Peru Travel: 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Trip

Peru Travel: 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Trip

For the longest time, I wanted to spend at least one of my birthdays on a different continent. About two months before turning 25, my now-husband and I figured out that we could swing a weeklong Peru travel adventure for my birthday that June.  We immediately booked everything.  I was so psyched.  Getting to celebrate a quarter-century of being alive by exploring ancient Incan ruins?  Sign me up!

Even though this was a relatively last minute booking for a transcontinental trip, by my standards anyway, I tried to learn as much about Peru as I could.  Did I mention that we were planning our wedding while also organizing this trip?  In between deciding on floral arrangements and picking the music, I was attempting to research all I could about Peru.

And while I feel as though I did a pretty decent job gathering information before we left, there are always a few things that no amount of internet research or travel guides books can prepare you for.  Here is what I wished I had known about before our whirlwind week in Peru:

Peru Travel: 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Trip

1. More about the Corpus Christi festival that we walked into.

In the past, I have made the mistake of booking a trip to another country and not checking beforehand to see what, if any, holidays might be happening during my time there.  Since then, I have tried very hard not to repeat this mistake.

I dutifully Googled “National Holidays in Peru” and saw that there were none slated for our time there and thought we were good to go.  But upon our arrival in Cusco, Peru, I discovered that I should have been more specific with my search terms because the Corpus Christi festival was in full swing.

This turned out to be a very pleasant surprise as this festival is beautiful and lively.  The Corpus Christi Festival happens sixty days after Easter.  Fifteen saints and virgins are memorialized in the form of an effigy, then take part in different parades in town, and eventually converge in the Cathedral of Cusco to “meet” the body of Christ. And the parades are beautiful.

The effigies popped with color and bands followed them around the Plaza de Armas, the main square in Cusco.  We were even lucky enough to catch a bunch of choreographed dances that were performed by different community groups.  It was a beautiful and welcomed surprise, but I really wish I had learned more about it before experiencing it firsthand.

2. It gets pretty cold at night in the mountains.

You can probably skip this one if you have spent a lot of time in the Rockies, Himalayas, or some other mountain range.  But if you’re like me, who grew up in a pretty flat area (suburban Washington, DC), went to college in an even flatter area (Indiana), and has never spent any time on any mountain range, please take my advice on this one.  Pack lots of warm layers.  It might be nice and warm during the day, but it gets cold at night.  And fast.

I made the silly mistake of leaving my fleece at the hotel during our first full day in Cusco, and I sorely regretted that decision when the sun started to set.  I knew it was going to get colder at night, but I severely underestimated just how cold it would get.  We ended up going to a market our second day in Cusco so that I could get a hat.

While I flipped through the back of my tour book to find the word “hat,” my husband racked his brain, trying to see if he could recall anything from his high school Spanish class he took ten years earlier.  Luckily, we made it work and I walked away with a fantastic hat with llamas on it that kept my ears nice and toasty for the rest of our trip.

3. Hiking up Huayana Picchu is like walking up a set of stairs.

Climbing Huayna Picchu when we got to Machu Picchu was something my husband and I both really wanted to do when we were in Peru, so we decided to book tickets for it.  This mountain that looms over Machu Picchu boasts some of the best views of the ruins.  We didn’t want to miss our chance to see everything from up above while we could.  Even though I had read that the climb was intense, I really wanted to see Machu Picchu from the top.

When we reached the entrance gate for Huayna Picchu early on the morning of my birthday, I will admit that I was a little taken back at how tall the mountain was.

Once we started our ascent, I knew that getting to the top was going to be no easy task.  And when you are schlepping up a mountainside at what feels like a 90-degree angle with a backpack full of camera equipment, food, and water, the climb becomes exponentially harder.  Combine that with the thin air of the high altitude and you are set with quite a challenge.

The feeling of accomplishment I had when I reached the top was unlike any other feeling I had ever had.  The view of Machu Picchu from the top was worth every single step up.

But because the hike is so challenging, you have lots of people smiling and encouraging you to keep on going.  And in turn, you find yourself doing the same thing for others who look like they need encouragement.  But the trek was all worth it.  The feeling of accomplishment I had when I reached the top was unlike any other feeling I had ever had.  The view of Machu Picchu from the top was worth every single step up.

machu picchu
Peru travel view from Huayana Picchu

4. Rainy season may run from October to April, but don’t let that trick you into thinking it still won’t affect you.

Prior to this trip, I had never traveled to a country with a defined rainy season.  I didn’t grasp the fact that even though you might be traveling outside of rainy season, you might have to deal with its effects a few months after its end.

Since we were on a time crunch, we decided to take the train to and from Aguas Calientes, the town everyone uses as a jumping off point to Machu Picchu.  We were informed on our ride back that the train would not be able to take us all the way to Cusco because there was a lot of damage to the tracks during the rainy season that had still not been repaired.

So we had to board buses at one of the small towns in order to make the remaining hour and a half trip.  While I was dreading getting on the bus for the last leg of our journey back, the drive turned out to be beautiful.  I had never seen the stars so clearly before in my life.

This just goes to show that you can plan and plan, but things still may not work out the way you originally intended them to.  I did enjoy the bus ride, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if it were not for the next thing I learned.

Peru Travel: 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Trip

5. They aren’t kidding about the water.

I had never been so freaking miserable in my life.

Having studied abroad in Russia for an academic year, I knew that when you are given warnings about not drinking the water, you should heed that advice.  I was so very careful to make sure that I didn’t ingest any water while in Peru because I knew that the outcome would be bad.  But I still managed to get slammed with a stomach bug.  It took me awhile to come to this conclusion, but I’m 90% sure it was caused by the ice cubes in some pisco sours we had one night.

My husband started feeling sick the night before we climbed Huayna Picchu, and I started to feel sick on our bus ride back to Cusco.  Then the bug hit us like a ton of bricks in Lima, which was a complete shame because I had planned a great weekend for us there.  Unfortunately, we were confined to our hotel room for 48 hours and took turns running to the corner store to buy crackers and ginger ale.

Our Peru travel adventure was fantastic, even if I did suffer from a stomach bug for a couple of days. I firmly believe that you really don’t know yourself until you handle a few curve balls that have been thrown your way, especially in a foreign country.

Honestly, I ended up laughing about all of this because it was so ridiculous.  This was supposed to the be romantic end to my birthday trip and here we were, stuck in bed with a stomach virus of some sort.  I still crack up when I think about it.  Why bother dwelling on what could have been?  Sure, we could have had a fantastic time at some restaurant, but we also had fun watching bad Peruvian television while sipping ginger ale.

Do I wish I could redo my trip to Peru with this knowledge at hand? Absolutely not. Our Peru travel adventure was fantastic, even if I did suffer from a stomach bug for a couple of days.

I firmly believe that you really don’t know yourself until you handle a few curve balls that have been thrown your way, especially in a foreign country.  And I wouldn’t trade what I learned about this beautiful country and myself on this trip for anything.

Peru Travel: 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Trip

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Have you traveled to Peru? What were your impressions? Email us at editor@pinkpangea.com for information about sharing your experience and advice with the Pink Pangea community. We can’t wait to hear from you.

Peru Travel: 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Trip photo credits: Anne Rathell

About Anne Rathell

Anne RathellCurrently a grad student at the University of Pennsylvania, Anne Rathell is always on the lookout for her next adventure.  When she’s not planning her next trip, you can find her in the kitchen baking, practicing yoga at her favorite studio, attempting to learn a new language, or curled up on the couch with her dog.  Feel free to follow her international travels on Anne’s Adventures Abroad.

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