Traditional dancers in Cusco, Peru. Photo by Tony Dunnell.
You’ll need to sort out a few practicalities before traveling to Peru: all those boring fiddly things that no-one actually wants to do but are necessary before heading to some far-flung part of the world.
Below you’ll find a checklist of all that you might need to do before you go to Peru, ranging from financial matters to visas to teaching your grandmother how to use Skype. As always, if you have any questions feel free to ask me in the comments section below.
Things to Do Before Traveling to Peru
Save enough money for Peru — Beg, borrow or steal. OK, so don’t steal. But make sure you have enough money saved for your trip. This will obviously depend on how many days you have in Peru and your style of travel. If you need a cash injection before you go to Peru, sell some of your stuff. I helped finance my first six-month trip to Brazil by selling all the Star Wars toys I had from when I was a kid (it hurt, but it was worth it).
Decide whether to go alone, or with friends, with family etc. — It’s a big decision, so think carefully and weigh-up the pros and cons.
Check your passport — Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months after the return date of your trip.
Tourist visa issues — You probably won’t need to apply for a visa to go to Peru as a tourist. Foreigners of various nationalities — including the USA, UK, Canada, Australia and more — can enter the country for up to 183 days with a simple entry-exit card called the Tarjeta Andina. But check in advance, as some nationalities do require a visa, which you must apply for well in advance.
Book the Inca Trail — If you want to hike the classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, then you should ideally try to book your trek at least six months before you go to Peru. Consider trekking with one of these Inca Trail tour operators.
Travel insurance — This is one of those should-I-shouldn’t-I travel issues, and quite a few travelers decide to go without travel insurance. But it’s always best to have it, so give it some serious thought before you go.
Vaccinations — No vaccines are required for entering Peru. But there are a few recommended vaccinations for Peru, and you might need the shots weeks or sometimes months before you travel.
Money — It’s easy enough to fly into Peru and withdraw local currency when you arrive. You’ll find ATMs all over Peru, including inside Lima Airport. You can also use dollars in Peru (and change them at the airport), but it’s normally best to carry local currency. You could change some cash into Peruvian nuevos soles at home before you travel, or just withdraw soles from an ATM in Peru. Learn the exchange rate before traveling to Peru so you know how much you’re spending.
Clear debit and/or credit cards for use abroad — Contact your bank and ask them to clear your cards for use in Peru (and any other countries you might visit afterwards). If not, they might flag them and freeze them as soon as they’re used abroad. Which, believe me, is a royal pain in the ass.
Online banking — If you don’t already use online banking, set it up before you travel. It’s a quick and easy way to check and manage your account(s) while abroad.
Pay any outstanding bills — Paying bills always hurts, especially when you’re trying to save for a trip. But returning home to find you’ve racked up a bunch of additional fees or fines hurts even more.
Cancel unnecessary regular payments, subscriptions and standing orders — If you’ll be in Peru for a while, it might be worth canceling some of your regular services. Gas, electricity, water, broadband, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Pornhub Premium, whatever, cancel it if you don’t need it.
Provide for your pets — This is an obvious one, but it’s worth sorting this out well in advance. Find a reliable friend or family member who can look after your dog, cat or tortoise, so you can travel without worrying all the time.
You’ve got mail — You might need to have your mail forwarded to friends or family, or have it held at the post office.
Backup your documents — It’s worth having soft copies and hard copies of all your important travel documents, including your flight details, passport, travel insurance etc. Leave photocopies with a friend or family member back home, and consider storing soft copies on Dropbox or any other file hosting service (or just email copies to yourself).
Sort out your communications — Teach your parents or grandparents how to use Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook or whatever other method of communication you use. And accept the fact that they’ll still probably want a postcard.
Tell someone your travel plans — Even if you’re a hermit living in a lighthouse on some godforsaken rock five miles off a desolate coastline, it’s always a good idea to tell someone you’re going to Peru. Even if it’s just the mailman.
Register your trip — For an extra level of security in case of emergency, you can enroll with your government’s travel registration service. For example, STEP for US citizens; Registration of Canadians Abroad for Canadians; and Smartraveller for Australians. The UK ended its LOCATE travel registration service in 2013 and, as far as I’m aware, never really replaced it.
Learn basic Spanish — Six months before you go to Peru, do yourself a favor and start learning some Spanish. Buy a phrasebook and learn some basics. Better still, buy an audio course or start a free online course like Duolingo. A little Spanish goes a long way in Peru, even if it’s just for basic situations like ordering food in a restaurant or asking for directions.
Buy a good backpack — Your backpack will be your continual travel companion in Peru, so you might as well buy a good one. Depending on how long you’ll be traveling, a pack between 45 and 65 liters should be about the right size. Read my tips for buying the best backpack for Peru (and South America) here.
Check your electronics — Check your laptop, smartphone, hairdryer, curling tongs and any other electronics you’ll be taking to make sure they can accept the electrical current in Peru. You’ll probably need a plug adapter, and you might need a voltage converter (although many electrical items are now dual current and don’t require a converter). Also, do you actually need to take a laptop to Peru? Do you really need curling tongs? Unless they’re essential, consider leaving them at home.
Check baggage allowances and customs regulations — Before traveling to Peru, check the baggage allowances for your international flight and the allowances for domestic flights in Peru. Stay within these allowances and you’ll avoid additional baggage fees. Also check the customs regulations for entering Peru to avoid problems on arrival.
Plan the very first day of your trip — Even if you’re a free and easy backpacker who’s happy taking things as they come, it’s never a bad idea to at least plan your first day. It’s worth knowing how to get from Lima Airport to Miraflores, so that you don’t get stranded or ripped off on arrival. It’s also good to know which districts in Lima are best for tourists, and which areas in Lima are dangerous. Consider booking a hostel or hotel in advance, at least for your first night. And if you’re flying into Lima just for a layover before heading to Cusco or elsewhere, you might want to stay at a hotel or hostel close to Lima Airport.
Have a leaving party just because you can — Any excuse is a good excuse for a party, right? Just do it a few days before you leave so you don’t have to travel with a terrible hangover.
Pack and go — That’s pretty much all you need to do. Now just pack your bags (once you’ve decided what you’re packing for Peru), head to the airport and fly to Lima. Have a great trip, and if you have any questions just let me know.