Letter: Packing List

Happily we are entering in to the “visitor” season. Either by plan or by chance, there are several families from all over the US who will be coming to Peru in the next few months. I thought I’d take a break from my medical writing to put together what I think are the essentials for coming to Peru. Please feel free to share with whomever you think might benefit from such a list.

A few notes about the climate in Cusco and the Sacred Valley. The rainy season is over. This is a good thing if you need to hang laundry out to dry and don’t like scrambling to take half dry clothes off the line. This is also a good thing for being out and about–not always needing to have a raincoat on hand. I see two downsides of the dry season: very cold nights, and all the beautiful green quilted mountains turn to different shades of brown. Don’t get me wrong, the mountains are still majestic and beautiful, so you should all still come visit. They key thing is that is is COLD as soon as the sun goes down. Ironically, it is HOT during the day because the equatorial sun beats down on the dry day. I tell you all of this because it highly influences what you should pack when you come visit this beautiful part of the country. A prepared traveler is a happy traveler. That said, packing economy is important too. I will consider that in my recommendations. Keep in mind that there are laundry spots all over Cusco and Urubamba that will wash and dry (in a dryer!) your clothes same day for 3 soles a kilo. That’s about 1 dollar. If you are visiting us, we will also happily do some laundry for you. For free. We’re just that nice.

During the day

The key is layers. We start our walk to school in the morning wearing long pants, a short sleeve t-shirt, and a sweatshirt. We are sometimes still cold. By the time we drop the kids at school to make our way back home, we have stripped off the sweatshirt and are wishing we were in shorts. As dorky as it may seems, those pants that have the zip off capabilities might be a good purchase if you are planning a visit during June-September. By mid-morning we are also in sunglasses and a brimmed hat. The sun is super strong and I highly recommend either a baseball hat or even an all around brimmed hat to protect your neck. Avoid sleeveless shirts. We all put sunscreen on, every morning, even when it is still freezing cold before we leave for school.

  • Short sleeve t-shirts–I highly recommend wicking, non-cotton t-shirts if you will be hiking.
  • Thin, but warm, long sleeve t-shirt
  • Thin, but warm, long sleeve pullover (you the kind–not a sweatshirt but an REI like material that rolls up small in the suitcase but packs a punch for warmth)
  • Long hiking pants, lightweight that will dry easily if wet
  • Shorts or skirt/skort if you like to hike with exposed legs, or if you have easy access to your hotel or airbnb for wardrobe changes (more on this in Inca Trail section)
  • Brimmed hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Comfortable shoes–for around Urubamba and Cusco gym shoes or Keen like sandals.
  • Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen. I can’t stress this enough. There is a hole in the ozone right over Peru. All of the school children in Peru are now required to wear large brimmed hats as part of their school uniforms.
  • Bug spray depending on where you are going. You don’t need it in the valley or in Cusco, but if you plan to hike anywhere it is key.

At night

And by at night, I mean whenever the sun goes down, or behind a mountain. Again the key is layers. I can’t tell you how many times a day I am putting on and taking off various layers of clothing. Jeff’s mantra is “you can’t get too cold as long as you have a down jacket and a rain coat.” This may have been more true when it was still the rainy season, but I tend to agree that the raincoat will block wind and the down jacket will keep you toasty warm. On the evenings when we walk into town to get dinner we usually wear our long pants and short or long sleeve shirts. By the time we walk home we are wearing long shirts, down jackets, winter hats, and sometimes wishing we had gloves. This is more pronounced the higher elevation, so if you plan on being anywhere in the mountains (like Inca Trail or Cusco) you should be prepared. No sun = cold.

  • Long pants. For out and about in Cusco/Valley I recommend bringing a pair of jeans in addition to your lightweight day time hiking pants.
  • Long underwear for sleeping in, not wearing around town.
  • Wool socks for night time
  • Thin, but warm, long sleeve t-shirt
  • Thin, but warm, long sleeve pullover (you the kind–not a sweatshirt but an REI like material that rolls up small in the suitcase but packs a punch for warmth)
  • Down jacket, or what they now call the down sweater. You know the one that rolls up to the size of a small baguette? I’m surprised how often we wear ours.
  • Lightweight rain jacket. Again the chances of rain are slim, but if it does you will be very sad to be wet and cold when you could just be cold.
  • Winter hat. Fear not if you don’t have one, there are ten million for sale on every corner in Cusco.
  • Gloves. Not like ski gloves, but polar fleece equivalent. Also for sale everywhere here.

Inca Trail or other high altitude trekking/camping

Temperatures fluctuate a ton during the 24 hour day of trekking. Last week we camped at about 12,000 feet. Holy shit, was it cold. (Excuse my French). We woke up to frost surrounding us. I had to bail on the hike because Cooper/Carmen got sick, but that night Jeff and Charlie camped even higher. In the morning they woke up with ICE inside their tent. No joke. I don’t think we will be camping that high up during the Inca Trail, but be prepared for cold at night and in the early morning. We hung our towel and a sleeping bag out to dry (long story, but it involved a child vomiting all over the inside of a tent at 11pm) and in the morning they were frozen stiff. On the other hand, the days were scorching. Jeff’s camping mantra is “nothing cotton.”

  • All of the above day/night recommendations apply, with a few extras.
  • Hiking boots. I recommend waterproofing if not already waterproof. You will be walking through various levels of mud, streams, etc.
  • Keens or other sandals. At the end of the hiking day you will want another pair of shoes to put on. I recommend a pair that you can wear socks with (not the classic flip flop) because after the sun goes down it is cold.
  • Hiking socks (2 pairs). No cotton. Get something that will dry quickly in case it gets wet.
  • Wool socks to wear at night. Don’t wear them during the day, keep them separated for night time use only.
  • Extra top layer for nighttime. I wear: tank top undershirt, long sleeve shirt, long sleeve pullover, thin jacket, down jacket. I tend to be cold at night so maybe you won’t need that extra layer, but I was cold without it and happy to have it last camping trip.
  • Long underwear is a must.
  • Bandana/buff. One of those neck things that will help you stay cool during the day (dipped in ice cold glacier water) but will also keep you warm at night and protect your neck from getting sunburned.
  • Hiking poles. Personal preference. There is a lot of down on the Inca Trail. If you have knee issues these can help offload your weight and provide stability.
  • Headlamp. A must for when the sun goes down.
  • Toiletries. Basic First Aid: bandaids, second skin for blisters, Ibuprofen/Tylenol, anti-itch cream, tweezers. Earplugs. Deodorant (please!). Benadryl either for bug bites or better sleeping in the tent. If you will need feminine supplies bring your own since might be hard to find here.
  • Granola bars, Zone bars, Cliff bars, trail mix. . . your choice, but bring something for snacking. The selection in Urubamba is slim if you are used to the giant aisle at a US grocery store. They definitely sell candy bars here. The only US granola product here is Nature Valley.
  • Crystal Light or other powdered drink if you like a variety from water. We are happy to take your extra:)
  • Steri-pen. You could consider this if you like to have control over your water. On the organized Inca Trail trips they provide safe water. I have a steri-pen that sterilizes all clear water in 90 seconds. It’s nice to have, but not necessary.
  • Portable charger. Consider this if you will be using your phone or camera for photos. Also extra batteries for headlamp, camera, etc.
  • Baby wipes
  • Ziplock bags (large and small). These always come in handy and are hard to find here.
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping bag liner–consider this if your bag isn’t a 0 degree bag. I just bought one because I’ve been cold at night.
  • Sleeping pad. I think this is key to a good night’s sleep in the tent (if there is such a thing). Mine has a hole in it and so I’m essentially sleeping on the ground. Not good.

Packing tips for trekking

  • Avoid overpacking. I wear the same wicking t-shirt everyday hiking, same nighttime clothes, etc. You may get gross by the end of the trek, but it just makes the shower at the end that much more enjoyable.
  • Smaller stuff sacks are super helpful to divide by category within your pack.
    • Day time clothes sack
    • Night time clothes sack
    • Toiletries sack
Daytime hiking attire.
Afternoon hiking attire.
Evening and early morning camping attire.

I think that’s all. If you are reading this after doing a lot of your own hiking/trekking and you have suggestions, PLEASE leave them in the comments and I will do my best to update the list.

Can’t wait to see you!



6 thoughts on “Letter: Packing List

  1. This is GREAT, Elizabeth! Along with all of your other entries, of course. Kevin & I are joining a group Peru trip at the end of August, and I will follow your packing list as closely as I can!



  2. Elizabeth,
    I am a teacher and an author living in Mumbai. This is the most comprehensive account I have ever read about travelling and hiking essentials.I am truly impressed. Sharing this. Thank you.


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