Peru is one of the most climatologically diverse countries in the world, and the main reason people like to visit is to see both the natural and ancient Inca sights. It’s important to make sure you bring everything you’ll need for these widely varied climates and conditions.
When traveling to Peru to see the sights, there are three main groupings of things you’ll have to bring along, and if you’re planning on the full gamut of tourist attractions you’ll need to bring it all. The first is something for the cities, since they’re slightly warmer and have pavement and lots of parks, museums, restaurants, and other amusements. The second is for the higher altitude outdoor attractions, so pack for cold weather. The third is the warmer areas like the beaches and adventure sites that are at a lower elevation.
While there is some overlap, I’ve grouped the things you definitely should bring along into these three categories, plus an extra category for odds and ends that are going to be useful just about everywhere. When putting together the normal assortment of things you’d bring with you on your vacation, make sure to include these things as well.
The City and Desert
Usually, any visit to Peru begins in Lima, where the main international airport is. Down by the coast, it’s warmer and generally more comfortable, but the things you’ll likely be doing still are worth a bit of preparation. Also, despite being a coastal city, it’s surrounded by desert and arid mountains, so outside of the rainy season, it tends to be fairly dry and cools quickly at night.
Comfortable walking shoes
In Lima, there’s tons to do. Great restaurants, wonderful parks and plenty of museums with a broad range of content. Plus, a lot of these things are clustered together, so you can go from a restaurant to a museum to a cafe to a park without really needing to get into a vehicle. So bring your most comfortable walking shoes. If you’re going in January or February (summer in the southern hemisphere), you may want to make them jogging shoes or something that breathes well in the heat.
Light, comfortable clothes
Being a tropical country, it’s still pretty warm even in the winter (June – August), it’s usually around 70 F (18 C) during the day. T-shirts, comfortable shorts, that sort of clothing can be ideal. Whatever you’d be comfortable in because it can reach upwards of 90 F (32 C) in the summers. Whatever the case, check the local weather forecast for the time of year you’re planning to visit and pack accordingly, just make sure it’s something you can wear while doing plenty of walking. Also, include a nice, but still light outfit so you can enjoy Peru’s nightlife as well.
Lima is, technically, in the desert, so while it can be warm during the day, at night the temperature can drop quite a bit. If you’re planning on sandboarding or visiting the Huacachina Oasis, the difference can be even greater without all of that concrete to soak up some sun during the day.
Even if it was 90+ F (32+ C) during the day, it can drop down to the low-70’s to high 60’s F (mid-20’s C) at night. A nice, light jacket can come in handy at these times. You can stuff it in your bag, tie it around your waist or otherwise keep it on you without really wearing it and it won’t weigh you down.
High altitude adventures
A huge chunk of Peru is built way above sea level, with an average altitude of over 1,500 m (over 4,800 ft), and that’s because while some are at sea level, the rest is way up in the mountains. If you want to visit places like Cusco to see all of the Inca ruins like Machu Picchu or Choquequirao, see things like the Rainbow Mountain or go on any number of the famous Treks through the mountains, then you’ll definitely need a few things to make sure you’re comfortable as you do it.
Great hiking boots
If you’re going up into the mountains, odds are you’re there to explore the various ruins. Unfortunately, you can’t just hop a heated bus to most of these places, as they’re pretty remote. Instead, most of them require that you hike through mountain paths, and while they’re often well worn, they’re not exactly smooth. Good, sturdy and comfortable hiking boots are a must. Even short treks, like the one up to the Rainbow Mountains, will require 1-½ to 2 hours of hiking just to get there, then the same back down. The Machu Picchu trek takes about 4 days.
Additionally, get yourself some thick, sturdy hiking socks. These are extra thick on the bottom to offer some cushion and are ideal for prolonged hikes. Just to be on the safe side, bring a few spare sets, in case you need to change them for whatever reason.
Layered, heavy clothes
As your altitude goes up, the average temperature goes down pretty steeply. In the summer it’ll average around 68 F (20 C), but in the winter months it can drop down into the 30’s F (near 0 C). You’ll need to dress in warm layers. Even if you’re hiking, the cold is just going to make the thin air harder for you, so staying warm is just one less thing to deal with.
Light, sturdy backpack
If you’re going trekking, a backpack made for that is essential. On the up side, you can use it in just about every other part of the country to carry your things (like your jacket in the city/desert), and it’s generally safer.
Most of the treks are prolonged journeys, often taking more than a day. With a good backpack, you can comfortably bring extra clothes, some bottled water, and snacks. While most guided forays to places like Machu Picchu will provide most of what you’ll need along the way, you can bring extra stuff just to be safe.
Jungles and beaches
Peru is home to an amazing level of biodiversity. Aside from the mountains, it also has several beautiful beaches that are great for scuba diving, snorkeling, surfing, swimming or just lounging. It is also home to a huge chunk of the Amazon rainforest, much of which is protected as a series of natural preserves. There’s day and night excursions to see the wildlife, interesting things like the Chuncho Clay Lick that’s frequented by Macaws and a variety of other beautiful Amazonian birds, and plenty more.
Aside from the stuff you brought to wear in the city, you can swap your shoes for a good pair of athletic sandals. The rainforest is, as you might expect it, kind of wet and warm. Due to it being a rainforest next to a mountain, there’s plenty of rivers and streams you’ll encounter, plus rainforests are called that because the evaporation from the trees actually encourages more rainfall than is normal. As a result, rain isn’t out of the question, even during the dry season, and something that’s open, but still offers good grip can improve your experience and safety as you explore the jungle.
Here are a few other odds and ends you might want to bring along.
Lotions and lip balm
Despite being a coastal country with a sizeable rain forest, a lot of Peru is very dry. Lip balm can prevent lips chapping and splitting, and lotion will keep your skin comfortably moisturized. While the lotion may not be an absolute necessity, the lip balm is definitely a good idea.
Off-grid phone charger
Many of the most interesting destinations involve going on long, sometimes multi-day hikes through the wilderness without access to electricity. At the very least, bring along a sizeable power bank. Even if you’re in the city, you’ll likely be taking lots of pictures of the many interesting things you’re seeing and doing there. For the longer treks away from civilization, you might also want to bring a small portable solar array or some other gadget that lets you charge a phone without access to an outlet.
Sunscreen and Insect Repellant
This should be fairly self-explanatory. If you can get them both as one, it would be even better.
If you plan on going swimming at the beach or the highland hot springs, you’ll definitely want to pack at least one for your trip.