Trust me, Peru Itinerary Planning is TRICKY
Oh wow, you’re going to Peru and are now Peru Itinerary Planning? Wait, timeout. You’re going to see Machu Picchu? I have NEVER heard of that before. You’ll be like the ONLY one there. Wow. That is such an original idea!!
Okay, okay. I’m totally joking here. When you go to Peru you have to go to Machu Picchu. And even with the crowds and the difficulty of getting there, I am happy to report that the experience is totally worth it. So enjoy because it really is an adventure of epic proportion when you’re backpacking in South America.
But if you are anything like me, you order your Lonely Planet Guide to Peru, off Amazon, right after you book your flight because, let’s face it, you want to be prepared and see everything there is to see.
Once your order is complete, you keep refreshing your Amazon app, tracking the order, hoping against hope that it will arrive immediately because you want to see the cool things that Peru has to offer. I mean, there has got to be more to the country than Machu Picchu right?
Well yes. Most countries have a wealth of cultural treasures that extend beyond a single cultural icon. And Peru is no exception to this rule. But planning a trip to Peru is tricky. I should know because I made a ridiculous number of mistakes when planning my trip there. I mean, I hadn’t even left the country and I was already destroying a 3-week tour of this delightful, South American country (I’m surprised my poor planning didn’t cause an international incident.).
So before you dig into some Peruvian ceviche and chase it down with a neon yellow Inca Cola, I suggest you take a second to skim through this article and read about my Peru Itinerary Blunders and the Mistakes You Need to Avoid to have the BEST Vacation in Peru (Wish I had read this Peru Bolivia Itinerary before I planned my trip). Because let’s keep it real, I’m not some ultra-cool, travel guru. I am just a woman who loves to travel and who makes a TON of mistakes along the way. But that’s totally fine because we laugh about them here and you thank God you’re not me, and then you avoid my mishaps because as they say in School House Rock, “Knowledge is Power!” (If you don’t know School House Rock you should youtube it. They have some of the best songs. Like, “conjunction junction, what’s your function?”. Too bad a melody doesn’t translate via a blog.) And because of this post, you have the knowledge and power to have the best Peru Trip possible.
1. Assuming Peru is a tropical paradise
Kelly’s Brain: “Oh hey, Peru is right near the Amazon and near the Equator, so it will be super hot there. I will just bring a ton of suntan lotion, shorts, and t-shirts. That should be good. It’s not cold there or anything…”
Talk about famous last words. No! This is a lie! Don’t believe a word your brain tells you. Peru is freaking freezing. That’s why they have Alpacas. They use their fur to keep warm. I know this was shocking to me but just because it’s South America and it’s near the Equator, doesn’t mean it’s hot.
Truthfully, I have no idea what I was thinking because Peru lies across the Andes Mountains. And the Andes are not pip squeak mole hills. They are like Big Bertha Big. Like, Mount Everest Big. Okay maybe not that big, but when you reach those high altitudes, it gets cold!
So don’t be the chump who plans a 3 day Cusco itinerary, practically freezes, and then has to buy all the most expensive Alpaca gear at the local tourist trap because she has nothing to wear and her lips are turning blue (No. That wasn’t me. That was a friend. I errr am WAY more savvy than that. Pssh. Insert fake eye roll.) Seriously, who buys alpaca leg warmers in some weird Aztec print? What was I thinking? h wait, clearly I wasn’t.
2. I’ll just nonchalantly stroll through the Amazon. No biggie.
Yeah no. I think I am the only human being who suddenly realized, “Oh gee, it’s the rainforest. There may be some tropical diseases that I MIGHT want to take precautions against. You know, like Malaria.”
This is all sadly true by the way. I really forgot all about Malaria until like three weeks before my trip. I was gonna just go and hope for the best, but then I remembered this sad movie about Malaria with Hillary Swank (of course it’s sad, all Hillary Swank movies are sad.). Well, I won’t give it away but the movie scared me enough to NOT want to get Malaria.
I then think, “Ehh. No problem. I’ll just roll up to my doctor, grab a prescription, and head on my merry way to meet Tarzan in the jungle (Sorry Jane. You’re not invited.). No big deal.” WRONG!! You have to go to an infectious disease doctor (at least in the US) to get Malaria pills. But you can’t just go because they are fancy smancy specialists that require an appointment like a month in advance. So yeah, that was stellar. I could get an appointment AFTER my trip. Yes. That is so super helpful. Just kidding. It was awful.
I ended up skipping the Amazon because I couldn’t get Malaria pills in time (all this would have cost an arm and leg too because it was NOT covered by my insurance since my travel plans were “elective”. Thanks lousy American healthcare.) Moral of the story, make an appointment to get Malaria pills more than a month before your trip, if you’re planning to travel to the Amazon or any place where mosquitos carry Malaria. This way, you will get to see the Amazon and not have to worry about all the killer, infectious diseases that the mosquitoes are carrying around you (No. You’ll just have to worry about the 10,000 other things that can kill you in the Amazon. Just kidding. The Amazon has pink dolphins so it’s all good.).
3. You’ll just stroll up the Inca Trail and hike up to Machu Picchu. No one would ever want do that.
HAHAHA. That’s really what I thought. I literally read this book and was like, “Oh wow. That sounds so romantic. I want to camp along a jungle trail and retrace the historic steps of the Inca people.” I could just imagine ascending the mountain with just my pack on my back and a canteen in hand (I dunno. That just sounds way more Indiana Jones than a water bottle.). As I finally reach the crest of the hill, as sweat steadily drips off my furrowed brow, I look up and see the sun glimmer off of the timeless beauty and majesty that is Machu Picchu; a settlement lost in time.
Sounds pretty stellar, right? Well that’s what I thought too, until I decided to book the trip. First of all it is like $600 and takes four days (There are also two and five day options but four days is the classic choice.). Now, I am by no means an Olympic athlete, so four days trekking might kill me. I mean I lift food to my mouth, does that count as exercise? Plus factor in the altitude and I would have just another discarded ruin along the way.
This is also my not so sneaky way of reminding you to prepare physically before undertaking this hike. But aside from all that, apparently this “majestic trail” is a highway because it gets sold out like 6 months in advance (I know they have a limited number of tickets but still. A lot can change in 6 months. I mean, I could get married! Just kidding. There is a greater chance that I would get eaten by a heard of cats. Especially if he reads this blog.).
Well, needless to say, I did not make it to the Inca trail because I did not plan far enough in advance. So don’t be like me and book your trek WAY in advance (FYI there is also a good Inca Jungle Trek that is a fun alternative to the Inca trail. Plus, this trail is less famous and therefore, easier to book.)
4. Train Travel is NOT faster and easier than bus travel, at least in Peru.
When I traveled to Peru, i had not used public transportation abroad in a really long time. Therefore, the only public transportation reference I had was my experiences with it in China. There, the train is usually the fastest and most economical way to get around the country. Well, silly me, i assumed that this generality would be true for Peru too. I mean Peru and China are like totally the same country right? Just kidding. Nope. Not even a little bit.
Because of my mistaken beliefs, I booked some weird, luxury train from Cuzco to Lake Titicaca and not only was it expensive, the trip took forever. After awhile i was like enough of the Andes, I want to get to the damn lake. Plus I need to pee and these bathrooms don’t smell that luxurious. Okay maybe that was just me but to make a long story short, I forgot that the Andes Mountains cover most of Peru. And because they are so high, the fastest and easiest way, apart from flying, to get around Peru is by bus (FYI some bus companies seem to get attacked by robbers so just make sure you invest in the more expensive tickets with the better bus companies.). So back away from the train and rock your bus pass instead.
5. No big deal, i’ll just book the train to Machu Picchu when I get to Peru. It’s off season anyway.
LIE!!! The train to Machu Picchu is always packed, and yes, that’s the only way to get there. So if you think you’ll just take a car or bus there, you won’t because a road doesn’t exist. The only way to get to Machu Picchu is through Aguas Calientes and you can only get there by train (or if trek along the infamous Inca Trail).
Well, thank God I managed to secure a ticket because it was a little dicey for a while there. And mind you, this was in the off season. Just imagine how difficult it would to secure a ticket to Machu Picchu in high season. That’s why you should just book your train ticket to Machu Picchu well in advance (The ticket will be to Aguas Calientes since that’s the name of the town at the base of the mountain. I suggest spending the night there and then heading to Machu Picchu in the early morning, when the mountain is less crowded.)
6. Nazca looks nice. I’ll spend a few days there and relax after seeing the Nazca Lines.
Hmm… How do I put this delicately? There is nothing to do in Nazca and it is not the safest place to be (The hotel owner would not let me go to the ATM alone because he said I would get mugged.). Plus, people really only visit Nazca for the Nazca Lines, so the city tries to manufacture a bunch of tourist attractions that are honestly, pretty lame. Truthfully, I really don’t care about some ancient water filtration system, thanks.
So don’t waste your time here. Get in the plane, see the Nazca Lines, and bounce. Nothing else to see or do here (Get the most expensive plane ticket because the vendor told me, “The C planes are low quality and leave in the afternoon and crash a lot. I would purchase an A ticket instead.” After that comment I was totally freaked out and thought I would die in a firey ball of airplane wreckage, but I did get the A ticket and lived to tell the tale. Phew!).
7. Oh awesome. My hotel will be vintage and romantic near the quaint, historic, “Old Town” of Lima, Peru.
So umm yeah. I kind of just looked at the price of my hostel and didn’t actually consider why it was so cheap. And I should have known something was up because even the cab driver didn’t want to drive me there. But once I got there, I knew it was super sketch. Not only was the place dilapidated, but I could hear gun shots outside and was terrified that if I put my bare feet on the floor, I would contract some weird flesh eating virus.
That’s why you should ALWAYS look at independent reviews of a hotel/hostel before you make a reservation. This way, you can confirm that the place you are staying is not in fact, some whack roach motel (I mean, I’m not a wuss. I have held hissing cockroaches as a naturalist, but that doesn’t mean I want these skeevy things sleeping with me at night).
Also, be VERY wary of cab drivers. I have heard horror stories of cab drivers stealing people’s things or abducting them altogether. Therefore, only ask for a taxi from a reputable, tourist attraction like a museum or hotel. DO NOT hail a taxi directly from the street. And yes, you will need a taxi, in Lima, because the only other public transportation available is the bus. But don’t be nervous. I ran into no problems and I attract disaster like the Titanic. So I wouldn’t lose too much sleep over it. Just be careful.
8. Rainbow Mountains? What rainbow mountains?
I feel totally ripped off. I went to Peru back in 2013 and there was no talk of a Rainbow Mountain Trek in Peru, right around Cuzco! And trust me, I went to like a bazillion different tour operators. So instead of mind blowingly beautiful rainbow mountains, all I got was a lousy tour of an aqueduct (I guess I missed out because they weren’t a “thing” when I went to Peru. They weren’t even in my guide book! I want my money back!). Okay, it wasn’t that bad but have you seen the Rainbow Mountain? I would much rather have gone there than to some glorified swamp that passed for a, “historic water filtration system”.
So if you’re headed to Cuzco, make time for this trek. You won’t be disappointed. It looks super cool and I’m still resentful that no one ever mentioned this epic mountain to me when I was there (Envision an adult temper tantrum where I am whining and stamping my feet. Okay, done guys. Thanks for letting me keep it real.).
PS If you want to check out more fun things to do in Peru, click Here.