If I had read this before I went – no matter how great my first trip to South America was – it would have been a million times better knowing what I know now.
‘Hey Yeni, I saw you were in Peru a few weeks ago, how was it? I’m going June!’
I received this Facebook message from an Indonesian friend after my 2-week adventure through Lima, Cuzco, and the 4-day Lares Trek to Machu Picchu.
Since a few people have been asking me about this trip, I decided to compile all the Q&As into one post, for easier referencing! If you don’t find the answer to your question here, don’t hesitate to drop me a line in the comments below so I can add to this blog post 🙂
My friend and I only speak English — can I survive without Spanish?
Yes you can survive, especially if you’re not getting off the tourist track. But if you want to deviate, then it might not be too easy because the average Peruvian doesn’t speak English. For example, you may not be able to take public transportation as we did via colectivo (small bus – you have to ask people how much and where to get off) or negotiate with taxis.
I found that Peruvians love talking to foreigners, and will not stop pounding you with conversation once they find out that you can understand them. This may or may not be a good thing – but if you want to interact with the locals, then I suggest you brush up on your Spanish! 🙂
I have 2 weeks in Peru, what should I do?
I would definitely recommend doing a trek! Some words of advice you might want to take note of:
Spend more time in Cusco if you really want to immerse yourself in Inca history and archeology. There’s so much to do it’s overwhelming.
Eat well in Lima, which is home to several of the world’s best chefs and restaurants. It has become a gastronomic capital beating Paris in the last few years in terms of “World’s Bests” – and fear not, the prices are well affordable compared to any other city for what you get! Word of warning, though, the most famous restaurants get fully booked way in advance. So book almost as early as you book your Machu Picchu trek / tickets!
Allot a day for Rainbow Mountain: Although we weren’t able to go, I would recommend allotting a day to check out the newly opened site of Rainbow Mountain. Everyone who’s done it says it’s amazing; unfortunately, it’s a 5-hour drive from Cusco so you’ll have to make an allowance for the travel time.
Book a trek! I would 100% say go for the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, but we were 6 months too early and too late at the same time. This is the first thing you should get, maybe before even buying your plane tickets! The demand is huge and passes limited, especially during peak season.
Spend at least 2 days exploring the other major sights on the Boleto Turistico. The latter is a US$45 ticket that grants you entrance to the major inca sites around Cusco and the Sacred Valley. Try to make the most of it by doing a whole day in each place: Pisac (don’t miss the Temple of the Sun), Ollantaytambo (the dramatic military headquarters overlooking the valley), Saksaywaman within Cusco city itself (the administrative capital), etc.
Which trail should I choose?
If you don’t get to score passes on the Classic 4-Day Inca Trail, then I would suggest doing the Inca Jungle Trek, which sounds intense and action packed – including biking, rafting, walking part of the Inca Trail, Zipline, Hot Springs, and the Huayna Picchu (the famous mountain on all the Machu Picchu photos).
As much as I love hiking, I thought four days of walking nonstop on Lares got a bit old. In fact, I probably wouldn’t recommend the Lares Trek, because it was following the weavers / farmers trail which meant stepping on shit literally almost the whole way. I mean it was cute that we got to see so many alpacas, llamas, and sheep – but that also meant mucking around in their dung.. haha!
Should I prepare for the cold?
If you’re doing the trail… heelll yes. It was my first ever multi-day trek that didn’t involve a beach or a bonfire, and we were reaching glacier levels at around 6,000masl… and nobody is allowed to make a fire out there. I understand their reasons – they need to protect the sacred area – but this was the one time in my life in which I truly understood why humans need fire to survive..
I thought I was gonna die up there especially that first night when it rained nonstop and I was struggling to not freeze to death in maybe 5 layers of clothes, a lined sleeping bag, plus a thick alpaca blanket on top of us. I offhandedly thought how live mummification (plus a hot water bottle lol) is an effective but uncomfortable survival strategy.
What do I need to pack?
If you’re doing a multi-day hike, don’t make the same mistake I did. I decided not to take the rainproof pants my sister offered me thinking leggings were enough. What on earth was I thinking?!! Your tour/trekking company is going to give you a list. Follow that list. Another item I stupidly took for granted – waterproof gloves. I scoffed, that’s just an exaggeration. Then I realized my hands were the first to stop functioning in subzero level temperatures and no matter how covered everything else was, my hands were capable of being the death of me…
Should I book there or in advance?
When we got there and saw how much cheaper the tours were in Cusco, we felt a bit bad. We paid twice or thrice the rate they were advertising, but in the end I think booking with an established and vetted operator is worth the extra dollar. We’re talking about entrusting your life in these people’s hands for days here. They’d better take it damn seriously – as should you.
If you’re doing the Inca Trail, as I said you need to book half a year in advance – even then you’re not sure of getting passes. The government is changing its policy all the time, but the trend is that it’s getting stricter with limiting tourist access.
For the price we paid with Alpaca Expeditions (which is double even normal-priced tours), we had a chef literally travelling with us plus mules to carry most of the load. Our food was a major highlight of the whole thing – absolutely delicious Peruvian dishes every single day, several times a day, including happy hour. Our meals had several courses, including desert (cake!!) in the middle of nowhere?! Every morning, we were woken up with hot tea (coca de mate) and much-needed hot water to wash our faces and hands. Those little details changed everything.
How real / bad is the altitude sickness?
As they say everywhere, give yourself at least two days to acclimatize to the altitude of Cusco, which is 3,399 masl, even higher than that of Machu Picchu (only 2,430 m). I was huffing and puffing up and down the city’s hills, dizzy and lightheaded on normal walks from say hotel to restaurant. I wasn’t hit as badly as others (some get symptoms like vomiting) – but it still affected me. I gave my body a lot of rest, stopped eating meat to offset the digestion difficulty, and drank a lot of the bitter mate de coca.
Mate de coca: an herbal tea (infusion) made using coca plant leaves, native to South America. It’s often recommended for travelers in the Andes to prevent altitude sickness. The leaves of the coca plant contain alkaloids which—when extracted chemically—are the source for cocaine base.
Going to Peru / Machu Picchu soon? Did you find the FAQs helpful/entertaining? Drop me a line below if you have anything else to ask! 🙂
Happy travels, folks! :*