Preparing for a Trip to Cusco, Peru
Research Ahead of Time:
Take some time to research where you want to go, what you want to do, and places you want to see in and around Cusco. Peru is a large country, and Cusco is a small town, so you must plan accordingly! I personally enjoy reading blog posts from other travelers, rather than the typical Frommer’s or popular sites/books. By reading blog posts and experiences from real-life people (especially around my age), it feels more personal and I typically find experiences that wouldn’t be as touristy if planned by a travel agent or read elsewhere. Plus, there are many bloggers who will write about traveling on a budget, and for me that is a big deal!
A few of my favorite travel bloggers include:
- The Blonde Abroad
- Jones Around the World (he’s actually one of my friends/former tour guide from my college study abroad spring break trip)
- Salt in Our Hair
- Nomadic Boys
I like to create a Google Doc which has a bunch of notes and tips gathered from multiple sources, and separated by accommodation, meals, transportation, basic info about the location, money, etc. Within this Google Doc, I also create a daily itinerary for my trip which includes confirmation numbers, addresses, and details of what I am doing/plan to do. In addition to this Google Doc, I also like to create a Google Spreadsheet with a daily budget separated into different categories and laid out day by day. Then you know how much you are planning to spend, and it helps when you need to plan your cash situation.
Plan your Transportation:
Depending on where you go in Peru, transportation may vary. If you plan on visiting Cusco like I did, you cannot get a direct flight from the US to Cusco. There is typically a layover in Lima before flying into Peru. As I flew from Chicago, I took a flight from Chicago to Houston, Houston to Lima, Lima to Cusco with United Airlines. There are many other airlines, but definitely check Expedia or Kayak for flight options.
There are taxis, buses, and trains available across Peru and obviously are more readily accessible in the larger cities. Make sure you research how to get around the city you are visiting.
Peru is also an enormous country, and many people don’t realize how big the geographical layout is. From the mountains to the cliff side cities, make sure you plan accordingly when traveling from one city to the next as it can take quite some time.
Book in Accommodation:
Cusco has many hotels, hostels, and homestays available. I spent one night in a homestay which I booked through Airbnb. If you haven’t used Airbnb before, use my link (click here) to sign up and you will get a $40 USD discount off your first booking! I’m obsessed with Airbnb and prefer the homey feel. You can even find some hotels listed on Airbnb!
I also spent five other nights in a hotel (Palacio Del Inka) for my work retreat. It all depends on what you are looking for. You can book your accommodation online and ahead of time easily. When traveling during Peruvian winter, make sure that you find accommodation that has heat or lots of blankets, as it can get quite cold!
Look at the Weather:
Depending on the time of year you travel to Peru and the geographical location, it could either be extremely hot or cold. The mountains tend to be much cooler. I traveled to Cusco in August, and it was winter time (May-September is winter). The mornings were extremely cold, and I had to wear several layers. Thankfully my Airbnb had lots of blankets and my hotel had heat the rest of the time. I would wake up to 40-degree (Fahrenheit) weather in the morning and then it would warm up to the mid 60’s by midday. You will need to pack plenty of layers, as the weather can constantly change! Read a bit more about the weather here.
There are many countries that require specific vaccinations and impose health restrictions before entering. Make sure you are up to date on all your regular immunizations for any travel outside of your own country. For US Citizens visiting Peru, visit this page on the CDC website. Any non-US citizens traveling to Peru should check with their doctor and governmental travel websites regarding immunizations.
I personally had to visit a travel clinic in Chicago, as my primary doctor could not advise or administer any travel vaccinations needed for my trip. I visited the Vaccine Center, which is now called e7 Health in Chicago. You will need to look into vaccinations and medications well in advance and have them completed at least 4-6 weeks before departing.
When I traveled in 2016, I received the standard flu shot, yellow fever, and typhoid shots, in altitude sickness pills for Peru. I highly recommend getting the altitude sickness pills if you are not used to high elevation! The pills truly saved me. My colleagues felt super sick on the trip, but these pills definitely helped me. Although the shots for typhoid and yellow fever weren’t required, they are recommended. Do note that these shots (except flu shot) are pricey and aren’t covered by health insurance, so you will need to budget accordingly. I know that there have been recent reports of low supply for yellow fever, so that is another thing to make note of. The yellow fever shot used to only last ten years, but it now lasts a lifetime, so I am glad that I got it when I did!
Buy a Travel Adapter:
Peru has two different types of electrical outlets: Type A (like the US) and Type C (two round prongs). The electric voltage is 220 Voltz/60 Hertz in Peru (in the US, the voltage is between 110-220 voltage). Many of the electrical outlets in Peru will be designed to accept both types, but it is best to come prepared for both. Your best option is to visit Amazon.com or visit a store that sells travel adapters to purchase a universal travel adapter which caters to all countries. I personally like the universal travel adapter, so I don’t have to buy a new country-specific adapter each time I travel. Here’s the travel adapter which I just bought today during Amazon’s Prime Day. Even when it isn’t on sale, it’s a great deal and investment!
Budget for Spending Money:
I highly recommend exchanging some money before you depart for Peru. Although there are many ATM’s throughout Cusco, it’s great to have cash on you upon landing especially since the Cusco airport is very tiny and cash isn’t always readily available to exchange for a taxi. I exchanged about $100 USD for Peruvian Sol before I left. Currently (July 2018), one U.S. Dollar (USD) is equal to 3.17 Peruvian Sol (PEN).
Make sure that you talk to your bank and credit card companies ahead of time to let them know your travel dates and locations. Many ATM’s have withdrawal fees, so check with your bank to see if they have any partnerships with local banks in Peru to lower or remove the withdrawal fee. There are many places that accept credit cards, but don’t expect to be able to use your card everywhere. I have the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card, and it has honestly been a lifesaver in my travels both domestically and internationally.
I opened the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card right before I booked in my trip to Peru and the Galapagos, so that I could earn extra travel points. If you spend $4,000 USD in the first three months of opening your card, you get 50,000 bonus points which is equal to about $625 USD. I won’t go into too much detail about the card, since this post isn’t about credit cards and I will save it for another post, but a few benefits that I love include:
- No international transaction fees
- Set up travel alerts online instead of calling Chase before traveling
- Amazing fraud protection and customer service
- Travel insurance is INCLUDED when you use your card
- Double points for dining and travel related purchases
- FREE for the first year, and $95 annual fee afterwards
- Transfer points to different travel programs/partners (hotels, airlines, car rental, etc.)
And use your Google Spreadsheet/Excel document to budget as mentioned before!
Learn Some Spanish & About the Peruvian Culture:
Although not required, having some knowledge of Spanish is quite helpful in Peru and especially in Cusco. Many people do speak a bit of English, however, not everyone will. I am not telling you to go learn an entire new language before you depart, but it would be good to know a few basic words and phrases. The locals also appreciate your efforts as well. You could take an online course or just purchase a small Spanish language book.
The Spanish language is heavily engraved into the Peruvian culture, in addition to many other traditions. Cusco is home to the descendants of the Incas and there is a heavy focus on religious rituals, ceremonies, tight family ties, food, and colorful heritage. Be prepared and open minded to try new culinary dishes like: Cuy (guinea pig), Alpaca, Pisco Sours, Ceviche, and other spicy foods. There is so much beautiful history in Peru, and I can’t wait for you to explore this beautiful country like I did!
There is a lot more that you can do to prepare for a trip to Peru, but I am hoping the above provides a bit of help to get you started!