Visiting Peru For the First Time – Everything you Need to Know

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I can finally say I’ve been to Peru. I’ve seen the glorious Incan ruins of Machu Picchu, I’ve scaled the steep stairs in the city of Cusco, and I’ve eaten myself into a potato-induced-coma in Lima (Peru has over 3,000 different types of potatoes). But I didn’t do my research before I arrived, because all the thinking was done for me by booking a tour with Trafalgar.

However if you’re doing it on your own or want to research before your tour departs, here’s everything you need to know!

Machu Picchu

Visiting Peru for the First Time

When to Go

Though travellers visit Peru year-round, the best (and most popular) time of year to visit is the dry season, which runs from May-October. If you plan to visit Peru during this time and wish to hike (there are some great day hikes aside from the 4 day Inca Trek), be sure to book in advance as permits book out 6 months in advance.

Where to Go: Lima, Cusco, Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu

You might have heard from other travellers that Lima isn’t worth visiting. Sure, Lima is not as impressive as Rio de Janeiro or as charming as the European streets of Buenos Aires, but it certainly has enough charm to keep you busy for a couple of days. The food alone is reason enough to visit as Lima is the gastronomic capital of South America! Regardless, you’ll be passing through Lima in transit so why not stay a couple nights to rest before your adventure in the Andes.

After Lima, you’ll catch a flight to Cusco, the region in which you will find the renowned Machu Picchu – Peru’s biggest draw card for international tourism. While most travellers choose to stay here overnight upon arrival (as it is cheaper to stay in Cusco than the hotels nearer to Machu Picchu), it is a long day if you choose to visit Machu Picchu by train in just one day. Besides, you will have to leave Machu Picchu to return to Cusco on the train before 4pm, of which is the perfect time to take photos because most of the tourists have gone (be aware that Machu Picchu closes at 5pm – so you have an hour to yourself for photos).

Then there’s the Sacred Valley to consider, which has many great points of interest to stop along the route to Machu Picchu. If you decide to journey by bus (as I did with the tour group) or by car, there are many great places to stop to view Llamas, traditional handicrafts, and exceptional views.

A note on Altitude

If you’re worried about altitude — don’t be. Most people are fine and do not feel the effects of altitude at all, especially if you drink plenty of water. If you do start to feel dizzy or short of breath, a great solution is to sip coca tea throughout the day (it is served everywhere).

To alleviate symptoms further, eat lights meals, avoid cigarettes and alcohol, and eat a few hours before bed to allow for digestion.

A note on Health (water, bugs, etc.)

The most obvious tip: drink plenty of water. How much is plenty? At least 2-3 bottles per day.

Never drink the tap water – don’t even risk brushing your teeth, especially in the Andes.

Bring sunblock, the UV rays are strong – especially up at Machu Picchu!

Bring bug spray – you’ll thank me later. Machu Picchu is crawling with little flies.

Avoid street food and instead opt for decent restaurants – where you can still sample great regional cuisine.

A note on FoodΒ 

Back to the foodΒ – what should you try in Peru!?

Being a vegetarian, I couldn’t try a lot of the local delicacies. I could however sample a little potato here and there (there are over 3,000+ different types in Peru), as well as sampling chicha, a regional drink in cusco made of corn. You might also like to try Pisco Sours in Peru, and if you have a sweet tooth grab an alfajor on-the-go.

For the meat lovers, local delicacies include ceviche and cuy (aka guinea pig).

A note on Safety

Safety is hit and miss in Peru – but just like anywhere else in the world, you should always take precautions. To be safe, do the following:

Leave your valuables in your hotel safe

Beware of overly friendly locals – especially in Miraflores, Lima and Cusco.

Ask your concierge where to exchange money or which ATMs to look out for.

Money & Tipping

People often ask what currency you may use in Peru, to which there are two answers. The local currency is Peruvian sol, which is accepted everywhere. You can use US dollars at many vendors’ stalls, but only in small ($1, $5, $10) denominations in good condition. It is better to get some local currency out at the beginning or before your trip. Credit cards accepted: Mastercard and Visa, though many will not. Safer to grab some cash.


Thanks to Trafalgar Travel for arranging my visit to Peru – I took the 8 day Highlights of Peru Tour.

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    February 9, 2016 at 10:16 am

    […] Read more: Visiting Peru for the first time: Everything you need to know […]

    The Blonde Tourist
    June 23, 2015 at 12:49 am

    Another post full of wanderlust travel inspiration and great tips for my own trip to Peru in August. Love it!!!
    BT xx

    Mel Elderfield
    June 19, 2015 at 3:57 pm

    I was in Peru in March and have only good things to say about it! I chose to trek to Macchu Picchu on the four day Inca route… just, wow! What an experience! Epic country, thanks for your post

    vinod tomar
    June 6, 2015 at 10:54 pm

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    Alisha Paul
    June 5, 2015 at 8:30 pm

    Much obliged for sharing you exhorts! My sibling constantly needed to go and this is an awesome approach to persuade him ;). Ideally, i will advance to Peru one day.

    Bart Steenbergen
    June 4, 2015 at 6:33 am

    In May I was for 2 weeks in Lima, neighborhood San Isidro. Lima could be indeed boring, but the old center with their wooden balcony’s are on the UNESCO list. And the food, omg, the food, there are flights from my home country so-called food flights only for the great food there. Soon will blog myself about some great restaurants there.

    Hannah Louey
    June 2, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    I did a 3-week Intrepid tour a few years throughout Peru and I loved it. I was travelling by myself and I couldn’t get over how amazingly friendly and helpful everyone was. Being somewhere so remote from home was such an eye-opener and I ended up loving the country far more than I thought I would – I actually ended up enjoying Peru far more than Argentina and Brazil!

    June 2, 2015 at 11:57 am

    I’m from Peru and I’d love to go back – particularly to Machu Pichu. I have recently started my own Traveling Blog. I have been following yours for awhile and I hope to travel more and make more time for it.

    June 2, 2015 at 1:51 am

    So many more wonderful places in Peru! If you’re visiting, the north has great beaches and historical sites. Mancora is beautiful and I volunteered for 6 weeks in Huanchaco which has amazing surfing. You can visit the rain forest, arequipa which has unbelievable food, Colca Canyon which was one of my favorite places in SA, Lake Titicaca is unforgettable. Learn about the Inca culture and history. I spent months exploring and it just wasn’t enough!

    June 1, 2015 at 7:28 pm

    Thanks for sharing you advises! My brother always wanted to go and this is a great way to motivate him ;). Hopefully, i will make my way to Peru one day. If its as great as other places in South America, I’m sure it will be amazing.

    June 1, 2015 at 9:15 am

    Must visit this place someday

    June 1, 2015 at 6:17 am

    That’s unfortunate you can’t eat the street food but I’m sure there are reputable places to eat that are still really authentic.


    June 1, 2015 at 4:16 am

    Thanks for this post. I actually donΒ΄t know much about SA but Peru caught my attention short time ago..mainly because of your great photos on Instagram.

    Leanne Winters
    June 1, 2015 at 3:53 am

    Thanks for the tips! I’ve never really thought of going to Peru but the advice is well worth it x

    June 1, 2015 at 2:54 am

    What an incredible view! I would love to see a view like this with my own eyes one day πŸ™‚
    XO Janina

    June 1, 2015 at 2:05 am

    Thanks! Your post will help me a lot when I finally start planning my travels πŸ™‚

    x Kate

    Alex S
    June 1, 2015 at 12:55 am

    Thanks for the advice Brooke, appreciate it πŸ™‚
    I’m off to Peru in July so this has made me even more excited! Will you be in South America over the summer?

    June 1, 2015 at 12:53 am

    I would add a few things about Maccu Picchu and Peru in general. You can actually hike to the top of the peak in the photos behind Maccu Picchu. It’s called Huayna Picchu and the hike and the views are amazing. It’s quite strenuous but over in about an hour or so. Cusco is an amazing city and not to be missed and there are wonderful river rafting trips to go on. Some other cities worth seeing in the south are Arequipa and also the floating island on Lake Titicaca. Never had a concern for safety the whole time.

    June 1, 2015 at 12:07 am

    awesome my boyfriend and I are planning a trip here great tips!

    J F
    May 31, 2015 at 10:31 pm

    Cool article!

    By the way, Lima is also a ver cool place to party. But it is better you speak spanishso you get every Little Impression. Lima Β΄s weather is very cool too as it never rains. πŸ™‚

    Keep rockin!


      June 4, 2015 at 2:23 am

      I agree with the comment above that Lima has a good nightlife. There are clubs in Miraflores and Caminos del Inca, and very cool bars in Barranco. Also, as you also mentioned, since there isn’t that much to see in Lima, you can just go on a gastronomical tour! There are so many good restaurants. Great post!

    May 31, 2015 at 5:26 pm

    Cusco and Peru, in general, is one of the most unforgettable places I’ve been to. Staying for 2 months in the country definitely made me love it even more.
    Altitude sickness affects everyone in different ways, so best to fly/get in Cusco a day or two before Machu Picchu visit/hike.
    Also, note there are other beautiful towns in Peru, check out the man-made reed floating islands of Lake Titicaca-the highest navigational lake in the world, beautiful town of Arequipa and see a well preserved frozen mummy from 500 yrs ago and go sand boarding in Huacachina.

    May 31, 2015 at 2:46 pm

    These tips are amazing and it sounds like Peru will need to get bumped up on my travel bucket list!

    xx Kelly

    May 31, 2015 at 11:36 am

    I went to Peru last summer and loved it as well. As a warning to anyone wanting to visit the Andes, I do have to say, altitude sickness is different for everyone. You don’t know whether it will affect you, until you actually experience it (or don’t). Age, fitness level, etc. also cannot be relied on to determine whether you’ll get off easy. I recommend getting altitude sickness medication from a travel clinic, before you come to Peru (when I enquired about the type I used in Peruvian pharmacies, it sounded difficult to get there, so best to plan ahead). I used diamox (acetazolamide) and it was an absolute life saver. Even with a gradual assent by bus, over 10 days from Lima at sea level, to Cusco at 3,400 meters, I spent a lot of time not feeling the best, and I think my trip would have been miserable without the medication. Don’t risk feeling terrible while on what may be a once-in a-life-time trip!

    May 31, 2015 at 10:43 am

    My favorite place! I love Peru. You can take the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, stay the night in Aguas Calientes (a charming little village) and then take the bus to Machu Picchu early in the morning. Sun rise is the BEST time to get pictures. Hostels in Cusco are extremely affordable and very nice. We paid $10 per night for a room in a hostel that had its own bathroom with hot water, breakfast provided every morning, computers with internet free to use, “living room” with playstation, free coca tea available at all hours, etc.. They also let us store our bags while we went overnight to Aguas Calientes/Machu Picchu and back. And it was just a few blocks from the main square. Definitely affordable and worth it.

    Great food – Chicha is found everywhere, I LOVE Inka Cola, Causa (potatoes and chicken salad), fried fish, everything is delicious.

    If you are on the fence about Peru, you need to go!

      J F
      May 31, 2015 at 10:36 pm

      So true. The Food is awesome! Everything you order is tasty…. Oh I miss it.

    Tessa / Bramble & Thorn
    May 31, 2015 at 10:18 am

    Visiting Macchu Piccu is pretty high up on my bucket list, so this was a really valuable read. Thanks for the inspiration!


    May 31, 2015 at 8:23 am

    You can also get to Macchu Piccu super early before the rest of the tourists arrive (I preferred it this way, I had ages to wander around completely alone before my tour started).

    Be careful with your advice about restaurants! I was in Peru for 2 months and only ever got food poisoning from restaurants (and I worked for a Peruvian charity for a year too, where I coordinated volunteers, so heard about all their food poisoning episodes, all of which came from eating in restaurants).

    I’m sure you were talking about small local restaurants rather than touristy places, but the actual trick is to look for HOT food, like fresh rice & meat, soups, stews and freshly fried stuff – never any salad, sandwiches or ‘posh’ food. There are only two touristy restaurants you can really trust in Cusco (literally the only two I’ve never heard of anyone getting food poisoning from) – Cicciolina and a vegetarian restaurant called El Encuentro, which is on Tigre near the Plaza de Armas. There’s another one called Granja Heidi which the doctor we used would always recommend, and they have a great quinoa soup if you do get sick.

    Cusco is s great place if you can avoid the tummy bugs!

    Arianaa Torres
    May 31, 2015 at 7:43 am

    You need to come to Colombia Brooke. You will love it!