This was Garren’s and my first time in South America and our first time south of the Equator. We couldn’t have asked for a better trip to start our southern hemisphere adventures. The ancient Inca capital city of Cusco took our breath away from the moment we arrived (although some of that may have been due to reduced oxygen at such a high altitude). Here are some things to look forward to on Breadcrumbs Guide:
Cusco drew us in with its history and culture, but its people stole our hearts.
The nearby Sacred Valley told stories of life, loss, and survival in the small towns and Inca ruins dotted along the Urubamba River.
The Inca Trail tested our determination and rewarded us with once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Not many backpacking trails can boast ancient ruins, lush rainforest, high mountain passes, and rich cultural history in such a short span.
Machu Picchu lived up to the hype, and was all the more powerful seeing it from the end of the Inca Trail. Not only are the ruins impressive, but the setting is what makes it spectacular.
If that sounds cool, then follow me and subscribe! You’ll get each new post, plus a detailed itinerary, packing list, budget, and travel tips at the end. For now, here is a strategy guide for making the best of your flight to Cusco:
Strategy Guide for your Flight to Cusco
Pretty much everyone visiting Machu Picchu will fly into Cusco from Lima. If you have the time to fit Lima into your schedule then, by all means, go crazy you lucky duck! (And by go crazy, I mean see the sights, meet the people, and eat lots and lots of ceviche). Even if you only spend a day or two in Lima, it will help break up the flight to Cusco and you can avoid the dreaded overnight layover in the Lima Airport. But if, like Garren and I, you only have a limited number of vacation days to work with, and you’ve made the tough choice to save Lima for another visit, you will find a few extra tips at the end for Surviving the Lima Layover.
- Most US flights into Lima arrive at night and most Cusco departures are in the morning. That leaves many travelers stuck in the Lima airport overnight. There are two strategies you can use to make this bearable: 1. Find the flights that give you the shortest possible layover (this will still probably be 6 or 7 hours minimum, in the middle of the night). 2. Find flights that give you the longest possible layover, and use that time to leave the airport and sleep.
- Take Diamox for altitude sickness. Cusco is high up in the Andes at 11,200 ft and the air has 34% less oxygen than at sea level. Help prepare your body for arrival by starting Diamox 24 hours before your arrival in Cusco. If you’re coming from outside South America, that means you’ll probably be poppin’ those pills right around the time you’re zipping up the suitcases and heading off for the airport.
- Lima airport is strict about carry-on size. That means if you are trekking, you’ll need to check your large backpacking packs. Make sure you have the essentials in a small carry-on. Our packs had a top compartment that detached from the rest of the pack, so we quickly stashed things in there and parted with the rest of our packs, watching them disappear down the conveyor belt, thinking there was a pretty good chance we’d never see them again.
- Don’t get locked-up-abroad. Ok, this one is a joke because Garren watched a bunch of episodes of Locked Up Abroad – Peru before we left, but apparently some people get tricked into smuggling drugs from Peru in their luggage. If someone asks you to give them your luggage temporarily, in exchange for cash, please don’t be an idiot. On our return journey, each passenger and their luggage was passed over by drug-sniffing dogs before being allowed onto US soil.
- Know the exchange rate – don’t get ripped off. We were so thirsty and desperate for some water that we grabbed two bottles from the first store we saw. Guess what, they happened to be Evian, and cost us 13.5 soles EACH. That’s almost 5 USD, an atrocious price for Peru. The next closest bottled water would have cost us 3 soles, or about a dollar. Boy did we feel stupid.
- Score a window seat on the flight from Lima to Cusco. Seriously! The sunrise views from the airplane were stellar, and I was so mad to be sitting in the aisle while the window seat passenger slept with his head covering the window. I peeked and peered around as much as I could while the rest of the passengers oohed and aahhed at the sun rising over the magestic mountain peaks. I caught a couple glances, and boy were they incredible!
- Compression socks aren’t a bad idea… Ok, I am so lame for saying this, but those ugly, tight, leg squeezing socks your grandpa wears just might prevent you from getting a blood clot on a seriously long journey in the middle of the night when you’re unlikely to be moving around much. And if you are like me and have an increased risk for clots (yay genetic mutations…) then these leg-squeezing grandpa socks are a no-brainer. They make some that are a little less old-mannish for runners, so you can check those out.
- Cusco is cold in the morning! Another reason to have that jacket in your carry-on so you don’t freeze waiting for the bags to arrive at baggage claim.
Surviving the Lima Layover
If we hadn’t been so cheap, we should have picked a flight to Cusco with a longer layover. What??? Just wait… With a longer layover, we could have had time to sleep in the hotel attached to the airport. It was expensive, and with our seven hour layover, we would have only had a few hours of sleep. Not worth it for us, but if you can work a 10-12 hour layover into your flight, it might be worth every sol. As Garren pointed out, I should have taken my own advice from our Hawaii trip and arrived in Cusco fresh as a daisy.
- You’ll need about an hour to go through immigration, customs, and to check in for the next flight. Then you wait.
- You can’t go through security until about 1:30am so you’ll need to hang out in the food court until then. Stay comfy and take a nap by setting up camp at the booths along the wall of 4D Cafeladeria and order a drink or snack if they are open so you don’t get kicked out.
- At 1:30am, head through security and find some empty chairs to stretch out in. The chairs near the gates don’t have armrests, so you can lay across a bunch of them and sleep. Everyone does it. Make sure you set an alarm so you don’t miss your flight to Cusco!
- I knew the seven hour overnight layover in the Lima airport would be exhausting, uncomfortable, and long. What I didn’t expect was for it to be near-freezing temperatures inside. I shivered for hours while trying to sleep, dreaming of my warm cozy jacket tucked in my pack, somewhere with the rest of the checked bags. Do yourself a favor and keep your jacket in your carry-on.
I hope these tips have been helpful for your trip planning. I spent a lot of time before our flight to Cusco trying to figure out what people did to make the Lima Layover bearable, but I came up with very little information. If you have any questions about your plans for your flight to Cusco, big or small, shoot me an email or post a question in the comments.
I’m pumped to share my Peruvian adventures with you all in the next coming weeks! If you want to receive new posts, itineraries, packing lists, and budgets from my travels, please subscribe!