Peru is a prime example of a country suited for budget travel. Prices are much cheaper than more developed countries like Chile, Argentina and Brazil and the attractions are endless. Complete with the Andes Mountains, The Amazon and an impressive desert, Peru is an ideal country to visit for just about anyone.
Best Time to Go: The most popular time to visit Peru is May- October, when most of the country is dry. If you want to avoid herds of tourists, plan on going late April or between October and January (January- April are the wettest months). If you are hiking the inca trail, avoid the wet season if possible.
Daily Spending: Peru is one of the cheapest countries in South America, so if you are really budget savvy you can get by with spending only $16 per day.
What To Bring: Aside from your normal packing gear, you might want to consider throwing in an extra stuff sack or packing cube. Peru has AWESOME souvenirs and they are dirt cheap. Make sure you have room in your backpack to bring home some goodies! Also, depending on when you go, the highlands can have some extreme temperature changes. During the daytime the sun is blistering hot but once the sun sets you will need a down jacket (or wool sweater) to keep you warm.
Transportation: Bus travel is your best and cheapest option for day trips in Peru. Large cities and tourist destinations have plenty of routes and you can get pretty much anywhere you want for just a few bucks. Avoid taxis (especially in Lima) if you can, because unless you know how to tell private cars from official “certified” cabs you can find yourself in a sketchy/dangerous situation. The only time I would recommend flying is if you are going from Lima to Cusco. There is a series of night buses/tours to get you there but they are known for late night breakdowns and robberies. With the budget airline Star Peru you can get a round-trip ticket from Lima to Cusco for about $160.
- Machu Picchu– Let’s be honest, this is the main reason you are going. And it is totally worth it. If you play your cards right, this will be one of your most memorable Peruvian experiences.
- Going Back in Time in Cusco– This town reeks of historical excellence. This Incan Empire is sure to delight you with its architecture, food and culture. It is one of my most favorite places to travel to. Don’t be surprised if you end up staying here longer than planned.
- Exploring Lima– To outsiders it might just look like another big modern South American city, but it boasts an awesome shoreline and some important insight into the evolving Peruvian culture.
- Eating in the Markets- Be sure to check out the large open-air markets in Cusco and other small cities. Most markets have an array of “kitchens” where you can sit down and order a fresh smoothie or a full blown meal for the best price in town! My favorite market was San Blas Mercado in Cusco.
- Rafting in the Sacred Valley- The Urumba river offers some exciting whitewater for the whole family! Our guides were super knowledgeable of the area and we even stopped in a small village for fresh baked bread. The river itself is pretty spectacular as well- I mean c’mon how many people get to raft in the heart of the Andes?!!
My Favorite Places:
This charming town holds some serious history. It was the capital of the Incan Empire in the 13th century and will be sure to blow your mind.
Things to do:
Visit the markets. My two favorite markets are San Blas and San Pedro Mercado. San Blas is quaint, with produce and food; San Pedro is a giant open- air market with produce, meat, breads and souvenirs.
Eat. The food sold on the streets of the main city center will rock your world. Tomales, stuffed churros, meat kabobs and so much more! Plaza De Armas is the epi-center to all this tastiness. If mystery meat isn’t your thing there are plenty of inexpensive restaurants in town. You MUST try and alpaca burger… so sad, but so delicious.
See “Sexy Woman”. No, no it’s not an actual sexy lady. It’s Cusco’s very own Incan ruins. It’s official title is Sacsayhuaman, but it is commonly pronounced sexy woman. Just a short hike up from the city center you can pay an exuberant price to enter the ruins or simply just take pictures from afar (just as neat!) The rolling hills and local farmers are worth the hike.
This is the most popular place to visit in Peru and for good reason. Aside from oozing with Incan history and architectural mastermind, these ruins are nestled into a beautiful backdrop.
Hike the Incan Trail. At first glance this might seem like an expensive option for a budget backpacker (you have to hike with a company). However, when you crunch the numbers this can actually be a money saving option and a great experience. Be prepared to face the high altitude by spending a few days in Cusco.
Take it all in. Every last bit of it. Once you reach the ruins, spend as much time as you can exploring the area. I’d recommend paying a few extra bucks for a guide, or doing some research ahead of time so you understand what you are seeing. After walking around, for what will seem like days, make sure to take the time to sit and reflect. It’s impossible to not feel something spiritual, so breathe in every last ounce of this experience.
- There is literally something for everyone. You trendy beach goers and resort types will love Lima and the coastal region; you history buffs and Indiana Jones wannabes have plenty of exploration opportunities in Cusco and the Andes; and you adventure seeking adrenaline junkies will find amazing hiking, rafting and mountain biking!
- The ancient history is remarkable. Beyond the diversity of this country, I think it’s charm is found outside the metropolitan life… in the mountains! The ancient towns of the sacred valley are sure to leave you in awe with their rich Incan culture. The feeling you will get exploring these ancient towns and ruins is nothing less than spiritual and life changing. Give yourself plenty of time absorb the history and soon enough Peru will have a special spot in your heart.
- Lima has its dangers. Like most large cities in Latin America, the crime rate is pretty high and kidnapping/robbery isn’t unheard of. We never had an issue with it, but heard a lot of horror stories and were warned frequently about getting in taxis in Lima. If you need a taxi, have your accommodation call one for you. It might be more expensive, but it is worth it for obvious reasons.
- “Authentic” souvenirs might not be so authentic. This isn’t a huge deal but thought it might be worth mentioning. All over the Sacred Valley you will come across vendors selling things like Alpaca wool sweaters and one of a kind handmade products. In some cases this might very well be true, but we stayed in the area long enough to see that most of these items were duplicated. For example, we bought an original hand paining (or so we thought) for $15, then saw them being sold for $3 by someone else. Basically you will just want to be weary if you are buying souvenirs based on their authenticity.
My Tips and Tricks Specific to Peru:
- If you have time, sign up for a hiking package to Machu Picchu. We wanted to save money and opted for the train/bus combo from Cusco to Aguas Calientes and probably ended up spending more money than you would for a 3 day trek. Plus you get great insight from the guides and a rewarding journey.
- Avoid Taxi’s in Lima. If you must take one, make sure it is a registered service.
- The water is apparently not safe for consumption, so rather than buying loads and loads of bottled water. Boil a large pot of H2O in the morning and keep it in fridge so you have access to water throughout the day.
- Eat the street food. We never got sick and it was sooooo much better than what we found in restaurants (at least with our budget).
- Practice your spanish here! I found that the spanish spoken in Peru was a lot easier to understand and communicate in, when compared to other South American countries like Chile. People also seemed to be very receptive of your efforts and were patient and friendly if you stumbled on your words.
- Take a day of rest in Cusco. The city of Cusco lays at about 12,000 ft, which can create altitude sickness if you don’t acclimate yourself. We didn’t have much of an issue, other than shortness of breath, but I recommend taking it easy your first day there and not eating heavy meals.
Activities: 10 out of 10
Food: 8 out of 10
People: 8 out of 10
Cultural Experience: 8 out of 10