The Sacred Valley of Peru is a feast for the senses—colorful woven fabrics, mountains that soar skyward with little warning (or foothills), an ancient culture full of innovation, and a contemporary cuisine that has emerged from traditional crops, international influence, and creative playfulness among the country’s best chefs. From elevation headaches to photogenic llamas, here’s what to know before adventuring to this wonderful part of the world!
Inca trail permits are limited and sell out quickly. The same can be said for Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain—two hiking options from Machu Picchu that offer a bird’s eye view of the ruins. If you would like to hike, don’t wait until the last minute to plan your trip.
Prepare for a range of micro-climates
Packing light is always recommended (the less you have, the less you have to worry about!) but you will need everything from a warm jacket for nights and higher elevation climates to lightweight, quick dry clothing for Machu Picchu, which is much warmer and more humid. Layers, moisture-wicking material, and wool are all recommended.
Acclimatize before imbibing
Wait a day before trying a pisco sour. It’s easy to get dehydrated just from flying. But you are also landing in Cusco, which is situated about 11,000 feet above sea level. Your body will thank you for not consuming any alcohol that first day while it works to acclimatize. Drink coca tea instead, but don’t try to bring it home. Coca tea is medicinal, and has been consumed by Andean people for hundreds of years to boost energy. It is a wonderful remedy for altitude sickness, and does not cause any adverse effects (though drinking too much can leave you feeling jittery, akin to having too much coffee. Stick to one cup at a time). Since cocaine (illegal in Peru) is chemically produced from the same plant, it is illegal to bring coca tea into the United States.
Ask before photographing people, and be prepared to tip when you do
The first bit of this is common courtesy. The second bit may not always be expected, but is likely. Some situations are obvious; you will definitely see Quechua women in traditional dress, more than willing to pose with their llamas for a small propina. Your guide can offer further advice, but have some Peruvian soles easily accessible just in case.
If possible, arrive one or two days before a tour
An old tale suggests that while traveling, it’s important to pause to ‘let your soul catch up’. Those with less romantic world views may simply call this jet lag. Regardless, extra time allows you to rest, let your bags find you if they are delayed, explore Cusco freely without any agenda, and get used to the higher elevation before any hiking and adventuring begins.
Foodie? Head to Lima
And try the guinea pig. From street food to contemporary twists on indigenous dishes to Michelin-starred restaurants, the culinary scene in Peru is hotter than ever, and Lima is the hub. Guinea pig, or cuy, is a delicacy (and try at least one bite!). You may also now indulge in another pisco sour.