Trip Coach: January 15, 2008
Ross Wehner, co-author of Moon Handbooks Peru, answered your questions on Peru.
Ross Wehner: Hello this is Ross Wehner and I'm so happy to be able to speak with you about Peru today. There are many questions and I'm going to try and answer as many as possible. Most of this info I'll be giving over the next hour is in Moon Peru and, if it's not, I'll make sure it's in there for the next edition!
Westfield, Mass.: I am traveling with 4 other women (ages 60) to Peru and Machu Picchu April 8-16. Want to know what the temperature will be(for packing purposes)and should we bring only travelers checks or use a credit card for our expenses. Any additional security tips would be welcome.
Ross Wehner: Great questions—time of year and money.
First time of year. The dry season in Peru is from May to September, with June through August being the driest months. These are also the most crowded months so if you are going to Machu Picchu, expect to be with lots of people and make your hotel and other reservations early. There is a whole section on Moon Peru on how to avoid crowds at MP (p. 73). I am a big fan of March through May, when there are less crowds and the highlands are fluorescent green from all the rains. I also think September through November is a great time to go. January and February are very rainy in the highlands and the jungle, though if you don't mind Seattle in January you won't mind Machu Picchu in January either. January and February are, by the way, summer on the coast so the beaches are packed and very warm and beautiful.
Second, money. ATMs are now ubiquitous throughout Peru so you can reliably draw cash in local currency at a decent exchange rate at any time of the day from streetside ATMs in Lima, Cusco and a few dozen other mid-size Peruvian cities. If you are on a backpacker's budget and going to inexpensive places to stay or eat you will need cash always. Though dollars are accepted, you don't get a good exchange rate so carry soles (the local currency).
Credit cards work great but only at the mid-level and up restaurants and hotels in the major cities.
Traveler's checks are a pain to cash but are a nice backup if you get fleeced. Expect to wait one hour in a bank, though you may get lucky and go right to the counter. Cusco,. Lima, Arequipa have change stores (marked "Cambio") as in Europe but they don't give good rates usually. But if you can find a "cambio" place, it's certainly worth it for the convenience.
If you change dollars on the street, which I do all the time, only do it with someone who has the cambista uniform on and with the clear ID prominently attached to the uniform. To change money on the street, make sure to do it in public places and during the daytime if possible.
When I travel to Peru, I bring an ATM card, my credit card and, if I'm really being cautious, my traveler's checks., I also write all the info—especially the numbers to cancel the cards if stolen—into an email which I mail myself and can check later if necessary. The print out this email and store it in your stuff away from your wallet and travelers checks.
Third, security. Peru is safe if you travel sensibly. For more info about safety, please read "Health and Safety: section of Moon Peru and also the section on taxis, page 566.
Have a great trip!
San Francisco, Calif.: What is the best itinerary for a 12-day trip to Peru in March? We are planning our trip and we love the ocean and interested in hiking Machu Picchu.
Ross Wehner: That's a hard question to answer in a forum like this well. There are suggested itineraries in the opening of the Moon Peru book, which you can mix and match. If you like the coast, you may want to try and go in March and April, when it's still summerish on the coast and pretty dry in the mountain. Plus you'll have the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu to yourself! Then I would visit Paracas and Ica and take a 2-night odyssey into the Ica Desert with the Desert Man, mentioned in the Ica section of the book. This giant swath of desert is up against the Pacific with beautiful wilderness beaches that people have not set foot on in centuries. The surrounding moonscape is filled with beautiful desert oddities, such as prehistoric shark teeth and the fossilized bones of giant, extinct porpoises.
Rocky Point, N.Y.: Is it possible to go air balooning over Machu Picchu? If so, what is the best month to do it?
Ross Wehner: There are no balloon companies flying over MP at this moment to my knowledge. Plus the idea of being in a balloon and having to land in that impossible steep, and thickly vegetated jungle sounds like a nightmare to me! You can get a great view of MP from Huayna Picchu, the peak that looms over MP in all the photos. There is a recent restriction of 400 people per day so, if you want to climb Huayna Picchu, get there first thing in the morning! If you are going with a tour operator, let them know ahead of time as well.