Please help my nice travel to Peru/Ecuador/Mexico
September 15, 2010 9:04 AM   Subscribe

Please help my niece traveling from England to Peru and Ecuador with advice about where to go and what to take: what is the best netbook/mobile broadband stick/ power plug adapter to buy in England? Also what is best cellphone with pre-paid service to buy Peru?

My 21 year old, artist-student niece is going for an extended backpacking trip of about 6 months. Leaving from England for Peru and Ecuador in the next month. I've never been to South America and need your kind hive-mind help, please.

Would it be better to buy a netbook with web stick gizmo or go to internet cafes there?

She will stop briefly in Mexico for Day of the Dead. Any suggestions about best places to see/experience that?

Her interests are sacred places, lost civilizations, art and culture of the Andes, pre-Columbian and Incan art and ruins, art connected with the dead.

Any must-see places, unusual places, cheap hotel tips, health info, bus company names that are reliable/safer? Any MeFites she might meet up with in Peru, Ecuador or Mexico?

She is vegetarian, so any menu tips would be most appreciated.
posted by nickyskye to Travel & Transportation around Manchester, England (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: *my nice niece
posted by nickyskye at 9:26 AM on September 15, 2010

Best answer: In Peru there is a bus company called Cruz del Sur. If they go from wherever she is going from to wherever she is going to, use them. They are by far the safest, most reliable service in Peru. They go to most places up and down the coastline, and Cusco etc.

For web access, the vast majority of hostels these days have wifi so if she's taking a netbook (which most travellers do) then she probably won't even need a stick thingy. And if she has a netbook with wifi then she'll have Skype so a mobile may not be necessary either. With no netbook though Ecuador and Peru are chock full of internet cafes, and all hostels have at least one desktop that they may or may not charge for.

Obviously Peru is full of the things she is interested in. Machu Picchu is the biggie and is worth the trip, but there is so much more. I recommend she start with a Lonely Planet and she'll pick up recommendations as she goes. For other tips and ideas she could start with these traveller blogs (disclaimer: neither are links to my blog but mine is listed on both). There's a lot of people out there doing a similar trip, and blogging about it.

I've spent a fair bit of time in Peru and Ecuador and am still in South America (Argentina) so if you need anything else feel free to Memail me.

posted by jontyjago at 9:27 AM on September 15, 2010

Best answer: If she doesn't have one already, your niece should get an unlocked GSM phone and buy local SIMs in the countries she's traveling in, prepay cards are available everywhere. This will give her a local number where people can reach her and the rates are always cheaper.
posted by cyndigo at 9:58 AM on September 15, 2010

Best answer: I've had friends tell me Cd. Oaxaca has a killer Dia De Los Muertos.
posted by birdherder at 10:42 AM on September 15, 2010

Best answer: Just got back from Peru a couple months ago, so I will speak to that.

Would it be better to buy a netbook with web stick gizmo or go to internet cafes there?

Until this trip, I'd have said internet cafes. But my email and facebook accounts got hacked in a Peruvian youth hostel, and all in all I had pretty bad luck with prices, connections, availability, hardware and basically everything that matters in an internet cafe experience. Also, there are SO MANY ways to connect on the road nowadays that didn't exist a few years ago when I did my first big backpacking trip (to Asia, natch). So I'd recommend the netbook if she can afford it at all.

I wouldn't worry too much about a stick doohickey - most of the big youth hostels in the cities will have wifi, and there are also cafes (the regular latte serving kind) and the like which will have wifi just like back home. Maybe if it's cheap? My main concern with bringing one is that it might not be strictly necessary and could get stolen easily. And then it would be a hassle to cancel the service before whoever stole it started charging up usage fees.

If money is a real object, the internet cafes should be sufficient for basic staying-in-touch stuff - just have her be VERY CAREFUL logging in to things. She needs an awesome password, entered out of sequence, and NEVER EVER EVER do anything related to money (online banking, entering a credit card number, etc.). I use for financial tracking already, and it was a godsend to log into that account to see my balance rather than my bank's actual website.

Her interests are sacred places, lost civilizations, art and culture of the Andes, pre-Columbian and Incan art and ruins, art connected with the dead.

Then she is really going to enjoy Peru. Especially the Cusco and Sacred Valley area. One awesome going away present might be a guidebook for that specific part of the country. I had to search high and low in Cusco itself for a good guide to the Sacred Valley cultural sites beyond Machu Picchu. It's one of the few things I wish I'd bought in advance and packed in my luggage rather than leaving it till the last minute. Especially since I spent far longer in that part of the country than I'd originally planned.

I've also heard fantastic things about the more recently discovered ruins in the northern part of Peru (closer to the border with Ecuador, so she will be likely passing through that part of the country either way). These are not Inca sites but the ruins left behind by their predecessor kingdoms. Most of them are very new on the archaeological scene, even still being excavated as we speak.

If she's into the culture of death, "Juanita, the Inca Mummy Girl" in Arequipa is not to be missed. It's a little overpriced and sort of hokey - I mean, most people are going to gawk at a 500 year old corpse - but you get a guided tour led by (in my experience) a very knowledgeable university student who will answer any questions she may have. Also in Arequipa, the Santa Catalina abbey is unmissable for anyone interested in history.

Any must-see places, unusual places, cheap hotel tips, health info, bus company names that are reliable/safer?

Since I talked about must-see places above, I'll devote this part of my response to logistical stuff.

About halfway through my trip, I got hooked up with the Pirwa mini-chain of youth hostels. I stayed in their spots in Machu Picchu Pueblo, Cusco, and Lima. Cannot recommend enough. Well, except that the computers are crappy/keylogger-ridden. But they do have wifi! They have multiple locations in Cusco; I stayed in the "Colonial" in Plaza San Francisco, a 16th century colonial mansion once owned by the Pizarro family. Gorgeous and atmospheric, clean, comfy beds, hot showers, free breakfast, a fun crowd of backpackers and staff from all over the world - basically everything you want in a backpacking experience. Their other hostels were also great, though not much can really beat a 16th century colonial mansion for atmosphere.

Health info - my digestive system says, "Don't eat ceviche in mid-afternoon on a weekday! It makes me sad!" In Peru, ceviche is a weekend morning thing, sort of a brunch/hair-of-the-dog kinda deal. While I'm sure it can be safely eaten at other times (and in restaurants geared towards tourists it won't be an issue), it's always best to do what the locals do. The usual "how not to get sick in a developing country" rules apply. Bottled water. No raw produce that can't be peeled. Avoid leafy green salads.

The only rule I broke, after several weeks acclimatizing to the local bacteria, was to slurp up as much fresh fruit juice as possible. Most restaurants offer fresh juices, especially at breakfast, and in the cities there are special fast food style snack joints that do wonderful juices as well (juices + sandwiches seemed to be a popular fast food theme). In Cusco, the San Pedro market is AMAZING for this, especially if her itinerary puts Cusco late in the trip (did not see a single latex glove or dishwasher or bottle of antibacterial anything anywhere in that place!).

Bus company in Peru: I used Cruz Del Sur for long haul overnight slogs. I'm sure there were other companies that did the same thing as reliably, probably cheaper. But Cruz Del Sur was so consistently amazing that I tended to default to them. For short day trips any old clunker will do. Some of my favorite memories of my trip were from riding around the Sacred Valley in little chicken buses piled with indigenos and their babies, hats, skirts, potato crop, etc.
posted by Sara C. at 3:30 PM on September 15, 2010

Oh, and re vegetarianism - she is either going to have to be creative/flexible, cater for herself, or start eating meat. I had a really, really hard time with that, especially after getting sick, and came home a sometimes-meat-eater because after my gut went into Reset Mode I just could. not. get. enough. protein. in a vegetarian context. (Under normal circumstances I am not one of those OMG Vegetarians And Protein people.) There will be a few overpriced Vegetarian Restaurants in the major Peruvian cities which serve tofu, tempeh, and the like - at ordinary places it's a crapshoot as to whether there will be anything vegetarian available at all.
posted by Sara C. at 3:38 PM on September 15, 2010

Response by poster: Awesome responses! Thank you SO much!
posted by nickyskye at 5:08 PM on September 15, 2010

« Older Indoor Track in the Twin Cities Minnesota?   |   What's the best, sleep-able, road-trip car I can... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.