Earlier in 2018 we went on an adventure to Iceland, visiting a part of the world that was new to us. For our fall trip, we opted to stay on the adventurous side (at least for us) with a visit to Peru. This would prove to be one of our most unique trips to date. The entire trip was a memorable experience with its highs and lows. The highs included getting to explore a different culture, amazing locations, new foods, and the rich heritage of the Peruvian people. The lows, or rather low, was getting sick at the tail end of the trip. But more to come on that later…

This post is long overdue! We actually went on this trip back in October 2018. Over the past few months things have been quite busy with the holidays and new opportunities, so I’ve been slowly putting together this trip summary. The short video club above was all shot on my Go Pro Hero 7 and edited on an iPad Pro. As with my Iceland post you can scroll through the overview of the whole trip or click on the links below to jump to a particular section.

 

 

Day 1-ish: Traveling to the Sacred Valley

 

Flying on American Airlines in their upgraded B/E Aerospace business class seats

Once again my “churning” hobby paid off by giving us the chance to fly in business/first class all the way to Peru. This time around we took advantage of my remaining AAdvantage miles to book flights directly with American Airlines from Honolulu to Lima, with a single stop in DFW. Our HNL to DFW leg was in one of the best business class seats we’ve experienced. The lie flat seats and ample room made for a comfortable flight.

 

One of the perks of having an AMEX Platinum card

We had a long layover in DFW. Here my Centurion Lounge access through my AMEX Platinum card came in handy. While the lounge was busy during peak times, it provided us a comfortable place to sit, get free food, and wait out the layover. The DFW Centurion Lounge is newly remodeled and now offers added services like massages and manicures. But, alas, the Centurion Lounge was not our final destination.

The business class seats from DFW to LIM were the older style lie flats leftover in some of AA’s aging fleet. While not as luxurious and comfortable as our first flight, it was certainly still a plus to fly in business class for the 6.5 hour flight to Lima.

After arriving at Lima we passed through customs then immediately headed for a short flight on LATAM airlines to head up to Cusco. I had read a lot about the different recommended itinerary orders when traveling to Peru. Since altitude sickness was a real concern of mine, I decided that we would head straight to Cusco and then to the Sacred Valley to help with acclimatization. The Sacred Valley, being at a lower elevation than Cusco, would hopefully be kinder to us as we got used to the lower oxygen levels of the Andes mountains.

 

Peaceful views of the mountains from the Tambo del Inka lobby

Although I used my points to book our flights to Peru, using points for hotel stays was less advantageous given the strength of the US dollar against the Peruvian Sole. Instead I made use of my new SPG Luxury card to not only rack up some points for my paid stays, but also receive back the $300 in statement credits that are part of the card’s benefits. Our first hotel, the Tambo del Inka, is one of the nicest properties in the Sacred Valley.

 

Go Pro selfie at Kampu

After checking in to our room and enjoying an upgrade to a junior suite (thanks to my Platinum Marriott status), we headed off for a walk into the town of Urubamba for lunch. After meandering through the narrow streets we found our way to Kampu, a Peruvian/Thai fusion restaurant. Asian fusion cuisine is actually quite common in Peru, with the most well-known being Japanese Peruvian (called Nikkei cuisine locally). I’m not entirely sure if it was because we were starving from our long travels, but we were pleasantly surprised by the flavors and food in this small hole-in-the-wall restaurant.

Once lunch was done we stopped off at a little convenient store to purchase some big bottles of water for the hotel room. One downside of visiting a less developed nation is the inability to safety drink the tap water. After a long day of travel and several flights we were exhausted and decided to just order room service for dinner then turn in for the night.

 

Day 2: Chinchero, Moray, and Maras

 

Highly recommend these money belts for keeping your cash and passport secure

The next morning we woke up, had breakfast at the hotel buffet (included in our stay), and prepped for our first full day in the Sacred Valley. Since Peru is not exactly the safest country when it comes to petty theft, we came prepared with secure RFID shielded money belts. We wore the belts under our layers of clothing to help conceal them and keep our cash out of easy reach of would-be pickpockets.

 

The terraces of Chinchero ruins

For most of our trip I ended up using a taxi booking service called Taxidatum to arrange for cars to pick us up and drive us around to various locations. The service comes highly rated on Tripadvisor and allows you to make reservations ahead of time. They also communicate via WhatsApp, which allows easy access to their dispatcher to make last-minute changes if needed.

Today we hired a driver to take us from the hotel to three different popular tourist sites near Urubamba. Our first stop was the ruins of Chinchero. The Incan structures and terraces were impressive, creating such strong structures with no mortar. It’s an amazing thing to see how well the Incas were able to cut the stones to fit together so perfectly. Sadly, as with many of the Incan ruins, the Spanish conquistadors built their own structures on top of the ruins at Chinchero.

 

Spanish and European structures built over the Incan ruins at Chinchero

There is no denying that there is a lasting, if not permanent effect leftover in Peru from the Spanish. While the juxtaposition of the architectural styles makes for interesting viewing, I did find myself feeling bad about the lost structures and work of the Incas. Their skills at structural engineering were impressive to say the least, and I would continue to be impressed by their feats throughout our trip.

 

An alpaca wool vendor shows us how they clean and dye the material

After visiting Chinchero we headed over to an alpaca textile factory. Many of these vendors put on short demonstrations to show how they weave and dye the alpaca wool. Perhaps the most interesting technique is the use of a parasite that grows on cactus, which yields a red color when smashed (not sure if it’s just parasite blood…) that can permanently dye wool.

When traveling in Peru it is important to do your research on how to distinguish between real alpaca and synthetic blends, which many vendors try to pass off for the real deal. In general, if the price is too good to be true, it probably is. A truly 100% baby alpaca scarf will run you in the $100 USD range.

 

Incan ruin or fancy alien crop circles?

Next on our route was the archeological site of Moray, which predominately feature these unique agricultural terraces. The different terrace levels have slightly different temperatures. This was an intentional design element as the Incans recognized that some crops grow more effectively at different temperatures.

 

Failed attempt to fly my drone around the perimeter of Moray

Despite having government regulations at customs that require travelers to declare and pay a heavy tax on drones, many of Peru’s famous attractions do not allow drone use. I thought that I could somewhat… circumvent some of these restrictions by taking off outside of the site in question (here in Moray) and then taking photos/video from outside the main tourist area. Unfortunately I was asked to not fly my drone even here.

 

Amazing to see a menu with such a specific ingredient focus

One of the draws for visiting Peru is the food, which is considered to be some of the best in South America. Overlooking the Moray ruins is a relatively new restaurant, created by the chef behind world-famous Central Restaurant in Lima. This restaurant, MIL, takes the idea of local ingredient sourcing to the extreme. All of the ingredients used here are sourced from the Andes mountains, at elevations of 10,000 feet or higher.

 

Taking the concept of location ingredients to an extreme

It was a very unique experience to see the wide range of dishes that one can prepare with a seemingly narrow field of ingredients. However, what you realize after dining at MIL is that the elevation restriction isn’t really a restriction at all. There are thousands of unique ingredients available even at this extreme elevation with which to create beautiful and delicious food.

 

The sea of white salt pans makes this valley a bit other-worldly

Last stop for the day was the Maras salt mines. The normally red valley is abruptly turned white by thousands of salt pans, maintained by the locals. The salt here is gathered and sold to tourists, restaurants, and markets around the country. It was a curious experience to walk among the salt pans, which are virtually unmarked but apparently individually owned. How the locals distinguish one pan from the next amongst the thousands is beyond me.

After a very long day we got to enjoy a couples massage back at the hotel. Due to the favorable conversion rate, and my elite benefit discounts, it ended up being the most affordable massage we’ve ever experienced at a resort. The time was relaxing and a good way to unwind after a lot of walking.

 

Day 3: Machu Picchu

 

Traveling on the Vistadome train to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu

Of course no trip to Peru and the Sacred Valley would be complete without visiting Machu Picchu. One advantage of staying at the Tambo del Inka is the special on-property train station for Peru Rail, which runs a route from Urubamba to Aguas Calientes (the town at the base of Machu Picchu). The train featured the popular Vistadome cars, with a few extra windows to help view the scenery on the two hour ride to Aguas Calientes. The train was relatively empty until we reached Ollantaytambo, which is the last town in the Sacred Valley on the way to Aguas Calientes.

In Aguas Calientes we met our private tour guide who walked us through the town and to the bus station for our ride up to the top of the mountain. The switchbacks going up the steep mountainside grew increasingly narrow, making for a rather harrowing drive.

 

Sweaty from the cardio of a 1200 ft climb but still chilly from the altitude

Before fully exploring the main city and ruins, we set off on a hike up Huaynapicchu, which is the tall peak behind the classic view of Machu Picchu. The climb to the top is a fairly significant gain in elevation. The scramble to the top is made just a bit more difficult by the high elevation. Luckily our guide was very patient and kept us on pace, which is important as there is a time limit to complete the hike up Huaynapicchu.

 

Throwing a shaka while seated on the “throne” of Huaynapicchu

Unfortunately the view at the top of Huaynapicchu was obstructed by cloud cover. When the clouds did pass, we were provided a great view of the city ruins down below. As exhausting as the climb up was, heading back down was equally challenging due to the narrow steps during the descent. Many of the steps are very small and require a slow pace to get down safely. Our hiking sticks and gloves (which allowed easier use of our hands on the scramble down) definitely helped.

 

Machu Picchu
One of the wonders of the world: Machu Picchu

One of the reasons we chose to visit Peru during the off season was to have a chance to visit Machu Picchu without the crowds. While there were certainly far fewer people during our visit due to the slow season, the photo above does involve a bit of Photoshop magic. Using a tripod and a ND filter, I was able to take about a dozen long exposures of the world wonder. In post processing I was then able to stack the various exposures and effectively remove about 99% of the people from the final image.

 

Pictures do not do Machu Picchu justice

It is truly amazing to visit this place and witness firsthand the engineering prowess of the Incas. Walking amongst the stone structures, one can only marvel at the Inca’s ability to construct this city so far up in the mountains without any modern technology. For those looking to visit, I would highly recommend hiring a guide so you can learn about the cultural and historical significance of the various sections of the city.

 

These llamas have absolutely no fear of humans

There are a few families of llama that wander the mountain, who clearly have become accustomed to tourists. Our guide explained that the baby alpaca and llama are herded into protected pens each night to help protect them from mountain lions. We didn’t get to see any predators, but did get up close to several llama and alpaca.

We spent nearly the whole day at Machu Picchu. I would recommend visitors dedicate the day to not feel rushed and really have the opportunity to wander, sit, and just take in the views.

 

The Peru Rail Sacred Valley train features a luxurious interior and dining experience

After descending the mountain on yet another harrowing bus ride, we spent some time wandering the streets of Aguas Calientes. Many travelers spend the night in the town after exploring Machu Picchu. We opted to head back to our hotel in Urubamba, but made the ride back special by taking a train with a full dinner service. Stepping into the train feels like going back in time. It was a unique and comfortable ride back.

 

Day 4: Ollantaytambo & Cusco

 

The view of Ollantaytambo from above in the ruins

Still feeling the burn in our legs from the thousands of steps we took at Machu Picchu, we headed off the next morning to visit Ollantaytambo. The ruins here feature agricultural terraces and an old military fort. These ruins were one of the last strongholds of the Incan Empire during the invasion of the Spanish conquistadors.

 

Just a man out for a walk with his bulls in the streets of Old Town

After viewing the ruins we headed down into the city and explored “Old Town”. Ollantaytambo is a little unique from the other towns in the Sacred Valley in that the streets have remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years. The buildings have been modernized, but the stone streets and waterways are in many places the original structures from the days of the Inca. We spent some time just strolling about town, until it was time to head to lunch.

 

Judy taking a photo with our Hawaii-trained chef

For lunch we walked south of Old Town to one of the most popular hotels in the Sacred Valley, El Albergue. Apart from the hotel the property of El Albergue hosts a variety of businesses including a distillery, coffee roaster, and farm. It was on the farm where we were set to experience a pachamanca lunch. Similar to imu cooking in Hawaii, pachamanca involves cooking foods using hot stones. The stones and food are buried, allowing the food to grill and steam very quickly.

The comparison to similar cooking techniques in Hawaii was surprisingly apropos. We came to learn that the head chef at El Albergue (pictured above with Judy) spent a few years living and working in Hawaii, where he attended the culinary program at KCC. Truly a small world!

 

Everything is so simply seasoned yet full of flavor

The pachamanca lunch experience at El Albergue has a few set times that you can book. We were very lucky and found ourselves the only people during our particular booking, making for a completely private dining experience (the time after us was fully booked with a dozen customers). The lunch featured chicken, pork, lamb, fava beans, and a variety of Peruvian tubers which were all cooked on the hot stones. Eating this traditional and rustic meal outdoors, with the Andes mountains in the backdrop, was a memorable experience.

 

One of the most visited sections of Cusco

Using the Taxidatum service I booked a car to pick us up from Ollantaytambo and take us on the 90 minute drive to Cusco. On the way we made a stop at our hotel in Urubamba to check out and pick up our bags. Arriving in Cusco we headed into the heart of the city to our hotel, the JW Marriott El Convento Cusco, just a five minute walk away from the famous Plaza de Armas.

Once settled in we got changed and took a short walk to the Plaza de Armas for dinner at LIMO.

 

Nikkei cuisine – The fusion of Peruvian and Japanese

LIMO specializes in Nikkei cuisine, the fusion between Peruvian and Japanese food. The origins of Nikkei cuisine in Peru date back to shortly after WWII, with a contingent of Japanese citizens choosing to leave their home country to find new homes overseas. Peruvian ingredients, particularly the freshness of the seafood and vegetables, are a natural compliment to Japanese cooking. Unfortunately, perhaps due to our extensive experience with Japanese fusion back home, we found the food at LIMO a bit lackluster.

 

Day 5: Cusco

 

Portion sizes here are somewhat generous…

After several days of eating a lot of ceviche, potatoes, and Peruvian corn, it was time to indulge in some American comfort food. For breakfast we took a short walk over to a popular spot that serves up big plates of American-style breakfast. Portion sizes here are definitely generous!

To explore Cusco we hired a private tour guide and driver to take us to the main historical sites in and around the city. Our guide met us in the lobby of our hotel to review the day’s itinerary. After agreeing on our plans we headed off on a short walk to the first historical site of the day.

 

Remnants of the original Inca structure serve as the foundation for the church

First up, Qorikancha. The “Temple of the Sun” is one of the most significant Inca structures in any city. Sadly the original structure built by the Incas was mostly demolished by the Spanish, with only the foundation stones remaining. On top of the Incan walls the Spanish built a church and other structures, providing a juxtaposition of architectural styles. It was interesting to see that the Incan walls were, in many cases, in better condition that the newer Spanish structures; a testament to Incan architecture.

 

Cusco Cathedral looms over the famed Plaza de Armas

The church’s influence on historic and modern day Peru can be felt everywhere you go. The Cusco Cathedral looms over the Plaza de Armas, flanked by two smaller churches on either side. The interior of the cathedral is impressive and full of history. Unfortunately they do not allow pictures or video to be taken inside. Suffice to say that stepping into the cathedral felt like being transported to Europe.

 

Massive stones used to built the walls of Saqsaywaman

Following our visit to the sights around the Plaza de Armas, we hoped in the car and headed uphill to the outskirts of Cusco. The first stop was Saqsaywaman (often referred to as “Sexy Woman” by tourists). The grounds of Saqsaywaman are expansive, with sweeping views of the bustling city of Cusco. The main draw for tourists here is to view the massive stone structures. Another testament to the architectural prowess of the Incas, some of these blocks weigh in at over 80 tons.

 

Time to eat some of those cute fluffy animals…

It was time for lunch and our guide recommended a local restaurant overlooking Cusco that was popular among tourists and locals alike. After perusing the menu Judy and I decided to go out on a limb and try some alpaca. Judy went with a stroganoff preparation, which was strangely served with rice and not pasta. I went simple and got an alpaca steak. Alpaca doesn’t taste as exotic as one might expect. The flavor is very similar to other game meat like deer or lamb.

 

Wandering through the ruins and the massive stones

After lunch it was off to Q’enqo, another historic site built by the Incas. The large stones used here were not as symmetrical or squared off as Saqsaywaman. The cooling properties of the stones were used to preserve bodies for various rituals, including alleged sacrifices.

 

This small valley is one of the access points to the Inca trail

Tambomachay has a small area dedicated to a “water temple”, but the site was mostly used as a rest stop for those traveling the Inca trail to and from the Sacred Valley. Several stone structures can be found throughout the small valley.

 

Beautiful mountain backdrop and view from Puka Pukara

The last historic site of our Cusco day tour was Puka Pukara. The reddish stones here are far smaller than other sites we visited, but the expansive views of the valley made the site special. With its vantage point, Puka Pukara was used as a checkpoint of sorts by the Incas. The small fort helped to secure and control access to Cusco for those traversing the Inca trail.

 

Judy having a laugh while feeding some vicuna

On the way back to Cusco our guide stopped off at a small alpaca, llama, and vicuña area where you can feed the animals. This is, of course, a sort of tourist trap as the attached shop sells alpaca and vicuña clothing and other goods. I’m fairly certain that tour guides throughout the Sacred Valley receive some sort of commission for bringing tourists by these shops. That being said we still had a good time feeding the animals and getting to see them up close.

 

Ceviche and Peruvian stew for dinner

Heading in to the day we had pre-booked an evening walking tour of the bohemian art district of Cusco which was to conclude with a pisco sour class. Oddly enough, our tour was cancelled in the morning as this date was Election Day in Peru and the local laws prohibit the sale of alcohol. I would have thought that the tour company should’ve known this before allowing me to book the tour, but we did at least receive a full refund without much hassle.

With our evening tour cancelled we decided to head to an earlier dinner. We walked from the hotel to a popular local restaurant, Inkazuela. This eatery specializes in a variety of Peruvian stews and curries. The warm, hearty stews hit the spot as the nights in Cusco do get chilly during this time of year.

 

Day 6: Pisac, San Pedro Market, & Food Poisoning

 

Pisac Ruins sit one of the highest elevations we experienced on this trip at nearly 11,500 feet

Taxidatum came through yet again with an easy taxi booking to take us about an hour outside of Cusco to the city of Pisac. Due to Election Day the Pisac Ruins were, I think, technically closed. But the driver took us up to the entrance and watched as we sidestepped the short roped off entryway into the ruins. Pisac features a large expanse of agricultural terraces carved into the mountains, with several forts and storage structures throughout the valley.

 

Taking an early stroll through Pisac Market

Below the ruins in the city is the famous Pisac Market. The market has became fairly touristy as its popularity has grown. Many of the vendors sell the same products and souvenirs as stores you can find in Cusco or Lima. While the selection wasn’t as unique or interesting as I had hoped, it was still an experience to walk through the stalls of the expansive market area.

 

One of the largest bird species in the world

On the way back to Cusco we stopped off at the Ccochahuasi Animal Sanctuary. This site houses and cares for several animals, most of which were rescued from unsavory conditions (a puma that was illegally caged as an attraction at a night club for example). While there were several animals here that we haven’t seen before, it was the Andean condor that drew most of the attention. These huge birds are unfortunately endangered.

 

The bustling market of San Pedro

We returned to Cusco and headed over to San Pedro Market. Although frequented by locals, the market has become increasingly popular among tourists. We grabbed some lunch from one of the crowded food stalls and also tried some exotic fruits such as cherimoya and aguaymanto.

 

Much to my dismay the instructor told us wearing the hat was mandatory

Peru is one of the top chocolate producing countries in the world. Their cacao and chocolate making process is known to use less sugar and preserve more of the natural flavor of the cacao than European or Ivory Coast products. We went to a local chain of chocolate stores that holds a chocolate making class. In the class we were able to grind the cacao into its various forms and make out own chocolate.

Later in the evening during dinner is when our bout of food poisoning struck. We’re not 100% sure of the source, but are willing to bet that we got sick from something we ate at San Pedro Market. This unfortunate turn of events hit Judy first, and we ended up taking our dinner order to go and returned to the hotel. I was lucky to remain mostly unaffected until morning, but got sick overnight nonetheless.

 

Day 7: Lima and bed rest

 

One of the most popular malls in Miraflores overlooks the ocean

We woke the next morning feeling pretty miserable. We mustered the strength to check out of our hotel in Cusco, make it to the airport, and hop the short flight back to Lima. There we took another taxi over to the Milaflores area to the last hotel of our stay, the JW Marriott Hotel Lima. Miraflores is a more affluent section of the city and a popular place for tourists to stay. Our hotel room overlooked the coast and the mall down below, built into the cliff side.

Unfortunately our illness struck is very hard. We decided to cancel our plans to head out on a tour of the historic sights of Lima and stayed in bed. I managed to find some medication in the hotel lobby store and had some udon noodles delivered to our room via Uber Eats. We both took the meds we had and crashed in the hotel for the remainder of the day.

 

“Edge of the Desert”: Peruvian uni with cactus juice – Central Restaurante, Lima

Even though we weren’t feeling well we decided to soldier on to dinner. Being sick was terrible for many reasons, but the most disappointing affect on our trip was the impact to our dinner at Central. The famous restaurant, which at the time was ranked as the 6th best restaurant in the world, is situated in the Barranco district just south of Miraflores. The menu here is called Elevations, with each dish comprised of ingredients from a particular elevation and ecosystem found in Peru.

Attention to detail and an almost reverent respect for local ingredients can be felt in each course at Central. There were flavor combinations and textures that were fairly unique. Perhaps the most unusual visual presentation was a dish of crispy piranha skins, which were served perched atop the heads of said piranha.

Although the food was delicious and the restaurant was beautiful, our illness prevented us from finishing the entire tasting menu. We got through about 75% of dinner before needing to call it quits and head back to the hotel. While it was unfortunate that our visit to Central was marred by illness, I was glad that we were able to try at least the majority of the menu.

 

Day 8: Maido and Flying Home

 

Very happy to be feeling well enough to enjoy Maido

After another long night and late morning recovering, we both started to feel a bit better. By midday we felt well enough to head down to the mall across from our hotel to do some light shopping. There we found one of the reputable alpaca clothing brands and purchased quite a few scarves to bring home as gifts for family.

For lunch we headed over to our reservations at Maido, the 7th best restaurant in the world. I was so happy that we were feeling much better and could enjoy our meal in full. Maido is a restaurant specializing in Nikkei cuisine. Unlike our visit to LIMO earlier in the trip, we found the fusion of Japanese and Peruvian flavors at Maido quite delicious.

 

Cuy – Cauliflower cream, garlic rocoto cream, torikara sauce, pachacamac greens

On this whole trip we had thus far avoided trying one of Peru’s infamous delicacies. Cuy, or guinea pig, is a common protein eaten in Peru but one that is certainly unique for those of us from the U.S. Despite some hesitation throughout the trip, when the course arrived I figured that if I were to try cuy, it might as well be at one of the best restaurants in the world. To my surprise guinea pig doesn’t have an odd taste. In fact, as cliche as it sounds, it tasted a little like chicken (or a game fowl).

 

Comfy business class seats on the way home to HNL

After our late lunch we spent the rest of the day relaxing and recovering from the lingering effects of the food poisoning we had endured. We took a late evening flight out of Lima back to Honolulu via DFW. Again we were fortunate to be able to fly in some great business class seats, a welcomed comfort since we were still not feeling 100% better.

 


While the lack of certain modern comforts took some getting used to, our trip to Peru was a unique and incredible experience. Similar to our visit to Iceland, Peru provided amazing landscapes and exposure to a culture we were unfamiliar with. The people here, while nowhere near as frequently English-speaking as Icelanders, were still incredibly warm and welcoming. Although we took steps to ensure the safety of our monies, never did I feel in danger while on this trip.

The only drawback to traveling to Peru was that the country is not as modern or developed as one might be used to. Unfortunately the length of time we spent in Peru eroded our vigilance, which is needed for most western travelers to avoid getting sick from seemingly innocuous sources like water or food

I’d love to return to this part of the world again in the future, perhaps venturing farther south to Argentina or Chile. The Patagonia area is high on my list of adventurous destinations to visit!

 

Tips & Advice for Traveling in Peru

For those who are looking to travel to this amazing destination from the US, there are a few things to keep in mind as you make your plans. I did a lot of research for this trip and while it mostly served me well, I also learned a few things while on the trip that I wish I had known in hindsight. Here are some of the tips and pieces of advice I have for any would-be Peru traveler:

Getting Around

 

  • Peru is a fairly expansive and less densely populated country. While places like Lima and Cusco will involve shorter distances between points of interest, the Sacred Valley is spread out and will involve some lengthy drives. With the exception of Lima, I almost exclusively pre-booked my ground transportation needs through Taxidatum. This service allows you to book your taxi ahead of time to specific destinations or on some package routes. The price for your reservation can be paid in either Peruvian Sole or USD, which is convenient. The dispatcher also uses WhatsApp, making it easy for you to text them for any changes or questions. I highly recommend this service.
  • If you’re flying from Lima to another city such as Cusco, be sure to book the correct ticket price. Most of the regional carriers like LATAM have two prices for their air fares: one for locals and one for visitors. Visitors pay more. Be sure to book the correct ticket, or run the risk of getting held up when you’re trying to board your flight.
  • When using the train to get to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu, be sure to book early to reserve a seat.
  • Be careful about ride share services like Uber in Lima. There are many stories of Uber drivers who will claim they picked you up and charge you, even though they don’t show up. To get around Lima we used the taxi service recommended by our hotel concierge to be safe.
  • DON’T BRING COCA LEAVES WITH YOU TO THE AIRPORT! You cannot bring them back in to the US!!

Communication

 

  • Apart from professional tour guides and hotel concierges, we encountered few people who could speak English. Obviously speaking Spanish would be most helpful, but for those that don’t Google translate seemed to work well for us in a pinch. I actually displayed a message in Spanish on my phone in a restaurant, which solicited a pleasant reaction from our server who really wanted to help us but didn’t speak English.
  • Peru is one of the countries that participates in AT&T’s International Day Pass program. For those that use AT&T for their cell phone, you can essentially roam using your normal plan’s minutes and data (my plan is unlimited, so I had unlimited usage) in Peru for $10/day. Just be sure to call AT&T beforehand to “turn on” the International Day Pass program on your account.

Money and Payment

 

  • Do not exchange USD for Peruvian Sole in the US! The currency exchange rates are horrendous. When you arrive in Lima airport wait until you get down to the baggage and customs area. There are several money exchange counters here that offer a far better rate than I could find in the US.
  • One of the strange things I found in Peru were several billboard signs welcoming you to a town, even a small one, that said “VISA WELCOMES YOU TO…” Credit cards are more commonly accepted than you might expect, especially in any of the areas with decent tourist traffic.
  • Some vendors and services will accept USD, but you’ll want to verify with them first.
  • Peru is a tipping culture, at least when it comes to tourists.

Drones

 

  • You can bring a drone into the country, but you’ll have to declare it on your customs form and pay a roughly 18% tax on the value of the drone.
  • Drones are usually banned from most of the popular tourist spots, but Peru provides a lot of great scenery all around to fly and capture footage of.
  • You can get your drone tax refunded to you if you came in and are leaving the country via Lima airport. There is a rather arduous process to get your tax refunded so it’s recommended that you arrive to the airport earlier than usual to leave enough time. Essentially what you’ll do is check in to your flight at your airlines service counter. You then will walk over to where you exited Customs (when you arrived to Lima). Let the security guard know you need to see a customs officer about getting your tax refunded. They’ll call a customs agent over who will escort you to the customs area (be prepared to get searched and pat down). There the customs people will inspect your drone, verify it’s the same serial # that was brought in to Peru, then issue the paperwork to the customs agent for a refund. From here you’ll head all the way back to your airlines service desk with the customs agent, so that they can stamp your form verifying you have a legitimate outbound ticket. You then walk BACK to the customs area again with the agent, who will then get the payment person to issue you your refund. Once you have your money back you are then escorted to the security checkpoint by the customs agent, who watches to make sure you head past security to get on your flight. The whole process is rather cumbersome (by design perhaps) and takes about 30 minutes. But since most drones will cost you $100-200 in taxes it is worth it to go through the trouble to get your tax payment back.

Sanitation and immunization

 

  • Don’t drink the tap water! Always buy bottled water and order bottled water from restaurants. If you are particularly sensitive you may also want to consider declining any tea or other hot beverage offered to you as you can’t know for sure if tap water was used to make it.
  • Toilets in Peru cannot handle toilet paper. The plumbing infrastructure is not up to more modern standards. All toilets have a little trash can next to them and this is where you should discard your toilet paper, or run the risk of clogging the pipes. For those new to this experience (as we were) it can take some getting used to.
  • Very few public restrooms, especially at historic sights, have soap or toilet paper. I’d recommend you bring your own soap, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper with you even in your day bag. I got some no-roll toilet paper from Amazon (sold for camping) and a pack of alcohol wipes to carry with me at all times. The ones I ordered also came with a few packs of toilet seat covers.
  • Before traveling to Peru our doctor recommended a few boosters and vaccines. I received a Hep A/B, typhoid, and yellow fever vaccines. If you’re traveling to the Amazon, a malaria vaccine may also be recommended by your doctor.
  • Due to the constant sanitation concern, I would recommend bringing some medication for traveler’s diarrhea in case you get it.

Altitude Sickness

 

  • We started our trip in the Sacred Valley, which is at a little lower altitude than Cusco, to help ease into acclimating to the high elevation.
  • Most decent hotels will have oxygen tanks for guests that need it. In Cusco, the JW Marriott El Convento Cusco actually pumped added oxygen into the rooms to simulate an altitude of roughly 6,000 feet (versus the 11,000 foot altitude of Cusco).
  • We drank some coca tea, but honestly couldn’t tell you if it helped prevent altitude sickness or not.
  • Take the first day slowly, especially if you’re like us and normally live at sea level.
  • The high altitude means that alcohol takes effect more strongly. Drink carefully.
  • Although not really altitude sickness, it is good to note that the high elevation makes the sun stronger particularly from a UV exposure standpoint. Sunscreen is recommended!

Buying Alpaca products

 

  • Know your alpaca! There are many vendors who will sell products that they claim are 100% alpaca, but can be a synthetic or sheep’s wool blend. Some sell items that are entirely sheep’s wool. These are often referred to sarcastically as “no-paca”.
  • Real alpaca wool has a much softer texture than sheep or synthetics. It’s also usually cooler to the touch.
  • Real alpaca costs money. Don’t be fooled by shops or vendors claiming 100% real (especially baby) alpaca products that are very cheap. A 100% real alpaca scarf should cost upwards to $100 USD.
  • When in doubt, save your alpaca shopping for reputable “high end” stores like SOL Alpaca.