Peru is one of those countries where there is so much to do, see and also so much to know! Even with extensive planning on my end, I still felt that there was always something missing. Here are 19 Things I wish I knew before going to Peru.
- Bring very good sunscreen… and one that matches your skin tone: For some reason, I don’t know why I didn’t take bloggers seriously when they recommended I bring a sunscreen. To be fair, I did bring a sunscreen before going to Peru but it was only SPF 30. And let me tell you something, the Sun rays in Peru don’t play! You see, Cusco, in particular, is 11,152 ft high (3,399 m). I went to Peru during their winter season, it was cold and the sun came out. However, even a tiny peek of the sun was impactful to my skin. Although I didn’t feel hot at all, the little sun rays were powerful enough to cause my entire face and nose to peel. Even with an SPF 30 sunscreen. Oh and I forgot to mention, I got a sunscreen that didn’t match my skin tone. I looked like a ghost during my hike to Machu Picchu. It was terrible. To avoid looking like a peeled ghost get the Aveeno Protect + Hydrate Sunscreen that not only blends with your skin tone but also moisturizes your skin.
- It’s really high up in Cusco:
Did I mention how high Cusco is? Cusco is 11,152 ft (3,399 m). Coming from New Orleans, a lower elevation, I definitely got a little altitude sickness. Altitude sickness is no joke! I was saved by my Diamox medication and Coca tea. Coca comes from Cocaine leaves. It’s completely legal in Peru and everyone passes it around. No matter how common Coca tea is in Peru, don’t make the mistake of bringing back to the airport. You will get in trouble.
- You get what you pay for:
Peru is a country that attracts thousands of tourists every year. What I love about this country is that it caters to every type of traveler. The budget conscious, luxurious, foodie, nature, shopping traveler, you name it. However, one thing I failed to realize is that you get what you pay for. When booking flights within Peru, you are usually charged an extra fee as a Non- Peruvian native. It is called the foreigner tax. Major airlines like Avianca and Latam include this hidden tax. It can go as high as $170 + your ticket fare. Armed with this information, I decided to opt for a cheaper option, Viva air. Although Viva air was significantly cheaper, the customer service wasn’t the best. There was a lot of confusion with the departure and arrival times. In addition, we left from Lima to Cusco with bad/cloudy weather. Upon arriving Cusco, the pilot turned the plane around and flew back to Lima, stating that it was too dangerous for the plane to fly. All the passengers including myself were very confused. The air hostess couldn’t even give us a response to what was going on or the next steps. After waiting an hour at the Lima tarmac, the pilot flew back Cusco. What was supposed to be a 55 minutes trip ended up lasting 3 hours. Had I sucked it up and paid more for a bigger and more reliable airline, I would have gotten better service. This is not to say Viva air is necessarily bad, you just get what you pay for.
- The logistics costs can add up: Peru is the 3rd largest country in Latin America. Getting from point A to point B can deepen your pockets. However, there are more affordable options like Public buses.
- No meditation room in Capital airport: As a Muslim traveler, one of the things I look forward to while traveling through airport terminals is a room to pray and meditate. The airport in Lima isn’t big and it seemed always crowded (not the perfect place to spread a mat and pray). There is a chapel at the airport. See here for airports with universal prayer rooms.
- Tipping is a big deal here: When I first landed in Cusco, I looked for my hotel representative. An airport employee guided me to my hotel ride and even helped with my heavy luggage. As I got into the vehicle and was about to shut the door, the employee stuck his hand out “Una propina para el servicio”. (A tip for my service). I was quite shocked by this. I reluctantly brought out some Peruvian soles and finally closed the car door. Tipping is a thing in Peru, especially in touristy Cusco.
- Cash is king: Although some places take credit or debit cards, many more places only take cash. Especially in the souvenir markets. Cash goes a long way in Peru. No place or service will deny you paying in Cash. The good news is that there are tons of ATM machines to withdraw money from. So you don’t have to worry about being low on cash.
- Wear the right gear: Before coming to Peru, I was familiar with what the essential items to bring were. However, I didn’t get the most appropriate hiking gear. “I’m not really a hiker, why should I get hiking boots and other hiking gear?” I lied to myself. And so I went hiking Machu Picchu with just my running shoes. If only you could feel the excruciating pain, I felt in my soles. On day 3 and 4, I could barely walk and I was slowing my hiking group down. My sister wore running shoes as well and suffered blisters. After our hiking adventure, our shoes were tattered and barely recognizable. I might as well have just worn flip-flops. Don’t be like us! Wear the right gear.
- A trip to Peru is EXPENSIVE: Many basic necessities like food, accommodation etc in Peru is cheap (depending on your lifestyle) but a trip to Peru can be in the thousands. This is especially true when you are flying from the U.S.
- Speak Spanish a bit: Navigating through a different culture is challenging. Peruvian Spanish is a bit different from Castellano (Spain’s Spanish). However, knowing the foundation of the language definitely helped me through difficult situations and little misunderstandings.
- Don’t let service workers cheat you: Part of visiting a tourist city like Cusco means that unfortunately some of the locals see you as $$$$$. Especially vendors, taxi drivers, and other service workers. It is important to have a general idea of what things cost and avoid being cheated. This is kind of where speaking Spanish helps. Haggling is common in Peru and you can use your haggling skill to negotiate prices here.
- Cuy is cousins to your pet hamster: Cuy! Cuy! Cuy! You’ll see this word in almost every restaurant you pass by. Cuy is a guinea pig, a Peruvian delicacy. I wasn’t adventurous enough to try Cuy. I also felt like it will be a betrayal to all the pet hamsters out there. So there’s that.
- Foreigner vs Local prices: When it comes to some services in Peru, you’ll find out that there are two prices. One for the Peruvian locals and the other for Foreigners. The Foreigner prices are higher. Keep that in my mind while budgeting.
- No Toilet paper in many bathrooms: I was surprised to find out that many of the bathrooms in Peru didn’t have toilet paper. In addition, you have to pay for it. Before coming to Peru, especially Cusco, pack as much toilet paper as you can.
- Coca leaf is served casually: I mentioned Coca leaf earlier in regards to curing Altitude sickness. Once I got out of the airport terminal in Cusco, there were people passing out Coca leaves in a mini basket to everyone. Man, I was shocked, “They are literally passing out Cocaine leaves for free!” I told my sister. After a while, I learned that Peruvians are big on natural medicine. They are wise and know how to take natural herbs such as Coca, Ayahuasca etc in an adequate quantity. These herbs are usually banned in countries like the U.S. Overindulgence of these herbs can lead to hallucination or death. Don’t be a basic bro or gal and think you can take as many drugs as you like because it isn’t illegal in Peru.
- The famous Machu Picchu site isn’t totally safe: The famous Unesco site, Machu Picchu is on a lot of people’s bucket list. Besides my excitement for finally visiting Machu Picchu, I was surprised to find out how unsafe the sacred attraction could be. Machu Picchu is like a hill with rocky steps leading to different historical sites. Each step is steep with no barricade. When you look down you realize how high (7,972ft) you are above the ground. Any misstep could lead to you dropping dead. If you are scared of heights, definitely keep this in mind. With that being said, thousands of people visit Machu Picchu every year. I even saw parent carrying their toddlers on their shoulders while on the site. *Yikes* Depending on your country, safety varies for different people.
- Bring your own knife: This might just be mere coincidence but whenever I ordered steak or any meat, the servers gave me a butter knife. A Butterknife! I didn’t know I was expected to cut anything with such a blunt object. Friends, please bring your own knife to restaurants in Peru. Just in case
- Get as much local souvenir as you can in Peru:
Chances are that they will be 3 times the price in your country. In other words, shop till you drop but don’t forget to weigh your luggage for check-in
- Stay Longer: Regardless of some inconveniences and expenses of my Peruvian trip, my biggest wish was to have stayed longer. Two weeks alone didn’t do justice to this incredible, beautiful, and diverse country. The next time you plan on visiting Peru, plan to stay for at least a month.
I hope you enjoyed this post. Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments down below!
like this post? pin it or save it for later!