Travel can be stressful and rewarding. It can bring out the best and the worst in people. But a well-prepared traveler armed with an arsenal of field-tested tips can be sure to have the trip of a lifetime.
If you’re planning a trip to Cusco and the Sacred Valley, just follow these tips, and I promise you’ll have fewer Grumpy Cat moments.
- Take Diamox to prevent altitude sickness. If you don’t want to waste time feeling miserable in your hotel room, this stuff will do the trick. You’ll be ready for exploring as soon as you arrive. The side effects are mild – carbonated drinks will taste a bit flat and you’ll feel tingling in your hands and feet every so often. I am not a doctor, so talk to one to make sure this is right for you.
- Don’t drink the water. This includes brushing your teeth and ice cubes. Only use bottled, boiled, or filtered water and if it is bottled, make sure the cap is sealed when you purchase.
- Bring hand sanitizer and use it. To be safe, load it on after washing your hands in tap water and before you eat.
- Be wary of street food. Make sure it is cooked fresh and hasn’t been sitting around.
- Cooked food is always safer. Avoid unpeeled, uncooked fruit and veggies.
- Bring pepto bismol tablets for when you inevitably break these rules. If you do get sick, they’ll work like a champ.
Know the Logistics
- Have an idea of what you want to do. You don’t need your trip planned down to the hour, but a rough idea of what you want to do each day and when sites are open can be very helpful. Sundays are big market days in the Sacred Valley, and we planned our activities around that.
- Make sure your taxi is licensed. Anyone can claim to be a taxi driver in Peru. Many drivers aren’t licensed, and in some rare cases they may rob you.
- Better yet, ask your hostel or hotel to hire a taxi for you. They often have trusted drivers they work with regularly. Garren and I hired a taxi driver for a full day allowing us to Choose Our Own Adventure in the Sacred Valley.
- Some businesses prefer US dollars, but they have to be pristine. If you’ll be using US cash, make sure it isn’t torn or severely creased or your bills will be rejected.
- Dress in layers. In the mountains, the mornings and nights are freezing cold but the days can be quite warm. You will want a light-weight shirt and a compressible warm jacket at the very least.
- Wear sturdy shoes. Ladies, don’t even think about wearing heels in Cusco or the Sacred Valley. You won’t get anywhere and you’ll look ridiculous. The cobblestones are so uneven that even wearing my flats was a bit of a stretch.
- Don’t be so gullible. Touts abound in Cusco and the Sacred Valley. Unless you want to be followed several blocks down the street (yes, this happened to us several times) don’t look interested and just keep walking.
- “Baby alpaca!” More like “maybe alpaca,” joked our Inca Trail guide. 100% baby alpaca wool costs hundreds of dollars for a single knit item, so if you are shopping for knits, know that they are probably made with a blend of llama wool and a few threads of baby alpaca wool (if there is any alpaca in there at all).
- Haggle! They expect you to do it, and it is part of the fun of shopping at the markets. Just don’t go overboard. Remember that fretting over 5 Soles is really just a couple of dollars.
- Ask for items that are “hecho a mano” (made by hand). Most of the handicrafts you’ll see will be machine-made tourist junk. For something truly unique, ask the seller if he/she made it themselves. These are the real gems.
Have More Fun
- You don’t need to speak Spanish to visit here, but you should learn some Spanish anyway. The people you interact with will appreciate your attempts and you will definitely get more out of your experiences. Some of my favorite parts of our trip were speaking with the locals. I highly recommend the free podcast Coffee Break Spanish for learning.
- Pick a few sites to see and really see them. When you aren’t rushing from place to place, you will get a better appreciation for the sites and be able to see the parts that the hoards of tourists skip. Hiring a local guide is a great way to get the most out of your visit, and can be pretty cheap.
- Take a cooking class. The food will be better than the tourist trap restaurants, and you can experience real Peruvian cuisine and culture. You’ll also get to hang out with a local chef for the day and make some friends with your fellow classmates.
- Wander the streets around Cusco’s historic city center. Cusco always has a party going on, and every time we went out we came across a celebration. Hang out in the squares, wander down little side streets, and drag yourself up the San Cristobal hills to get a birds eye view of the city.
If you follow these tips, you’ll be better prepared to enjoy Cusco and the Sacred Valley, and can focus on having the trip of a lifetime.
Coming up next is the beginning of our Inca Trail trekking adventure, and I couldn’t be more excited to share it with you! Subscribe below or Like Breadcrumbs Guide on Facebook to make sure you receive updates when there’s a new post.
Did I miss something? Cusco travelers – add your own tips in the comments!