First-time travelling to Peru? Here’s what you need to know about Vaccinations, Visas, Consular Aid and Currency

As a European, I am used to the luxury of jumping from one country to the next, without having to worry about visas, consular support, currency or what to do in an emergency as everything is pretty much standardised. So, when I decided to travel to Peru, it was a new world to me, and it takes a lot of research to find out all of the information you need. Now that I have it, I put together this article for those of you thinking of embarking on a similar journey. The information below is mostly for Irish citizens, but others may find it useful as a guideline. 

Most of us travel abroad with no complications or problems, which is great. However, even though we may not encounter any difficulties when abroad, we should have all of the information we need to be prepared to handle any situation that might arise. This is particularly true for those travelling alone, with no contact person in the destination country on arrival. 

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Vaccinations, Medication and Health Care

The Facts:

Ireland has its own Tropical Medical Bureau where you can find out exactly what vaccinations are recommended for Peru. Upon writing this post, the recommended list of vaccinations for Peru were:

  • Yellow Fever (required)
  • Tetanus (all travellers)
  • Hepatitis A (all travellers)
  • Typhoid (all travellers)
  • Hepatitis B (trekking)
  • Rabies (trekking)
  • Tuberculosis (rural)

You should consult your doctor about the vaccinations at least six weeks prior to travel, and allow enough time to get an appointment. They usually need to be taken in two stages, so take this into consideration when planning your schedule.

On top of this, Malaria is recorded to be transmittable in certain areas. If you are going to the jungle, the risk of malaria is higher than if you are in the higher mountain regions. There is no vaccination for malaria, instead you take a tablet a couple of days before you go, every day you are there, and for one week after you return. 

You need to take some time to inform yourself about the health risks and talk to your doctor regarding your own personal health and recommendations based on this. If you go to the Cusco region, the risks are generally significantly lower than the jungle region. 

You should have a travel vaccination passport, however they don’t ask for this at immigration upon entry to Peru. At the end of the day, it is your own personal decision on whether or not you decide to get the vaccinations and take the malaria medication. I was in this situation last year, and I spent a lot of time weighing up the pros and cons, along with alternative options before making my decision. I will share my experiences and pros and cons list here to help you, but keep in mind, this is just my opinion, and it is relative to my own personal health situation. You need to consult your own medical doctor. This is my personal opinion and experience and should not be taken as medical advice.

Pros:

  • Peace of mind: It’s a new country, a new experience for our body and our defence system. Contracting one of the illnesses above will definitely ruin your experience there and have serious implications on your health. Having the vaccinations and medication provide a peace of mind prior to arrival.
  • They often last for more than one year: If you are an avid traveller and plan on seeking out further adventures within the next couple of years, it is worth considering that some countries do require vaccination proof on arrival, and some of the required vaccinations will be on the above list.
  • You reduce your chance of becoming ill significantly: None of the above illness are pretty. In fact, they are debilitating and can lead to serious health issues. Even if you don’t enter the jungle, if you trek up to Machu Picchu, you pass through some humid, heavily forested areas and there are mosquitos. The risk is much lower for contracting malaria, but it is there. 

Cons:

  • The vaccinations and medication is expensive. Depending on how comprehensive your medicinal stash will be, you can expect to fork from €300-€500 on doctor fees, vaccinations and medication. Thats a significant extra cost that you need to factor in for the trip, and one I hadn’t considered until I totted up the costs. 
  • While you might not be at risk at picking up the above illnesses, the vaccinations themselves may make you feel out of sorts for a few days. 
  • Chemicals: If you are someone who is sensitive about taking medication and vaccinations, you may find it difficult to accept that you are loading your body with them before heading off on your adventures. 

My Personal Decision:

I prefer to seek a herbal alternative where possible. I consulted a herbalist and a medical doctor. In the end, the decision was mine, but the recommendation and ultimate decision was to be safe rather than sorry. 

So, I went ahead and got the vaccinations. They made me feel quite sore and slightly ill for a few days.  I also took a whole list of extra medication with me. This is because I didn’t know how good the health care service would be, and what sort of bacteria or illness I might pick up, and how far I would be from a pharmacy or hospital at the time. Here’s my comprehensive list:

  • One prescription of emergency antibiotics (this is not something everyone may be able to do, I have a medical history which allows me to carry them with me.)
  • Over the counter tablets for nausea
  • Over the counter tablets for diarrhoea 
  • Over the counter tablets for dehydration
  • Mosquito repellant from the outdoor shop
  • Factor 50 sunblock
  • Antihistamine cream in case of bites or reactions 
  • Mosquito repellant armbands

It sounds pretty extreme, and it was. I hardly used anything from the above list. But I was going to be there for two months, and I wanted to be prepared. It was my first time in South America and in Peru, and I was travelling alone. I had no idea what to expect.

Remember, if you are travelling from Ireland, or Europe, you could be looking at an approx journey of 20 hours. The climate is different, the food is amazing, but it is different. The altitude is much greater and your body will be pushing itself in the first few days to adapt. Therefore, support it along the way when you can. Keep hydrated and well fed as much as you can throughout the journey. 

On arrival, if you are having difficulties with the altitude, go to a pharmacy and pick up a small portable oxygen can, that you can pop in your backpack. The hotels will have oxygen anyway, but it’s not a bad idea to carry it around with you for the first couple of days. It’s also a good idea to avoid alcohol at the beginning as that extra dehydration might just put you over the edge. If you do find yourself getting dizzy, try to take slow, deep belly breaths for a few minutes, until you come around. Be kind to yourself and allow your body the time it needs to adjust.

Finally, make sure you have valid travel insurance which includes a good health cover policy. There are many different companies and out there, so shop around for the best policy for your country of residence. Aim to get one that covers flight delays or cancellations, hospital and emergency cover and luggage loss. 

Useful Links:

Tropical Medical Bureau:

https://www.tmb.ie/destinations/vaccinations-for-peru

Department of Foreign Affairs:

https://www.dfa.ie/travel/travel-advice/a-z-list-of-countries/peru/

World Health Organisation:

https://www.who.int/countries/per/en/

In case of emergency:

If you become ill, often the first port of call is your insurance company. They normally have a specific phone number you can call where they will assist you in getting to your nearest hospital. It’s worth giving them a call before you leave to find out exactly what you need to do in case something should happen when you are travelling. 

In the case of an emergency, you will have to call the relevant emergency service. Here are the emergency services numbers for Peru:

National Police: 105

Ambulance Service: 106

Traffic Police: 110

Fire Services: 116

I recommend asking at your hotel or contact person on arrival to confirm if those numbers are valid in the area you are staying. I have no experience of having to use them, this is just the information I found online, but with too much of a heavy focus on Lima for me to trust 100% that they are valid nationwide.  

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Visa Requirements and Consular Aid:

If you are travelling to Peru as a tourist, the visa process is straight forward. You do need to refer to the regulations for your own country as conditions may differ. As an Irish passport holder, you can receive a touristic visa on arrival in Peru. This can be issued up to 90 days. Some people automatically get the full 90 day stamp, however, they might give you the visa for the exact time you will be in the country depending on your flight information with a couple of days grace. 

It is also worth noting that currently, Ireland does not have an Irish Embassy in Peru. This means that the closest Embassy is in Mexico or Argentina. There is however an Irish Consulate in Lima. I recommend saving the contact details of the consulate in your phone or keep it on you in case you require help while you are there. 

You will find their details here:

https://www.dfa.ie/embassies/irish-embassies-abroad/south-america/peru/

You also have the option of recording your travel details voluntarily with the Department of Foreign Affairs via the Citizens’ Registration before departure. Here you can record your travel dates, locations where you will be staying, emergency contact details and any other important information. This is helpful in case of an emergency situation in Peru or in your home country. The government will know where to find you quickly. 

Here is the link: https://www.dfa.ie/travel/citizens-registration/

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Currency and Exchange in Peru:

The official currency of Peru is soles. In many touristic areas they also take US Dollar, however if you are eating at a small restaurant or at the market, you will need soles. You will find it difficult to walk into a currency exchange kiosk and just ask for soles in Europe. I tried in Madrid and in each place I went into, I had to preorder Peruvian Soles. Even if I wanted to exchange money at the airport I would have had to order them a couple of days in advance. 

The cost of food is very low in Peru in comparison to what most of us are used to. But again, it depends on where you are. You will pay a lot more in touristic areas, such as those in Cusco city. Machu Picchu (Agua Calientes) is known to be quite expensive too. 

If you want to take money out of an ATM in Cusco, you will pay around 12 soles per transaction. There are some which do not charge at all, so it’s worth seeking them out. I found one of the corner of the main plaza in Cusco last year. It is usually less expensive to take cash out in smaller towns, so if you have the chance while passing through a town with an ATM, take advantage of it.

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So, that’s basically it in a nutshell. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Peru. There was never a moment I felt unsafe or threatened in anyway. I had no accidents, required no consular aid and there were no emergencies. I didn’t catch any infection or come down with any illness and I am so grateful for that. I do feel, however, that we should all be prepared and informed as best we can prior to travelling to a new country, particularly one that has a different national language to your own where it might be harder to find that information out while in the country in the moment you need it. I hope that this article saves many of you a lot of preparation and research time.

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