Tips from the Road: Peru

luisa mendoze director of photographyBased in Dallas, Texas, Luisa Mendoza has more than 17 years experience as a Director of Photography and Camera Operator. Her career has taken her all over the world, and today she shares her best tips when traveling to Peru.

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Sometimes in my line of work (videographer and cinematographer) you get a call for a job that takes you somewhere that you never expected to be off to. That happened recently when I got a call from a producer who needed me to travel with their group to Peru. We’d be spending some time in Cusco before heading to Machu Picchu. (This was one of those assignments that you’d almost take just for the trip, right?) So I happily accept and thought “Another awesome stamp in my passport!”

Now I always do my research – what will the weather be like, what type of power and adapters do you need (have to charge those camera batteries!) and what new immunizations might I need. All of this was readily available on the internet so I won’t bore you with those things. What I would like to do is give you a few tips I wish I would have found before I left.


Currency Exchange

Exchange your USD in Peru at the airport. Sadly, in my attempt to be super prepared, I exchanged before I left using a popular exchange company and the rate was noticeably better on the Peru side. If I remember correctly it was almost a $.26 difference!

At the airport: Leave time for lines and be ready to sit around

Now I know some of the “sitting” is the choice of flights for your particular trip but the lines will be there. Getting through passport control seemed “normal” but, after collecting your baggage, the line for customs seemed like a crazy wait. All of the lanes were open but there definitely seemed to be too many people and not enough agents. (They must realize this is a problem as they have put a currency exchange desk right in the middle of where the line passes by so at least, there’s that!) The lines to check in to every airline I saw while I was there was the same – just a couple of agents per airline – so get there early.

Also the airport is open but very limited overnight. If you arrive after late in the evening and you have the earliest flight out the next morning, you will wind up sitting around by the ticket counters until everything starts opening around 2 AM. There is a hotel at the airport but it’s not worth the price. It wasn’t horrible and there are seating areas as you come out of arrivals that you can plant yourself at or head upstairs to the food court to wait it out. The only outlets I found for charging were at the Starbucks on the second floor of the airport.

Altitude pills – it’s worth it!

If you’re doing anything outside of Lima, I highly suggest just going to the doctor and getting set up. I knew I would have to get off the plane and get straight to work and I was not going to have time to spend a few days feeling slow and sickish as I adjusted to the altitude. (Far too many vacations have been ruined by the “I can handle it” attitude.) About half of the group I was there to film spent time in their rooms the first two days as they “handled” it. The locals will give you Coca Tea to help with the altitude and the group found it worked somewhat but I was the only one at “full speed” immediately.


Water, water and more water!

Again, if you’re heading up into the mountains you really need to stay hydrated. You will forget. This will get you sick. Keep bottled water with you and set an alarm so you drink, at the very least, hourly. Remember to not trust anything but bottled water here. The 3-5 star hotels in Cusco and Machupicchu Pueblo should have filtered water systems but I felt safest buying the big bottles of water to keep in my room and refilling my travel bottle out of that. You can’t trust it all and in some places, you’ll know them when you see them, I wouldn’t even brush my teeth with the local water.

Don’t forget the bug spray.

Unless you’re going to the jungle you probably won’t find any diseases from them, but there are biting bugs by the boat load up and around Machu Picchu and Machupicchu Pueblo (the town you’ll arrive at to get to Machu). They looked more like gnats and they were MEAN. I saw the legs of other travelers who didn’t bother to put it on and I did not envy them. I got 5 bites as I waited in line for the bus at the end of the day– it must have been in areas that the sweat wore off the spray – and I’ve never had bites that itched that bad or stayed for so long. The left little scars as well!

Consider going up to Machu Picchu in the afternoon.

Everyone wants to see Machu Picchu at sunrise. It is magical and has a feeling I cannot describe. But everyone wants to be up there at that time so it can only feel so magical with a few hundred of your closest friends. We went up around 2 PM on our first day there. We got in pretty quickly and within a couple of hours the crowds magically disappeared. The sunset was just as stunning and we basically had the park to ourselves for the last hour that it was open. And the llamas that roam the place had come out by that time as well – it’s something to think about. Oh! You will need your passport to enter so don’t forget it! (And you will want it for the cool passport stamp they have available once you’re in.)


A few last “randoms”.

I just have a few last random thoughts that may be helpful if you’re heading to Peru.

  • Always consider going just “out of season” as hotels are cheaper and it is somewhat less crowded.
  • Always check the weather forecast and keep checking.
  • Do pay extra and take the Vistadome train cars from Cusco to Machu Picchu – the sites are worth every cent.
  • Try the local things – I totally loved Alpaca steaks and their national drink, the Pisco Sour, is wonderful (tastes like a sweeter margarita with more of a kick!).
  • And if you’re thinking of cutting off your man-bun, wait until you get back. I’ve never seen a larger collection of men sporting “buns” than I did in Peru – It must be required attire for men wanting to hike the Inca Trails or something.

Safe travels, everyone!

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