Let’s be honest: as magnificent as it may be, Machu Picchu in Peru is not the easiest of places to get to. There are planes, trains and buses involved, not to mention all the various hiking trails that can take you there on foot. Luckily this doesn’t stop the thousands of visitors who make each year the pilgrimage to Machu Picchu – and you shouldn’t be deterred either! We hope that this Peru travel advice can help with a smooth preparation.
Tom Panagos, PR Manager for the World Expeditions UK office, knew he would have less than 10 days on the ground, so to maximise his time in Peru, he did extensive research before fulfilling what upon his return he described as “the trip of a lifetime”.
He shared some first-timer tips and advice to make the most of your trip to Peru.
1. Don’t do the Inca Trail… unless your heart is really set on it
Many people postpone or give up altogether on the idea of a trip to Peru because they think getting to Machu Picchu is too complicated and they need two or three weeks, especially if they want to see other parts of the country too. They shouldn’t! The Inca Trail is not the only way to reach Machu Picchu; it is doable as a day trip from Cusco (though it will make for a long day!), or you can also do the ‘mini Inca Trail’, i.e. the last section of the trail, which is what I would do when I go back. Not only is it the most beautiful section of the Inca Trail, but it also lets you reach Machu Picchu on foot and get your first glimpse of the site from the famous ‘Gateway of the Sun’.
2. Once is not always enough
Machu Picchu is so vast, not to say mesmerising, that my advice would be to add a second visit back to the ruins – not only so that you can see more of it, but because this way you can really take it all in! This is what I did and we would highly recommend it. Our first visit took place in the afternoon with a guide and it was very informative, we then returned the following morning for a bit more of exploration on our own. It is also worth bearing in mind that the weather at Machu Picchu can be very unpredictable so going back also maximises opportunities for better photographs, as you can never tell when the sun will come out. Friendly advice: Everything you’ve heard about the queues for the bus is true, so make sure you allow enough time!
3. Save the best for last
Not everyone who arrives at Cusco realises that they land at 3,400m above sea level… Let alone that, unless you are coming from North or Latin America, you are in for at least six hours of time difference! Of course, different people respond to high altitude in different ways – and it certainly doesn’t affect everyone – but dealing with jetlag at the same time can be tough on your body and may prevent you from enjoying the trip fully.
So, my bit of Peru travel advice for anyone who is looking to also travel in various parts of the country; it would be sensible to leave Cusco (and Machu Picchu) for the end of their itinerary. This way your body will have adjusted to the local time so it only has the high altitude to deal with, and of course you will finish your trip on a high, both literally and figuratively.
4. Catch your rays carefully
Peru is a year-round destination but most visitors opt to travel between May and October, which coincides roughly with the country’s dry season. Although there are climate variations between Peru’s three main regions (coast, highlands and jungle), no matter where you are or what time of the year you are visiting don’t let those clouds fool you. Peru is just south of the Equator so the sun is much stronger than what most of us are used to.
Make sure you wear good sunglasses to protect your eyes and don’t forget a high-SPF sunscreen. Especially at higher elevations such as Cusco, you may burn your skin without realising. In fact, we noticed that even our local guides were putting sunscreen on, even when the sky was overcast!
5. Remember there is more to Peru than Machu Picchu
Peru is the world’s 19th largest country by area – or, simply put, 10 times the size of England – so it would be a shame to restrict yourself only to Cusco, Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley in between. Even on a fast-paced tour like ours, we got the chance to comfortably travel on the Pan-American Highway along the coast to see the enigmatic Nazca Lines (visiting en route the ‘mini Galapagos’, a pisco winery and the only oasis town in the Americas) and enjoy a full day in capital Lima. But there are so many options. Cusco itself is only a short hop on the plane from Puerto Maldonado, the gateway to the Amazon, and there are direct train services to Puno and Lake Titicaca, on the border with Bolivia. The north of the country is rich in history with sites such as Chan Chan (the world’s largest adobe city) and Kuelap (which are now easier to access thanks to a new cable car). Then there is Colca Canyon in the south, which, twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, is home to soaring condors. My motto for every trip is: “If you go all the way there, you may as well make the most of it!”
We hope this little bit of Tom’s Peru travel advice for first timers has been useful for you. If you have any other queries or like our support deciding what to do on your trip to Peru, please feel free to contact our teams around the world, or browse our range of Peru trips.