Women: What to pack for Cusco

First, what to leave behind:

  • Shorts. It doesn’t get that warm here.
  • Anything dressy.
  • Revealing clothes. This is a very conservative area, you won’t see any cleavage or shoulders here. Tight jeans and boots or high heels, yes, but not skin. If you show skin, you will draw a LOT of negative attention to yourself. And you will freeze.
  • Shoes that you wouldn’t want to walk in all day. Uphill.
  • Jewelry, valuables, fancy handbags. People here aren’t innately dishonest, but it’s a poor region. Don’t flash your paper in the ‘hood.
  • Traveler’s checks. No one does that any more, they just confuse people.
  • Insect repellent. Unless you’re going to the jungle, there just aren’t any biting bugs at this altitude.
  • Those bags some tourists wear around their neck that hold their passport, etc. Those just look ridiculous. Even on her.
neck wallet
You probably can’t avoid looking like a tourist, but you don’t have to look like an idiot.
You want to look like a poor, hippie-type backpacker tourist, not the type who booked this trip through American Express. The camera and hat are essential gear, but I try to keep my camera tucked away & wear a hat I might have worn at home.
image courtesy of learnbydiagram.blogspot.com 

What to bring:

  • Passport
  • Debit cards to withdraw local currency at ATMs. This is the cheapest way. Make sure to call the number on the back of the card & let the bank know you’ll be in Peru. Otherwise they’ll assume your identity has been stolen and lock you out. I recommend having at least two debit or credit cards with PIN numbers, in case one bank fails you.
  • 3-4 pair of pants, preferably with secure pockets. If you can carry your cash and credit cards on you, you can relax more on the street.
  • Shirts, sweaters, jackets for layering. Day temps can get up to 70, but if the sun goes behind a cloud, the temp will dip instantly. You can pick up an alpaca sweater here for about $15 that will keep you very cozy, even when wet, and makes a cute souvenir.
  • Socks. Bring warm thick ones.
  • Comfy undies that won’t ride up when you’re walking uphill (trust me on this). If you can avoid underwires on your travel bra, you might get through airport security without getting felt up.
  • Shoes. Your most comfortable athletic shoes, preferably 2 pair. You won’t be needing sandals.
  • Warm jammies. Temps get down to below 40 at night, and if you’re ‘living like a local’ in a hostel or apartment, you probably won’t have heat. Extra socks if you can stand to sleep in them.
  • Lightweight rain jacket or poncho, just in case.
  • UV blocking sunglasses. Thin air + high altitude + close to equator = strong sunlight.
  • Sunscreen (see above). And in spite of the graphic above, a hat may be a necessary evil if you’re out all day. What the heck, everyone knew you were a tourist anyway!
  • Camera! Plus charger, extra batteries, memory cards, etc
  • A roomy bag or daypack to carry your camera, jacket, drinking water, and purchases.  You can  buy a pretty woven one in a tourist shop for about $8-10 as your first souvenir.
  • Your toothbrush and toiletries. Don’t worry too much about this stuff, Peruvians use soap, shampoo, toothpaste, razors, etc. so if you forget something, it’s easy to pick up. Don’t forget that your liquids have to be 3 oz or less, fit in a quart ziplock bag, and be in an outside pocket of your luggage so you can show them in security. (If you’re traveling with a laptop, you’ll need to pull that out for security as well, so keep it accessible)
  • Medications. Anything you take regularly, plus some ibuprofen for altitude headaches or hiking aches and pains. Allergy meds if you think you’ll need them. Anything your doctor has given you in case to prevent altitude sickness or treat traveler’s diarrhea. You do not need malaria preventatives or yellow fever vaccine unless you’re going into the jungle. No shots are required to visit Peru, but your doctor may recommend some boosters or hepatitis vaccines for you.
  • Feminine hygiene products. Pads are easy to get in Cusco. Tampons may not be. Travel can mess with your cycle, so you might want to carry them even if you don’t expect to need them.
  • A pen & your address in Cusco**. You’ll need these to fill out immigration forms on the plane, along with your passport number.

If you’re going on a multi-day trek or hike to Machu Picchu, you will also need warm hat & gloves (you can buy woolen ones locally). Consult your trekking company to see what else you may need.

What to know:

Leave room in your luggage. You will want to shop in Cusco. You might even want to bring a roomy, foldable, empty bag to check on the way home.

Immigration. At the airport in Lima, you’ll have to stand in a long immigration line. Don’t worry, they speak English & they just want to know the purpose of your visit (tourism) and how long you’re staying. They will give you a little piece of paper and tell you to keep it. They’re not kidding, you need this when you want to leave the country. Tuck it in your passport and leave it there!

Customs. If you have a checked bag, you will need to retrieve it at the carousel in Lima and put it through an Xray machine. You will have to exit the airport as if you’re leaving, and then re-enter and stand in line to recheck your bag to Cusco. If you get lost or confused during this process, just walk up to any uniformed airport personnel, look confused, and say ‘I have a connecting flight?’ and they will point you to the right place. Most airport personnel speak at least a little English. If you get the rare one who doesn’t, just show them your boarding pass for the connecting flight, they’ll understand.


Before you go:

It’s a good idea to make two copies of the front & back of your credit cards (write the phone number next to each card if it’s not legible) and the information page of your passport. Leave one set of copies with a contact person at home and carry the other with you. You’re not any more likely to lose your cards while traveling than you are at home, but it will be easier to cancel/replace  them if you’ve done this.

Call the banks that issue any debit & credit cards you might want to use and let them know the dates you’ll be in Peru. Use the phone number on the back of the card. You can do this as late as the day before you leave.

You might choose to see your doctor to make sure your immunizations are up to date, and ask about preventatives for altitude sickness and a ‘just-in-case’ antibiotic for traveller’s diarrhea. If you want immunizations, make sure you schedule an appointment more than a month in advance, since some shots need to be given in a series.

If you plan to visit the jungle, the doctor’s visit is essential to discuss yellow fever and malaria. You can get the yellow fever shot in Cusco for just a couple of bucks, but you need to get it a few days before your jungle excursion.

Don’t trust Weather.com for Cusco weather. For some reason it was showing temps in the high 90s this week, off by about 30 degrees and just plain wrong! This site is doing a better job.


**If you are coming to Cusco to visit me, your address in Cusco can be written as “Condor Lodge, Cusco”

Published by Lauren

I'm a nomadic freelance writer, out enjoying the world!


  • Debbie Carter

    September 6, 2013 at 7:07 pm

    This was going to be my next question. I’m going to try to get everything in a backpack so I do not have to check luggage. If I shop a lot I will buy another bag. LOL

  • Lauren

    September 6, 2013 at 8:31 pm

    Let me know if you have any questions!

  • Lauren

    September 6, 2013 at 8:47 pm

    And you’re smart not to check a bag, that rigamarole in Lima is a pain. Remember, you get a carryon bag PLUS a personal item that will fit under the seat in front of you – that can be a large tote or smallish backpack.