Flying in Peru: Having to spend the night in Lima Airport

Having to spend the night in the Lima airport is actually a thing, so it gets its own blog post. If only I had read up on flying to Machu Picchu before we made plane reservations…it would have saved us a lot of time and energy!

Apparently—I don’t know if this is true or not—there are so many birds around the Cusco airport that it causes a danger to fly in later in the day. So the flights into this sacred Incan city are morning flights. This means you have to spend the night at the Lima airport—or else figure out something else.

Well then. What’s one to do with 6 and 8-year-old boys in tow? If only I knew then what I know now

Like I said before, I’m a bit of a pantser when it comes to travel. Don’t do that with a trip to Machu Picchu!

We thought we’d just “hop” on over from Medellín, Colombia, to Machu Picchu for a side trip this past summer. We didn’t’ realize just how immense South America was until we were there traveling around it! Surely, we naively thought, it should only be a few hours flight.

Y’all: Peru alone is almost twice the size of Texas. Flying from Medellin to Cusco was over 5 hours of flying time. That’s like going from Florida to Los Angeles! And this was just one “little” corner of South America.

If we hadn’t been scrambling to downsize, pack up our house, and plan a summer in Medellín, I would have snagged a room across the street from the airport before they were all booked up (And if I wasn’t such a pantser). These Hotel rooms go fast because of the aforementioned birds-in-Cusco problem, so reserve one well in advance if you plan to go to Machu Picchu.

Instead, I studied this blog and discussed the spend-the-night-in-the-airport with D.H. Since it was only supposed to be a 5-hour layover, we could deal with this (we would have done things differently if we’d known the airline was going to cancel and change the flights multiple times, turning it into a 16 hour layover!)

We decided to take shifts staying awake, which worked out since we only had one thin, ripped camp mat (I slipped on it while doing yoga and tore it. Now I know to use a beach towel for grip) and a cot, which we would put the kiddos on so they could sleep. Or so we thought…

Space blankets rock (yes, my frugal self washes off the ones I get after half marathons! I store them in our vehicles in ziplock bags)

I asked a friend, who is a total globe trotter, for advice. She told me about the lounge buddy app, but it wasn’t much use to me (next time I’d investigate this more). From what I read online, travelers sleep on the floor of the second-floor food court in the Lima airport.

This would have worked for us if the cafeteria had actually been open. It was barricaded behind partitions when we arrived. People said it was being cleaned. However, I think this whole “What, I have to spend the night in the Lima airport?!” is such a problem that they probably close it every night.

So the only other option was to sleep in the international or domestic areas, right? Nope. Security won’t let you in those areas until 8 hours before your flight. And what little space was left over in the airport was already taken over by sleeping travelers by the time we arrived in Lima about 11 p.m.

We tried to settle the kids down on the mat, but security made us move because it was about ten feet away from an emergency exit. Finally, we found a spot for the kids to sit down, but then cleaners came through and made us move. And again.

Yeah, bringing that travel cot was pretty useless for the Lima airport. It was a nomadic 2 & a half hours until I could sweet talk security into letting us into the domestic flight area. When we finally got through, we were turned away at the second checkpoint because our airline hadn’t stamped the back of our ticket to prove an airport tax had been paid.

Y’all, this was close 2 a.m., and our sons, though total troopers, were dragging and we felt terrible for them. Yeah, D.H. and I can deal with sleep deprivation because of our training, but asking a young kid to endure this was too much. Even though security was scandalized, we asked them to tell us how WE could pay the $45 tax. We didn’t want to wait until 3 a.m. for our airline to open and fix our tickets (These are all First world problems, I know. We’re blessed to have been able to do this trip).

Finally, taxes paid, we were allowed into an area where our children were allowed to lie down without security making us move every ten minutes. I settled them down on rows of chairs with the two space blankets I’d brought along and put eye masks on them. Our older son requested earplugs, which I had on me for everyone, but he also wanted nose plugs (which I don’t own) because that whole area of the airport smelled like a sewer (which was a new smell for our intrepid kids). I told them they would get used to the smell and be asleep soon anyway. And they were.

The only Starbucks I had in South America was in Lima. Tasted burnt for some reason.(?)

Despite D.H. and I taking turns sleeping, we each only got about 45 minutes of sleep (a baby dribbled the tray table attached to the back of my seat the entire flight from Lima to Cusco).

That night in the Lima airport drove home the point to us that we’re not as young as we used to be. It takes our bodies longer to recover from sleep deprivation, injuries, etc. Between the sleep loss and the altitude sickness, we were dragging when it came to the physical exertion required to hike around the ruins in Peru.

Final Notes:

The airline we used (the cheapest flights Google Flights presented us with) is sort of like Voldemort: he-who-shall- not-be-named. You get what you pay for. This airline, its website, and customer service was awful. Their constant changing — and canceling of flights — leading up to actually leaving Medellín caused us unnecessary stress. I lost countless hours of my life waiting to talk to a representative on the phone. I will never fly them ever.again.

Because of all this stress leading up to flying out of Medellin, we were ready to abandon the trip, but our Awesome guide talked us down. He said this was how that particular airline operated.

“You show up, and they put you on the next available flight out. They change the times all the time and don’t inform their fliers, so you have to show up with a boatload of patience.”

We should have used Latam airlines. I heard much better reviews about them.

And heads up: I was told intra-Peruvian flights are cheap, but you must book them through the Spanish site to get the lower prices. However, a friend said that if you do this in Argentina (use the Spanish site), then you must prove citizenship with a passport.

This all being said, we’d do the Machu Picchu trip again in a heartbeat.

Because Peru is so magical, we’re are considering going back when the boys are older and hiking the four day, gringo-killer steps Incan trail (and staying in the Sky Lodge, because, hey: YOLO). And after having had a taste of Peru, now we want to visit Chile and Bolivia. Both of us are making a conscious effort to improve our Spanish, so it’ll be even easier next time we venture into a Latin country (stay tuned for more on that!).

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