5 Things You Need to Know Before Traveling to Cusco & Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu has been on my bucket list since I was a little kid so you can only imagine my enthusiasm when I had the opportunity to go with my family. After tons of research and advice from family and friends on how to best plan this trip, I’ve decided to share with you 5 tips you need to know when traveling to one of the most beautiful seven wonders of the world.
#1 Book a Tour
Heading to a foreign country could be super intimidating so booking a tour to see as much as possible is your best bet. Our trip consisted of 4 days and 3 nights. Although this isn’t enough time to see everything in the city, we were able to cover so much thanks to our travel agency. Getting used to the elevation in this city is pretty difficult so I suggest taking it easy the first day and doing a city tour. If you’re headed to Machu Picchu for a day or two, take into consideration that it will take 2 1/2 hours from Cusco to get to the train station and then another 2 hours in the train to get to the city of Aguas Calientes where you will embark on your journey to Machu Picchu. The views during the train ride are so magical and Machu Picchu easily became one of my favorite places in the world so far so try to at least stay a night while you are out there!
In 4 days, we were able to do a day in Cusco, hike Rainbow Mountain, and explore Machu Picchu. Getting an agency to arrange all of this for you will be super helpful and stress free so you can enjoy every minute of these breathtaking views. We booked our tour with a family member in Peru but I know you can find really great deals here!
#2 Prepare for Altitude
One of the most important things to do before heading to Cusco is to prepare your body for the altitude while you’re there. Cusco is about 11,000 meters above sea level so you may feel a little dizzy when you arrive. Most hotels will have tea with cocoa leaves that will help ease you. It also is pretty tasty so I would drink it throughout the day. Everyone reacts to the altitude differently so make sure to check with your doctor before you go on this trip. In most cases, they are able to prescribe you something to take before and during your trip as necessary to avoid feeling altitude sickness. It is really important to take it easy on the first day.
You should also try to avoid heavy foods until you finally feel adjusted. Don’t panic if you don’t feel well! Most hotels have oxygen tanks if you need it. When I arrived to Cusco, I felt a little light headed so I took a pill. I was good to go after that! The only other time I felt uncomfortable during my trip was when I headed to Rainbow Mountain (which is 3 hours away from Cusco) from doing a lot of physical activity while hiking up the mountain. Fortunately, my family didn’t get sick while they were out here so it really depends on what your body can take.
#3 Pack like a pro!
The #1 packing tip for Cusco is easy—bring layers. I’m not saying to overpack for this trip but be mindful that you will need pants, tanks, long sleeve tops, and jackets for this trip. It’s predominately cold while you’re out there so bundling up in the mornings and nights are a must. Scarves and gloves will definitely help on this trip. For this trip, I brought 3 pairs of pants, 1 tank, 4 long sleeve tops, and 3 jackets in my Trnk Carry-on. I am an overpacker so please note you do not need this many options! Don’t forget to bring a raincoat with you because the weather can be a little rainforest-like. One minute you are in the sun and it’ll start hailing so carry something for the rain. Always make sure to bring sunscreen with you because the sun burns heavily despite the cold weather. The weather in Machu Picchu is a little bit warmer during the middle of the day so make sure to wear a tank top under your layers while you are out there.
#4 Backpack, backpack!
You need to become Dora the Explorer and cherish your backpack with all your everyday essentials on this trip. I brought Glenroe with me on this trip because I was able to fit my jacket, raincoat, water bottle, snacks, sunglasses, sunscreen and Travel Wallet. I would also throw in my gloves and scarf whenever I wasn’t using them. You wake up early and don’t head back to the hotel until the evening so it’s best to have everything you need with you at all times. If you don’t want to carry it while discovering the ruins in Machu Picchu, there will be a place to check in your backpack while you explore. Make sure to bring soles (Peruvian currency) with you if you want to check it in or use the bathroom.
Don’t forget to bring your passport with you to stamp after you’ve checked out the ruins as a memory!
#5 Eat your way through the city!
The best part about being in Peru (other than the views, of course!) is eating all the really great food. To my surprise, Peru doesn’t use Yelp to review their restaurants so it was a little more difficult to find out where I wanted to eat while I was out there. They use Trip Advisor instead so if you are out there and are trying to find specific foods, you can search for them there. Bonus: Majority of them let you connect to wifi so you can message your friends on WhatsApp or update your IG. Here is a list of restaurants I loved:
Chicha por Gaston Acurio - This was by far my favorite restaurant in Cusco! The chef Gaston Acurio is well-known and his approach to Peruvian cuisine is to put a twist to traditional dishes. If you are a meat eater, make sure to order the fetuccini cusquena de cordero. You won’t regret it!
Qespi Restaurant at JW Marriott - I didn’t get a chance to stop by but my family from Peru recommended it as a good place to get food if you’re close by!
Calle Del Medio - I came here from brunch and it was so good! Ask them if you can sit on the balcony to take a look at the Plaza de Armas while sipping on your coffee. It’s a fun spot to people watch and eat great food.
La Valeriana - Another cute place to grab a quick bite and coffee to go. I got an empanada when I landed and it was amazing. You can also leave your mark on the post it wall.
ChocoMuseo - Stop by this cute little shop for some amazing chocolate! Cusco is known for the best chocolate and coffee so make sure to grab some for gifts while you are here!
La Cholita - My opinion is bias because I stayed next door but they have really great coffee! Fun place to get a snack and check out all the cute souvenirs.
Tampu Restaurant at Sanctuary Lodge - They have a great Peruvian buffet right outside the entrance to the ruins. It’s very cute and a great excuse to stay up there a little while longer. They also have really great ice cream to try on your way out!