2 years ago I embarked on my first solo trip abroad.
I spent 2 months living in Cusco, Peru and experienced mild culture shock and major stomach aches (I ate at a few questionable places).
Despite how much I missed home at times and how weird it was to be living in a house with 12 complete strangers, Peru changed me in ways that I can't even explain.
Because of my positive experience and how much it changed me, I always recommend Peru as someone's first solo destination. The people, food, culture, and natural beauty are just a few reasons why Peru should be on everyone's bucket list.
There is so much more to Peru than just Machu Picchu, so if you make it down to Peru, I encourage you to spend a couple weeks traveling throughout the country.
Do I need a visa?
If you're from the U.S., you will not need a visa, but you will need a passport.
English is spoken in many areas in the popular cities (Cusco and Lima). Though, I do recommend learning basic Spanish as it's incredibly easy to learn (use italki to learn Spanish) and the Peruvians definitely appreciate it.
Extra tips before heading to Peru
- Bring cash (small bills) as they are used more often than credit cards
- Take good care of the cash, do not let it crinkle or tear (a lady didn't take my bill because there was a minor tear in it)
- Learn to haggle when shopping for gifts
- Get a massage in the country (they are extremely cheap)
- Make sure to try Pisco Sour and Inca Cola
- Only take marked taxis if you can help it
1. Relax first before heading off to Machu Picchu
Peru is known for its high elevation and you'll most likely get some kind of altitude sickness, whether it be a minor headache or more. Do not rush things, especially if you're planning on hiking to Machu Picchu.
Plan a few days in Cusco before heading off on your trek. If not, you'll feel disoriented, have a massive headache, and will most likely spend some time in the bathroom puking.
This isn't to scare any of you because you'll most likely be fine, but I knew someone who got so sick (while I was in Cusco volunteering) that she had to get hooked up to an oxygen tank upon her arrival to Cusco.
(Skip this next part if you don't want to hear about my Cusco/altitude experience)
My experience once I landed in Cusco was scary.
When my plane landed, I felt fine. I remember even thinking that all the articles I read about the elevation were a bunch of BS…until the plane's doors opened. I seriously have never felt sick so fast. I had an insane headache that lasted for a couple days and I definitely felt disoriented. The anxiety kicked in so fast! I eventually got to my volunteer site and slept forever.
My host gave me some coca tea and I immediately felt better.
Related: Stay at an Airbnb in Cusco for super cheap (as low as $20 dollars a night for an entire apartment near the Plaza De Armas). Get $40 toward your first stay here.
2. Do not spend more than 1 night in Aguas Calientes (where Machu Picchu resides)
There is nothing to do in Aguas Calientes besides visit Machu Picchu.
There is so much to see in Peru and it would be a waste of time to spend a night in this city. I'm not trash talking, but this is the most touristy feeling town I've ever been to around the world. Everything is overpriced and inflated (even budget hotels are way more expensive than they should be, food isn't cheap, etc).
Related: Find out where to go in Peru with this helpful guide.
3. Go to the bathroom before you enter Machu Picchu
The bathroom is outside of the Machu Picchu entrance. When I visited, I was told that I wouldn't be allowed back in once I exited, so keep that in mind. The bathroom also costs money, but it was only 1 Nuevo Sol.
Tip: A lot of bathrooms don't come with toilet paper, so bring toilet paper with you everywhere.
4. If you hike to Machu Picchu, listen to these rules
- Do not climb the 2000+ stairs to the top, take the bus instead (it is not worth it to climb as you barely see any view from the uneven stairs)
- If you do decide to embark on the climb, make sure you arrive early to get in the front of the line (3AM or so)
- Bring wet wipes (you will sweat like crazy and will feel dirty instantly with the humid weather)
- Pack good hiking shoes and extra socks as your shoes may get wet
- Bring sunscreen and bug spray (or get eaten alive like my friends did)
5. Bring coca leaves wherever you go
You will almost certainly feel the altitude difference when you get off the plane, I know I did. I immediately felt lightheaded (seriously, it was like a switch went off). When you get to your hotel or wherever you're staying, ask them for coca leaves or buy some at the store. You can find them anywhere.
Tip: Visit the coca leave museum in Cusco while you're there!
6. Inca Trail books far in advance
Though the Inca Trail can book for months to a year in advance, that doesn't mean you're out of luck! Either book the Inca Trail in advance, or go for one of the alternative hikes.
I hiked the Inca Jungle Trek and paid around $300 U.S. dollars for a 4-day hike.
My hike included:
- an awesome bike ride down a mountain
- river rafting
- cable car
- hot springs
- zip lining
- 3 nights of accommodation
- admission ticket to Machu Picchu
- train tickets
- a professional bilingual tour guide
I'm not affiliated in any way, but I've become great friends with the people who own the company. As far as I know, they're the most affordable option and have amazing tour guides. I'm even Facebook friends with my tour guide! I've also booked plenty of other tours with them while I was living in Peru temporarily. Click here to see their prices and trips they offer.
Related: How I've Seen 5 Continents By Age 23
7. Make sure you get a tour guide
Seeing Machu Picchu without a tour guide would be a terrible mistake.
There is so much to learn and so many questions to ask. You can find a tour guide ahead of time or find someone at the entrance. If you went on a hike with a tour agency, your tour guide during the trek is more than likely your tour guide in Machu Picchu.
Related: Check out this highly rated lightweight hiking backpack. You'll need one in Peru!
8. Get there early
I left my hostel to get there around 3AM to start climbing the stairs. (Again, don't climb the stairs and pay to take the bus up to the to instead).
If you decide not to climb, you can get there later to take the bus up to the top. Machu Picchu gets crazily crowded during the high season.
9. Bring your passport to Machu Picchu
You can get your passport stamped with a really cool Machu Picchu stamp near the exit/entrance.
Related: Save money on your flights and anything else you buy online through Ebates.
10. Stay in Cusco
Fly to Cusco and plan to stay there for 3 days to get acclimated to the high altitude and so you can see what Peru is really like! The food is cheap (3-course meals for $5 U.S. dollars).
A few of my favorite things to do in or near Cusco are:
- Visit the Sacred Valley (I rented a four-wheeler and went four wheeling throughout the Sacred Valley!)
- Choco Museo (Chocolate Museum, I made my own chocolate here!)
- Coca Museum
- tons of markets
Related: 50+ Ways To Make Extra Money
If you haven't added Peru to your list of places to visit yet, you've gotta visit as soon as you can. The entire country has so much to offer with a culture so beautiful and unique. If you have extra time on your trip and aren't sure where else to go, I recommend visiting Arequipa, Lima, Puno, Ica, or Peurto Maldonado.
There are tons of ways to get around Peru, but I think the easiest and most affordable way would be PeruHop (a hop on hop off bus).
If you have any questions about Peru or Machu Picchu more specifically, feel free to email me!
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Have you ever been to Machu Picchu? Would you add any tips to this list?