Essential Tips to Plan Your Trip to Peru
Peru, the country of the Andes and the Amazon, can be visited any time of the year. The climate varies depending on where you are in the country and thus the best time depends on what you want to do on your trip.
For traveling around the country, there are inter-city buses—both small collectivos and larger coach-style buses—but because of the distances and the altitudes, it is much faster to fly. There are frequent flights between the popular tourist areas.
Plan With the Altitude in Mind
It is important to plan your trip taking Peru’s considerable altitude into account. There isn't conclusive evidence on whether children are more affected by altitude than adults, and each individual reacts differently. The altitude sickness zone begins at 8,000 feet above sea level. The secret to preventing altitude sickness is to gradually go from lower to higher altitudes to give your body time to adjust. Eating lightly and staying well hydrated also help.
If you go straight from the Cusco airport to Machu Picchu and its base town Aguas Calientes, your only time in the altitude sickness zone will be on the bus or train. Machu Picchu is just below the lowest part of the zone, at 7,972 feet above sea level. Aguas Calientes, where you'd sleep, is even lower, at 6,700 feet. However, it is expensive to stay in Aguas Calientes, and the town isn’t that nice. Plus, at some times of the year, no-see-um bugs are prevalent and can cause painful red bites and swollen ankles. Bring insect spray and wear long pants regardless of when you visit.
An ideal visit to the Andes will have you start to acclimatize in the Sacred Valley, perhaps in pretty Ollantaytambo, the last town you can reach by road before taking the train to Aguas Calientes. There's plenty of ruins to see here, and considerably more choices for accommodations and better prices than Aguas Calientes.
After seeing magnificent Machu Picchu, spend more time enjoying the Sacred Valley or head to Cusco, which is at 11,150 feet above sea level. The train runs from Aguas Calientes to Cusco, with several stops in between.
Only after you’ve acclimatized in Cusco for a few days should you go to see the floating islands of Lake Titicaca at 12,507 feet. You’ll likely start and end your trip in Lima, which is just above sea level, because it has the most international flights.
Best Time for Avoiding Crowds
As in most places, school holidays greatly influence peak periods as well as peak prices. Peru is no different.
While peak season is May to October, most tourists come to Peru during the summer school holidays from June to August, as well as at Christmas break. Avoiding these periods means smaller crowds, lower prices, and less of a need to book everything far in advance.
Peru has two main seasons—wet and dry. The dry season is between May and October, and the wet season is from December to April. In the wet season, the hillsides are a gorgeous green and wildflowers and orchids are blooming, so don’t dismiss travel at this time altogether.
The climate varies considerably from the jungles of the Amazon in the east, to the heights of the Andes in the center, and to the desert coastline in the west. The heavy rainfall from December to March means trekking in the Andes is more difficult. While Machu Picchu remains open, the Inca Trail closes each February.
With the rainy season over but the vegetation still bright and green, May is likely the best month to visit Peru. It’s the start of the busy season, but the real peak won’t begin until later in June. October and November also have fine weather and fewer crowds.
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Johanna Read is a Canadian freelance writer and photographer specializing in travel, food, and responsible tourism. Writing for a variety of Canadian and international publications, she likes to encourage travel that is culturally, economically, and environmentally sustainable. Links to all her travel stories are at www.TravelEater.net. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEater and on Instagram @TravelEaterJohanna.