Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Backpacking Peru by yourself - tips for solo women and men

You really really want to see South America. It's been your dream for the last two years or so, and Machu Picchu is on your bucket list. So is being able to speak Spanish. All your friends either have no money, other commitments, 'real jobs', or no balls to join you on the insanely cool adventure you know South America will be. Your parents aren't that keen on you traveling to what they perceive to be the daughter napping drug capital of the world, and your friends tell you there is no way in hell they would go there alone...

Sitting on the edge of the Colca Canyon

Now you have two options:
1 - Politely tell everyone to grow a pair, and book your flights to South America.
2 - Take the obviously 'well educated' advice from the people who have *cough* never been to South America, and choose to stay home or go somewhere 'safer'.

If you have wisely chosen option one, you may continue reading. Those who have chickened out and decided on option two, I'm awfully sorry but this is where the story ends for you.

So, option 1 peeps - Congratulations! You will have an amazing life should you continue following your heart, and fulfilling your hopes and dreams - this is when life really gets interesting! I'm going to share my story about exploring the gorgeous country that is Peru.

My desire to explore South America began in 2010, after meeting some wicked SA travelers while I was backpacking alone in Italy. After saving some money when I got home, I started talking about my plans to my parents... who were quite disapproving of me traveling to South America alone - Which is of course totally understandable. So in an attempt to make them more comfortable, I randomly booked a Contiki tour that started in Lima on the 3rd of November 2012 - The Inca Panorama tour. I booked it a year in advance, as these type of tours are extremely popular... so if you are going to choose this option, make sure to give yourself plenty of time.

The map of the Inca Panorama Tour (From Contiki)
Up until mid September of 2012, I had no other plans set in concrete for South America. It was perfectly unplanned! The only problem I faced was, to enter Peru, I had to have a departing flight already booked. I also had two options for my arrival in Peru - arrive 2 weeks prior to my tour, or 2 days prior. I took a chance and booked the first option, which meant I would arrive in Peru on the 20th of October. I did a bit of research before I left and found a Spanish language school called Peruwayna in the heart of Lima, which offered amazing prices for intensive tuition. I thought it would be a fecking awesome idea to book myself in for some Spanish lessons for 2 weeks, and choose the school's accommodation option of living with a local family. It was an amazing experience! Every day I went to school from 2pm-6pm, and on days off went exploring with the fellow students. I was able to practice my Spanish with my local family in the mornings and nights as well, and got to experience real Peruvian family life, including testing out all the amazing food as breakfast and dinner were included.
My Peruvian family out for lunch in
Miraflores, Ana and Luana 
Now 10 four hour lessons might not sound like much, and I guess it really depends on how quickly you learn... but I have progressed from knowing zero Spanish, to being able to understand 80% of what goes on around me, and communicate about 70% of what I want to say. In Cusco I talked with a local jewelry shop keeper called Teo for 2 hours, all in Spanish - and there was only a few things I didn't totally understand. It was such an amazing feeling, and all thanks to my amazing teacher Raul in Lima. If you are thinking of doing the same, I would recommend 3 weeks of classes at 4 hours per day, or 2 weeks of 8 hours per day. A little more time there would have helped me clear a few more things up and given me a few more language skills. But my money was definitely well invested, and I owe all my fantastic cultural experiences to that school. The best part was, the accommodation and tuition was very affordable! I think it cost me around $150US each week for accomodation, and the classes weren't much more - check out their website if you're curious.

Wild Vicuna


If you want to see the country with no stresses or worries, the Contiki tour I booked was also pretty good. The only con was that for 11 days $1900 was really expensive for me... considering I had arrived in Canada 6 months prior with only $3,500 in my bank account, and still had almost all of that remaining even after 6 months... Soooo, to be completely honest I probably won't ever do another group tour again. But it is another good option for those who are still finding their feet.


We got to see some amazing things on the tour that I may not have seen otherwise, and aside from the obvious highlight of Machu Picchu, I highly recommend the following places/things to do:
- Colca Canyon and watching the amazing Condors fly just meters from you.
- The Uros Islands and Lake Titicaca.
- Puno
- Seeing Vicuna in the wild
- Chewing cocoa leaves or drinking cocoa tea
- Drinking papaya smoothies in the morning
- Try Ceviche at a restaurant - I have fallen in love with it!

Being greeted by the colourful Lake Titicaca families
Hostels/Hotels I stayed at:
Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to try out many hostels, but here are my opinions of the few I did.
Ecopackers Hostel, Cusco.. AWESOME hostel, 10/10.
Pariwana Hostel, Lima.. Ok.. cramped rooms but good place to meet people 5/10.
MamaSara Hotel, Cusco (Contiki) - Lovely hotel, great service, ok location 6/10.
Tupac Yupanqui Palace, Cusco (Contiki) - Loved the architecture, pretty good breakfast, good location 7/10.
Hotel Girasoles, Miraflores, Lima (Contiki) - Good breakfast, 8min walk into central Miraflores. 6/10.
If I was to go back, I would really like to check out the Red Psycho Llama Hostel in Miraflores, from the reviews I've read it really sounds great!


The Contiki gang
Getting around:
To get from Cusco to Lima, I travelled with Cruz del Sur, a highly reputable bus company. It took 13 hours to get from A to B, but these buses are absolutely amazing. Reclining leather chairs, meals provided, I think they had TV's too. It was extremely affordable too as compared to flying. The only downfall is the fact you have to sit down for so long!



Getting from the airport to your accommodation:
I would strongly advise to book accommodation for the first few days prior to arriving in Peru - ask your hotel/hostel of the best way to get to them and how much it will be. In my case, Peruwayna booked and organised a taxi with a reputable company. The taxi picked me up from the airport and dropped me right to my Peruvian family's doorstep.


Finally seeing Machu Picchu after a tough hike

Now, to clear up the excuses society provides you with to put you off a solo visit to Peru:

Issue #1 'Pickpockets'
I never had an issue. Not once! I had a small shoulder bag, and a tiny wallet that I secured in a pocket inside the bag so it would be difficult for someone to steal anyway. If I was in a large crowd I would make sure the bag was slung around the front of me. The only thing I would stress to fellow travellers, and that my Peruvian family strongly advised - was to avoid answering your phone on the street. If you need to answer it, even just to text someone, duck into a shop and do it. Phone theft is high, and iphones are a rarity there. The best advice I can give is just use common sense, be aware of your surroundings and trust your gut feeling.

Issue #2 'Lone blonde girl travelling in South America vs South American men'

I really stood out in Peru - Amongst a sea of short, brown eyed, black haired people, my long blonde hair and blue eyes did attract a little bit of unwanted attention, but no where near as much as I was expecting from stories I had heard. During the month I stayed there, I only got a few whistles from passing cars, and the odd uncomfortable stare while walking along the street which I all ignored - and I walked the streets every day. I made sure I was home before nightfall, but there were a few occasions I had to walk home after class in the dark, and never had an issue. There are police patrolling majority of the streets in Miraflores, and I felt really safe there. If I really wanted to go unnoticed I'd wear a hoodie, put my 'don't F&*^$K with me' expression on walk with a purpose. I was never bothered.

Peru has some amazing wildlife 

Issue #3 'Taxi's!'

In Peru, you have to agree on your price for a taxi with the driver BEFORE you get in! To give you an idea of costs, one of my trips was from Miraflores to Central Lima (roughly 13kms - 20mins drive), and only cost 13 sol, or $5AUS... and that was split between 4 people! Im pretty sure there are more taxi's then people, so you will never have a problem hailing one or bargaining for a good fare. If the driver thinks the price is too high just start looking for another taxi, they will literally line up for you on the street in competition for your business!

Issue #4 'Foooooood and H2O'
The variety of food in Peru is amazing, the markets are eye-opening, but there are a few things to watch out for. Tap water is not drinkable - you HAVE to buy bottled water. This also means your tummy won't appreciate any fruit or veggies/salads washed in tap water - so choose your restaurants wisely or from recommendation. The locals know the good places to eat, so ask! Boil your water or wash your fruit with bottled water. I ate an apple that I polished on my jumper thinking I would have got rid of any nasties, and although I didn't end up attached to the toilet (THANK GOD), it felt like my insides had transformed to a theme park and my stomach had taken up the challenge to ride every single roller coaster a hundred times all through the night. The easiest way to avoid marrying a toilet is to buy cooked food on the street. I did get sick with a stomach infection while on my Contiki, which wasn't much fun either, but luckily doctors are extremely cheap in Peru, so just be careful about what you eat.

About to ride in Tuktuks in Chivay

Issue #5 'Other noteworthy tips'

Be aware that there are a few significant cultural differences... make sure you don't flush your toilet paper, put it in the bin provided or otherwise spend the next half hour trying to unblock the toilet. It's NOT fun!
- Learn basic Spanish before or while you are travelling, and show respect by trying to speak the language - not many people speak English, so you will need a basic understanding.
- Make sure you get the specific immunisations/injections needed for the places you will be visiting, and a travel doctor can provide you with a self medication pack if you do have an instance of food poisoning.
- Even if you are an unplanned traveller like myself, you must have a flight out of Peru booked otherwise you wont gain entry.
- If you are travelling to the USA after you have visited Peru, ENSURE you have organised your specific visa (in my case it was through the Visa Waiver Program) and have an ESTA number prior to arriving at the airport.
- Always give way to cars - they won't stop for you on crossings, and the last thing you need is to be hit by some maniac taxi driver.
- There will be a multitude of people you will come across that will ask you for money in Peru. Don't give into beggars, it's the easiest way to get yourself into trouble. I just ignored them or said 'no thankyou'.
- Be really really sun-smart while travelling Peru. The sun is extremely powerful, and you burn without knowing it.

Me and our Contiki mascot 'Wooly'

Altitude sickness you say? 

I definitely noticed the altitude. It was the strangest sensation. I'd take 5 steps and my lungs made out as if I had of sprinted around a football oval. It also gave me a weird headache every now and then. I noticed the altitude a little while trekking Machu Picchu, however it was nowhere near as bad as when we were exploring Puno and Lake Titicaca, which were roughly 3,800m above sea level. I used preventative methods to avoid altitude sickness, which were advised by my Peruvian family. 'Soroche' pills where what I used, which you can get from any chemist. They seemed to work. I also drank cocoa tea and chewed cocoa leaves which is a more traditional method. Many of the others on my tour didn't bother and never had an issue. Travelling in a bus for majority of our trip allowed us to acclimatise fairly well. If you are feeling sick definitely see a doctor as it can easily be fatal and therefore not something to mess around with.

You can avoid Altitude Sickness with the following steps:
- Aclimatize by climbing slowly
- Avoid physical activity the first few days
- Stay hydrated: About 3 litres of water each day
- Don't carry too much weight around
- Eat 'light', and small amounts. You will feel really sick if you try to eat a normal sized 'heavy' meal.
- Try to avoid drinking alcohol, it doesn't mix well with high altitude!

Somewhere between Puno and Chivay
 the view from the bus

My most dangerous experience in Peru:

For those curious to know my worst experience while travelling in Peru, I figured it might be useful to briefly share.. I travelled to Central Lima with 3 other fellow Peruwayna students. It was the first time I had explored with other backpackers in South America, as I've always preferred travelling alone -believe it or not - for my own safety. We had been walking around Central Lima taking in the sights for about an hour. I was with a guy from Switzerland and two girls from Germany. Casually exploring we ended up beginning to walk down a fairly open street. Looking at the street from a distance my instant gut feeling was that it was the last place I wanted to venture. I always listen to my gut feeling and have found the more I trust my instincts the safer I am - they are very rarely wrong, hence why I prefer travelling alone. My three companions had wandered halfway down this street, with me reluctantly following and becoming more and more aware of the increasing danger of our surroundings. The people looked at us differently, their expressions clearly saying 'you shouldn't be here'. I don't know how the other travellers didn't pick up the vibe, it was SOOO STRONG and I don't know why I didn't just say 'let's not go down this street' when the unwanted and dangerous feeling first hit me. I guess the fact I was with 3 other people tipped the safety scales in the opposite direction. Anyway, we had reached the end of the street, and the others were deciding where to go next, and they had decided it would be an awesome idea to head deeper into the ghetto. We were nearly about to continue and cross the road when a local man stopped us in a huff explaining in Spanish that where we were headed was very very dangerous and that we should turn around instantly. Shortly after he left a woman in a uniform approached us, giving us a map and showing us where we 'should' be. I was so extremely relived, but angry at myself for not speaking up. It was definitely a life lesson I will never forget, even though nothing bad happened. So there you go - it was hardly even worthy of a mention but if it helps give you potential travellers some confidence, better I share it. Just make sure you are always aware of your surroundings and trust yourself!

Ruins on the Inca Trek

The best experience I had in Peru: 

To balance things up a bit, I better let you in on my most memorable experience. I had finished my tour and was staying at a hostel in Cusco and absolutely loving it. I only had a few more days left and figured I better start looking for some little presents for friends and family back home. I wandered into a jewellery store and finally began using the Spanish I had learnt at Peruwayna. I befriended a little shop assistant by the name of Teo, and ended up talking to him for 2 hours in Spanish, which was absolutely amazing! He ended up giving me a tour of Cusco and the local market, we went out for coffee, and he even jumped in a taxi with me to make sure I got to the bus station safe, and without being ripped off by the taxi driver. It just goes to show if you put a little effort in, show some interest in people's lives and respect the culture of the places you visit, people will go to extreme lengths to make your adventure so much better. It makes me smile to think that after all the crazy and beautiful things I did on my Contiki tour - a little jewellery shop keeper's kindness outweighed a $2,000 tour! I love immersing myself in the culture though, so perhaps that's why that particular experience has stuck with me. I hope that one day I could provide the same kindness to a fellow traveller.

Teo and I - I still have no idea why he wanted a
photo in the deli section of the supermarket haha!
All in all, Peru was absolutely amazing. The people were so loving and friendly, the food was beautiful, the culture and history was incredible. I highly recommend it, and have totally proved it can be conquered alone! I am most definitely heading back to explore more of South America. If anyone has any further tips to add please do so by commenting below.

Peace xo


Destination
Check-in
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Rooms :
Child
Adult(s)

21 comments:

Sarah Price said...

Wow...this blog is amazingly helpful and so inspirational!!! Even though I have been overseas in Malaysia for 6 months, I have been contemplating going to Laos and maybe Nepal by myself...these backpacking tips are great for me and have given me the confidence if I have to go by myself. Well done Kobie! You are an exceptionally awesome person and your South American adventure sounded fantastic!

Kobie Notting said...

Im so glad they are helpful!! Can't wait to hear all about your Malaysian trip Sarah =)

Layzee Dee said...

im flying to peru alone for 6months as i had a job lined up an now i dont but the flight is still booked so im going and not knowing what to do or expect lol gonna be a mad one with not alot of money. im gonna live in teh jungle

Anonymous said...

Thank you! I'm planning to go to Peru solo in May-June 2014 and so much of what you said rings true for me... especially the part about trusting your gut and solo instincts are so much finely tuned than in a group. I had similar situations in San Jose, Costa Rica; Mycenae, Greece; and Rome, Italy... So happy to hear another solo female traveler echo it:)

Kobie Notting said...

I'm so glad you can relate! I'm sure you will have the best time in Peru, make an effort with the locals - and if you're in Cusco go and visit Teo for me (the little man in the last photo) at the Jewellery shop 'Platex Peru' on the corner of Portal de Panes and Saphi right next to the Plaza de Armas =)... Happy travels!!

Nadia said...

Awesome blog!!! Very helpful I am going to SouthAmerica for few months in January thanks for sharing!

Kobie Notting said...

Thanks Nadia! I hope some of the advice comes in handy for your trip! Im sure you will have an amazing time =D

Unknown said...

Thank you for so much informative content. A friend of mine, and I are going to Peru in Oct. 2014, and we started to wonder if it would be safe for 2 old ladies (62 and 63) to travel alone in Peru. Based on your blog I believe we will be safe.

Thank you,

Kobie Notting said...

Fantastic! Have a lovely time ladies!

Luana|Krystal Timeshare said...

Amazing :D thanks for sharing it

KVW Reed said...

I'm turning 43 & soul searching. THIS is what I have planned to do for myself and I am going it alone. Thank you for sharing the "bad" & good story. The few people I did tell I was leaving got all weird about me going there alone because I am blonde. I know I am going to have a wonderful time...and then I can do Europe! :)

Kelsi said...

This is great! I am about to travel solo to Peru for three months and am worried about getting place to place safely since I am a girl. This has given me the confidence to go through with it though!

Anonymous said...

Would you say that it was safe as a single woman to travel throughout Peru without a whole tour? (I'd of course book the tour for the Machhu Pichu stuff).

Kobie Notting said...

Having not done it wholly solo myself, I can't say for sure, as like anywhere in the world you will have unsafe areas. However if you were to stay in the similar type of accommodation we did on the Contiki, or book a highly rated hostel, and used reputable bus companies to get from A to B, making sure you always arrived at destination B with plenty of daylight up your sleeve to find your hostel/hotel, I don't think you would have an issue. The Peruvian people I met were all awesome, and so hospitable. You'd need to have a bit of Spanish up your sleeve. And its all about trusting your gut feeling and being able to use your instincts in any environment. If your gut is telling you something is not right - its generally pretty spot on!

kacy singh said...

Hey! This was extremely helpful. I have been trying to figure out the best "plan" for South America in terms of where to start BUT there's just too many things I want to do! Reading your post made me realize that learning spanish the first week there would be phenomenal. After my first week where would you recommend heading from there? Is it possible to move to Bolivia and Paraguay if I am realistically looking at a month? Thanks for all the help. PS - did you do the immersion spanish or survival?

Kobie Notting said...

Hey Kacy!! Gosh there really is so much to do there, hard to do it all in a month! If i only had a month and wanted to see as much as possible I'd do the west coast with main destinations Patagonia, the Amazon, colca canyon and Machu Picchu and the galapogos Islands. (In saying that I have not done any research into what else I'd love to do, that's just off the top of my head!) I'd start in Argentina and work my way north I think. If you only have a month and want to see a few other places I'd probably learn as much Spanish as possible before you leave to try and save as much time to see everything. However if you were only looking at a couple of other countries you could start in Peru - one week for Spanish lessons (making sure you've done some before coming) and one week for Machu Picchu/colca canyon, then I'd do a week in Bolivia and a week in Paraguay. It's totally up to what you want to see/do and what sort of experience you want to have. Anything is possible :), I'm pretty sure I did the immersion classes at peruwayna. I would do a 4 hour class in the morning or at night. If you have any other questions just ask!

Kristin said...

I am going to Peru in a few months with some friends. They all have to be back in the U.S. a few weeks before I do, and although I wanted to stay and explore I was a little too afraid to do so...until I read this post and was seriously inspired. I'm going to take Peruwayna classes and stay alone for just under three weeks. Thank you so much for the inspiration!

Christian said...

I'll be visiting Peru next year and your backpacking tips are helpful. Thanks for sharing!

Krishna Thapaliya said...

Trekking in Nepal is still the most favorite adventure holiday activity in the country. The two classic trekking routes either to Everest base camp or the Annapurna circuit are not easy and the challenge you'll face on either route will have a lasting effect. The Manaslu route trek around the world's eighth largest mountain is more remote but no less beautiful passing through stunning bamboo forests, villages filled with prayer flags and culminating with spectacular views from Larkya La. Mustang is an easier cultural trek, suitable for those with good general fitness but not necessarily any previous trekking experience. The language, culture and tradition of the Mustang region are still mostly Tibetan making this one of the most culturally interesting treks. There are shorter treks up the Langtang Valley and Helambu which are still hard work but also deeply rewarding. They generally begin in Kathmandu, leading through large grazing areas covered in flowers, dotted with stone huts used for butter making, Sherpa, Tamang villages and the homes of yak herders, right up to the Tibetan border.

Antisuyo Trek Peru said...

I read your post and i like it very much.
Thanks for sharing with us.
tours in peru

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