Packing for Peru
What you pack depends on where and when you travel. If you're heading to several regions, you'll need a good variety of clothing. If you visit the Amazon Basin or Andes between November and May, pack rain gear and a few plastic bags to protect cameras and other items. Good walking shoes or boots are essential everywhere, as are sunblock and insect repellent.
Peru's varied geography means a diversity of climates, with the major climate regions being the Costa (coast), the Sierra (mountains), and the Selva (Amazon rain forest). Add to this the fact that southern Peru experiences distinct summer and winter, which are the opposite of the northern hemisphere's seasons, whereas northern Peru has less seasonal variation. When it's torrid in Manhattan, Lima is chilly and gray, but when New Yorkers are bundling up, Lima is hot and sunny. It can get quite cool in the mountains at night, with frequent freezes between June and September, but it is warm and sunny during the day then. The coast is a desert, but it rains most afternoons in the mountains from October to May and pretty much year-round in the Amazon Basin, though more between October and May. If you visit then, you'll need rain gear. However, the mountains don't get as cold at night during the rainy months, so you won't need that down jacket.
The best policy is to bring a good mix of clothes that go well together so that you can layer, since a mountain day begins brisk, but quickly warms. Once the clouds roll in, or the sun gets low, you'll need a raincoat or a jacket. Rather than packing a sweater, hat, and gloves, you may want to buy them in Lima or Cusco, where the shops and markets hold a kaleidoscopic selection of sheep and alpaca wool clothing.
You'll want light clothing, a hat, and rain gear for the Amazon Basin, where it is usually scorching. Long pants and sleeves will help you avoid mosquito bites and sunburn. Keep in mind that the Madre de Dios region gets little rain from May to September, when it gets hit by occasional cold fronts that can make you break out your mountain clothes.
Sunblock is essential everywhere, and can be purchased at any Peruvian pharmacy. Insect repellent, preferably with DEET, is essential in the Amazon Basin and eastern Andes (Machu Picchu), but the local brands aren't as good as what you can buy at home. Pack an antidiarrhea medicine, such as Imodium, just in case, and always carry a small packet of tissues, since bathrooms don't always have toilet paper. You'll want a skin moisturizer if you spend much time in the mountains between May and October. If your camera, travel alarm, or other electronic goods use unusual-size disposable batteries, pack extras.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that travelers to Peru be up to date on routine shots and consult their doctor about getting vaccinated against hepatitis A and B and typhoid. Travelers heading to the Amazon Basin should get a yellow fever vaccine and consider taking an antimalarial drug other than chloroquine. However, diligent use of insect repellent, long pants, and long-sleeve shirts is the best policy in the jungle, because it can protect you against various mosquito-borne diseases.
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