Peru, helpful hints before you go

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Gate One Peru Legends tour map
Gate One Peru Legends tour map

The Peru Legends tour I took with Gate One Discovery Tours in July 2013 was 11 nights .  Getting from place to place we were in a small bus, three of the days were all day travel days.  We were in high altitudes (up to 16200 ft and everything in between) most of the time.  The weather was changeable and it was necessary to wear layers and shed clothes throughout the day.  Nights were cool, days could be warm but breezy.  We were active and climbing and walking on uneven surfaces.  There were no times throughout the tour when dressy clothes were needed.

PACKING
I tried to pack only what I needed and could reuse. I washed more often than I thought because it’s so dusty in the highlands, but we had 2-3 nights in most places so I had time to dry clothes. I wore everything I brought and had just enough.  The color scheme I chose was black and white. I packed three pairs of black pants, two white t-shirts, a long and short sleeve , 3 black long sleeve t-shirts, three zippered cardigans one white, one hot pink, and one wine colored, and three colorful scarves .  I wore one pair of good flat walking shoes with rubber soles and one pair ballet flats for around the hotel in the evening.  I wore the same shoes everyday, you really need good shoes for all the uneven steps and cobbled stones.  I quickly put away the suede boots with small heels as impractical (the only thing I regret bringing).  My jacket was light weight and water proofed with hood.  You need a good hat with brim, the sun is seriously strong. I wore sun screen and hat everyday and still got color on my face.

I had three spare rechargeable batteries for my camera and I kept them charged (all the hotels had 110v outlets).  I filled an 8G card but need to delete a bunch before I download to Flickr.  I did download to my IPad every night so I could check the pictures and organize for the blog.  Internet was very slow except in Arequipa and Lima.
What I wish I had was….. Eye saline drops and saline nose spray for the dry air in the Andes, some kind of sleeping aid (for some reason I woke early and had trouble getting back to sleep when we were in the higher elevations).  I blame everything on the altitude! I wish I brought a medium sized day pack.  I had a small leather backpack but it wasn’t big enough for what I needed in the bus.  (Water, iPad, notebook, hat, scarf, sunscreen etc)
You don’t need anything dressy, we were very casual day and night.

MONEY
Credit cards are accepted – but cash is king – either USD or  Sols.  Much of the shopping is done in markets and stalls and they rarely take credit cards and if they do you aren’t able to negotiate as good a deal. (Bargaining is expected) There are money changing offices and storefronts every where and ATM are found in the hotel/tourist areas.  Best to bring USD to exchange or use ATMs and forget credit cards for shopping.

DRIVERS
Drivers in Peru, especially in the cities, are aggressive and there is no right of way for pedestrians, this wasn’t a problem but be cautious.

SMOKING
Peruvians don’t smoke.  Our guide told us its against their culture.  He told us the only time they smoke is at a funeral!  He said he remembers going to a funeral with his father when he was young and the first thing his father did was ask Edgar to go buy a pack of cigarettes.  He chained smoked and drank corn beer throughout.  The Peruvians believe this protects them from evil spirits when at a funeral.  Go figure.

PERUVIAN LACK OF WELFARE
There is no welfare system in Peru so if people have no money they don’t eat.  That’s why children start young to hawk wares or services in the street.  For instance, we visited a cemetery in Cusco and our guide stopped a boy of 8 or 10 to ask him what he was doing at the cemetery.  We were forewarned that he was going to do this and here’s what happened.

In Peru people are buried above ground in crypts or in a wall of glass openings one on top of the other. The young boy brought us to one that had a brass frame around the glass opening.  He began to shine the brass using a small lime and a cloth and did a beautiful job.  After he completed the job our guide asked us all to tell him to study hard and go to school to better his life.  Our guide told him all of us had a good education which was why we were able to travel.  The little boy looked a little shell shocked with the attention, but it was his lucky day because all of us tipped him for doing such an excellent job on the brass and for telling us his story.  I’m not sure how much people pay him to shine the brass but this is where he comes to make money.

Unfortunately there are also kids who make their money pick-pocketing. Our guide said when he was growing up many of his friends tried to encourage him to join them and he was tempted by the seemingly easy money.  We were warned to watch our hand bags but I never felt threatened.  I think if they see you are aware and cautious they leave you alone.  The most annoying is the hawkers who come up to you while eating or talking and want to sell you things.  Some can be aggressive and annoying, but most listen when you politely say no and they walk on.  You feel bad and want to help but giving them handouts isn’t the answer and I only need so many knick- knacks and key chains!  Most of what I bought in Peru was home made by the people I met.

HOTELS:
Our hotels have been excellent but I can’t really speak to cost because I was on a tour that included accommodations.  The hotels we stayed in were 4-5 star  – meaning good linens, WIFI, robes and slippers, better shampoos and soaps, good service, restaurant and better buffet breakfast.  I had no complaints with all but one of the hotels – the Novatel in Cusco needs work and didn’t live up to the standard of the other hotels on our tour.  (great location and lovely lobby but the rooms were pretty simple comparatively).    I would have been happier paying a little less for the tour and staying in 3 star, you only sleep in the hotels, but that isn’t to say I didn’t enjoyed the nice hotels.
There are hostels all over Peru as well as two hour laundry services.  Clearly there are many young vagabonds traveling though the country and the services they need are there.

BATHROOMS:
Are fairly abundant at tourist sites and are different levels of cleanliness.  Many cost one sol to use (about 35 cents) so I always had a few one Sols coins in my pocket.  Better to carry tissues and a bottle of disinfectant lotion with you as well!

AIRLINES:
LAN was quite good, nice planes, friendly service and decent food.  Nice  blankets, pillow and headphones were supplied, lots of entertainment to choose from.  They were efficient  and friendly at checkin.  One note, Lima airport food is quite expensive so buy snacks for the plane elsewhere.  Water is confiscated as your board the plane so don’t bother buying a $3.00 bottle of water to bring on the plane because someone from the TSA will be enjoying it as you sit on the plane waiting for the flight attendant to bring the beverage cart!

SHOPPING:
There are nice handcrafts in the stores and markets.  Weaving (colorful runners, back packets, purses of all sizes, table clothes, blankets) as well as silver jewelry, pottery, and all the souvenirs you’d need.  Wool clothing from beautiful baby alpaca is available but expensive, they make shawls, scarfs, and coats in an abundance of colors and styles.  (the wool doesn’t come  from baby animals but the “baby” means the first wool sheared from an alpaca.  It’s the softest, subsequent cuts are slightly less soft).

Our guide didn’t advocate shopping and didn’t bring us to souvenir places, he actually discouraged shopping unless we were buying handmade things. For instance when we went to visit the Eros people on Lake Titicaca the young women brought out hand crafted embroidery, straw and knitted goods they had made.  At the farm we visited the women showed us knitted small animals to hang or as tree ornaments. What the tourists buy directly affect these people’s lives and leave us with memories of our visit.