Four Things I Learned in Peru (+ One Bonus Tip)

Hiking the Inca Trail in PeruTravel in a new country is a steep learning curve. Cultural nuances take shape before your eyes. Local dialects sort themselves out within a matter of days. What you found in a guidebook is good to the extent that it exists as a two-dimensional depiction of a place.

Though I only spent eight days in Peru—three days in Cusco, one day in Aguas Caliente and four days on the Inca Trail—I did pick up a few nuggets of wisdom. If you’re traveling to Peru, here are four things I learned that might help you … and one extra thought worth considering as you venture forth into the heart of the Incan Empire.

1. Under Armour and SmartWool are indespensible. If you hike the Inca Trail, it will most likely rain somewhere along your journey. If you aren’t drenched from the rain (and even if you are), you will also sweat … a lot. Your body has little choice when it’s climbing that high at such a steep incline. Moisture-wicking clothing will keep you dry and warm on your trek. Look into purchasing good-quality Under Armour and SmartWool products before you leave for your trip.

2. In conjunction with the first tip, no matter the durability, cotton is bad. It will stay damp and it will smell … and chances are you will have to put it on day in and day out. Even if you bring clean cotton clothes to wear every single day of your trip, your dirty, day-old, soggy cotton wear will sit in its own stench, turning into its own creative form of fungus as it festers in the bottom of your bag. There is a lot of humidity in the Cusco area and in the Andes. Clothing will not dry on its own accord.

3. Yes, it rains a lot. But it’s also sunny. And cool. And hot. And foggy. And … Well, chances are the weather will change. If you can’t get the perfect picture because of cloud cover, wait five minutes and it is very possible that the sky will clear. As you’re getting ready for your day on the town, does it look sunny and warm? Don’t forget to pack a rain jacket or sweater because you’re probably going to need one.

4. Exchanging money is a given. But in Peru, the condition of the money is key. Here, broken money is worthless. Don’t expect to exchange any paper money that is worn, torn or otherwise in imperfect condition. Come prepared with crisp, new dollar bills to exchange for the local currency.

BONUS TIP:

Something is up with the LAN Airlines scheduling situation. On all LAN Air flights we were on, we were asked to bump to the next available flight, which was always the same time on the next day. If you are flying LAN Air, arrive extra early to ensure you receive your seat. Otherwise, play the flex game and earn flight vouchers for additional travel to, from and in South America.

18 Responses to “Four Things I Learned in Peru (+ One Bonus Tip)”

  1. telecommatt

    We returned from a similar trip a few months ago. All your tips are dead on, especially the broken money– something we don’t worry too much about here. We spent more time around the Cuzco area before heading to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu.Here are two additional tips we picked up.

    1.) Ask at your hotel/hostel what the going rate for a taxi is before you catch one. And ask the driver the cost before you get in the car. One driver told us 70 soles and then tried to tell us it was 70 soles each when we got to our destination.

    2.) Carry as many small bills as you can. ATM’s give out cash in 100 soles (when they are working), but small stores and market stalls won’t take these large bills and can’t or won’t change them. We found this especially true in the market at Pisac.

    Reply
  2. kaleidoscopicwandering

    You’ve definitely hit on two more great tips. Thanks for the addition!

    On a side note to your tip about the price of taxis, it costs an extra sole to go to the Cusco airport because taxis have to pay a fee to get in and out of the airport parking lot.

    Reply
  3. Marina

    Thanks for the tips. I have yet to make it to South America but am looking to get down there soon.

    Reply
  4. Anil

    I *will* definitely keep #4 in mind and try to stick to coins if possible. Do they have larger denominations in coin?

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      Hi Anil ~ The largest coin is 5 nueves soles, which is about U.S.$1.50. From there the paper money goes from 10 nueves soles up. The problem isn’t so much the Peruvian money as it is with the money you bring to exchange for the Peruvian money. Any U.S. dollar bill that we had that was folded, torn (even slightly), bent, faded or worn was denied.

      Reply
  5. Andi

    Great tips! I loved my time in Peru, although I did break my ankle (and there is no concept of handicap accessibility in the country) and several flights/tours were canceled for no reason. So I would add “patience” as #5 on your list. 😉

    Congrats on hiking the trail! I wanted to, but alas didn’t have enough time…

    Reply
  6. Abby

    For some reason, I find their money snobbery entertaining!

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      It’s entertaining until you get stuck in a situation where you actually need to pay for something!

      Reply
  7. Abi

    “your dirty, day-old, soggy cotton wear will sit in its own stench, turning into its own creative form of fungus as it festers in the bottom of your bag.”

    That’s certainly made an impression! Thanks for the tips…

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      Glad it made an impression … it’s certainly true!

      Reply
  8. Cam

    I remember arguing with many vendors and taxi drivers over currency that was slightly ripped on the corners… completely ridiculous!

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      Definitely ridiculous. I always ask for the crispest money at the bank before I travel now.

      Reply
    • JoAnna

      You’re welcome. Enjoy your trip to Peru!

      Reply
  9. Natasha

    Leaving for Peru on July 4th. Never knew about the torn, worn money. Glad I stumbled upon your site!

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      Enjoy your trip … and take lots of new money! Leave the wrinkly stuff at home!

      Reply
  10. Dana @ Green Global Travel

    I have never been to Peru so I cannot comment on the usefulness of this advice but I’m happy I stumbled upon this article. If/when I do end up visiting Peru, I will totally take advantage of this advice! Thanks for sharing.

    Reply

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