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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Five Things You Should Know Before You Travel to Peru

Posted by on Wed, Jan 2, 2013 at 1:55 PM

I spent the last two weeks in Peru for Christmas break. I'm not going to bore you to death with a slideshow or a blow-by-blow account of what I did, but I do want to make a couple of recommendations.

* If you've ever wanted to take a trip to South America, I highly recommend the Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu. I was part of a group doing the standard hike—four days, three nights—and it kicked my ass, but I was glad I did it by the end of the trail. The tour group I traveled with was named Enigma, and I did the Classic Inca Trail package. It takes you along a trail of mostly stone steps to saddlebacks that are higher than Mount Rainier and swiftly descending staircases of 3000 steps that the guides refer to as the gringo killer. The landscapes varied tremendously over the three days, from gently rolling hills to scrubby mountain trails to lush jungle. (This hike was decidedly not roughing it; Enigma provided a team of porters who did the cooking, carried the equipment, and set up and took down the tents. Peru started cracking down on Inca Trail tourism around the turn of the century; you're required to have guides, and there are even laws insisting that the tour groups provide camping tables and chairs for their customers along the way. I think these laws are more for the good of the trail than the tourists; apparently, tourists just used to trash the trail when they were left to their own devices.) Machu Picchu itself was incredible and mysterious and weird and totally worth it. My group was there during the rainy season and so there were fewer tourist groups funneling through the city; my guide said that the crowds are so thick in July and August that you can barely move.

* If you're hiking the Inca Trail, or if you're even going to Cuzco, you'll want to take something to fight altitude sickness. I took Diamox the whole way through, but even then you'll want lots of coca tea and coca leaves for chewing; the high you get from coca leaves is not unlike a caffeine high, but it helps the oxygen circulate in a way that Diamox can't. (Coca leaf hard candy is a surprisingly good delivery system, too.)

* A person I know, who heard I was going to Peru for Christmas, informed me that she had been to Peru and her entire story was summed up in one sentence: "It's really dirty there."

Uh. Yeah. Lima has some pretty dirty parts. The beaches are unclean, and the sky is thick with pollution. But if you're the kind of person who sums up a whole travel experience by saying "it's really dirty there," you probably shouldn't be traveling anywhere that requires you to get shots first. Lima is a huge city, and some of the people who live there are very rich. Others are very, very poor. I saw some poverty on this trip that will rattle around in my head forever. I hope that the experience makes me a more responsible global citizen. If you're not willing to see poor people, stick to Disneyland.

* No, I didn't eat guinea pig or llama. And when I went to Iceland, I didn't eat the fermented shark, either. I'm all for eating local food, but at some point, you're just trying to be a low-rent Anthony Bourdain.

* Everything you've ever heard about South American drivers is true. Every time I got out of a taxi with all my limbs intact, I wanted to kiss the ground. I promise to not complain about Seattle drivers all winter long.


Comments (15) RSS

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I was wondering where you were :) Good for you! Welcome home.

'low-rent Anthony Bourdain.' ha! No one should eat guinea pig, ever. blech
Posted by slainte on January 2, 2013 at 2:21 PM · Report this
Hmm.. I was in Peru just a month before you.

Here are my thoughts:

I opted for Manu Biosphere over the Inca Trail. Both involve a 4-day time investment and roughly the same amount of money. In some ways I wished that I had done the Inca Trail instead, but there's nothing quite like seeing the most biodiverse land area on Earth, even if most of the animals are hiding from you.

Lima is dirty, and it's also huge. I would add that it is difficult to navigate and relatively expensive for Peru. Taking a rickety taxi through the slums along Morales Duarez was quite an experience. I've seen plenty of poverty in Asia and the North America, but it felt different there. Perhaps it was the sheer number of vacants and dilapidated buildings that struck me. Overall, I can see why people love Lima, but the city is a pretty tough sell for short-term tourism.

Cuy (guinea pig) is a delicacy. Did not have it, because the value seemed really poor. I did eat alpaca, however. Not bad.

Whatever anyone tells you, coca tea is a poor cure for altitude sickness. Unless you're going through an acute crisis, the best bet is to grin and bear it until you adjust.

Aguas Calientes was better than expected. That's not to say that it is nice, just nicer than expected.
Posted by Joel_are on January 2, 2013 at 2:34 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 3
Eh. The Rockies are pretty high. For someone from Seattle where you live at sea level, I can see adaptation problems. You might want to prepare by skiing or snowboarding - this will get your legs in shape for the climbs and make it easier to cope with the higher elevation.

Fermented shark = guinea pig. Sheep head = llama. Skip the former.
Posted by Will in Seattle on January 2, 2013 at 2:35 PM · Report this
scary tyler moore 4
did you drink Inca Cola?
Posted by scary tyler moore on January 2, 2013 at 3:18 PM · Report this
I love taxis in Peru. Some of the best/funnest times ever was barreling down their roads weaving in and out of traffic.
Posted by Bloated Jesus is Bloated on January 2, 2013 at 3:41 PM · Report this
Sachi 6
I agree – Peru is a great place to visit. Claire and I spent little time in Lima and flew straight up to Cuzco instead. We then took a long taxi ride along the Urubamba river to Ollantaytambo, where we stayed for several days while exploring. Aguas Calientes (and Machu Picchu) were easy to get to on PeruRail, although it would have been great if we could have taken the Inca Trail.

We did not find cuy on the menu where we ate, but we did have trucha (a type of trout) and local veggies that were really good! We had coca tea a few times too.
Posted by Sachi on January 2, 2013 at 4:01 PM · Report this
Dr_Awesome 7
Inca Cola! Love that stuff, and there's a place at The Market that sells it by the six-pack.

What I miss is the little Peruvian restaurant in Ballard, at 15th and about 65th. They made a good Pisco Sour. Sigh...
Posted by Dr_Awesome on January 2, 2013 at 4:41 PM · Report this
sam2300 8
Actually, guinea pig is quite tasty.
Posted by sam2300 on January 2, 2013 at 5:04 PM · Report this
TVDinner 9
Peru is a very diverse and engaging country. I spent two months kicking around there in 2006 and dug the shit out of it. Compared to Nicaragua, where I had just spent two years, it was a remarkably functional country with a lot going for it.

While Machu Picchu itself is magical, and Cuzco is a lovely city, the tourists/locals choque de cultura made it a tense and unpleasant experience on the streets for me, at least. But the urban form of the place? Damn.

When I think of all the knowledge we lost when the Inca were conquered, I wanna weep into my pisco sour.
Posted by TVDinner http:// on January 2, 2013 at 7:20 PM · Report this
sperifera 10
You should have tried the cuy, it's pretty tasty. I remember Lima to be dusty, huge, crowded and overall a pretty sad place. Glad you got out of there...

And @3, the Rockies may be high, but they are *nothing* compared to the Andes. The scale of those mountains is unbelievable, with vast areas above the altitude of the tallest Rockies peaks. Until you seen them/been there, they just can't be appreciated - the Rockies are puny in comparison.
Posted by sperifera on January 2, 2013 at 7:58 PM · Report this
care bear 11
Oh Jesus, I took a bus from Mendoza over the Andes to Santiago. The driver frequently had both hands off the wheel, was turning around to talk to passengers, and watching tv. I thought for sure I was going to die.
Posted by care bear on January 2, 2013 at 8:00 PM · Report this
devinderry 14
I lived in Peru for 3 months. Lima is a grey dirty city, but the surrounding towns are quite nice and the majority of the country is gorgeous.

And, fwiw, the issue is not did you eat guinea pig (seemed ok, but a rare exceptions in decades of vegetarianism, so I don't have much to judge on), but did you drink chicha?
Posted by devinderry on January 3, 2013 at 5:31 PM · Report this
@ 14

Chicha is awesome. Drank much of it (and pisco).

Not for everyone, though.
Posted by Joel_are on January 4, 2013 at 10:45 AM · Report this
And don't forget the fanous Inca Trail:…
Posted by Steffi on January 11, 2013 at 3:24 PM · Report this
And don't forget the famous Inca Trail:…
Posted by Steffi on January 11, 2013 at 3:27 PM · Report this

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