backpacking Peru

Backpacking Peru.

This page is my overview of backpacking Peru, covering the country, some tips, general things to know, transport and accommodation options, general costs and my experience of the country.

The land of the Inca’s, a South American country seeped in it’s own traditions and history. Like with all Central and South America countries the landscape here is so diverse, from the coast to the Andes, via the desert and high Altitude. And, of course the jewel in the crown of this country – Machu Picchu.

Peru has always had an air of mystery and intrigue about it. For years tourists have poured in to visit Machu Picchu or experience the Nazca lines and all it’s wonders, making it one of the most heavily visited countries in the world. With that comes a down a down side, locals are well adverse to tourists and want to make money from them. Attractions around the country are ladled with souvenir sellers, scam artist line every street, and petty thieves have a field day with unsuspecting tourists.

However that’s not to say you should stay away from Peru, on the contrary, Peru is a country for me that can’t be missed. While Machu Picchu will inevitably be on top of every backpackers list, this country from the coast to the Andes will blow your mind.

A few tips:

  • Don’t buy tours and trips from people who approach you on the street.
  • Learning some basic Spanish will help you.
  • Try not to look like a wide-eyes tourist.
  • Don’t book tours for Machu Picchu from Lima, it will cost a lot more. 
  • If you don’t want to travel independently, you can use Peru-hop and travel in a group with other solo travelers.
  • Lima is a surprisingly very modern city, it can turn out to be quite expensive. 
  • Lima has an amazing nightlife, lots of bars restaurants  and clubs to choose from.
  • Watching a sun set in Miraflores feels like being at the edge of the world but never gets boring.
  • Paracas is a great place to do nothing.
  • Try ceviche in Paracas.
  • Haggle and shop around for best prices to see the Nazca lines. 
  • Some tour companies in Nazca will not give you value for money, some will try take you to the skies only for 20 minutes and only show you the bare minimum. (I met a lot of unsatisfied travelers who thought it was a waste of money.)
  • Do try dune buggy and sand-boarding in Nazca.
  • If you’re not used to altitude it will start effecting you in Cusco, chew of cocoa leaves to help with attitude sickness.
  • Try Guinea pig in Cusco, it’s a local delicacy. 
  • If you’re looking to do the full Inca trail, check the best time of year to visit and book well in advance.
  • As a budget backpacker you will find a lack of information on getting to Aguascalientes from Cusco if you don’t want to travel by train.
  • The best way for a budget backpacker to get to Aguascalientes is to get a mini van with other backpackers from Cusco to the Hydro-plant. Then to hike the rest of the way (You won’t be alone, hundreds of backpackers do this trip everyday). 
  • Hiking from the Hydro-plant to Aguascalientes through the Andes is only 2 hour walk but an amazing experience. 

(I will be writing a separate alternative guide to getting to  Aguascalientes and doing Machu Picchu on the cheap soon)

Things to be wary of:

  • With Peru being heavily visited by tourist there are lots of scam artists that will try signing you up for fake tours.
  • Peru is not dangerous but as in all countries don’t flaunt that you are a tourist or you will be targeted especially in touristy areas.
  • Peru is actually more expensive than what you first think, have a grip on your budget.
  • With Peru’s diverse landscape be prepared for all weather conditions. (One day you’ll be in the desert the next high up in Andes.)
  • Journeys can be long and arduous.
  • Peru is where people go to do Ayahuasca, also known as Iowaska, A very powerful hallucinogenic, if you don’t know what it is or it’s effects DON’T TOUCH IT. Also even if you do know of it be careful because some people who say they are shamans are not – make sure you do your research.
  • Cocaine and other drugs will be offered to you on the streets even if you’re not looking for it.
  • If you do any form of narcotics do not carry in public or get caught. Possession of drugs are illegal and the police will either make you pay a bribe or you’ll be arrested.
  • Be wary of tour touts and people offering a guide services, if you want a guide get an official one when you book your tickets.
  • If you go to Puno, lake Titicaca tours are not worth it. Do them from Copacabana. The Bolivian side of the lake is so much better and cleaner.
  • The floating village tour is just a tourist trap, unlike with floating villages in Asia, nobody lives on them here, they merely go to work on them through the day and pretend to live there. Harsh truth is it’s just another tourist trap.

Basic things to know:

Official language spoken: Spanish

Is English Spoken: Basic

Currency: Peruvian Soles

Cost of Backpacking Peru is: Fair

To check live exchange rate click here XE.com

Visa options:

No visa needed for British tourists. You have permission to stay up to 6 months. GOV.UK for more information

Check if your nationality needs a visa for Peru here 

Things to know when budgeting for Peru:

backpacking peru

The cost of backpacking Peru is a funny one, in some places it’s very cheap but in others, especially touristy places it jumps up quite high; so it will be a constant juggling act with your budget.

Peru is one of those countries where you need to pay attention to your spending on a daily basic, in some countries You can set a daily budget and you know you’ll be safe with it as all the costs will remain the same. However in Peru if you’re not constantly paying attention you can easily spend much more than you anticipated.

Transport/accommodation:

There is a lot of distance to cover in Peru, traveling from one place to another is long, so with that comes a lot of traveling costs. A large chunk of your budget will go on buses even though taking overnight buses will save on a night’s rent the costs still pile up.

While you will spend a lot of money of transport, accommodation is relatively cheap but you will have to look around. There will be lots of hostels and rooms available on booking sites but it’s the ones that don’t advertise that will work out cheaper. I always find cheaper and better quality hostels by just walking and looking rather than what’s on booking sites.

Activities:

The most expensive part of your trip to Peru will be Machu Picchu and how you’re planning to get there. There are plenty of different options, some people may want to do the whole Inca trail, or you might be looking to take a train into Aguascalientes both of these options are expensive for budget backpackers. The other options is what countless other backpackers do, myself included and that’s to book a cheap mini-van taxi from Cusco to the hydro plant, and then take a scenic walk through the Andes to Aguascalientes. (I found a distinct lack of information regarding this even in Peru until I got to Cusco so I will be writing a post about this in the future for you all.)

Food/Drinks:

Food and drinks is also so varied in prices, the touristy places will charge the moon for a decent meal and in other places food and drinks will be cheap but poor quality. To save money it’s a good idea to find local eats and eat from the set local menu, normally a lunch time special. (Usually includes a salad, meat with rice with veg and a drink) Or to cook for yourself in your hostel.

As you can see I haven’t gone into specific pricing, as prices always change and information becomes irrelevant.

There were days I was getting by with spending $15 a day, other times it was upwards of $30 per day.

If you are looking to compare live prices here is a couple of good sites for live comparisons to help you: numbeo and expatisan.

Also this is a good site to get a kind of idea of prices and budget in Peru: How to Peru.

Getting around:

As expected from a country well equipped and geared towards tourists there are plenty of options to get around when backpacking Peru. However due to it’s diverse landscape there will be long and arduous journeys.

Transport options:

Locally:

Public buses – All cities have a good network of public buses.

Metro – Runs throughout Lima.

Tuk-tuks – Available in smaller towns and villages.

Taxi – Quite expensive especially for budget travelers.

Uber – Cheaper option than a taxi and quicker to get to your destination.

Collectivo’s – Mini-vans that wait until the are filled up and run certain routes.

Nationally:

Private buses – Main options Cruz del Sur and Ormeno (2nd class, 1st class and VIP available.

Trains – Two main lines run through Peru, central and southern railways. Trains are available from Cusco to Aquascalientes for Machu Pichhu (but very expensive for backpackers)

Flights – Domestic flights are available.

 

 

Popular tour Companies:

Peru Hop.

South Adventure tours.

Peru treks.

Wayki travels.

There are hundreds of tour operators to choose from within Peru. There are official tourism offices you can independently book tours from yourself so you don’t get ripped of. (That’s what I did)

Accommodation:

With Peru being such hotbed for backpackers and tourists there are plenty of options available for backpackers. Just like with all Central and South American Countries it’s a good to look around personally rather than booking on the internet. Hostels and rooms not advertised on the internet will be a lot cheaper.

NOTE: If you’re planning on going to Machu Picchu, it’s the only time I recommend to book a hostel or room in Aguascalientes in advance. It’s a nightmare trying to find a room when you turn up, I had to pay over the odds in a hotel room when I got there. (And I went in low season)

  • Hostels – Range from grotty basic rooms to larger more sociable and clean ones.
  • Guesthouses or hospedajes  – smaller than hostels run by families.
  • Budget hotels – Great to have some privacy.
  • Air BnB – Available in Peru.
  • Couchsurfing – Stay with locals.
  • Camping – There are safe spots dotted around Peru to camp.

My overview of backpacking Peru:

Peru is an amazing country to backpack through from watching amazing sunsets in Lima to being able experience Machu Picchu. There is so much beauty in Peru but something unforeseeable started to happen to me while in Peru.

As I was having a great time, ticking some major things off my bucket list I was starting to get worn out. Warn out from 6 years of constant travel and working around the world. Before Peru I had spent 6 months in Central America and 3 months in Colombia days were becoming a constant mental battle. It’s hard to explain but I loved what was in front of me but at the same time I wanted it to be over.

The more I traveled through Peru, traveling started to become a chore, it was only when I walked through the Andes  for  Aguascalientes and Machu Picchu that I was genuinely happy and amazed. However once that trip was over and I arrived in Puno it all became a chore again.

Don’t get me wrong, Peru did not put me in this mood, It’s a great country and one I would go back to, I just became mentally drained at the time. Thankfully it turns out I just needed a break from traveling, some people get burnt out at work, I got burnt out with traveling. Some people need to go on holiday to get over their burn out, I needed to go home to get over mine.

Some of my highlights:

Lima.

Mira Flores.

Watching sun sets in Mira Flores.

Paracas.

Ceviche.

Sea food in Paracas.

The Oasis.

The Peruvian desert.

Going from the desert to the Andes.

Cusco.

My Indiana Jones like experience adventuring through the Andes.

Aguascalientes.

Machu Picchu.

 

View full gallery

Some of my dislikes:

My head space at the time.

Tourist traps.

Locals trying to scam me every where I turned.

Souvenirs being shoved down my throat.

Hoards of people trying to sell me overpriced tours.

Having to pay over the odds for a room in Aguascalientes.

Nazca.

My route backpacking Peru:

My trip started in Lima, and ended in Puno via the heart of the country.

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38 Comments

  1. I would love to visit Peru but I’m not sure I could pull off backpacking in the region. I think it’s so weird how the price changes drastically from one area to another. Of course, in the touristy areas, I guess it’s expected. Not to mention the locals trying to push their tours and souvenirs on you. Great info. This is the ultimate guide to backpacking Peru!
    Mia Herman recently posted…No1 Lounge London Heathrow ReviewMy Profile

  2. Great tips! Looks like you hit up some great spots. That’s too bad you were burnt out at the time, but glad you still had some amazing experiences anyways! We have yet to make it to Peru–we really want to visit though. We would love to see the iconic sights like Machu Picchu and Nazca and the Amazon, beaches and several other spots are on our list to see as well!

  3. This is such a useful and neatly done post for anyone planning to visit Peru. I totally agree with your points of not buying tours and trips from people who approach you on the street. I have always researched a bit before paying the money. And I usually plan on my own. I am planning to go to South America next year and I am soon going to start learning some basic Spanish.

  4. Thanks for the detailed overview of your trip to Peru. I am going next January so this is very helpful. How did you find the legit tours? I was under the impression that there is a limited amount of tours to Machu Picchu.

  5. I;m so happy you got to visit Peru! I like your tips here again. can i ask you when or what year di dyou travel to Peru? I’m not surprised it’s gotten expensive at all, I lived there in 2008 and things were so cheap. but its a county no world traveller should ever miss out. i agree on those sunsets in miraflores!

    Bee recently posted…Volez, Vougez, VoyagezMy Profile

  6. Machu Pichu is apparently one the ten three most-visited / touristy places in the world. And there was a time when people rarely went to Machu Pichu. How things change with travel becoming more accessible.. Your post is so comprehensive, that I feel that I now know mostly everything about hiking to this fascinating place.

  7. That was an excellent comprehensive guide to Peru. I agree that the Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca are a total tourist trap and there in no point in even visiting. The Bolivia of the lake is much nicer but honestly I would just stick to other parts of both countries. Machu Picchu, the Amazon, the beaches of Peru are all amazing and Lima is a totally livable city!

    • Exactly right, Lima really surprised me, I mean before Peru I had been through Central America and I lived in Bogota for a few months but it still surprised me. I preferred it out in Mira Flores though, loved the vibe there. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the rainbow mountains, I bet that was spectacular to see 😀
      foreverroamingtheworld recently posted…Next budget backpacking destination…My Profile

  8. Great tips about how to navigating your way through Peru. I loved both Cusco and Lima and really enjoyed exploring the country. From my experience, I found the local food to be really inexpensive. We would eat the local food pay less than 5 soles. The price range you give is expensive. Is it for local food or Western food?
    You’re right Machu Picchu was our most expensive trip, but it cannot be missed. Truly spectacular!! We missed Puno and hope to make it on our next trip to the country.

    • Thanks for your comment 😀 If Aguascalientes wasn’t as expensive as it was that would be my fave place haha. I think there is some confusion there, the price range I give wasn’t just for food, it was for what I would spend on average through a typical day. I can see why it looks like I’m talking about food, I’ll rectify that 😀
      foreverroamingtheworld recently posted…Next budget backpacking destination…My Profile

  9. great post with a lot of helpful and detailed information. The pics are also cool. I´d love to go there one day. South and Middle America are still a blank space in my collection which needs to be filled 😀

  10. This is so cool you backpacked around Peru. I’m a flashpacker than backpacker, but I would have loved to stay with the locals, and speak Spanish with them! Such a beautiful country, and the sound of the train journeys sound like bliss to me!

  11. This is an extensive guide to Peru! I’ve bookmarked it. If I ever plan a trip, this will be the resource I use! I love the tip about the floating villages being a scam, makes me giggle to think they are totally faking it and yet tourists eat it up!

  12. This is a very thorough article! Though we are not backpackers, there are still some great tips that I can use for our future trip to Machu Picchu. Even though I love trying different cuisines and traditntal food, I already know I will not be eating guinea pigs. I will be picturing my moms class pets haha.
    Christina recently posted…How to Have an Epic Time at OktoberfestMy Profile

  13. You’ve really included a lot of helpful information and advice into your guide here – well done. I went to Peru about 15 years ago. I did lots of touristy things, but also stayed a while with friend who was teaching in Lima at the time.. Staying with a friend allowed me to get more of a feel for the city – but I still really enjoyed my time there. Your piece brought back some great memories.

  14. I’ve been to Peru earlier in the summer and your post brought back lovely memories. Just one correction – to deal with altitude sickness in Cuzco you should chew coca leaves, not cocoa leaves. I’ve got a feeling there is a big difference between them 😀

  15. I love your tips part, very useful and operational tips! I really want to travel to Peru, I’ll come back to this once I backpack in the region! I can speak Spanish fluently so I guess it will definitely help; just need to learn the local slang haha. I don’t know much about the country except the Machu Pichu (and the famous picture!) and the Inca Cola! Do you think that all what you disliked would also be apparent in the Northern part of the country?

    Dinh-Long recently posted…Why You Should Go To BeninMy Profile

  16. Peru is beautiful and still one of the top countries to visit on my bucket list ! I’m a true nature lover so I would really enjoy the Peru’s fabulous breathtaking landscapes. Being several days on high altitude is probably not an easy feat for a regular individual. I guess it is important that you are physically and mentally-prepared for this journey ?
    C-Ludik recently posted…The Mercantour: destination MerveillesMy Profile

  17. I’ve always wanted to visit Peru, however, it is so far from where we live (UAE). Getting to Mexico itself took us more than 30 hours, and South America would be ever more. I want to be able to tick off Machu Picchu from my bucketlist. And I agree — food can be pretty itself. Thats the reason we ended up eating at local restaurants in Mexico, and thankfully never had any issues.
    We are planning to visit South America next year, as thats the only continent we haven’t set foot it. Will keep Peru in mind.

  18. Loved the header image. Machu Pichu will forever be on the list of any self-respecting backpacker and for good reason too!
    Loved your tips: Especially don’t look the wide-eyed tourist one:) Would love to see the South American Tuk Tuks too!

    • Yeah it was a shame but after 6 years of continuously going from one country to another without going home for any prolonged period of time I guess it was bound to happen at some point, however I’m over the burn out now and ready to start my nomad life again haha

  19. The scammers! I think they’re everywhere even in rich countries such as Paris. I’ve read somewhere they even pack in the Louvre Museum. Whenever I’m traveling, I’ll always keep my skepticism at bay. Scammers come in different guises so every tourist should be aware.

    Regarding the souvenirs, I actually find it a lot more times cheaper when you buy in airports. Hahaha. Not that you can’t find it elsewhere cheaper. But compared to the tourist spots, prices at the airports are really much lower.

    • You’re completly right the scammers are in every country it doesn’t matter if it’s a poor or rich country – You walk through London your going to get the same as in Peru, and that’s the point I’m trying to gt across don’t be scared but be wary, use common sense and have your wits about you and you will be fine.

  20. Woe, you’ve also been to Machu Pichu, that’s pretty cool. My husband always wanted to trek the Inca Trail but I’m not sure I can, it looks tough. I do want to go to Peru though, despite the fear of being looted and taken advantage of being a tourist. I hardly know any Spanish (I’m horrible with learning new languages) and I’m sure I’ll end up looking like the ‘wide-eyed’ tourist who gets taken for a ride LOL. Thanks for yet another descriptive post, Amit, My plans to travel to South America are for 2018 and I’m surely going to refer back to your blog posts (so many of them!) once I know my dates.
    Medha Verma recently posted…Accepting the Liebster Award for Travel BloggersMy Profile

    • Haha Medha, you just have to keep your wits about you and you will be fine, I didn’t do the whole inca trail (from what I heard it is very tough) but Machu Picchu is just spectacular 😀 – I will be happy to help if you need any advise when you plan your trip 😀

  21. Great overview of visiting and touring the country and other tips of what to do and see. I haven’t been, but always love to read tips about a person’s experience and how to save time, money and effort in visiting a place

    • Tony, no doubt I actually wanted to travel through the north but due to some circumstances at the time I didn’t get to explore the north. However when I do return I will definitely be exploring the north 😀

  22. Machu Picchu is still on my travel list. I started planning on going to South America last year and it has not materialized yet. I’ve read some travel tips and came across once that Lima is a place to avoid. I love small towns and I like to experience life in big crowded cities since I get to experience the local lifestyle and understand the culture better. This is a great travel tip I am saving for future reference.

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