Peru culture tips & advice

Temperature & rainfall

Peru’s cultural highlights are clustered around the south of the country, where Cuzco, Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley shelter between Andean peaks. The best time to go on a cultural holiday in Peru is in winter, May-Sep, when this region it at its driest. It does get very cold, close to freezing at night, so pack accordingly – and remember rains can happen at any time. Dec-early April see heavy rains, and the Inca Trail closes for maintenance in the wettest month of Feb, though Machu Picchu is still open. Book five to six months in advance for the Inca Trail.

Things to do on a Peru cultural holiday

What to do & what not to

Things to do on a Peru cultural holiday…

The Inca Trail is seen as a trek to Machu Picchu – but as with all the best journeys, there is so much to discover along the way. Follow the Urubamba River through the Sacred Valley, passing remote and often little visited Inca ruins each day. Get to know your porters – often Quechua residents of local villages who have grown up in these extraordinary mountains, leading very traditional lives.
Board a boat at Puno to take you across the deep blue waters of Lake Titicaca, to reach the Quechua-inhabited islands. This extraordinary, high altitude lake is as magical in its setting as well as its cultural significance; some Inca legends claim that the gods rose from the lake’s depths. Hike to the top of Taquile Island for (literally) breathtaking views across the lake, visit the floating Uros Islands, constructed of totora reeds, and spend the night on Amantani, in a traditional Quechua homestay – awaking to one of the most awesome sunrises you’ve ever seen.
For a wider overview of this region, it’s worth crossing borders to explore the extent of the pre-Colombian civilisations and modern, indigenous communities. Bolivia is easily accessible via the shores of Lake Titicaca – the point where Quechua and Aymara cultures meet. Some 60 percent of Bolivians are indigenous, and combining these countries lets you discover the differences between them, as well as common traits such as the cuisine, weaving, and the sacred coca leaf.

Things not to do on a Peru cultural holiday…

Assume everything is authentic. We love to introduce our travellers to local people; we champion homestays, street food and traditional culture. But maintaining authenticity when culture becomes commodified is tough. There is plenty of genuine Peruvian culture, but there are also women and children wearing indigenous costumes because they know they’ll be able to charge for photos. And the “traditional” communities on the floating islands? Well, they pack up their things each evening and return to their mainland homes, carrying their mobile phones with them. That’s not to say it’s “fake” – but you need to think of it as a cultural museum, not a living village.
Rush into things. Peru cultural holidays take place at wheeze-inducing altitude. Cuzco, seen as the place to acclimatise for the Inca Trail, is itself at 3,400m, while Lake Titicaca sits at over 3,800m; not that you’d know it from the old Quechua ladies who skip up the steps carrying huge bundles of firewood. Take it slowly, especially for the first few days. Avoid alcohol (sorry) as you’ll get drunk very fast – and brutally hung over. And eat light meals; altitude messes with digestion.
Sign up to the Atkins diet. Maize – or chocló – is pretty much sacred in indigenous Andean culture, and you can expect to eat it toasted, mashed, boiled, or on the cob with a slice of cheese. As if that wasn’t enough, visit any food market for evidence that there are still over 3,000 varieties of potato grown here.

Peru cultural holidays travel tips

Advice from our experts in South America

Hiking tips

Kathy Jarvis is the owner of our supplier, Andean Trails, and has hiked the Inca Trail many times. Here's her Peru travel tip for hikers: "Make sure you acclimatise as much as possible. The more acclimatised you are, the more you'll enjoy it. You can suffer a lot if you try and force your body too high, too soon – as well as it being dangerous. So allow as much time as possible as you can before trekking. And then it's a case of having the right clothes – good kit, jackets, waterproofs, warm gloves, hats.”

The best time to go

Hattie Seal, from our supplier Tucan Travels: “May to September is the peak season and when Peru will be at it's most dry. Of course this does mean when there will be the most tourists around in the area. However Peru can be visited all year round just make sure if you are wanting to hike the Inca Trail not to travel in February as the Trail is closed for maintenance.”

Walking in someone else’s shoes

Hattie Seal, from our supplier Tucan Travels: “When you visit Peru, you will no doubt enjoy seeing the colourful costumes that so perfectly embody the people’s cheerful spirit. On all tours that include a trip to Lake Titicaca you will even get the chance to wear the garments that both men and women wear... and trust me, they are a lot more complicated and heavier then they look!”

Not for the squeamish

Hattie Seal, from our supplier Tucan Travels: “The food was a personal highlight for me trying so many new and unusual dishes from alpaca steak to guinea pig (not the one for big animal lovers – it comes out looking like road kill).”

The benefits of local guides

Hattie Seal, from our supplier Tucan Travels: “We only use local guides in Peru so you can trust in their knowledge and expertise of each area. The majority of our guides have been working for us for over five years showing dedication to the company. In some regions we use specialist guides that are local to the region for example for the Inca Trail/ Machu Picchu and Sacred Valley. When the guides are talking you through each destination you get a real feel for the country and the passion really shows through as you can see that they really want you to see and experience their home country as much as possible.”

Peru cultural holidays travel advice

Tips from those who have been there

At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travellers are often... other travellers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do - and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful Peru cultural travel tips that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your holiday - and the space inside your suitcase.
“This holiday is about being outside; outside everyday comforts and the usual city sightseeing. So be open to a holiday full of memorable experiences. Everywhere we went I was very conscious of the fact that we are directly supporting the local communities by eating in local markets, staying in local b&bs and generally transacting with locals… I was surprised by the diversity… the cities being very different from the smaller towns and the towns being vastly different from the solitude of the Inca Trail.” – Riaan Breedt

“The whole experience was superb – but if I had to pick one it was arriving at Machu Picchu at 5.00pm after a day's hike to find it empty (it closes at 5.00pm so everyone had left). An empty Machu Picchu was an unexpected surprise. Hiking boots a must (we only decided to pack ours at the last minute) and to factor in the possibility of altitude sickness. We and a lot of people we met were affected.” – Ric Pimental

“Travel light as there is a lot of packing and re-packing as you leave one place for the next. Have some Peruvian Sol in small denominations as change is very hard to find.” – Keith Charters

“Our children (youngest is 11) did the Inca Trail and did not find it difficult, so would recommend it as a great experience for children... Peru (and the operator organising our tour) were very organised and the whole trip ran smoothly, with drivers turning up at airports as expected, rooms always booked correctly at hotels, tour reps turning up on time to brief us on trips etc.” – Jane Lewis-Evans

“I would certainly recommend some training for the Inca trail – there was a lot more 'uphill' than we realised and with a lack of oxygen making it more difficult, I was worried I wouldn't be able to make it! The sense of achievement at the end made it all worthwhile! Prepare yourself for early starts and early nights! Getting up at 5.30 /6.30 was a bit of a shock to the system, but essential to see the amazing things we did. Also, double check your agency's checklist before you go... we forgot our binoculars and torches which ended up being a must-have.” – Natalie Whitworth
Photo credits: [Temp Chart: Karl Norling] [Kathy tip: McKay Savage] [Walking in someone else's shoes: Kay Adams] [The benefits of local guides: My Favorite Pet Sitter] [Tip1: World Wide Gifts] [Tip2: tjabeljan]
Written by Vicki Brown
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Photo credits: [Page banner: McKay Savage]