Every year someone asks me about renting a car during their trip to Machu Picchu in Peru. Americans are hopeless addicts to self-driven, gasoline-powered vehicles. We think it will give us freedom, flexibility & independence on our trips. Like it does at home.
Although I’m an avid proponent of independent travel, there are places where you should hang up the keys. Peru is be one of them. Here’s why:
- traffic – unimaginably snarled & complicated
- city parking – good luck with that
- roads not clearly marked and road conditions are state secrets (bridge? what bridge?) GPS? I wouldn’t count on it.
- gas stations may few & far between & located in someone’s front yard marked by a piece of fabric dangling from a stick
- driving customs – vehicles drive as close to each other on the roads as the hand chiseled stones are placed to each other in the ancient ruins
- Car maintenance – different rules apply
- Roadside assistance – you have to be prepared to be your own mechanic & solve our own roadside problems
- vandalism – renting a car may increase your chances of becoming a target
- you can’t drive to Machu Picchu – no one can. You can hike on the Inca Trail or take the train to Aguas Calientes
So why don’t you adapt to local standards? Even locals who don’t own vehicles may rely on taxis and other resources from time to time. It doesn’t mean you can’t travel on your own. By shifting your mindset to think like a local, you can still explore all the nooks and crannies you desire without the added expense & responsibility of managing a vehicle in a foreign land.
What can you do to think & act more like a local ?
- walk & be prepared for local weather with appropriate outerwear & footwear
- book your accommodations within walking distance to activities
- if you need vehicular transportation, research more than one option. Taxis may be easy, but there might be shared mini-vans for a fraction of the cost. Ask at the hotel reception or concierge.
- arrange multiple activities in the same geographical location to coordinate with the transportation options
- reach out to travelers in your hotel to share expenses for transportation to popular activities
Challenging our view of the world we know is one of the reasons we travel. Learning to travel without a car is a good lesson for all.