Altitude sickness must be taken into consideration when visiting the Andes. You’ll spend the first few days acclimatizing. During this period, it’s important to take it easy. If you find you’re walking faster than the locals, slow down!The initial symptoms are fatigue, shortness of breath, mild headache, nausea and lack of appetite. Don’t push yourself physically or eat too much as you adjust. Be sure to drink a lot of water. Your body will acclimatize in two or three days.
NOTE: Adjusting to higher altitude is not a sickness; it’s the body’s natural response as it produces a greater number of red blood cells in order to take in more oxygen. Most people show almost no symptoms, and serious discomfort due to altitude is rare.The secret to avoiding discomfort at higher altitudes is in following some basic ground rules. The first 48 hours are crucial.
- Don’t overeat. It’s best to eat smaller portions and favor light meals.
- Avoid alcoholic beverages.
- Don’t smoke.
- Drink water or a non-alcoholic liquid every 15 minutes (urine should be clear and odorless).
- Be sure to rest so that you’re not exhausted before you begin your excursion.
- Dress warmly: hypothermia aggravates the symptoms of altitude sickness.
- Learn to recognize and accept the presence of symptoms, and communicate them to Transandes staff as soon as possible. This is an appropriate preventative measure, and does not in any way display weakness on your part. Reaction time could make a huge difference to your enjoyment and quality of your expedition.
While the effects of altitude are inevitable, each person experiences those effects differently. There is no relation between these effects and your physical condition prior to departure. You may suffer from altitude sickness even though you’re in great shape. Likewise, being out of shape will not hinder your adjustment. It’s a metabolic issue, nothing more. Therefore, we recommend that each participant follow these ground rules to the letter.
Peru’s official currency is the new sol (S). One new sol is made up of 100 cents. There are bills of 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 S. There are coins of 1, 2 and 5 S as well as 10, 20 and 50 cent coins. One Canadian or US dollar is worth about 2.80 soles and a Euro is worth about 4 soles.
Bolivia’s currency is the boliviano (Bs), sometimes referred to as pesos, it’s old name. As in Peru, there are bills of 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 Bs, 1, 2 and 5 Bs coins and 10, 20 and 50 cent coins. 1 Canadian or US dollar is equivalent to about 7 bolivianos. 1 Eur is equal to roughly 10 Bs.
While Euros are generally accepted in large tourist centers and can be changed in the street, many banks refuse them. Dollars are a safer bet.
ATM machines are easy to find in Peruvian and Bolivian cities, and they accept Canadian, American and European debit cards, even those with 5 digits. It’s recommended, however that you bring a few American 20 dollar bills and carry them with you just to be safe. Note that the bills must be in perfect condition, without any tears, or they will be refused.
For a route with meals included, you’ll only need money for personal spending, tips and airport taxes, which should run around $150 and $200 US per person for the entire trip.
While visiting Peru and Bolivia, note that the price of products and services include a general sales tax. By law, all merchants must display the final price, including taxes, to clients. Therefore, the displayed price is ALWAYS the final price, without any added fees. There are no entry fees to either country for Canadian citizens. US citizens must pay a $135 US fee upon entering Bolivia, payable only in US dollars. There is a $35 US exit tax when flying out of Peru and a $25 US exit tax when flying out of Bolivia. There is also a $7 US tax on domestic flights in both countries.
Visa, MasterCard and Diners cards are accepted in Peru and Bolivia, although some establishments won’t accept all cards. Pay with your credit card only if you have no other option; an additional and extremely high interest rate is often added on each credit card purchase.
Travelers checks are difficult to cash and the fees are quite high. In airports and banks, a 6% to 10% fee is charged. Currency exchangers charge 2%.
If you require cash, you can withdraw soles, bolivianos or US dollars from an ATM with either your debit or credit card.
For groups of 6 people or more, the recommended amount is $8 to $10 US per day per person for guided cultural visits and $13 to $19 US per day per person per hiking day.For groups of 5 or fewer, the recommended amount is $10 to $12 US per day per person for guided cultural visits and $16 to $22 US per day per person per hiking day.
Peru is close to the equator… it’s hot in Peru! You can travel here year-round. Obviously, the climate changes as you move from the desert to the mountains or to the jungle. The sun rises around 7 AM, even though it’s light out by 6, and sets around 7 PM, though it’s light until 7:30 PM. This is true 12 months of the year… don’t forget, we’re right near the equator!
In Cusco, the rainy season is from December to March. It doesn’t rain every day in the rainy season. Rain is more probably during these months and the weather is more variable and harder to predict. For example, there may be a week of sunshine without a drop of rain during February, the rainiest month of the year. Once the rainy season has passed, one can expect blue skies day after day, rarely darkened by a single cloud. Although a few drops may fall in March, the beauty of the Andean landscapes during harvest season, while peasants are gathering their crops and the fields are in full bloom, help to make up for it.
The temperature varies greatly with the altitude, and depends on the presence or absence of the sun. For example, it may be 20 °C and sunny at 1 PM, when suddenly a large cloud appears. In a few seconds the thermometer will plummet to 13 °C. In the morning it may be 3 °C, 19 °C in the afternoon and 3 °C at night. These constant variations mean we need to accordingly well-equipped. The median temperature in the mountains, in the bottom of valleys such as Cusco’s, should hover around 20 °C in the daytime and 5 °C at night. Keep in mind that these are averages!
As a general rule, the air is dry in the Andes with a slight breeze, which can either be refreshing or cold depending on the time of day.
Lima is in the middle of the desert, which means there is very little precipitation. The Capital, as well as the entire Peruvian coast, can be visited year-round. In January, the hottest month, it may get up to 35 °C, while in July, the coolest month, on days with a strong sea wind, it can get down to 12 °C.
Arequipa benefits from weather similar to Lima: hot and sunny year round, but with the occasional cooling wind that comes down into the valley from the Andes.
Lake Titicaca is very similar in climate to Cusco, although the humidity from the lake and the higher altitude makes it a few degrees cooler. When it’s 18 °C in Cusco, it can be around 15 °C in Puno.
Bolivia’s tropical location means that its seasons are directly tied to rain patterns. The geological zones determine the climate.
The Altiplano lies at over 3000 m above sea level, is surrounded by the Royal Range of the Andes to the east and the Occidental Range to the west. In July and August, the heart of the dry season, it can get very cold at night (it’s the southern hemisphere’s winter), but quite warm during the day (15 °C to 20 °C) so long as the wind doesn’t blow too hard. Rain is rare in June and July.
The temperate valleys lie in the heart of the country, east of the Royal Range. In this area you’ll need your wool clothes between July and August.
Finally, you’ll encounter even greater contrasts in the Amazon and the Eastern Plains, which have torrid winters of 30 °C (in Trinindad and Rurrenabaque) and surazos – cold Patagonian winds – that will have you reaching for your alpaca sweater under the palm trees in Santa Cruz’s square during July and August!
For those travelling to Salar and to Lipez, be sure to bring thermal underwear and a good windbreaker. At Laguna Verde, it can get down to -30°C at night!
Several Internet cafés will be available throughout your journey, and are open at all hours. Almost all hotels have Internet access. Long-distance calls can be made from any of the numerous call centers. Rates are reasonable and the process is simple. In case of a problem, you’ll be given the 24 hour emergency numbers for your area for either Peru or Bolivia.
Canadian Embassy in Lima, Peru:
Bolognesi 228, Miraflores
Canadian Embassy in La Paz, Bolivia:
2678 Victor Sanjinés
EQUIPMENT AND LUGGAGE
Beware of the sun! While the climate may seem mild at first, the sun is fierce at higher altitudes.
The sun is ever-present in the Andes. When it’s sunny out, you’ll be warm in a t-shirt – don’t forget to use sunscreen with an SPF rating of 30 or better. When in the shade, however, you’ll need long sleeves. Crossing over to the shady side of the street in the Andes is similar to walking into an air-conditioned room back home. You’ll get used to the climate quickly, as there is no humidity. While it does get cold at night, your snuggly woolies should suffice. It’s recommended that you layer instead of bringing a big jacket. Don’t be surprised if you peel layers on and off during the day. Always carry a light day bag for your extra clothes and a bottle of water.
As mentioned in the CLIMATE section above, Peru and Bolivia have several different microclimates. It’s important to determine your equipment needs based on your specific itinerary. In general, however, be prepared to go from your swimsuit to your parka!
A backpack is recommended for this type of excursion; don’t bring a suitcase, unless your itinerary is purely cultural and conventional, and you plan to spend each night in a hotel and refrain from activities off the beaten path. The type of your backpack may vary according to your budget, but try to pack as light as possible. Don’t, for example, bring a 120-liter bag – a 60 to 80 liter bag will be more than big enough. Those who don’t have a technical backpack, who wish to use the services of a porter or mule, may bring their belongings in an unpadded hockey bag. Porters rarely use the straps on backpacks, having their own technique using a large piece of Inca fabric.
On top of your main backpack or bag, you should also bring a daypack, which, during the trek, will be one of the most important items ensuring your comfort. It is therefore recommended you put more thought into your daypack than your main bag. The quality of your daypack is of greater importance than that of your large pack. The logic is simple: your main bag will be, for the most part, transported for you and will be inaccessible much of the time (airplane or bus baggage hold, hotel, shuttle or on the back of a porter or mule). Therefore, you will need a COMFORTABLE bag to carry your daily effects: jacket, camera, water bottle, etc, while we are hiking or taking part in activities. Therefore, we recommend you invest in YOUR comfort!
Here is a list of standard equipment for a trek:
(Note that this is a list of suggested equipment, not an obligatory checklist!)
- Hiking shoes or boots that are COMFORTABLE and BROKEN IN
- Goretex (Jacket and/or poncho and pants)
- Hat, tuque, headband
- Warm shirt/sweater, soft shell
- Long pants and shorts
- Technical long underwear
- Synthetic short-sleeve shirt
- Toilet paper / Toilet bag
- High-performance socks and underwear
- Street clothes
- Headlamp with extra batteries
- Walking stick
- Writing book, pen, paper
- Water and energy bars
- Hydration pack (Camelback or similar)
- Waterproof overbag for daypack, ziplocks and plastic bags
- Heat packs for hands and feet
- Mini first aid kit for minor cuts and blisters
- Pocket knife
- Bug spray
- Sleeping bag (can be rented on site)
- Altimeter and GPS
The official languages of both Peru and Bolivia are Spanish, Quechua and Aymara. Spanish is spoken in all cities and villages, while Quechua is spoken mostly in the Andean region. In the high plateaus (department of Puno in Peru and in Bolivia), Aymara is also spoken. English is spoken very little, and far less than foreigners often assume, although many merchants may speak a few words or phrases in order to better market their wares.
WE STRONGLY RECOMMEND YOU VISIT A TRAVEL CLINIC SPECIALIZING IN TRAVEL MEDICINE. AT A TRAVEL CLINIC, YOU CAN CONSULT WITH DOCTORS WHO CAN ADVISE YOU ON THE APPROPRIATE VACCINATIONS AND HEALTH PRECAUTIONS FOR YOUR DESTINATION.
To avoid stomach problems, you must be very cautious with your drinking water. Drinking tap water is not recommended. Bottled water is readily available and inexpensive.
Dehydration can be a major problem on this type of excursion. Don’t be surprised if we remind you to drink often. Altitude and sunshine is a perfect recipe for dehydration. Unfortunately, many travelers take our advice too lightly and suffer as a result, so please be understanding of our insistence.
We recommend you visit a vaccination clinic in advance of your departure. All travel guides recommend vaccination against Hepatitis A and B, Yellow Fever and Tetanus. We don’t pass through malaria-affected zones. If the group passes through malaria risk areas such as jungles at low altitude, special recommendations will be given.
Suggested List of Personal Medication (Optional: This list is in no way obligatory!)
- Tylenol arthritis (650mg) – minor analgesic
- Aspirin – minor analgesic and blood thinner
- Actifed decongestant – For congestion caused by high altitude
- Cepacol – For throat irritation caused by high altitude
- Diamox (Acetazolamide) (250mg) – Altitude sickness inhibitor (for those having demonstrated notable susceptibility to high altitude)
- Zythromax (250mg) – For infections above the diaphragm
- Cipro (500mg) – For infections below the diaphragm (gastro-intestinal)
- Gravol – To treat nausea associated with altitude or motion sickness
- Immodium & Laxative – For the joys of foreign travel
POLITICAL AND SOCIAL CONTEXT
Since the arrest 15 years ago of the leader of the Shining Path, a radical revolutionary movement that rocked Peruvian society for several years, Peru has become a calm and stable country. The inflation rate has been steady for several years as well.Apart from Lima, you’ll quickly realize upon your arrival that Peru, and especially the Cusco region, is completely safe for travelers. People are generally friendly and laid back. Therefore, we recommend you follow the same standard safety precautions you would on any other trip, but nothing more. These peaceful actions are designed to attract the government’s attention to certain issues. That being said, such actions are currently rare and it is extremely unlikely you’ll face such an experience during your visit. As in any country, crime rates are higher in urban centers. The country is very safe outside of urban areas, and with a few standard precautions, a traveler in Bolivia faces no more danger than he or she would at home. Violent crime is no more common than in Quebec.
The political situation in Bolivia is stable, despite occasional peasant demonstrations and roadblocks in the altiplano region, which have received considerable media attention in recent years.
HOWEVER, WATCH YOUR POCKETS!!! It’s a universal law: wherever there’s a high concentration of tourists, there is also a high rate of petty theft and pickpockets. But don’t worry; one guide stays ahead of the group while another follows behind, and both keep a watchful eye on the group.
We advise you to make two copies of all of your important travel documents (passport, travel insurance documents, bank card and credit card) as well as two copies of a list of people to contact in case of an emergency. This list should include a TOLL FREE number for you bank in case of loss or theft of your card and a TOLL FREE number for your insurance provider. You should leave one copy of this list with a contact person back home. This can help avoid problems during your trip. You will need to carry your original documents as well.