You’re fulfilling a lifelong dream and are going to Machu Picchu with a cruise ship. It’s only three days, so you know you don’t need much.
You’re not hiking the Inca Trail, so you don’t need adventure outdoor equipment. There are no formal nights, so you don’t need to bring your fancy clothes that you have on the ship for those occasions. You’ve heard of people only bringing a carry-on, but that seems a bit of a tight squeeze, so you’re not sure on that. You’ve heard the weather is changeable and temperatures vary throughout the day, but what does that really mean as far as clothes needs go? You know there will be a fair bit of walking, but how tough is that, and what type of terrain is it on?
So what do you actually need to bring?
Don’t worry I’ll break it all down for you here.
I’m female, and worked in entertainment for nearly two decades, so the stereotype is that I’d over pack. However, over many years of mostly living out of my suitcase, I’ve continually improved on not bringing too much excess. For my Machu Picchu trip, everything I took fit in one regular sized 30-litre backpack.
I’ll break down every tiny thing I think you could need here in sections.
- Your passport! – You WILL need this to get on the flight. A photocopy of it or driver’s license will NOT suffice.
- Your tour ticket or any written confirmation of your place on the tour in case needed
- Travel insurance summary paperwork– especially with details on medical coverage – just in case. You don’t need the whole policy here, just the summary page that has a main breakdown of what’s covered, with the company’s contact details. While having it saved on an email is great, sometimes Internet doesn’t work, or phones run out of battery, so also having a good old-fashioned paper copy is still a good option to have for the most important things.
- Visas – If you need a visa, make sure it is with you, again, online, in document, and in paper copy if applicable.
- Money – Bring cash for smaller purchases. I found I did not need to exchange cash into Peruvian soles, and only used US dollars, as we were always in touristy areas which accepter this. The rate you’ll get is slightly under the actual one (for example, when I was there, the actual rate was 3.38 soles to $1, but most places calculated it as 3 to 1. But, for the hassle saved, this was fine with me).
- Credit card – Bring your plastic for any potential larger purchases, or in hotels, restaurants or shopping, as many credit cards will give you a better rate of exchange, plus it is good to have as a back up. Visa or MasterCard are accepted in almost every country, including Peru, so are the best bets to take. American Express or Diner’s Cards are not accepted everywhere.
- Camera – This is a trip you’re going to want to take a LOT of photos on, so bring your camera, phone camera, GoPro, camcorder, whatever you like. Remember to bring spare batteries and chargers for everything.
- Sunscreen – Even though it may look cloudy or rainy when you arrive, the weather changes very quickly, so bring – and use – sunscreen at all times, not less than factor 30.
- Bug spray – While mosquitos aren’t overly prevalent, there are some. I get bitten a lot usually, and only got two bites from the trip. If you get bitten at all, take some spray. If you forget it, or don’t have it before going, it is available in many of Cusco’s tiny shops and from street sellers at both train stations.
- Hat – I did not bring a hat (as I never wear one), and I regretted it as my scalp got sunburnt at my parting. You don’t need to get all Indiana Jones here, but bring one that is comfortable and wont fly off your head if it gets windy.
- Sunglasses – Protect your eyes, it’ll probably be sunny at some point.
- Motion sickness pills – The road journeys are long and winding, which can bring out the motion sickness in the toughest traveller (especially the final trip from Machu Picchu town up to the site), so don’t let feeling icky spoil one minute of your trip.
- Medication – Whatever medication you usually need, or thing you may need, bring, like inhalers. Painkillers, sleeping aids, rehydration tablets and Band-Aids are useful general items.
- Water – You CAN bring water on flights within Peru, so bring a bottle or two with you to keep you going or in case you need extra anytime.
- Luggage tag – The ship gave everyone red luggage tags with our group number on them to put on any luggage – including hand luggage – we had. This was very useful, as a couple of people almost lost bags at security, but any of the group being able to notice our signature tags meant that nothing was left behind, so use these.
Bring a smaller bag in your backpack that you can use during the day out in Machu Picchu, walking around Cusco, going for dinner.
My advice on choosing this is take something big enough to fit in whatever you’d need on your most ‘stuff’ heavy day (including large water bottle, sun lotion, wallet, bug spray, hand sanitizer etc.)
Machu Picchu and Cusco are not pick-pocket heavy places, so don’t worry about bringing something that is Fort Knox, only make sure it:
- Folds or rolls up to a small size to fit in your larger bag.
- Is comfortable to have on, as it’ll be on your back or over your shoulder for a lot of hours.
- Has a couple of pockets for easy access.
- Has whatever strap you feel better with – backpack straps or over body are fine.
I took a smaller backpack, my (Platypus Runner) ‘skinny’ backpack, as it rolls up to a tiny size. It was ideal for walking around everywhere as fir everything in it, without it getting in my way.
I bought some presents while there, so on the way back, I used this for extra storage and still didn’t could have it as carry-on as Latam airways allows for one carry-on PLUS a personal item.
Toiletries and skincare:
- Toothbrush – Regular toothbrush (leave your electric on the ship or at home), or travel sized fold up one if you have one. Sometimes you get given these in tiny containers with tiny travel size toothpaste on airplanes – if you get one before Machu Picchu, keep it for then. They are great!
- Toothpaste – Travel sized. I stock up on these a couple of times a year, and bring a few to every ship with me for times like this.
- Lip balm or Chap Stick – for men and women. It is windy at Machu Picchu, and your lips will likely get very dry and cracked, so bring this with you at all times. (I forgot mine in the hotel and my lips suffered for it).
- Hair product – bring a travel size version of whatever you like to use: hairspray, pomade, gel or serum.
The hotel will more than likely have facial soap, bath soap/shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion. Mine had all of these. So unless you have a special brand you cant do without, make do with the hotel’s offerings for this short time to save yourself space. I used everything from the hotel, and only brought a small travel size face wash, as I like my Clinique one.
This means you DON’T need to bring:
- Shower gel
- Body lotion
- Face wash
This one is probably mostly for the ladies, but some may apply to both. I personally love makeup, but I pared it down a lot for this trip to save space and keep my liquids within the airline allowed plastic bag size. You will take a lot of photos though, so it’s nice to feel a little looked after. If you can find a good small travel compact – Dior and Clinique usually have great mini travel ones in airport duty free shops – this will cover most of your make up in one go.
- Toner – Travel size.
- Moisturizer – Travel size. Use the same one for day and night to save space, unless you have really tiny ones.
- Foundation – If you use it, or just bring a small concealer for any areas you’d like to refine.
- Concealer – If you use it, or dab foundation on and leave it for a couple of minutes before blending it in so it thickens and can act like a concealer.
- Mascara – Always a good idea, and small.
- Eye shadow – Co-ordinate outfits so you only need one or two small single shadows, or a small travel compact with two to four colours.
- Blusher – If you don’t have this in a small compact, bring a small one.
- Eyeliner – I can’t go without mine.
I heard various things about the weather in Cusco and Machu Picchu, and basically it is changeable. Check online for average temperatures and weather conditions in the month you’re planning on going for accurate info. I was there in September and it was warmer than I’d expected. Early morning, when you day starts on this trip, at 4.30am was the coldest time and was still about 12C (55F) and in the sun actually in Machu Picchu it got up to 25C (80F). This is what I’d recommend taking for weather within this region – remember, layers are the key!
- PJs – Something small like shorts or thin nightdress or don’t bother, it wont be cold in the hotel.
- Socks – Wear a pair on the plane, and bring a pair per day if your footwear uses them.
- Underwear – wear a pair and bring a pair a day at least or hand wash in your room’s sink to save space and bring less.
- Trousers – Lightweight linen or polyester gym trousers are best so they cover you when it’s cooler, but aren’t heavy or too hot when it warms up. Wear a pair and pack a pair. If you have the trousers that zip off at the knee (my dad is a big fan of these), they may not be uber cool, but they would be very useful here with the changing temperatures.
- Tops or T-shirts – Wear one and bring two more. Even having a vest top for underneath is useful in case temperatures get hot. Light comfortable material is best. No one will dress up on this trip, so you really don’t need anything fancy.
- Sweaters – I brought a thin fleece sweater, plus a zip up hoodie that fir comfortably over it. This was useful to add or subtract layers, but I actually only needed one of these at a time at most. I’d say bring two warmer layers though and if you don’t need them, you can rotate them so you look different in photos, and wearing them t the airport means you don’t have to pack them.
- Rain jacket – You’re going to the cloud rainforest, so it may well rain. Bring a thin, lightweight rain jacket that folds up very small just in case you need it. Bring an umbrella too if you like. However, the rain usually doesn’t last long at all – I saw it for about 15 minutes after arriving in Cusco and that was it for the whole trip.
- Two pairs – wear one and bring one. Sneakers/hiking shoes/walking sandals/something you usually walk a lot in and are comfortable in.
Probably even more important than what you bring to wear on your body (as if you forget something, there are lots of shops nearby in Cusco anyway with most clothes items), is what to wear on your feet.
I’d read different opinions on this. If you’re hiking the Inca trail between four to fourteen days, you need heavy duty hiking footwear. If you are going with a cruise ship trip, you don’t.
Walking around Machu Picchu is the toughest walking element of the trip as there is a decent amount of it – I clocked about 5 miles (7km) that day – and it is over some rough terrain with cobblestones and uneven steps around the city (it is six centuries old after all). But that was it, no jungle trails, no mud, or potholes or climbing needed. So bring something that is comfortable (wear in any new shoes before the trip!) and has decent grip. And bring two pairs. Wear one and bring one in case the one you bring isn’t as comfortable as you thought it was, or is too hot, or cold, or gets a hole in it or anything like that.
I wore comfortable sturdy sneakers (Sketchers Sport), and brought comfortable with good grip (Karrimor) walking sandals. They did the job. I ended up wearing the sneakers actually for the Machu Picchu walk mainly as it was colder early morning when I got up, so I wanted my feet covered, but either would have been fine.
- Book – There may be waits in airports/waiting on rest of your group etc. or just to read before bed, a book (or Kindle or book on your phone) is always handy.
- Journal or notebook – Take notes on tours or of what you’re experiencing, especially if you like learning about the history of places. It is easy to forget details when you’re so excited about being somewhere so writing down notes to read later helps enrich the experience for many people.
- Don’t check any luggage in unless you absolutely have to – it’ll save time for yourself and your whole group.
- Sun lotion and insect repellent – bring pump action, non aerosol types that are under 100ml if you can, then you can keep them in your carry-on and not need to check them in.
- There should be US and European plug sockets in all main hotels, so both these should be fine to bring.
- Don’t bother bringing a hairdryer or hair straightener. The hotel will supply a hairdryer, and if you usually use a straightener, don’t bother. Bring a small container with hair product to help tame it, or just put it up. You won’t want to get up an extra 15 minutes early at 4.30am to do your hair.
- Bring water. You can bring water on domestic flights within Peru.
- Leave space to bring souvenirs home – you WILL buy some, including something about llamas.
That’s it for the packing. I hope that was at least a bit useful.