“…If you ever have an opportunity in your life to go there, you should do it because it is absolutely mind-boggling,” actor Dean Stockwell once said of Peru.
But you don’t need convincing, because you’ve already decided to go.
You’ve already taken care of the fun parts of preparing, like plan your itinerary and choose which treks you want to take on.
Only one thing’s left to do. Something a little less glamorous.
Packing for a trip to an unknown land can be a hassle, not least because you’ve no idea what to bring. But it won’t be so frustrating with some practical advice from a seasoned South American expert.
And that’s where I come in.
Here’s how to pack for a trip to Peru.
How to prepare for your trip to Peru
There are a couple of things to get sorted before you even think about packing.
Get your vaccinations in check
Peru is home to some rather nasty viruses and bacteria we don’t have in the West. Therefore, vaccinations are essential. A qualified medical practitioner will likely recommend vaccinations for the following:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Yellow Fever for those visiting the Amazon
Yellow Fever and other vaccines are considerably cheaper if acquired at the Health Clinic at the Jorge Chávez International Airport in Lima. Other travel clinics exist throughout Peru. Just be sure to check their credentials.
Become conversational in Spanish
Few people in Peru speak English, so it pays to learn a bit of Spanish. Try FluentU free for 15 days and start watching videos to obtain a base. FluentU teaches you Spanish with authentic videos, like sports programs, music videos and movie trailers.
Next, memorize the most basic travel phrases.
To truly impress the locals, try learning a bit of Peruvian slang. They’ll think you’re bacán (awesome) for doing so.
The best part of FluentU? You can download files for offline use, so you can keep watching fun videos after arriving in Peru!
Load up on apps
Your smartphone will be your go-to piece of travel technology, so it makes sense to install all the best apps.
- You’ll never get lost again with Google Maps. Simply type “OK Maps” while on Wi-Fi to download an offline map, which you can then use with GPS to navigate the streets with ease. Its inbuilt public transport route finder also works surprisingly well in most major cities. [iOS / Android]
- Hostelworld is awesome for quickly finding a backpacker’s dig, while Airbnb is ace for shared apartments. [Hostelworld Android][Airbnb iOS / Android]
- XE Currency will quickly tell you how many soles you should be getting for that wad of US dollars. [iOS / Android]
- The Lonely Planet Travel Guide grants access to all the information you could want about Peru. Carrying a bulky paperback guidebook is so last decade. [iOS / Android]
- Skyscanner lets users easily compare the cost of flying with that dreaded 20-hour bus ride. [iOS / Android]
From Machu Picchu to the Rainbow Mountains: What to Pack for Peru
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Choosing a bag
Before you can start packing, you’ll need a bag to put everything in.
Backpacks require travelers to be strong enough to carry all their belongings on their back. However, this is doable even for scrawny travelers such as myself. The key is to not overpack.
The primary advantage is that travelers can easily negotiate uneven terrain such as cobblestone streets and stairs. In turn, this negates the need to constantly fork out extra soles for bellboys and taxis. Consequently, backpacks are the preferred option among budget travelers (hence the term “backpacker”).
Unless you’re heading into the wilderness for an extended expedition, a size of around 65 L for men and 55 L for women will suffice. Be sure to select a product that opens from the middle as well as the top for easy access. Most backpacks include a free daypack, which is a nice bonus.
Stacks of different designs are on the market. I recommend the Berghaus Jalan, an excellent mid-range option.
Using a suitcase can be challenging in Peru, as the ground is rarely flat enough to make use of those precious wheels. If you do go this route, be prepared to lug it up staircases yourself because lifts aren’t always a given.
The obvious advantage of the suitcase is that the wheels allow you to carry more stuff, with many having over 100 L of space.
This hard spinner suitcase from Macy’s is a solid mid-range option.
Most travelers do their laundry every week while on the road, so it isn’t necessary to pack all that much. Consider the following as a guide.
Hot weather gear
The Amazon, the Atacama desert and the Pacific Coast can all be toasty warm, so keep clothing light.
- Two pairs of shorts or skirts
- Three tank tops or singlets
- One pair of lightweight trousers
- Two long sleeve shirts
- Three t-shirts
- One dress
- One pair of flip flops
- One pair of casual shoes
- One pair of dress shoes (optional, for those who like fancy nightclubs)
- Six pairs of underwear
Most Peruvian itineraries include Andean destinations, such as Cusco or Lake Titicaca, which require warmer clothing.
- One pair of jeans
- One pair of thick socks
- One pair of leg warmers
- One sweater
- One big, warm jacket
Avid trekkers should bring hiking gear to explore Peru’s stunning natural scenery in style.
- One pair of lightweight, waterproof trekking pants
- One lightweight, waterproof and windproof jacket
- One cotton sweater
- One goose down vest
- One pair of high strap hiking boots
- One wide-brimmed hat
Given accommodation is cheap and campgrounds are scarce, most travelers prefer to rent camping gear when needed rather than lug heavy equipment around.
Rental costs are low, but it’s important to always check for defects.
- Thieves are common in Peru, so shun flashy jewelry to avoid becoming a target.
- A hat and sunglasses are essential, as you’ll be spending a lot of time in the sun.
- Use a money belt to protect your passport, cash and bank cards while on the road. Most thefts occur in transit, either in the bus or at the bus station.
In this day and age, bringing a few gadgets is a no-brainer. However, you should remember to put them down every once in a while to mingle with your fellow travelers and take in Peru’s scenery!
- A smartphone serves as an alarm clock, camera, GPS guidance system, web browser and communication device, all in one. Opt for a model with a long battery life such as the Moto E4 Plus.
- An e-reader is an excellent way to pass the time on those frequent long bus rides. Again, opt for a low battery consumption model such as the classic Kindle.
- A rechargeable flashlight such as this model from Ousili comes in handy while camping.
- A universal traveler adapter is an essential bit of kit. This one from EPICKA fits the bill.
- A small, lightweight power bank such as this Anker model is great for staying charged on the go. This way, your phone will always be charged to take photos, use apps or listen to music on long bus rides.
- An SLR is a must for serious photographers who will adore Peru’s captivating natural landscapes and indigenous inhabitants. The Canon EOS 77D is a sweet mid-range option.
Most common medicines are available in Peru, but it’s helpful to have them on hand.
If not, you might find yourself wandering aimlessly around town, then struggling to convey your symptoms via a game of charades with a bewildered drug store clerk. Not ideal when you’re not feeling your best.
- Ibuprofen and Tylenol (paracetamol) for headaches, fever and pain.
- Band aids, cotton wool, bandages and disinfectant for minor cuts.
- DEET Mosquito repellent for those traveling to the Amazon.
- Cold and flu tablets to relieve the sniffles.
- Hand sanitizer to apply before eating that questionable street stall ceviche.
- Pepto-Bismol, Mylanta or other anti-acid medications to help with an upset stomach, which is a common ailment in Peru. Immodium is an excellent blocker for those with no other choice but to travel with diarrhea. Pack some hydration salts to help replenish lost fluids (which are also handy after a big night on the pisco sours).
- An ample supply of your preferred method of birth control.
- Diamox to alleviate altitude sickness. Check with your doctor first.
- Anti-motion sickness tablets for those long bus rides through windy Andean highways.
- Feminine hygiene products including tampons or pads.
These can get pretty heavy, so opt for smaller bottles to keep the weight down. Make sure everything is properly wrapped up in a leak-proof bag to avoid unwanted spillage.
- Shampoo and conditioner
- Roll on deodorant or perfume (aerosols are prohibited on flights)
- Nail clippers
- Makeup and skin care products
- Soap or shower gel
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
Other essential items
I’ve saved the most important stuff for last. The following are utterly indispensable.
- A passport with at least six months validity and a Peruvian visa (if required).
- Two debit or credit cards, preferably one Visa and one MasterCard. If you have one of each, a shop is bound to accept at least one of them. Carry them separately to ensure you still have one if the other is stolen.
- A travel insurance policy that covers medical costs at a bare minimum.
- Coverage for lost or stolen items is generally recommended as well. World Nomads offers a competitive rate to travelers from all over the world.
- A photocopy of all your travel documents and a scanned copy uploaded to the cloud (i.e., Google Drives).
And that’s it.
We’re all packed up and rearing to go.
All that’s left to do now is explore Peru’s breathtaking Pacific beaches, Amazon and Andean peaks.
Oh, there’s one more thing. Don’t forget your towel!
Harry is a South American-based freelance writer who covers travel, the arts and culture, among many other things.
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