The coast is usually sunny, with little rainfall and makes up about 10% of Peru. This area houses the largest population of people, houses, beaches, valleys and deserts.
Most travelers enter Peru through Lima, a very easy to navigate airport. When you arrive you will have to fill out both a customs form and an immigration form. The immigration form has a top and bottom section; fill out both parts. The immigration officer will keep the top part and return the bottom part to you. YOU NEED TO KEEP THIS IMMIGRATION CARD! DO NOT LOOSE IT! Every hotel or hostel you go to will ask you for your passport and immigration form. Without this you may need to pay additional tax. You will also need to return this form before you leave the country. No one told me this when I got there and I had a moment of panic when I couldn’t find it at our second hotel.
There are lots of things to do in Lima but I would certainly say my favorite things were visiting the San Francisco catacombs, learning to make ceviche and pisco sours, strolling through a local market and visiting the world’s largest public fountain display.
Lima is known for its ceviche and pisco sours. If you are in Mira Flores I would recommend Punta Azul. They had fantastic ceviche, great pisco sours and the staff were so friendly and absolutely hysterical! The prices here are also great!
The Andes, also known as the highlands, take up about 30% of Peru and is dominated by temperate weather that is constantly fluctuating.
Cusco: Cusco is the main destination for travelers entering the Andes. It sits at about 3400 meters or 10,800 feet. This is a big change from sea level and many people experience symptoms of altitude sickness once arriving. This can include anything from headaches, light sensitivity, nausea, feeling tired, having loss of appetite and not sleeping well. I would talk with a doctor about taking diamox, which can help with altitude sickness. Nonetheless, staying in Cusco is a great way to start acclimating to the altitude.
Cusco has some great markets, a beautiful central park, great views of the "white Jesus" (you'll know it when you see it) and buildings that were built to incorporate the foundation of Inca ruins left in the city. Cusco also houses the famous 12 angle Inca stone. Head out and explore the town, but take it easy the first day and give yourself some time to acclimate.
Ollantaytambo: If you are hiking the Lares Trek or Inca trail you will stop in Ollantaytambo. I loved this little town. There are ruins here within walking distance of the city located by an outside market. This town has great food and great accommodations. This town is located at 2900 meters or 9200 feet so if you were not feeling super great in Cusco from the altitude you will most likely start to feel better here.
The Lares Trek: This trek is higher than the Inca trail with its highest point at 4600 meters or 15000 feet. This trail is considered the local trail and as you walk you will see houses, llamas, farms, and local people. The trek takes about 3 days, although this depends on where you camp and what trails you take. If you will be making this journey you will spend the first two days walking uphill and you will summit the highest point on your second day. You will not have a classic porter with you on this trek and instead will be accompanied by donkeys and horsemen. This means you can have a bit more weight then the Inca hikers. Since you will be trekking through local territory with kids you could bring some giveaways. I brought colored pencils, stickers and crayons. Some other people in my group gave out hair ties, toy cars and small games. The kids loved them!
The Inca Trail: If you are hiking the Inca trail you will only be allowed to give your porter 6 kilograms or 13 pounds of weight. That will include your sleeping bag and camping mat if you choose to get one (and I recommend that you do). 6 Kilograms is not a lot of weight so keep that in mind when you are packing. This weight restriction is a government rule and there are checkpoints on the trail that porters will have to go through.
The Inca trail is a step-filled hike and when you think there just wont be any more steps, oh look, more steps! The classic trail hits the highest point around 4200 meters or 13,800 feet. The trail is limited to 500 people per day, with only 200 of that number being trekkers. Interestingly enough a team of 11 trekkers may require almost 20 porters to haul all the gear they will use. The trail is usually walked somewhere between 4-5 days and campsite locations will depend on weather and landslide alerts.
Coca Tea: I made this its own category because I cannot stress enough how much you should drink this tea! Your guides, porters, locals and every traveler will be drinking this as it gives you a nice energy boost, which you will need because the altitude will leave you feeling tired. The tea will be offered to you at breakfast and lunch. Sometimes it is available in tea bags but usually you just steep free leaves in a cup of water. The minimum amount of leaves you should use is ten and then anything over that is just to your own liking. As a side note there are some countries, such as the United States, that have made coca leaves illegal to possess. So, enjoy them in the Andes but leave any extra you have with your porters. They will certainly love you for it!!
Peru Rail: The train to get to Machu Picchu has very nice accommodations and provides snacks and drinks along the way. The train leaves on time, and I mean right down to the second, so do not be late. You will line up by car letter and will be checked in before entering the train. Here is the link for the rail: http://www.perurail.com/
Machu Picchu: Get there early! The first bus leaves Aguas Caliente at 5:30 am and Machu Picchu opens at 6:00 am. The early you get there the less people and by 10:00 am there will be a lot of people. The only bathroom is outside of Machu Picchu, which is at the bottom of the ruins. Keep that in mind as you hike up all the steps to get to the top. The best view is certainty from the top of the terraces. This lets you overlook all of Machu Picchu. This is where I would recommend you go, especially as the sun is starting to come out. There are also two trails at the top that lead to the sungate and the Inca bridge.
Bring your passport with you because at the entrance there is a station to stamp it with the date and picture of Machu Picchu. I would do this on your way out rather than on the way in. You can bring snacks and drinks with you but there are no garbage's around so what you carry in you need to carry out. Machu Picchu is around 2400 meters or 7900 feet so altitude sickness will not be much of a concern here but you may find it more difficult to breath while walking up the steps. Just take your time... the turtle always wins the race!
My biggest piece of advice for packing for the Andes is to pack layers! The temperature and weather fluctuate so frequently that you may find yourself in a tank top one minute and then in a fleece jacket the next.
Rain Gear: If you have pants and a jacket I would bring both. While I was at Machu Picchu it went from a quick sprinkle to very cold, hard downpour. Rain gear made a huge difference. When it did stop raining I was nice and dry, which made for a better remainder of the day. Weather on the Lares and Inca trail can also change very quickly so having rain gear handy is a must. I recommend keeping it on the top of your pack rather than stuffed at the bottom.
Bag Liner: I took the extreme thermolite reactor liner (check the gear tab for a link). This liner can add an extra 25 degree F/ 14 degree C to your bag. Since it got to be freezing the extra warmth certainly helped.
Hiking Poles: I brought my poles with me because they have a go pro attachment for the top, which was very handy, but it was a pain carrying them around to all of the other places I traveled to because they did not easily back into a small duffel. You don’t necessarily have to bring these with you but I would definitely recommend renting them. Your guides will have them and will also recommend them. The terrain is rugged with lots of up and downs. The poles are great for helping you step up and down and if you happen to get off balance at all they are great for preventing a nasty fall. Poles are not allowed into Machu Picchu so if you are only going there and not hiking you definitely do not need them.
Fleece Jacket: It can get cold in the Andes! I was there in May and it was literally freezing at night!
Hiking Boots: I would recommend wearing hiking boots that have ankle support. The terrain is pretty uneven and there were more then a few saved ankles in my group from having higher hiking boots.
Bag Cover: I would have a bag cover handy for your backpack in case it starts to rain. Some people used ponchos (like the ones you would see people wearing at Disney) that covered themselves and their backpack. Check the gear tab to see my bag cover.
Toilet Paper: There are a lot of places, especially in markets, that you have to pay to use the restroom and toilet paper will not be provided. I would bring at 1-2 roles of campers toilet paper to use. The Lares trek bathrooms all had toilet paper at the campsites but many of the Inca trail bathrooms did not.
Plastic Bags or Dry Bags: The Andes can be very damp and gear can get wet even when it is not raining. I would try t keep your clothes and camera gear in bags to keep them from getting wet. I would bring a variety of bag sizes if possible. You may find yourself unpacking and repacking your stuff pretty frequently as you change locations and activities. I brought a mixture of quart, gallon and dry bags.
The amazon is a hot, tropical region, characterized by lush vegetation that takes up roughly 60% of Peru.
The amazon was one of my favorite parts of the trip. There were so many exciting things to learn and see. My guide did a wonderful job of finding all sorts of critters like tarantulas, toucans, and monkeys. He also told our group about the legend of the “El Chula Chaqui”, which can take the shape of any human being. Guides in the jungle never call out to someone they cannot see and for good reason. They do not want to be lured jeep into the jungle and lost forever. Our guide also showed us a plant that is used for dying. I was on the hunt for some war pant and after mixing the plant with some water he painted my face. Truly awesome!!
Bug Spray: There are lots of little critters in the amazon and taking some preventative measures with bug spray could really save you some itching at the end of the day. I brought a 0.475 oz bottle of repel 100-bug spray. I did not have any problems with running out of bug spray. For those of you who have known severe bug allergies I would talk with a physician about bringing an epi-pen. The locations are remote and once again better to be safe then sorry.
Rain Boots and Hiking Poles: I would highly recommend these as the amazon is wet and trudging through muck can sometimes have you stumbling a little. I would double check where you are staying because these may be available for rent or even free of charge. The lodge where I stayed had a boot room with hiking sticks and boots, which were available for guests to use for free
Long Pants and Long Sleeves: The longer the sleeves and pants the less bites you will most likely get. It may be a little warm and wet, since it is a rain forest, so I recommend quick drying, wicking materials. I also recommend loose fitting rather than tight fitting clothes. I wore leggings on my first day of hiking and some bugs with exceptionally good biting abilities were able to get me through my pants. I asked a few different guides about the color of your clothes while in the amazon and I got varying answers about dark versus light colors. I was wearing dark colors and seemed to do fine while another girl I was with was wearing lighter colors and also had no problems.
High Sock: I recommend high socks for two major reasons. The first reason is you will most likely be wearing rain boots or at the very least high hiking boots. The boots can sometimes rub so covering your ankles can help prevent any chaffing. The second reason comes back to those lovely bugs again. The more skin area you can cover the less bites you will most likely have.
Rain Gear: Since it is a rain forest I would expect some rain. I had both rain pants and a rain jacket. If I went back I would probably only carry my rain jacket. The pants I had were fast drying and with the rain boots it would have been difficult to slip the pants on if it did start pouring.
Bag Cover: I would have a bag cover handy for your pack in case it starts to rain. Check out the gear tab to see my bag cover.
Tip #1: Pack LIGHT! Be PORTABLE! Just about everything you do in Peru will most likely have you moving pretty frequently. A lot of the areas are not rolling bag friendly and just about everything is uphill and/or will require a bit of walking.
Tip #2: Change your money at a bank location. The airport exchange booth did not have a good rate and many of the street vendors have been known to give out fake money. If you are going with a tour your guide or driver knows the really good places so just ask them to make a quick stop for you.
Tip #3: Leave room in your bag when you pack because you will want to buy way more stuff then you think. Everything in Peru is beautiful and there are artisan markets all over the place. I thought Cusco was one of the best places for shopping and honestly if I had the room I could have brought way more stuff back with me.
Tip #4: When in Peru, do like the Peruvians. Basically, drink the Coca Tea!
Tip #5: Have a good attitude and be willing to bend a little as weather or plans change. Peruvians are wonderful people and no matter where you are you will have a wonderful time!