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
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:
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.
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.
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 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.
Also this is a good site to get a kind of idea of prices and budget in Peru: How to Peru.
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.
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.
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:
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)
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:
Watching sun sets in Mira Flores.
Sea food in Paracas.
The Peruvian desert.
Going from the desert to the Andes.
My Indiana Jones like experience adventuring through the Andes.
Some of my dislikes:
My head space at the time.
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.
My route backpacking Peru:
My trip started in Lima, and ended in Puno via the heart of the country.