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12 Things You Should Know Before Traveling to Cusco

  1. Altitude Sickness. Perhaps the number one fear that travelers have when visiting Cusco and other high-altitude areas in Peru is altitude sickness. The dramatic change in altitude can cause nausea, headaches, fatigue, and other symptoms. It is important to remember that your body will acclimate once you have been in the high altitude for a couple of days. Even though altitude sickness can be worse for certain people, it can be easily managed! Drink plenty of water and avoid drinking alcohol and smoking for your first couple of days. Also, areas surrounding Cusco can have higher altitudes, so it is best to stay in the city or the Sacred Valley for your first couple of days to get acclimated before trying to hike. Travelers can also benefit from the medicinal properties of the Coca plant. Coca tea is great for altitude sickness and we recommend drinking coca tea during the day. In addition, coca gum and candies can also be found in most supermarkets. For more tips on combating altitude sickness check out our blog here.
  2. Food. Eating out is also a concern for travelers, but that doesn’t mean you have to miss out on delicious, traditional Peruvian cuisine! There are certain ways that some foods are prepared in Peru, however, that your body may not be accustomed to. For example, meat sold on the street or in outdoor markets is something to be wary of. Outside of a grocery store, meat is often not refrigerated or protected from the environment which leaves it susceptible to flies and salmonella. Cooked street meat is also dangerous since it may have been outside for a prolonged period of time and also may have not been refrigerated prior to being cooked. Eggs are also another food that is not refrigerated, so we recommend exercising caution when ordering eggs at a restaurant and if you feel there is a possibility that they aren’t fresh, you may want to order something else. In restaurants also be careful when ordering salads because sometimes the vegetables are not thoroughly washed. The sauces at your table may also be old so check to see if it looks like they have been left out for a while. All of this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t try local Peruvian food. Peru has a variety of foods that aren’t available in other countries and that you should take advantage of such as alpaca, cuy (guinea pig), and various types of fruits and vegetables. For more recommendations about food and restaurants in Cusco, please see our blog here.
  3. Water. Only drink bottled, filtered or boiled water and do not drink water straight from the tap! Water from the tap is fine for washing your hands, showering, and brushing your teeth. In terms of showering in Cusco it is best to keep your showers short. If you are staying at a hotel then you will probably have hot or warm water most of the time. If you are staying at a homestay or apartment, however, you may not be so lucky. Preferably take them during a hotter part of the day so you aren’t so cold when you step out. Water is a precious resource in Peru so there is often a period in the day or night when you will not have water if you are staying at a homestay or apartment. Be prepared with extra water that you can drink or boil as well as hand sanitizer. Also, remember not to put toilet paper in the toilet since this needs to be thrown away in a trashcan instead!
  4. Exchanging Money. The people who wear vests and sit outside of banks are legitimate people to exchange money with. Often when you get a large amount of money from an ATM it will come out as mainly 100 soles bills, which can be difficult to use unless you are making a big purchase, so these workers are extremely useful when you need to get smaller bills. It is also good to keep in mind that if you want to exchange money that your bills should be in good condition (not worn and no tears) otherwise they won’t be accepted.
  5. Credit Cards. Make sure your credit card has a pin before you leave for Peru. When you withdraw money from an ATM in Peru you will be prompted to put in your pin, so if you don’t have one then you can’t withdraw money. You would then need to call your bank and set up a temporary pin while you are out of the country. Cards with chips often don’t have pins because of the extra security that the card provides. Also, it is a good idea to let your credit card company know that you will be traveling to Peru and that they should allow charges from Peru to go through on your card. Another thing to keep in mind is that ATMs often have withdrawal limits, so you may not be able to take out large amounts of cash each day.
  6. Taxis. We recommend taking a cab after 9:00 pm instead of walking, especially if you are traveling alone. Cusco is a safe city, but like any other city, it is necessary to take precautions when it is nighttime and after 6:00 pm it is dark. Taking a taxi is affordable since most rides in Cusco cost around 4-6 soles. However, there are, different types of taxis in Cusco and some are not registered official taxis. We recommend taking a taxi that has the typical advertisement box on top as well as a registration number either on the front windshield or on a side window. These taxis are registered and may cost more than unregistered taxis, but usually only by about 1 or 2 soles. You can also download apps like EasyTaxi that only use registered taxis, or have your hotel call a taxi for you. Since taxis in Cusco do not have meters, it is best to negotiate the price before getting in.
  7. Safety. When at a bar or club, it is important to be careful with your drinks, since it is possible for a drug to be slipped into your drink. Keep an eye on your drink and don’t accept a drink from someone if you didn’t see the drink being made. Also, make sure to watch out for pickpocketing especially when on the street or in a crowded area. Don’t put your money, phone, or camera in your pockets. If you put them in your backpack, wear your backpack in front of you, and the same goes for if you are using a purse or any other type of bag. One strategy used is that in a crowded place someone will attempt to get your attention in order to steal one of your belongings. If you feel a stranger tapping you or trying to get your attention it is best to ignore them unless something is actually happening around you.
  8. Bargaining. Don’t be afraid to bargain since it is common to haggle for a better price especially at outdoor markets. Often vendors will start at a higher price than the item is worth. It is important to not be unreasonable with your request but instead ask if they could sell it for less (you could even mention a price that would work for you), or ask for a deal if you are buying multiple items.
  9. Medicine. Pharmacies in Cusco are extremely different from pharmacies in other countries. Prescriptions are not necessary for many medications so if you are feeling sick you can walk into a pharmacy, describe your symptoms, and receive medication without visiting a doctor. Pharmacies also offer medicine for altitude sickness called soroche pills. Motion sickness pills can help to reduce symptoms of altitude sickness, as well as taking ibuprofen. If you buy these pills before reaching Cusco, you can take them on the plane.
  10. Sun Protection. Sunscreen and hats are a must. Because of the high altitude and the close location to the equator, it is easy to get sunburned, even if it doesn’t feel particularly hot!
  11. Weather. The weather in Cusco can be extremely varied. If you are traveling during the rainy season from October to April make sure to bring a raincoat, plastic poncho, and umbrella. If you are traveling during the winter from May to September, it is best to bring a variety of clothes. During the day it can be extremely warm, however in the morning and nighttime it can be quite chilly. Bring lots of layers as well as jackets, scarves, and sweaters. For the nighttime some hotels have heaters but you can also take advantage of the extremely warm alpaca blankets that most Peruvians use.
  12. Laundromats. Lavanderias are inexpensive and are the best option for washing your clothes in Peru. Your hotel may offer a laundry service, otherwise there are many lavanderias around the Plaza de Armas that are inexpensive and reliable. Make sure to ask how many soles per kilo it will be and how long the service takes. Some cheaper laundromats air dry clothes after washing them which takes longer, and other laundromats will have dryers so your clothes should be ready faster.

Source: Cusi Travel