Guys, are you ready for the biggest mega-post ever about my Peru planning? It’s been a while since I really
complained posted about all the behind-the-scenes preparations for long-term travel. While nothing is guaranteed I expect to be abroad for six months, and then take a month or two to travel overland from California (where I’ll re-enter the US) back to New York.
Things became official when I finally purchased my one way ticket to Lima. Thanks to my relentless frequent flyer mile building efforts and my willingness to endure endless layovers, I snagged my flight for a mere 15,000 AAdvantage miles and $20 in fees — those that use miles will understand what a great deal that is. Check that off! Except, uh, now I just need to figure out how to get through the red tape involving entering the country on a one way ticket. Add it to the never-ending To-Do list.
Basically, I am focusing my mental energy on Peru right now as that is where the trip is starting and really it is the only thing set in stone at the moment.
Training and Physical Preparation
I have a lot of physical feats planned for Peru, the Inca Trail looming the largest among them. I would love to be training right now but I need to take at least two weeks off after my surgery — argh! Hopefully I can squeeze in a decent amount of runs and basic weight training before I hit the trail. This post gives a great training plan for prepping for the Inca Trail — if only I was following it!
I was pretty worried about altitude sickness until I survived Rinjani. On that hike, we ascended from sea level to 8,666 feet, hiking several hours on a steep trail, without issue. I mean, unless you consider having a hard time filling your lungs with oxygen to be an issue — but hey, I’m sure it’ll be fine! I realize that the Inca Trail reaches altitudes of almost 13,800 feet — but we’ll have 48 hours in Cuzco to acclimatize beforehand, so fingers crossed it all goes well.
Vaccines and Health
At first I actually debated whether or not to get the Yellow Fever vaccine which is kind of funny because I am spending a total of two weeks in Yellow Fever zones and there is no cure. While I know the chance of contracting the disease is low, I also have a feeling I’d regret not spending the money if I ever found myself slowly hemorrhaging to death in a dusty Iquitos clinic. However what actually pushed me over the edge is that several countries, such as Brazil, will require you to show a Yellow Fever vaccine before entry if you have been in Peru previously.
I called around to clinics on the CDC’s Yellow Fever directory and found that the Albany County Health Department delivers the jab for $130, which is about half of what some of the private clinics quoted me (I did have to get a prescription from my general doctor first.) Had Iquitos not been my very first stop, and had the vaccination not had a ten day incubation period, I would have gotten the vaccination in Lima upon arrival, which is appearantly around $40. I’m kicking myself for not getting it in Bangkok for around $30 — if you’re a serious traveler heading to Asia, get it there! You’ll probably need it eventually.
I’ve also taken care of my routine health stuff while home — annual checkups for teeth and eyes, and bi-annual Implanon replacement. The Implanon thing really deserves a post of its own someday because I really believe it’s the best birth control for travelers. No pill to remember, no refills to chase down.
Two things I’m not doing health-wise might seem controversial. I’m not taking any malaria prevention medication and I’m not getting travel insurance. I’ve never taken malaria meds despite frequently traveling through malaria zones. I’d rather take the risk than deal with the side effects — I think we can all agree I’m crazy enough as is, no need to chemically induce it. As for health insurance, I’m still covered under my parents’ employer plan (thanks Obama!) which provides me with coverage in the US. If I have a medical issue abroad I pay out of pocket, which tends to be less than a copay would be at home. Of course there is always that fear of the Seriously Serious Emergency — What if an anaconda attacks in the Amazon? What if I need to be Med Evaced off Machu Picchu? I don’t have a prolific answer here other than I will deal with it if it happens. Even the most basic travel insurances cost over $1,000US per year, and honestly I just don’t want to pay that. So far I’ve been comfortable taking that risk. As I move towards Central America and start diving heavily again I will probably buy DAN diver insurance, which does cover a lot of non-diving catastrophes as well at a fraction of the price.
I wrote a small novel here about my plans to manage my finances in Peru and realized along the way that it deserved to be a post of its own. So I wrote one!
Packing for Peru
This is one area where I feel I’m floundering. I’m always a terrible packer and I just have no idea what to expect in South America. I promise to post a complete packing list before I leave for once, and I’d love some of your feedback on my preliminary thoughts.
• Footwear / one pair of trainers, one pair of flip flops, one pair of dress sandals, one pair of ballet flats
• Bottoms / one pair of jeans, a pair or two of warm leggings*, a pair of jean shorts, a pair or two of running/hiking shorts, two skirts
• Other Items / my Scottevest and Camelbak for hiking, my Pacsafe and laptop lock for safety, my SteriPEN to cut down on water bottles, these toiletries and a small medical kit, this camera gear, a headlamp*
I bring up these categories specifically because I am making the debatable decisions to bring jeans and NOT to bring hiking boots. I’ve never brought jeans with me backpacking before but I think they will be good for wearing out at night in the chilly weather. I’ll probably just bring a cheap pair I don’t care about so I can ditch them as I move to warmer climates.
As for the hiking boots, I don’t want to carry something so bulky, I don’t want to invest in a good pair, and I don’t have time to break any in. I’d rather just use my trusty broken in trainers, which I will have to bring regardless for working out. I have a few friends who have done the Inca Trail in trainers so I feel pretty confident about this decision.
The asterisk indicates that this is something I need to buy just for this trip. If anyone has suggestions for those items, I’d love to hear them! Packing is stressing me out in general, so if you’ve been to Peru or any of the other countries on my radar, please spill in the comments section.
It’s kind of hard for me to admit but I am a little apprehensive about South America. Not scared, really, just… a little flustered. I know Southeast Asia inside and out and flying there feels like going home. This will be a completely new part of the world for me and so despite the fact that I’ve traveled to 20+ countries, many of them independently, I find myself obsessing over bus schedules and blog posts and trying to somehow unlock the mystery of what this new place is all about from the safety of a computer screen.
But we all know that doesn’t work. To know a place you just have to feel it, and I’m confident I’ll be at peace once I’m there. Assuming, of course, that they let me in on that one way ticket.
Thank you in advance for all your wonderful advice!
Don’t be apprehensive! You’re never going to want to leave when you get there. South America is AMAZING!!!
Thanks Andi! I only wish our paths were crossing! xoxo
I very strongly recommend hiking boots for the Inca Trail! I did an alternative to the traditional Inca trail due to concern about damage to the trail through tourism (the one I did finished in Ollantaytambo and I then got the train to Machu Pichu) and I can’t imagine having to do it without proper boots.
That’s interesting Kat — I’ve heard of people choosing alternative treks due to other factors like time and money, but never environmental impact. That’s cool! As for the boots, even looking through the comments so far opinions are mixed! I think I’m going to stick to my plan, and I’ll have to report back later…
I read the other comments and I have to admit I’d never considered the possibility of hiring boots! Definitely the way to go, they were a pain to carry around for the rest of my trip.
You probably already know this, but when I was in Cusco I found that rehydration sachets really useful to get used to the altitude. I drank 3 or 4 on my first day and they helped me no end.
I’d worry though about blisters as they wouldn’t be molded to YOUR feet, you know? And thanks for the tip on the reydration packets… just ordered some as soon as I read this comment!
For warm leggings American Apparel does a Winter pair which are quite warm! Also Anthropologie does fleece lined ones that don’t look bulky at all… & for quick dry pants Lululemon Wunder Under’s are incredible! I’m sure there has to be a cheaper alternative though… & as for travel insurance, I’m going through that right now for my visa & it’s a requirement, which I wish it wasn’t because it’s costing me a fortune! 🙁 Your trips sounds awesome though, can’t wait to hear more 🙂 x
Thanks for the tips! I will check out American Apparel and maybe even Lululemon. Normally those would be out of my price range but as I only have a few things to buy for this trip I might just splurge! Let’s see if I can do it (I’m really, really cheap.)
I’m the same way actually! Hahaha I’ve had my Lululemon Groove Pants since grade 9… 6 years. Quite proud of that actually 😉 x
You go girl! If you use something for that long it definitely makes the cost worth it. And yup, I definitely still have clothes in my closet from high school 🙂
Hi Alex – I traveled through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Boliva for 5 months from Feb – July this year! I just started posting about Peru, our last country and I have tons of advice for you! To start with your packing list, one pair of warm leggings (my two girlfriends both invested in a pair of amazing Lululemon tights that they wore daily as well as for cold hikes and even slept in often as well! Something I will definitely be purchasing when I’m back in North America.
We only had running shoes with us (we didn’t hike the Inca trail but chose the 4 day Inca Jungle adventure activity route which was cheaper and aweeesome!)but hiking shoes would have definitely been a great asset – but I understand your reservations about carrying them but they can be worth carrying if you’re doing more treks than just the Inca trail. I brought a sleep sheet AND a mosquito net and didn’t use either once so I definitely wouldn’t bring those again.
Scarves were my best friend in SA – I got a stretchy infinity one that I used in a million different ways.. sweater, scarf, head warmer, turban (don’t ask why), picnic blanket, towel – there are tons of alpaca ones you can buy but that was my favorite one and I never found anything like that. For the long bus rides I brought a travel pillow that my 3 travel buddies were all realllly jealous of every time I pulled it out! 🙂
As for medications, pepto bismol/immodium were important (as I’m sure you have discovered in Asia!) and rehydration tablets. a currency exchange app – I use XE – was really useful too! Alsooo PLEASE tell me you’re visiting the Galapagos.. because it’s the BEST! Oh man I’m getting excited for you just thinking about all your future blog posts. Feel free to ask me more questions if you have them! I’d be happy to help 🙂
Hey Shannon! As soon as I respond to this I’m off to go scour your blog for info!
This is the second vote for Lululemon, so sounds like I might have to bite the bullet and splurge. And I hadn’t heard of the adventure activity route. Sounds like it might be perfect for Anders and his friend — I’ll have to direct them to your post! Oh and you convinced me — I’m totally bringing my travel pillow. Thank you for all the tips! I might be in touch after I go through your posts…
I would suggest not bringing jeans, I did while backpacking South America and they were just not necessary and I ended up resenting the extra weight – in terms of wearing them out, you end up feeling overdressed, I used wetlook leggings as ‘going out trousers’ instead so maybe bring leggings that can be dressed up?
Hiking the Inca Trail without boots is also a risk, once in Cucso look into renting some so you don’t have to shell out for a new pair! (Also it sounds like you are unlikely to get struck by altitude sickness but just in case you could buy some altitude sickness pills once in Peru for peace of mind, not effective for me unfortunately but they did help others!). Don’t worry too much about making it – I literally died on the Trail and finished it so you definitely can, a group of minimum 70 year olds did it too at the same time!
Enjoy South America – you are guaranteed to love it! Can’t wait to hear your take!
Hey Yasemin, good to hear another opinion! I’m not too worried about weight with jeans because I have a super light pair from Forever 21 that I don’t even think are denim (they cost $10, so probably not, ha.) And thanks for the words of encouragement about the trail, and the tip about the altitude sickness pills!
Totally agree with bringing jeans and leaving the hiking boots at home. Jeans are useful in SA especially in the colder climates. Hiking boots can be so bulky at times and there is usually the option to rent if you feel you need them! Buen viaje Alex!
Phew! Glad to hear someone giving me the thumbs up on those ideas. Thanks Naomi!
I love that so many of my blogging friends are dong all the research for me! I haven’t thought about vaccinations for so long, but that info on the yellow fever is enlightening! We’ll be headed that way (slowly) next year, so I look forward to following your journey (I’m getting my Mum to bring my favourite hiking boots to me later this year, but I do understand not wanting to buy a new pair). Jeans- yes! Leggings- yes! I like Kathmandu.com for ‘travel clothes’ – they last, and are not too ugly 🙂
Nice, thanks for the tip Sarah! I knew I’d get the best ideas by simply posting 🙂 And yeah, Yellow Fever is highly recommended if you’re going into the jungle and necessary if you’re traveling to Brazil (and I believe some others) afterwards!
There seems to be a lot of conflicting info on the boots and jeans thing! I think everyone feels different things about it. In my experience, jeans helped a lot in the chilly nights in Peru. I went during the dry season, and therefore wore hiking sneakers. If i knew it’d be raining a lot I may have brought the boots just cause of the mud! So check what the weather will be like and go from there 🙂 Pepto/imodium deffinitly (no tap water! no ice in your drinks!) & advil/ibuprofen for altitude sickness related headaches 🙂 you’ll have an AMAZING time!!
Interesting point about the wet vs. dry season, Jennifer! Putting on wet sneakers would be no fun. I’m going in the shoulder season, so it is a bit risky.
Oh South America!! I may be the reader looking the most forward to this! I don’t have a ton of experience however I did see a bit of Brazil and feel ok offering some advice. This may seem odd but basic common sense is the best for your safety, being a seasoned traveller you probably know all the basics. I was in some areas where I stuck out like the pasty white rich tourist that I am but I never really felt unsafe. Some people say I’m crazy. As for vaccines; I was against the yellow fever and all for malaria. But my need to see other countries forced me into yellow fever which I believe messed up my immune system. And honestly I got three mosquito bites the whole time I was there. But better safe than sorry. Latin food was a big fear of mine going down there, but I now search it out up here that is how much I loved it. Anyways I hope you have a speedy recovery and Can not wait to hear about South America!!
Hey Breanna, glad to hear you’re looking forward to this — me too! 🙂 May I ask why you were against getting the Yellow Fever vaccine? I’m curious because my only reason really was money… I didn’t read anything that made me object to the vaccine itself!
I react badly to vaccines, I get so sick doesn’t matter which ones it knocks me down for a week and where I went I had to get typhoid as well.
Ah, that’s tough! I was a little tired for the day after my vaccine but otherwise didn’t have any of the reaction I was so afraid of.
Hahaha! You don’t see Why they don’t do the vaccines!!! Are you being serious! I’ve traveled all over the world & No vaccines for me!!! They do More damage than good! Believe me! Read up about ingredients first! Even the simple flu jab! Eurgh! Def save yourself money as well.. Lol. Be sensible, NO Ice, NO salads, No water, not even to clean your teeth with! Try using coconut oil, marvellous! Good Luck
I haven’t been to Peru (will go there next year though, hurrah!), however I have been to Ecuador, which has a similar climate to Peru. I think taking jeans is ok if you are traveling to South America. I would never take it to SE Asia as it is too hot, but in SA everybody wears jeans, so you will blend in nicely. Plus if you like wearing jeans at home then why not take them? I don’t think they are overly heavy and if you have them washed in a laundrette they usually tumble dry and iron them for you too, so you get around the issue of not being able to get them dry in a dorm on time. I’ll be taking my jeans too.
I’d definitely take some base layers with you too. It gets chilly at night. I swear by merino wool products. They are awesome. Cool you down when it is warm and warm you when it is cold. Icebreaker is a really good brand. Plus they are odour resistant, which means you can wear them for days in a row without stinking, which would be ideal for the Inca Trail. They are quite pricey, but definitely worth every penny. I have tons of tops from Icebreaker and have worn them for trekking in Ecuador and Everest base camp.
Glad to hear another positive vote for jeans! I was thinking exactly what you said… locals wear them so why not travelers. And thank you for the Icebreaker tip, I’ll check them out!
What an exciting adventure you will have! I have not travelled to South America but I DO have a pair of fleece lined tights that are absolutely wonderful. I’m currently spending the fall/winter months in Europe and that was the first thing I packed. Anyway, I picked up my tights at tj maxx last year for ~$12. I would highly recommend checking tj maxx or marshalls for them. They are so much cheaper and it is almost that time of year so you may get lucky and find some! Good Luck!
Stephanie! You win Queen of the Comments section for loving TJ Maxx and Marshalls as much as I do. They are my usual shopping go-tos and I’ll definitely be scouring them for this trip. 🙂
Pack lots of reminders to keep in touch with your parents
Good decision to get the yellow fever vaccine! I was very nearly denied entry into South Africa for not having it and I was not coming from an endemic area. Immigration takes that one seriously!
And I’m a big fan of Zella leggings, which are a bit cheaper than lululemon!
Yikes! That is reason enough to get it, regardless of the health risks. And great tip about Zella, I will check them out!
SmartWool makes fantastic leggings and long underwear. They are expensive, but totally worth it! I vote for trainers over hiking boots. My dad does hundreds of miles of backpacking each year and ditched his expensive boots for Saloman trail runners long ago. Salomon is expensive too, but you definitely get what you pay for.
Glad to hear another vote for trainers, Sarah! And thanks for the tip on SmartWool…. I’ve added them to the list of brands to check out!
Good luck on your next journey, Alex!
Thanks Aftri! I really appreciate it.
I went to Peru in the summer, and only brought leggings (no jeans!) I regretted it for about 30 minutes during a chilly morning in the Andes and that was it. The yellow fever vaccine is a good call – I got asked for my proof of vaccination coming out of Peru. When you get to Cusco, take the first day to rest. Like, actually rest. On the second day, do a small altitude hike…that will get you used to it before the big one. We did 48 hours at 5000ft before hiking to over 15,000ft and I was pretty sure I was going to die. I had a splitting headache for a day afterward too. Drink the coca leaf tea (coca mate), it helps with the altitude. Drink an absolute shitload of water while hiking…people don’t realize how dehydrating the altitude is. Also, after spending two weeks of my trip bedridden with horrific food poisoning and parasites, I’m not going to tell you not to eat the ridiculously cheap street food…it’s part of the experience..but bring LOTS of pepto/immodium, and oral rehydration packets. The best piece of advice someone gave me before I went was to bring lots of those little packets of tissues – you will almost never find toilet paper in public toilets (including restaurants) and get ready for a quad workout – I think I only saw a toilet seat 3 or 4 times during my trip 🙂
Amazing tips — especially on the tissues. I have a million of those as for some reason they always end up in my Christmas stocking and I never use them. I just threw them in my Peru pile! Thanks Rikka!
I’m leaving for my 3 months trip around Peru, Bolivia and Argentina in less than 2 weeks and I don’t think I’ve felt so under prepared before!!!
I have no clue how to pack for the spring time in these areas but I think I’m getting pretty close to what you have on your list (maybe a tad more… heehee). So I’m glad that your post comes just in time, and all the others by other fellow readers are very helpful also!
Good luck and maybe I’ll see you on the road!
Oh, I’m sure I’ll be overpacked to the point of humiliation. As usual. And yes, I really hope our paths cross!
The trip sounds wonderful, but I thought I might ask your lovely self and your audience their opinion on travel pillows.
Sarah and I have never used them ourselves, but obviously see them every time we fly.
I’ve never been a great sleeper on aircraft, although it’s never been a limitation at the end of a flight as I’m very capable of getting by on little sleep (Sarah can sleep anywhere so she’s fine)
Does anybody have any thoughts on the pillows, their benefits and also any good ones?
I keep wondering if perhaps they may help the trips (especially long flights) just a bit more comfortable.
P.S. Sarah has also done a bit of South America and as another has already posted, don’t miss Galapogas!
I used to have a blow up one that I adored — I was crushed when it broke but yet never bothered to replace it. Recently Hastens sent me one of their travel pillows to keep and one to giveaway (see my recent Endless Summer post!) and while it would have been out of my price range otherwise I am SO glad to have it now as it really is a dream. It’s a feather pillow so it compresses quite small. I’d recommend looking for something like those!
I did the Inka Train in 2011, without training and I was fine…we even had a family with two teenage kids who managed just fine. The only important thing is to stay a few nights before hand in Cuzco to get used to the altitude. We had two people who didnt do that and got altitude sickness.
I wore leggings the whole time plus shorts and leg warmers that i bought there from alpaca wool. Its only cold in the mornings and evenings.
Colca Canyon was an awesome hike i did in Peru before the Inka trail, was a great warm up! The hike up the canyon on the last day is a killer;)
I loved Peru and Bolivia, the nature and scenery is simply amazing.
Oooo, I love the idea of some alpaca leggings! I’m going to have to remember to leave some room in my suitcase for that! I’ll be heading to Arequipa after Cusco, but I do plan to do the Colca Canyon! Did you do a one, two, or three day trip? Did you use a tour company? I’d love to do it independently but I’ll be solo at that point so I’ll have to join a tour unless I find a hiking buddy, for safety’s sake.
A couple of things. Keep in mind that the Andes are COLD. Like, really really cold all the time even though there is sun shining so keep that in mind during your packing. Cuzco is quite high and load up on coca tea when you are there. Keep on you at all times because it has been the only thing that helped me when there.
Also, getting from Lima to Cuzco -> I highly suggest flying. $80 for a 30 minute flight or $40 for a 24 hour guaranteed to vomit fest.
Have fun and make sure to eat lomo saltado ($1) at the market in Cuzco.
“24 hour guaranteed vomit fest” had me laughing out loud! I am actually busing down but stopping along the way in Ica and Nazca, which should shave some of that time off. When Anders comes to meet me though he is flying. We found the cheapest flight was $100 and the nice buses were like $75 — totally worth it! Oh and thanks for the tip on the lomo saltado — happy to hear there are cheap eats even in a tourist town like Cuzco.
My travel partner at the time got food poisoning the night before we supposed to hike the Inca Trail, so I didn’t actually get to hike it (he ended up in hospital for 3 days, and I couldn’t very well abandon him), so I don’t have any advice for the trail.
Don’t eat salad at a fancy hotel though — that’s what we learned. 🙂
Wow! That is a crazy story Raymond — I’m sorry to hear you missed out on the trail! And I’ll stay away from that salad! 🙂
Is it weird that I’m super excited you’re going to Peru? I think it’s because that’s where I want to go so badly and I know I’ll get to read about all of your adventures!
No wise advice from me but I can’t wait for your posts! 🙂
I know how you feel! I get insanely excited when bloggers I love go to places I love, or am dying to go to. It’s always fun to see through other people’s lenses!
I’ve been so behind on blog reading for the past couple of weeks and it looks like I’ve missed SO MUCH on your blog! Hope you’re feeling better from the surgery, and I”m so pumped to read about your Peru adventures. Don’t be nervous, it’ll be great! 🙂
Thanks Maddy! And yes… things move fast around here! Funny enough though one of the most common comments thus far from my reader survey was people want me to post more! Aahhhh!
So you are thinking of come to Brazil? That’s why you are concerned about Yellow Fever vaccine?
We need to have this vaccine to enter in almost every country, but the good thing is that we don’t need to pay for it.
I imagine that now you have already decided what to bring to South America, but I think you should consider the hiking boots, you will probably going to use in other trekkings.
And about jeans, I always travel with jeans, that I wear in almost every flight and some other times.
And don’t be afraid, it will be fantastic!
Unfortunately Brazil won’t be a part of this particular trip, but I definitely want to head there in the future! I’m jealous that you don’t have to pay for vaccines. That $135 hurt to spend!
How did entering Peru with a one-way ticket go? I’m planning on flying into Lima next month with a one-way ticket and would love tips on how to navigate that issue!
I had Photoshopped a fake bus ticket out of the country, but no one ever asked me for it 🙂 Good luck!
Thanks a lot for sharing such an excellent article with good information. I appreciate it.
Thank YOU for reading Nicky 🙂