Frequently Asked Questions About Traveling to Peru
Note: Please keep in mind that on my trip to Peru, I did not visit the Amazon, Colca Canyon, or Lake Titicaca so from lack of personal experience, I cannot speak to those locales.
While I’ve certainly written a slew of posts on my trip to Peru over the years (which you can access here and here for my two best and most popular ones), I never wrote a straight up FAQ post which I know would be helpful for anyone wanting to plan their own trip, because Peru isn’t the type of destination that should overwhelm you.
Do I need a visa to travel to Peru?
For Americans, Canadians, and most citizens of Western European countries, you need a valid passport to enter, but no visa. Upon entry into Peru, you’ll be given what’s called an Andean Immigration Card and on this card it will state how long you’re allowed to stay in the country. When you leave Peru, you’ll hand this card back to immigration officials. For most people from the listed countries, you’ll generally have about 90 days in the country visa-free. Don’t ask for an extension last minute and even more important, keep your Andean Immigration Card in a safe place at all times. You don’t want to deal with the nightmare that is explaining why you don’t have it to Peruvian immigration officials.
What about shots?
If your itinerary only includes Lima, Cusco, and the Sacred Valley (i.e. Inca Trail and Machu Picchu), you do not need a yellow fever shot. First things first, don’t travel outside of the country if you aren’t vaccinated with what I’ll call “common sense” inoculations- tetanus/diphtheria and measles/mumps/rubella. As for actual vaccines, none are required but health organizations do recommend the following-Hepatitis A & B and typhoid. And because the specific locations I listed above are not in tropical areas, you really wouldn’t need to get either a malaria shot or take malaria oral tablets. D and I got shots for Hepatitis A and typhoid, as those were the only two maladies that really concerned me since they’re both tied to water and food. The bottom line is, before you travel to Peru, speak to a medical professional who specializes in travel medicine, since I am in no way a medical expert.
Will I regret it if I don’t hike the Inca Trail?
It all depends on you personally. I didn’t and almost four years later, still don’t regret my decision. For more on this, check out this post I wrote on it.
Do I need to get my tickets for Machu Picchu in advance?
Unless you’re visiting Peru as part of a tour and your tickets will be bought for you, the short answer is YES! And starting last year (2017), the Peruvian government instituted major new changes for visiting Machu Picchu. Entrance tickets to the famed Inca site are now split into two times-a morning time (6AM-12PM) and an afternoon time (12-5:30PM). I’ve read that you need to adhere to the time on your ticket because otherwise you will be escorted to the exit by the authorities (and I don’t doubt this). The other major change is that now all visitors entering Machu Picchu need to be accompanied by a guide! So unlike my visit there back in 2014, when I arrived at the ruins when I wanted to and stayed for as long as I wanted, sans guide. But the Peruvian government has added these changes to help in ensuring the preservation of its country’s most famous site as it’s at risk of being forever lost due to a human footprint that continues to grow each year with more and more visitors traveling there. For a helpful guide on purchasing tickets online click here (because the process was fairly frustrating).
I see there are multiple train options to Machu Picchu. Which one should I take?
Honestly, if money isn’t an issue (i.e. you’re not restricted to doing the Backpacker train option), go with the train that works best for you in terms of schedule and logistics. Although I was interested in riding on the famed Hiram Bingham train (it’s the luxury option), it only leaves from Cusco and I wanted to visit Machu Picchu while we were based in Ollantaytambo, a shorter train ride. So I ended up booking the Vistadome as it left right from the Ollantaytambo train station and of course had a plethora of times to choose from too. Trains to Machu Picchu leave from Cusco, Ollantaytambo, and Urubamba, another town in the Sacred Valley. The bottom line is, all of the trains will offer you some of the most beautiful views you’ll ever see.
There’s a train that goes right to Machu Picchu?
No! All of the trains let you off in Aguas Calientes, a small (tourist) town that’s located right at the foot of Machu Picchu. Once in Aguas Calientes, you will need to purchase bus tickets, as a bus will then take you right to the entrance. (There’s no other way to get there save for walking.) Keep in mind the following-as the day progresses, more and more people will be descending on Aguas Calientes, making the line to purchase bus tickets incredibly long. Some people stay overnight in Aguas the night before they visit Machu Picchu for this reason, so they can be on the first bus of the day to Machu Picchu which starts running at 5:30AM. There are no set departure times, the buses simply depart when they are full. During peak times, the buses are said to depart every 10 minutes. However, if you’re in Cusco, you can purchase bus tickets there in advance. Something to consider to save on time. The spots to buy tickets in Cusco are located at the following addresses:
- Av. Infancia 433 – Wanchaq; 08:00 hrs – 12:45 hrs and 15:00 hrs – 18:00 hrs.
- Av. El Sol 380 – Interbank Bank; 09:00 hrs – 13:00 hrs and 14:00 hrs – 18:00 hrs.
Just remember: Trains leaving Aguas Calientes DO NOT leave from the spot where your arriving train terminated. Please do not make my mistake and have some of the 20 most stressful minutes of your life.
Can I use my credit card?
Save for hotels and more luxury restaurants, Peru is very much a cash society. But the more important thing to remember is that worn, ripped bills, whether they be American dollars or Peruvian soles, will NOT be accepted. Counterfeiting is a serious problem in Peru and as a result, businesses/tour guides are loath to accept any bills that are not absolutely pristine. I had to argue with a driver to accept a bill that was not at all ripped but perhaps had a tiny blemish. He didn’t want to take it but I had nothing else to give.
What’s a good time to visit Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley?
As Peru is located south of the equator, seasons are opposite of what they are in the Northern Hemisphere. Winter in Peru is also the country’s dry season and it runs from May-September. I was there at the tail end of winter (early September) and honestly, the weather was just about perfect. Although nights in the Sacred Valley were quite chilly (pack accordingly, as most likely your hotel will not have any form of heat), with temperatures dipping to the 50s, days were brisk but sunny. Cusco was a tad warmer. Sadly, Lima is just depressing during winter. Although the temperatures are not what we would call “winter” in the northern part of the United States, the skies were bleak and gray, flat out depressing.
What’s one thing I shouldn’t forget?
Sunblock, no joke! The sun is absolutely brutal in Machu Picchu due to its high altitude and believe me, you will be burned badly if you don’t apply sunblock in advance (and reapply depending how long you’re there). I’d also strongly recommend a good hat (thankfully I had my safari Sam-style one I specifically bought for Peru) and sunglasses. I didn’t think to apply sunblock on my hands and naturally I got a bad burn as my hands were always exposed taking pictures. I would also recommend having your skin covered. I saw so many people in skimpy tank tops and shorts and knew they were getting burned.
Should I base myself in Cusco the whole time?
If you want the least amount of changing hotels, able to be unpacked for the entire time you’re in the Sacred Valley, then yes. But honestly, I was a bit disappointed by Cusco (it wasn’t fully what I was expecting) and am glad I was only there two nights and got to experience a more authentic side of Peru from staying in more rural Ollantaytambo.
How do you recommend which sights in the Sacred Valley I should visit?
There’s no shortage of amazing places to check out in the Sacred Valley (the Inca and other civilizations that came before them truly left their mark) so if your time is limited, you’ll want to look at a map and see what fits logistically. Although many people love visiting craft markets in other countries, I was more interested in seeing incredible sights, so while I have no doubt I would have enjoyed the famed Pisac market, I’m happy that I got to visit wonders like the Maras salt pools and the agricultural terraces of Moray.
Is Peru safe?
While the United States State Department would make you think otherwise at times with its warnings, Peru is a safe destination. As I have always stressed and adhered to, use common sense, be aware of your surroundings, and don’t do anything that would deliberately put you in harm’s way (getting intoxicated and then wandering the streets).
A note about Ollantaytambo-I absolutely loved my time there. However, in the evenings once the sun has gone down, it’s very much a shuttered/deserted place with countless darkened streets and alleys (it does date back to Inca times after all). One of the nights we did venture into the town to try dinner somewhere besides our hotel and I have to say the short walk was a bit creepy as there was no one around. I couldn’t help feeling apprehensive.
Lima is a very large city; its population is nearly a million residents. And Peru is very much a developing nation with many of its citizens living in dire poverty and many neighbors you would want to avoid. I always called cabs, as opposed to just hailing random ones from the street. Your hotel/restaurant will be more than happy to do this for you. For tourists, it’s the norm.
What about food and drinks?
Stick to bottled water (including for brushing your teeth) and fruits you can peel. Stay away from meat/fish that looks undercooked or has been sitting out far too long at the buffet and you should be fine. I have an extremely prickly stomach but had no issues while I was in Peru.
Is altitude sickness really as scary as people make it seem? Is it overblown?
No. Altitude sickness is not something to take lightly. Although you can’t know in advance whether or not you’ll be affected by it or how seriously , you should be prepared all the same. Take the time to acclimatize at a lower altitude, don’t employ a rigorous physical schedule your first couple of days, drink lots of water, and lay off the alcohol (or at least excessive amounts). Most important, listen to your body.
What’s one piece of advice you would give?
Most people (myself included) travel to Peru for the sole purpose of seeing Machu Picchu, one of the modern wonders of the world. And yet, there is so much more to see and do in this incredibly diverse and breathtaking country. See Machu Picchu, of course, but also see its many other unofficial wonders because I promise you, you won’t be disappointed.
To this day, my trip to Peru remains one of my absolute favorites.
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