13 Things to Know Before You Go to Cusco and Machu Picchu, Peru

Hiking Machu Picchu in Peru

Jeremy and I are less than a week away from the biggest challenge of our entire trip: hiking the 4-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. It’s not just the lack of Netflix and Instagram for four days that scares us (although … shudder) but the incredibly difficult high-altitude hike. This morning I walked down the street in Cusco and it felt like walking through sand… on the moon. Yikes. We’ve been searching high and low for tips about visiting Machu Picchu that will help us to feel less terrified and more excited. And one of my amazing friends from high school – which I just realized was a decade ago (oh god, am I getting old?) – went above and beyond! Angela is a brilliant lawyer who also happens to be Peruvian,  and she’s been visiting Peru regularly for years. Who could be better to get Machu Picchu tips from?? Here are 13 things to know before you go to Cusco and Machu Picchu!

Psst: An update on the whole hiking the Inca Trail thing: it went terribly.

13 Things to Know Before You Go To Cusco & Machu Picchu

A guest post written by Angela

Machu Picchu is one of the most beautiful and spiritual experiences I have ever encountered. Going to Machu Picchu is not for the faint of heart (or height). Here are some of my best tips when traveling to the city of Cusco and Machu Picchu.

Stunning Machu Picchu, Peru. Read our list of 13 things to know before you go to Cusco and Machu Picchu!
Stunning Machu Picchu! Photo Credit: Angela.

1. The city of Cusco is like a world’s fair of people. Cusco is overrun by tourists. You will literally meet people from ALL OVER THE WORLD. I met people from Poland, Norway, Japan, Germany and Switzerland, just to name a few. Cusco also attracts many people looking for a specific type of “spiritual journey”. You will often see the stereotypical “hippie” type covered in peace things, walking the streets of Cusco. Peace Man!!

2. DOGS, DOGS, DOGS! If you think Lima is overrun with stray dogs (and cats), just wait till you get to Cusco. I have never seen that many stray dogs in my life. They run the streets and travel in packs. However, you might meet some actual friendly ones in Cusco. They are so used to tourists giving them snacks and playing with them that they will often approach you. I actually had one follow me on my walk home one day. It was nice to have the company🙂.

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3. If you take a photo of someone in native/indigenous attire, be prepared to pay. In Cusco, you will often see women (sometimes men too) dressed in indigenous or traditional Andean clothing.  This is not because they like dressing like that. It is how they often make a living. They are considered part of the “tourist experience”. If you take a picture and do not pay them, they will often approach you demanding payment for the experience of photographing them or posing with you in a pic. My suggestion is to avoid taking photos of them. They will often demand 5 soles for a photo or more. While that is not a lot of money, you are better off saving that for some bottles of water and your Starbucks cravings. There will be plenty of llamas at Machu Picchu who won’t demand payment.

4. Coca leaves are your friend. If you experience altitude sickness, definitely find yourself some coca leaves. They are very cheap and you can find them anywhere. Chew on them or buy it in tea form. It will calm your stomach and ease your dizziness.

5. NEVER take a taxi of the street alone, especially if you are a woman. Crime is rampant throughout Peru and Cusco is no exception. The area is a hot bed of crime due to the amount of wealthy tourist who visit every year. Always take a taxi with another person. If you are female this is especially true. If you must take a taxi alone, call a taxi service company. Your hotel or hostel can do it for you. I took one taxi alone while in Cusco through a service company and had a good experience.

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6. Visit some of the nightclubs in Cusco’s Plaza De Armas. (The Main Square). Cusco has some amazing nightclubs and even an Irish Pub. Paddy’s Irish Pub is super fun and claims to be the “highest Irish Pub” in the world. You will often meet a lot of Europeans and Americans. If you are missing American food, this is the place to go. You can also get a free Paddy’s Pub poster as a souvenir from your visit. This is also the best place to watch sports for you soccer fans out there. Mama Africa is another great club to visit, great music and dancing. Also, there is no open container law in Cusco, and if there is, it is not adhered to. You can walk around the plaza with your beer and no cops will ever care.

The Plaza de Armas in the center of Cusco, Peru. Read our article about things to know before you go to Cusco and Machu Picchu!
The Plaza de Armas in the center of Cusco, Peru. Photo Credit: Angela.

7. There are police EVERYWHERE! Due to tourism being one of the biggest sources of revenue for Peru, safety of tourists is of paramount importance. You will often see police in riot gear when there is no riot to be had or police making rounds in the main plaza. You will likely see more police here all at once than you ever have before.

8. Machu Picchu is incredibly over priced. Try and buy all of your Machu Picchu needs in the inner city of Cusco. Machu Picchu is actually around 1.5-2 hours from the inner city of Cusco. Once you arrive at the actual attraction, everything will be super inflated. Buy your water bottles and snacks from local street vendors in Cusco and bring them in. Purchase your tickets and Machu Picchu tours online in advance (by the way, YES, the tours are worth it! They’re super informative and help you better understand why Machu Picchu is so incredible). A little bit of preparation will save so much money!

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9. You will have to pay to use the bathroom at the gates of Machu Picchu. When i was there it cost about 1 sol to use the bathroom, per potty visit. There really is no way around this.

10. You will approached by vendors trying to sell you overpriced pizza and souvenirs the whole time. Like I said, Machu Picchu is a tourist destination and vendors often crowd the streets, looking for potential customers. Be prepared to be approached as you walk through the areas outside the gates of Machu Picchu. There will be a lot of restaurants and shops outside the gates and below in the area called Aguas Calientes. I am not saying to avoid these shops and restaurants but be aware that you will be paying more than you would in other parts of Cusco.

11. Become comfortable having a whistle blown at you for any little faux pas you commit. The guards are always watching at Machu Picchu and they don’t take kindly to anyone disobeying the rules. Want to take a pic in a non-designated place, that you had no clue was non-designated for your obvious tourist style photo? WHISTLE!!!! Do you have your feet hanging over a cliff thinking it was chill to take a little break after your hike up to take THAT iconic photo? WHISTLE!!! Were you in a llama’s right of way (see post 12)? WHISTLE!!! To avoid the whistle, try and stay with your guide and be aware of signs or barriers where tourists aren’t allowed to, well, tour. (Full Disclosure: I had the whistle blown at me for all of the above….lo siento).

2017 Update: the rules at Macchu Pichu have changed yet again and gotten even stricter! This post about the rule changes in Machu Picchu has all the details you need.

What not to do at Machu Picchu in Peru!
Don’t do this. Photo Credit: Angela. Oh, and that’s her!

12. Llamas roam free at Machu Picchu and they have the right of way. Llamas are allowed to roam wherever they want through the exhibit, you might even be photobombed by one.  They are EVERYWHERE!!! Try and stay out of their way but take as many pics as you want; They don’t charge.

Photo bombing llama at Machu Picchu, Peru! Read our post on things to know before you go to Cusco and Machu Picchu.
When you’re trying to take a pic but bae gets in the way. Photo Credit: Angela.

13. DO NOT get drunk before the Machu Picchu tour. That is all.

Well, I guess I’ll throw out that bottle of Pisco I was going to pack for the trail. (Kidding. I would literally die.) I hope y’all found this as helpful as I did!

Do you have any questions about visiting Cusco or Machu Picchu? Ask us your questions in the coments!


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Visiting Machu Picchu is not for the faint of heart (or height). Here's what you need to know before you go to Cusco and Machu Picchu in Peru! Travel tips for the most popular tourist destination South America. South America Travel | What to do in Cusco | Peru Travel | Peru Travel Tips | South America Travel Tips | Machu Picchu Peru

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Hey, I'm Lia! I'm a Kentucky native living in San Francisco. I'm extremely practical and also entirely addicted to travel, which I'm forever trying to reconcile. If I had a patronus, it would a spreadsheet. Or a llama. Possibly a llama creating a spreadsheet. I'm married to Jeremy and I'm obsessed with him and it's super gross, unless you're us, in which case it's the best.

6 Comment

  1. Maartje says: Reply

    I was surprised by the huge line for the buses leaving from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu, and back. People start lining up around 4am (first buses leave at 5:30) and we had to wait over an hour at Machu Picchu to go back. Remember to leave early if you have to catch a train!

    1. Lia says: Reply

      Thanks for such a helpful tip Maartje! We’ll be keeping that in mind when we visit this weekend!

  2. alixandrya mellor says: Reply

    hey, I love your guy’s posts! I find them informational. also, I am taking a 9 day trip to Peru through my high school during spring break, and I was wanting to know if there were ant essentials I need to bring to Peru. what would you recommend?

    1. Lia says: Reply

      Hi Alixandrya, what an awesome trip! That sounds like a blast! We would recommend:
      – DEET mosquito repellent (and if you can, permethrin spray your clothing)
      – Sunscreen and sun covers/hat/glasses
      – Layer-able clothing that will keep your warm, like a packable down jacket. Cusco especially gets FREEZING cold! You can also buy alpaca sweaters at the local handicraft markets to keep you warm!
      – The water is not drinkable, so make sure you buy only bottled water, and plenty of it for each day!
      – Camera, of course! You’re going to want to take a zillion photos of Machu Picchu (and all of its adorable alpacas)
      – Good shampoo/conditioner – toiletries are expensive there
      – Shoes that you can do a lot of walking in. The cities are hilly and Machu Picchu is a schlep even if you aren’t hiking to it!
      – A daybag that LOCKS (and locks for it, of course)! Don’t carry around a purse if you can help it- put your essentials into a backpack or something like that, and lock it to deter theft. We have more safety tips here: https://practicalwanderlust.com/2016/09/travel-safety-prevent-theft-while-traveling.html
      – Altitude sickness pills and dramamine. Talk to your doctor about the altitude sickness pills – you’ll want to take them the day before you fly to Cusco and then for a few days after. Dramamine is for the crazy buses and taxis 😛

      Hmm that should cover it for a 9 day trip. If you want some more ideas, you can see our favorite packing essentials for our trip to South America here: https://practicalwanderlust.com/2016/11/what-to-pack-for-south-america-the-best-travel-gear-for-backpacking.html

      Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any other questions!

  3. Jordan says: Reply


    1. Lia says: Reply

      That’s a great tip! We went at the end of October/early November and didn’t notice any mosquitoes at all, so may be this is a seasonal thing. But I’ve heard this many times! Also: permethrin spray your clothing for extra protection.

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