Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Reader Question - Going to Peru? Issues and Concerns

I'm fascinated by your trip to Peru. I've traveled a lot but always been hesitant about South America. Did you have any problems/issues/OMG I'm never coming back moments?
                                                                                        - Rob P. , Rocky Mountains, USA

Hey Rob -

Thanks for your question! Personally I loved Peru- probably one of my favorite trips. Its a wonderful country with tons to see and do. Overall, it also felt very safe, but that probably depends on your comfort level and where you are visiting. I mainly took overnight buses to get around and stayed in hostels on the nights I wasn't traveling. (You can read more about my overnight bus adventures here and here.) I was only able to spend a week touring Southern Peru, but I hope to explore more of South America in the future.

The US state department also gives the country a pretty positive rating: "Peru is a developing country with an expanding tourism sector. A wide variety of tourist facilities and services is available, with quality varying according to price and location. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Peru for additional information."

Obviously Machu Pichu and the surrounding Sacred Valley and Cusco are very tourist friendly. Its easy to find a wide range of eating and sleeping options to fit your travel preferences. The nearby cities of Puno and Arequipa are also great to visit and well set up for travelers. I didn't see Northern Peru, but I have heard that its slightly less tourist friendly.

Another great thing about Peru is that (at least when I visited back in 2008) its relatively cheap, especially compared to prices in Europe. You can find great accommodations for very reasonable prices, especially in areas with lots of competition like Aguas Calientes (near Machu Pichu).

As far as issues or "lesson learned" (as we call them in the exciting world of consulting), I would say that my first major surprise was the weather. I for some reason had gotten it in my head that Peru would be warm verging on tropical. Obviously this was completely misguided. Peru can be cold, sometimes freezing depending on what time of year you go. (Also remember they have opposite season from the US). In addition, some parts of Peru, such as Lake Titicaca are in very high altitudes making them even colder. Make sure you pack for the weather. Check out this post for tips on how to handle bad weather when traveling.

Speaking of high elevation, Altitude Sickness is not unheard of Peru. Many people experience headaches and shortness of breathe when exploring these areas. Usually a few aspirin or altitude sickness medication can help cut down on the symptoms. I also found that the local remedy of Coco Tea helped a lot. If you are reasonably in shape and don't push yourself too much, you should be fine.

Another thing that surprised me about Peru was how much I disliked Lima. I am sure its a wonderful city if you take the time to explore it, but I found that I much more enjoyed the cities I visited in the South. My recommendation is to spend maybe a day in Lima, just enough time to walk around the city and see the Plaza de Armas.

My final warning would be that petty theft isn't unheard of in Peru. My friend actually did get pick pocketed on the overnight bus to Puno. Make sure to keep your valuables with you at all times and don't carry anything worth too much. If you use common sense and normal safety precautions you should be fine.

That's all the advice I have for Peru. Obviously I didn't go off the beaten path very much on this trip and I highly recommend doing research before heading out on your own. Make sure to read the state department travel notes and check out reputable guide books before you go.

Do you have any lessons learned from a trip to Peru or South America? Leave your tips in the comments below!

[Do you have a question you would like to see featured as my "Reader Question?"  Find me on twitter @ElizabethJ_Bird or e-mail me at Elizabethjbird at ]


Rob said...

Thanks for the insights. I think you've convinced me that a Peru/Argentina trip is going into the plans...

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