps so we knew how to get around when we first arrived in a city. Our group followed one of the suggested walking tours in the book while we were in Lima and it was super helpful. You can purchase the book on Amazon for $19 or directly from the Lonely Planet website for $25.
3. Book your flights
Coming from the states, it was cheaper to fly into Lima than anywhere else. We also booked a flight to and from Cusco and flew with Star Peru. The flight was short and much faster than taking a bus, but it was a little costly.
4. Get vaccinated
Depending on where you’re going in Peru, you’ll probably need some vaccinations. Since we were only going to Lima, Cusco, and Machu Picchu, we were only required to get the Hep A shot. You can visit the CDC site for suggested vaccinations or make an appointment with a local travel doctor.
5. Prepare yourself for high elevation in Cusco!
I was really nervous about altitude sickness in Cusco, so I got a prescription for Diamox before I left. I didn’t feel the effects of the altitude at all because I took the pills. Some people in our group didn’t bother with the meds and said they felt a little dizzy and almost drunk coming off the plane. Altitude affects everyone differently, so it depends on if you’re willing to take a risk or not!
6. Purchase Machu Picchu tickets
There’s a limited number of people allowed to enter Machu Picchu and also hike Wayna Picchu daily, so book your tickets well in advance. Click here for the ticket website!
The whole ticket booking process was a serious nightmare! Luckily, this awesome person has written instructions on how to navigate the ticket website and what to do when you have issues (click here). Notice I said “when” and not “if.” You can only book 5 tickets at a time and since there were 6 of us, I had to go through the process twice. The first time when I booked the 5 tickets, everything went smoothly. The second time when I tried to book my single ticket, I ran into a world of problems! It was a mess and I’m not the only one that’s had these same issues.
7. Purchase your train tickets
Since we only had a week, we decided to take the tourist train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. “The Man in Seat 61” is an amazing website that I used to figure out what to book. You can also take the bus and do some hiking. I read through this website that discusses the cheapest way to get to Machu Picchu and they took the bus.
8. Book your hostels
Once you’re sure you can get to all the places you want to get to and purchased your Machu Picchu tickets, book your hostels! There aren’t that many options in Aguas Calientes (the base of Machu Picchu), so I’d recommend booking early. Here’s where we stayed and for the most part, I was pleased. The major downside was most had cold showers, but that seemed to be a common issue. I booked all the hostels through HostelBookers.com.
- Lima: Puriwasi Hostels – I really liked the location near Parque Kennedy in Miraflores. The hostel has a rooftop bar with reasonably priced drinks and free breakfast in the morning. The one thing I disliked was how loud it was at night. We could hear music playing all night from a nearby club.
- Cusco: Marlon’s House Hostel – The people were very friendly and they offered free breakfast each morning. There was only one shared shower and bathroom, so we often had to wait to use them. We struggled to get warm water, but from reviews of other hostels in Cusco, this was a common issue. They also have a tour company at the hostel, which is who we went through to book our Saqsaywaman tour. Since we were staying at this hostel after Machu Picchu, we were able to leave our larger bags for a few days and just pack backpacks for Machu Picchu.
- Aguas Calientes: Pirwa Hostels – We didn’t spend much time in the hostel, but I would stay there again. The staff was very helpful when I asked questions. The bathrooms could’ve been nicer, but it’s a hostel so I got what I expected.
9. Make sure you know some Spanish
I’ve done a lot of traveling around Europe and have gotten used to people in major cities knowing English. In Peru, that’s not the case. I needed to know Spanish when getting a taxi, buying things at the markets, etc. We were fortunate to have a friend traveling with us who really knows Spanish!
10. Look up the weather before you go
We were heading to Peru thinking it would be warm and sunny, even though August is their winter time. I didn’t wear shorts a single day I was there (though I wish I had packed shorts for Putucusi Mountain and Machu Picchu). I actually ended up wearing under armor under my shirt a few times because my jacket wasn’t heavy enough. I sometimes felt like I needed a winter coat when the sun went behind the clouds!
11. Don’t drink the water
This was my first time traveling somewhere where I couldn’t drink the water. Since we had such a big group, we saved some money by purchasing liters of water from grocery stores and refilling our smaller water bottles with them. Two of my travel companions packed Gatorade mix that we could add to the water to make it taste a little better.
I’m not a big haggler, but it’s expected at the different markets and when you get a taxi. You state the price and see what they say!
13. Try cuy (guinea pig)!
It’s a delicacy in Peru! I have to admit, I was hesitant to try it since I love animals and have had pet hamsters my entire life. But… when else would i get the chance to try it? It came fried and tasted like chicken, so overall it wasn’t too terrible!
14. Think I missed anything?
If you read through all these tips and still have questions, feel free to ask or check out this post that I referred to when I was planning my trip!