For years I have wanted to travel to Peru. It has been top on my bucket list for travel destinations for as long as I can remember. I would ask friends to go with me but it never worked out that they could. Finally, in February 2016, I decided that I was going on my own. I have never traveled outside of the United States alone. This was a very scary yet empowering decision.
I have also wanted to volunteer abroad for many years so this seemed like a perfect opportunity to combine a trip to Peru and to volunteer.
Without any further hesitation, I booked my volunteer stay and my flights. I also booked a wonderful trek that would take me on a journey to my number 1 bucket list travel destination.
The trip came up quickly and I was more than excited to head out on this empowerment journey for myself.
August 2016 … I was off …
I didn’t know what exactly to expect when I finally arrived in Cusco, Peru, but my heart was open to learning and having new experiences.
This is what I’ve learned in this short amount of time in Peru:
1. No matter what language you speak, everyone understands a genuine smile.
2. There have to be more stray dogs in Peru than tourists. This is not something I will become accustomed to seeing. It is still so very sad to see dogs forraging in dumpsters for food. No matter how much food I bought, I still can’t feed them all.
3. I felt very safe in Cusco. Walking around by myself I made sure to be aware of my surroundings and make smart decisions, but even still, I never felt in danger… Except when crossing the street. Always watch out for moving vehicles. They won’t stop for you. They’ll honk the horn and keep on going. I even almost got run over by a lady pushing a wheelbarrow! I asked if a driving test was necessary to get a driver’s license and I was told by a local that all they had to do was pay a fee and they could get their license. Yikes, that explains a lot!
4. They don’t have central heat or air conditioning. Pack accordingly. Dress in layers in and around Cusco. I’m thankful I brought thick wool socks to wear at night because it got down to 30 degrees Fahrenheit in that room.
5. I’m grateful to have hot water for showering. It is not common for homes to have hot water. Be thankful if you do have it. Just be careful of the electrical apparatus they may use to heat the water. Yeah, I shocked myself a couple of times!
6. The altitude is no joke, don’t try to make it one. Take it easy the first few days you arrive. Don’t try planning a trek or a hike or anything that takes much energy at all for at least a day or more. Your body will not adjust that quickly to the decreased oxygen supply. You don’t have to believe me, you can ask the guy who ended up on oxygen and in the hospital for going on a trek the day after he arrived.
7. Drink a lot of water, at least 2 liters per day. Drink it even if you don’t feel thirsty. Don’t drink the tap water!
8. Coca tea could quite possibly become your best friend if you’re having altitude sickness. This will help offset the affects of the altitude on your body. They also sell it in candies and other goodies which are good to pack for treks.
9. Their shopping prices are very inexpensive to reasonable. When shopping in the markets, don’t always agree with their first offered price. Use your bargaining skills and see what you can get it for. Either way, you’ll end up with a deal.
10. They know how to make their cakes, cupcakes, and sweet treats. Treat yourself to one … or two … or, hell, maybe three!
11. Buy some veggies and fruits in the markets and add these to your daily diet yourself. They don’t have many of these on their menus.
12. Take a walk on the cobblestone roads and sidewalks. Explore. There’s beauty all around.
13. Always carry your own toilet paper with you. Not all bathrooms have it. Also always carry a hand sanitizer, not all places have soap or a way to clean your hands. Clean your hands after petting all the cute puppies and doggies.
14. The landscape is breathtaking. Take as many opportunities to look at the horizon. Breathe!
15. Invest in a good pair of hiking shoes/boots if you’re planning on trekking and be sure to break them in before you leave.
16. If you’re planning a trek of any kind be sure you have appropriate gear. Don’t plan on changing in to fresh clean clothes every day of the trek. Everyone ends up smelling the same in the end so no sense in carrying extra unnecessary weight.
17. If you feel really gross and want a shower try stopping in a hostel somewhere and asking if you can get one. I did this and I felt like a new woman, it was worth the 10 soles they charged me!
18. Although Machu Picchu is majestically amazing, there is so much more to see in Peru. I squeezed as much as I could in and I’m still missing on so much. But this will give me another reason to return.
I highly recommend visiting Peru. When you come to Peru try to remember that this country is not like your home. Don’t try to make it be like your home. Embrace their culture. They are beautiful people. Don’t judge. Enjoy the experience. This is part of what makes it beautiful!
I’m amazed that it’s been a year already since I was walking those streets and learning and exploring. I already want to go back!
Dreaming of my next adventure …
Until next time …