As it turns out, packing for Peru is such a different kettle of fish!
Given the amount of travelling we do, I kinda pride myself on being very good at packing. No shadow of a lie here, if you told me that a taxi would be arriving within 20 minutes to take me to the airport where I would be heading off to say, New York, I’d have enough time to pack and even spare time for a cup of tea while I waited for the taxi.
I’ve gotten it down it a fine art… and I don’t even work off a list like I used to back in the early days. Part of this of course involved being much more aware of what I need when I travel and what I want (but never need) and ditching the latter.
Peru was so different. For starters, there’s the whole temperature difference. It goes from freezing to positively tropical in just a few short hours so when it comes to packing clothes, you’ve got to go far and wide.
There are very few places in the world where you can go from needing a winter coat one minute to being uncomfortable in anything but shorts and a t-shirt the next. It’s so unlike anywhere else I’ve been.
Then there’s the fact that we would be doing things like hiking (I’m not a natural hiker – I’ve said this time and time again) but unlike the hikes I’ve been on in the past, there’s no escaping the elements. If it rains, you’ll get absolutely wet. If the temperature rises, there’s nowhere to hide in the shade. If it snows… well, you get the picture. It’s you against the elements.
Then there’s the fact that you’re going to be seeing some of the most amazing sights in the world and this is no time for packing light and forgetting things like your extra camera lens, GoPro or tripod… y’know, that stuff you absolutely need to travel with. I’m not gonna miss out on the opportunity of photographing a condor just because I ‘didn’t feel like’ taking my zoom lens with me. (FYI, I did not see a single condor).
The scenery is as diverse as the villages of Lake Titicaca (which macro lens are perfect for) right up to the expansive citadel of Machu Picchu (where wide-angle lens are absolutely essential) so you need to make sure you’ve got everything you need…
…and don’t get me started on the potential of altitude sickness, which meant I had to have meetings with my doctor in advance to make sure I got the right medication to help prevent altitude sickness; something I’d never done on any other trip before.
Like seriously, it was just such a different prep involved in getting ready for Peru!
In any case, to help you avoid the stress and potential panic, at least to some extent, we’ve put together this list of items you need to pack for your trip to Peru!
1.) Let’s start with the biggest and the most important item on the list – your suitcase/luggage!
A few weeks before our Peru trip, I’d just broken the wheel on my ‘old reliable’ suitcase so I was in the market for a new one for Peru. This was actually kinda perfect timing for me as for a the past 6 or so months of constantly travelling, I’d wanted to switch from a generic single compartment suitcase to one that had multiple compartments which I could use to organise my stuff when I travelled.
To avoid losing things when you travel, try to avoid fully unpacking your bags at your hotel – instead, use your suitcase as a mobile ‘wardrobe’. Every person I know who has lost things in hotels has usually done so because they’ve forgotten said item in their rush to re-pack. Personally, I also don’t like the stress and hassle of trying to find all my things in all the different compartments across a hotel room so it makes things so much easier to have everything exactly where I need it to be, all organised in internal compartments in my bag itself.
Now, the only problem with leaving stuff in a suitcase is organising, and that’s why it’s important to choose a bag with multiple compartments. It’s a principle I’d always adhered to in the past, particularly so with backpacks, and it’s one I’ve decided to apply to my new suitcase of choice. I love separate compartments that the bag has for my toiletries, others for my flip-flops, clothes and whatever else I’m travelling with (the last thing you want is shoes right on top of, say your underwear for example). I’m also pretty happy that the bag comes with it’s own ID card holder too – making it pretty easy to access my essential ID and Nando’s Card in a flash!
Long story short – my choice was the Osprey Sojourn 80!
It was pretty much lust-at-first sight. It’s got wheels (a seriously essential quality for any kind of checked in luggage), it’s also got a million and one compartments so I don’t have to spend ages looking for my headphones/sweets/keys. It’s light which means extra space in my luggage before hitting the weight limit. Oh, and this is one of my favourite features about it – it’s got straps to convert it into a backpack (and a retractable handle to pull along smoother surfaces) for all those cobbled streets and gravel roads! Talk about versatile luggage, eh?
It’s worth mentioning however that this particular one is a little too big for hand luggage, but Osprey have a similar smaller version that can be used as a backpack if that’s what you’re looking for.
It’s so perfect for Peru (and other big trips) as the most we would be spending in any place was two nights (plus we had early mornings almost every day) and as a result, I really needed luggage that would be easy to organise and wouldn’t be a pain to haul across the country (thank you wheels). It was a dream to use!
2.) Waterproof clothes
If you’re truly intent on seeing all that Peru has to offer, there will be no escaping some time outdoors and that of course means being at one with the elements. Typically, I never travel with waterproof clothing, but as we would be spending a lot of time outdoors e.g. at Machu Picchu, with no access to any shelter should it start raining, bringing waterproof clothes with us made perfect sense.
Good thing is you only really need two pieces – a hooded top (I went for this one) and some waterproof trousers you can just wear over your regular trousers (and take off once it stops raining – I went for these). We didn’t even realise we needed this stuff till the last-minute but thankfully, we’ve got Amazon Prime which meant we could get a same day delivery within 2 hours. Phew!
The waterproof clothes came in handy, by the way, (and that’s a big understatement), it was raining cats and dogs whilst we queued for the bus in Machu Picchu but we had no choice but to stand in the rain for 2 hours solid (otherwise we would have missed our entry slot) and boy were we grateful for the decision to take waterproofs.
Chances are, you’ll want to take decent photos when you’re here so I’d highly recommend taking a tripod with you – even (or perhaps, especially so) if it’s a travel sized tripod. Doing things like a timelapse over Machu Picchu or the Rainbow Mountains involved holding the camera perfectly still – hence the need for the tripod.
To be honest though, you could get away without using a tripod during the day (and improvising with your camera bag) but at night, you’ll be left with very little choice if you don’t have a tripod for those long exposure photos.
4.) Waterproof Hiking Shoes
Waterproof for the exact same reason as the waterproof clothes above but it’s important that these are sturdy hiking shoes as you might find that a lot of the stuff you’d want to do in Peru involve a fair bit of trekking. The last thing you want to do is hike with uncomfortable or unreasonable shoes.
I’ve gone mountain climbing in Sri Lanka with flip-flops and while I got away with it (I broke two pairs on the climb), it can be quite dangerous if you break your shoes and have to walk several miles on rocky terrain barefoot (or with a broken shoe).
5.) Water Bottles or a Camel Bag
Access to clean water is fairly easy when you’re smack bang in the city but a lot of the sights to see aren’t always in the city centre (Rainbow mountain is the perfect example). For times like this, when you have no access to bottled water, you’ll need to bring your own with you. (This one here is perfect for hikes like this).
6.) Flip Flops or Sandals
Just in case, it gets really warm here so you want to be able to walk around in something else other than solid hiking boots with thick socks. (These’ll do nicely!)
7.) Anti Sickness Medication and Headache pills
Effectively, whatever medication you would usually take with you on your travels should be taken but in addition to these, be sure to get yourself medication to help alleviate some of the symptoms of high altitude. Some of these include headache tablets, anti-sickness tablets, anti-diarrhoea tablets and most importantly of them all, Acetazolamide (commonly known as Diamox).
Diamox helps you fight the symptoms of altitude sickness, which comes from being at an altitude higher than 2,400 metres (8,000 ft) by correcting the chemical imbalance in your body caused by low oxygen levels when you’re at high altitude. You do need to take this a few days before you arrive and carry on for a few more after you arrive (I took mine the entire time I was there) but do seek medical advice on this before you take it.
Lloyd, Georgia and I took the medication while we were there and we didn’t have altitude sickness. We were breathless when we exerted ourselves but that’s fairly normal. Although it never fully went away, we found that we could cope with exerting ourselves a bit better as time went on. Chris didn’t take the medication and he was absolutely fine too so… 🙂
8.) Travel Adapters
Some hotels in Peru have European plugs, some American, some even Japanese and it can be hard to predict at times so just take a universal adapter with you when you go. This way, you’ll be able to use whatever plug is on offer at your hotel. (Here’re some for the Brits here and for the North Americans here).
9.) Winter Jackets, Hats and Gloves
This depends on where you are of course but most of the places at high altitude are quite cold at night. We were freezing when we arrived in Cusco but the its worth noting that the temperature can change quite a bit across the day so be prepared to take off layers as you move towards mid afternoon (and of course, to put them back on at nightfall – even gloves). The temperature range across the day is quite dramatic and so layering is important.
Due to the high elevation and close proximity to the equator, you will find yourself that extra bit closer to the sun. This means you’re more likely to burn if you skip on the sunscreen so do yourself a massive favour and slather that sunscreen on!
11.) Lip Balm
The air can be quite dry here (again, particularly so at high altitude) so you’ll find yourself needing lip balms here more than you usually would in everyday life. Cracked, painful lips are definitely not what anyone wants or needs on holidays so do remember to chuck that little tube into your hand luggage.
12.) A Lighter Backpack (waterproof)
When you go off hiking, or perhaps even just for a little wander around town during the day, you’ll probably find that you need a little backpack to keep, not just your water, but also your multiple layer of clothes that you’ll be taking on and off across the day.
It’s also important for this bag to be waterproof as this will be more likely to be carried around with you when you’re off doing active stuff and hence, subject to the elements.
13.) Insect Repellent
Make no mistake about it; you will be bitten a lot here if you don’t use insect repellent (they’ve got such a wide range of insect repellents stuff in the US). Granted at high altitude (which we were for the entire period we visited – apart from our transit in Lima), the mosquitoes that carry Zika and Malaria aren’t usually up here.
Just in case! We didn’t need it for a lot of stuff we did but we did stay in some really nice hotels with spa & pools so it made sense to pack swimwear anyway.
15.) Passport wallet
Now this might seem like the most mundane thing to add onto the list but bear with – there’s an important reason for prioritising this.
See, when you arrive in Peru, you get given a slip by immigration and for the entire period you’re in the country, you’ll constantly get asked for this slip… and for your passport. Even when we went to get the bus tickets for Machu Picchu, we ended up needing this and there’s almost no booking/check-in that you can do without the thing.
You could of course carry this in your pocket but again, you do not want to get caught out in the rain with this in your pocket (with no protection) or risk losing it because you keep moving it around in your camera bag so chances are you’ll probably want a safe and secure passport holder/wallet to keep all your stuff in.
Just in case you get stuck in a power outage… or you could also need a flashlight for when you end up hiking in the dark (not sure why you would though). We had no power outages when we were there and to be honest, if it did, I would have used my phone flashlight however, its worth noting and adding to your packing list, just in case.
17.) Tissues for hikers
When you hike, the toilet facilities leave a lot to be desired and needless to say, do not come with toilet roll, it’s worth packing some with you on your hikes just in case.
18.) Travel water purification system
We planned in advance for pretty much every day and made sure we had excess water with us wherever we went but if you’re doing something like the 4 day Inca Trail hike, there’s only so much water you can carry and so you might find yourself stuck for choice when it comes to safe drinking facilities.
We met a few people who’d done the trek who said that their choices were either drinking boiled water or paying an exorbitant rate for water (we’re not talking $4 or $5 for a 500ml bottle – at those prices you can still grin and bear it, it’s was a lot higher) and so they opted to go for boiled water, which they mentioned, most of the other people refused to drink. Needless to say, they ended up violently sick for days afterwards – along with every other person who drank the boiled water.
Moral of the story – be the master of your own destination and take water purification tablets, along with your water purification pens/gadgets when you go on a hike and avoid the gruelling pain and discomfort than can come with being sick on holiday. (UK water purifiers here // US water purifiers here)
19.) Spare Batteries
In Peru, you’ll find that you’ll spend a lot of time outside of your hotel to go sightseeing and as a result of having so many amazing sights to see, you’re bound to run out of battery very fast.
Usually I would travel just with a spare USB battery charger for my phone (this one’s also pretty good) and that’s it but this time, I went armed with two spare batteries for my camera (*US here) and another two for my video camera (*US here). Lloyd didn’t need any spare batteries as his video camera charges via USB so we would use the phone USB charger for this, if yours does, I recommend doing the same too.
Point is, you won’t always have easy access to charging ports when you’re out and about so be sure to get yourself spare batteries – plus, spare batteries are actually a lot cheaper than they used to be on Amazon so you have almost no excuse for not getting yourself one or two. 🙂
20.) Travel Games
Some of the journeys here are long – even when you take faster means of travel e.g. train over bus. We did one of the longest train journey here (over 10 hours) from Lake Titicaca to Cusco and as lovely as the journey was, there were times e.g. during snack times where it was such a welcome treat to have a few travel games to enjoy with your Pisco sours and sweet treats. I spy, anyone? 😉
21.) The 3 Obvious Stuff – Clothes, Electronics & Toiletries
As the name suggests, this is the stuff you’d take with you anywhere you travel. Appropriate clothes, of which you can get away with wearing most things, as long as you bring extra layers for when it gets colder, electronics – camera, iPad, laptops…etc and your usual toiletries (body lotion, toothpaste, deodorant…etc). This is by far the easiest part of packing and the one bit that’s location independent.
And there you have it, 21 things that were absolutely useful across our trip to Peru. We covered quite a bit of ground in a lot of diverse locations in Peru and every item on this list came into its… own in one way or the other! Make sure you have each of these covered (in one form or the other), before you head to Peru for your amazing adventure!