Although many outdoor travel itineraries in Peru require no special medications or vaccinations, there are special considerations for jungle travel. Additionally, acclimatization to the high altitude of the Andes is essential for anyone seeking to do trekking or climbing in the mountains.
For tropical travel in Peru, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends vaccinations against yellow fever, hepatitis A or immunoglobulin (IG), hepatitis B, typhoid, and booster doses for tetanus-diphtheria and measles, as well as pills for malaria.
Most tours and activities are extremely safe, but there are risks involved in any adventure activity. The risks involved in mountain climbing, ice climbing, and white-water rafting are considerable. Know and respect your own physical limits and skills (or lack thereof) before undertaking any high-risk activity.
Be prepared for extremes in temperature and rainfall, and wide fluctuations in weather. A sunny morning hike can quickly become a cold and wet ordeal, so it's a good idea to carry some form of rain gear when hiking in the rainforest, bring sufficient protection against the cold at high altitudes, and have a dry change of clothing waiting at the end of the trail. Be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen, no matter where you travel.
If you do any trekking or camping, exercise caution with the native species that live in natural habitats. Don't go poking under rocks or fallen branches: Snakebites are very rare, but don't do anything to increase the odds. If you do encounter a snake, stay calm, don't make any sudden movements, and do not try to handle it. The chance of getting bitten by a venomous snake is small; however, if you're bitten, wash out the bite and surrounding area very thoroughly (don't go Hollywood and try to suck out the venom). Because the bite might cause swelling, remove your jewelry. If symptoms persist, seek medical attention; the best way to demonstrate to a doctor what kind of snake bit you, of course, is to hand over the dead snake -- certainly not always possible. Also beware of centipedes, scorpions, and spiders, including tarantulas, brown recluses, and black widows. If you are bitten by a dog or another creature, such as a bat, there is a risk of rabies. Wash out the wound thoroughly with soap and water, and seek medical attention. For a detailed "disease risk analysis" and other precautions, take a look at Travel Medicine's website at www.travmed.com.
Avoid swimming in jungle rivers unless a guide or local operator can vouch for their safety. Although white-water sections and stretches in mountainous areas are generally pretty safe, many rivers in the Amazon basin are home to contingents of crocodile and caiman populations.
Bugs and bug bites (and blisters) will probably be your greatest health concern in the Peruvian wilderness. For the most part, bugs are merely an inconvenience, although mosquitoes can carry malaria or dengue. Strong repellent and proper clothing will minimize both the danger and the inconvenience. On beaches, you might be bitten by sand fleas. These nearly invisible insects leave an irritating welt. Try not to scratch because this can lead to open sores and infections.
However, in all probability, Peru's bounteous nature needs to be protected from visitors more than visitors need to be protected from it. A fundamental component of enjoying nature is leaving the natural environment undisturbed. The responsible outdoor traveler's maxim is: Take nothing but memories (and photos); leave nothing but footprints. Do not cut or uproot plants or flowers. Pack out everything you pack in, and never litter. Leave places the way you found them. If you see garbage lying around in protected areas, pack it out, along with your own trash. Don't scratch your name or any other graffiti on trees or ancient monuments. On trails, bury your excrement as far as possible from the trail. Over the years, too many insensitive trekkers along the Inca Trail, among other spots, did not follow this common-sense advice and did so much damage that international organizations, such as UNESCO, worried about the trail's survival.
To support local communities and appreciate what you have the rare opportunity to experience, it's a great idea to use (and adequately tip or pay) local guides and porters, and support locally owned businesses and artisans.
What to Bring
Outdoor and adventure travel in Peru requires some special gear, and it's a good idea to come prepared; you're more likely to find a better selection of equipment, apparel, and other outdoor gear at home than you are in Peru. You can rent some equipment, such as crampons for ice climbing, but you'd be wise to bring most nontechnical items with you.
The most basic items for travelers to Peru who are doing any sort of light adventure, such as trekking or jungle lodge stays, are (already broken-in and preferably waterproof) hiking boots (it's not a bad idea to take them in a carry-on or wear them on the plane, to avoid their loss), outdoor apparel such as fleece pullovers, and a daypack.
Essential gear for almost all travelers to Peru includes:
- a sun hat
- cold-weather and water-repellent clothing
- light trekking shoes or boots
- several pairs of thick socks
Additional items for light adventure include:
- good backpacking or climbing boots
- a base layer (thermal underwear or wicking-quality shirt)
- malarial pills (if traveling to jungle regions)
- insect repellent
- a pocketknife
- toilet paper
- a flashlight or headlamp
- a mosquito net
- a sleeping bag
- diarrhea medicine
- energy bars or other trail snack foods
- sports sandals or comfortable slides for post-climbing and trekking, or for river and wet-weather wear
- a water bottle or other portable hydration system
- a good internal-frame backpack
Stuff to bring for hard-core adventure travel includes:
- food supplies and cooking equipment
- a filter and/or water-purification tablets
- a first-aid kit
- a compass and whistle
- a tent, camping stove, and cookware
- adequate fuel
- topographical maps of trails
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.