2. Don’t eat street food until you have the lay of the land from your own experience, or better yet, a local’s experience.
3. Give yourself 4 or 5 days, ideally, before doing the Inca Trail, or other arduous hikes at high altitude – even if you are extremely fit. You will have a much better experience if your body is able to acclimatize to the dramatic elevation of the region. Feeling slightly ill for the first day or two is entirely normal as your body adjusts to 11,200 feet.
4. Use portable hand sanitizer (available at major pharmacies in Cusco) before every meal. This is one of the very best ways to prevent illness while traveling. I can’t stress the importance of this enough.
5. Don’t go crazy with the booze the first two nights. No matter what your professional bar stool experience is, you may suffer if you disregard this rule. Drinking is different at 11,200 feet elevation as you will discover -- hopefully not the hard way.
6. Cusco is incredibly safe. I’ve been living here 6 months and the incidents of theft seem low. That being said, wandering far away from the main square (the Plaza de Armas) while inebriated, you may court potential problems -- as in any city. But Cusco is way safer than I thought it was. It is safer than my neighborhood at home: Downtown Los Angeles. Also, there is a large police presence in Cusco – especially near the main square.
7. Use your smartphone as much as you want in Cusco, except, perhaps, in large crowds. If you are aware of your surroundings and not careless, it shouldn’t be a problem. Smartphones don’t attract as much attention in Cusco as they used to because they are becoming ubiquitous. Same goes for Aguas Calientes and all around Machu Picchu.
8. Bring 2 Mophies (or similar) portable battery chargers for your cell phone and other devices to take lots of pictures. It’s one of my favorite purchases for moving to Cusco. The other is activated charcoal pills (see Number 1).
9. You can get a very nice hotel or hostel in Cusco -- that you might be very happy with -- for $70 US dollars a night. Actually, depending on your lifestyle, you might be quite happy, indeed, with something for $25 US dollars a night which will still put you in a super safe area of Cusco close to the main square. Hotels can be extremely cheap in Cusco as well as clean and safe. Don’t overpay due to lack of research and, perhaps, spend your money on food and day trips instead.
10. As I’ve mentioned above, there is some amount of legitimate concern about food-borne illness (mostly minor) in Cusco. Don’t be overly concerned, but it is an issue to be aware of. Here is my list of super safe restaurants in Cusco. I have eaten at all of them numerous times and obtained references on them from other expats as well:
Eva’s Cafe (new! on Carmen Alto Street in San Blas offering a variant of Dave Asprey's Bulletproof Coffee!)
Warning: I have done extensive and diligent research in creating this list. In my opinion, all these restaurants have very safe food practices (addtionally: salads, veggies, and ice cubes are totally fine here) and, in addition, they are delicious! But this does not mean you can't get sick at these restaurants. When traveling always use your best judgement and instincts.
11. A 4-day hike on the Inca Trail, including entrance and guide for Machu Picchu, and ticket to hike up Machu Picchu or Wayna Picchu mountain, and porters to carry the bulk of your things the whole way, and high quality food cooked by a chef every morning and evening should not cost more than $750 US dollars. If your 4-day Inca Trail hike is much more than this amount, make sure you are getting what you pay for. I used Alpaca Expeditions for about $750 including all the tips to the guides, cook, and porters and my experience was superb. So be warned: $1000 for this is very high.
12. If you take the train to Machu Picchu, you definitely want to take the one with the fantastic view: The Vistadome. It’s very memorable.
13. If you are staying for a long time in Peru, it is worth considering getting a Charles Schwab account that will not charge you for ATM withdrawals. Warning: it is possible that total charges per withdrawal can be as high as $12 US dollars without a Charles Schwab account and that is ridiculous bordering on insanity. If your stay in South America is long, you could get murdered on ATM fees. Be warned.
14. I would commit to memory: 15 or 20 basic Spanish phrases before you arrive. It will help your trip immensely. Please set aside time for this and practice.
15. Pay no more than 10 soles (about 3 US dollars) for a taxi from the airport to the main square: The Plaza de Armas. Actually, 10 soles is high, expats pay 7 or 8 soles for this trip. And locals pay even less.
Peru is a country that has stolen my heart and is one of the very best values in the world for the myriad beauty and adventure that you can experience here for pennies on the dollar.
1. Machu Picchu.
2. Sandboarding and the oasis at Huacachina. Best bare-bones, cheap hostel with very nice owners, here. Also, they will hook you up with the best sandboarding tour in Huacachina -- 3 different dunes (one of them enormous) for super cheap.
3. A plane ride (in a verrry small plane) over the mysterious Nazca Lines.
4. Cusco and the surrounding ruins.
5. The Manu jungle, using the small town of Pillcopata as a home base.
6. Walking around The Devil’s Balcony near the ruins of Sacsaywoman in Cusco.
Safe travels and enjoy Peru!!