Peru is one of the most famous and popular countries in South America. Most people flock here to hike the Inca Trail and see Machu Picchu and let everything else take a back seat. Their loss is your gain as you’ll be able to explore this incredible country with few crowds (though backpackers do explore it.) Come explore the jungles, see the Amazon, head to Lake Titicaca, or to the beaches. Learn about local culture, try the coca tea, and practice your Spanish. Peru is awesome (and it is very inexpensive). Stay awhile.
Accommodation – You can find hostel dorm rooms as low as 24 PEN per night, although most are in the 40-50 PEN range. Expect to pay 70-150 PEN per night for a private room that sleeps two. A night in a 2-star budget hotel with the basic amenities in Peru starts around 40 PEN. On Airbnb, you can find shared rooms starting around 38 PEN and entire homes starting at 135 PEN per night.
Food – You’ll find a wide range of food across Peru, with different specialties in each region. Ceviche is popular here and quinoa originated from this part of the world. Street stalls and markets have very cheap food (3-6 PEN) and in a sit-down restaurant you can get lunch and dinner menus for 12-20 PEN. For a Western meal in an average restaurant, you will pay 32-48 PEN in Lima and Cusco. Outside the big cities, you can usually find a set meal for about 10 PEN You can usually get a decent set meal for 10 PEN. If you plan on cooking, expect to pay 150 PEN per week for groceries that will include pasta, vegetables, chicken, and other basic foods.
Transportation – The usual price for a 10-hour bus journey is around 40 PEN depending on how nice the bus company is. A taxi around Lima should cost no more than 50-70 PEN. Lima has brand-new, clean intra-city buses. These buses are safe (ish- petty theft is common) and cost 0.50-3 PEN per trip. Microbuses (colectivos) run as well, and prices vary depending on the distance, but will always cost less than 2.50 PEN. They are a bit hectic and take some getting used to. Uber, the taxi alternative, operates in two cities in Peru: Arequipa and Lima.
Activities – Trip to archaeological sites are likely to be your biggest expensive with a day trip to Machu Picchu costing around 190 PEN. The Nasca Lines helicopter tour is relatively expensive at 415 PEN for 35 minutes in the air. Multi-day trips up the Inca Trail cost hundreds of dollars. However, entrances to museums outside of the major sites are under 38 PEN.
Suggested daily budget – 100-170 PEN / $30-50 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating at cheaper local restaurants and markets, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
Money Saving Tips
- Hospedajes – These are family run hotels and are the cheapest accommodation you can find. They will be a great deal.
- Public transportation – Lima’s new intra-city buses is definitely a great alternative to taxis, especially if you’re staying in the beautiful tourist suburb of Miraflores. It’s easy to access and will get to downtown museums quickly.
- Eat the meal of the day – These are set meals and are a bit like the ‘meal of the day’, which you can get for 9 PEN.
- Travel off-season – For a low-cost trip, the best times to visit Peru are the fringe months of April and May or September and October.
- Take the collectivos – These are cheap buses. They cost around 1-2 PEN for a ride. They are a bit confusing, but there is always a door person (usually a young man) whom you can quickly ask if the bus is going to your location. There are not always marked bus stops, so look for gathering crowds.
- Book last minute – If you are looking to do the Inca Trail and have a bit of extra time to wait for a deal, showing up in Cusco or booking a last minute tour can save you lots of money. Booking months in advance gets you the premium price but wait and you’ll find your patience rewarded. This normally works for Inca Trail tours on the Salktantay, Inca Jungle or Lares tours, the classic Inca Trail is normally fully-booked months in advance. I wouldn’t recommend trying to get on that one last-minute if you have your heart set on doing it.
- Go on a free walking tour – This is a great way to learn the history behind the places you are seeing and to avoid missing any must-see stops. Free Walking Tour Peru has tours that can guide you around both Lima and Cusco.
Top Things to See and Do in Peru
- Check out Lima – Chances are your trip will begin and end in Peru’s capital city, Lima, and this is no bad thing as the city is a must-see. The Plaza Mayor is popular and you’ll want to bring a camera to catch its colonial beauty. At night, head to the Barranco district for the hottest parties in peñas– Afro-Peruvian clubs which bounce to the beat of cajón drums.
- Explore Machu Picchu – This legendary “lost city of the Incas” is one of the most-visited tourist attractions in all of South America and one of the best historical sites in the world. The ruins are high up in the Andes and are regularly obscured by cloud cover, which adds to the mystery of the place! Aqueducts, granite and limestone temples and other forms of Inca architecture are all beautifully preserved at this essential tourist attraction. You can get here by the Inca Trail (see below) or by taking the train. Entry to Machu Picchu costs 128 PEN.
- Hike the Inca Trail – Getting to Machu Picchu is best via the famed Inca Trail. This multi-day hike allows you to see the mountains, jungles, and follow the route of the Incas. Book in advance, as it fills up months ahead of time during peak season. Entry to the trail costs 170 PEN.
- Visit the Islas Flotantes de los Uros – The Floating Islands of the Uros may sound like an Indiana Jones title but it is actually the name of the group of handmade islands in Lake Titicaca. The Islands are home to the indigenous Uros people who have built their own houses, islands and boats from the tortora reeds which grow along the banks of the lake. This is an extremely touristy site, and is a bit exploited as such, so it’s not for everyone.
- Hike the Colca Canyon – Colca Canyon is the deepest canyon in the world and is thought to be twice as deep as the Grand Canyon at certain parts. This is a great place to spot Andean condors and unlike the Grand Canyon, Colca is habitable. A trip here isn’t complete unless you visit one of the small agricultural villages for a taste of daily life.
- Surf at Máncora Beach – Seafood, watersports, horse riding and relaxation are the order of the day at this popular beach resort. Máncora is one of the finest beaches in South America and its year-round sunshine and huge waves also makes it Peru’s surfing Mecca. Prices here can be expensive December to March so it’s best to book in advance.
- Fly over the Nasca Lines – The Nasca Lines are a series of ancient geoglyphs that dominate the San José desert and in particular, the Nasca Valley. There are over 10,000 lines and 300 different plant and animal figures depicted. No one really knows how they got there (maybe aliens?). Without a doubt the best way to view the lines is by a helicopter or plane tour which costs around 415 PEN.
- Step back through time at Batán Grande – Batán Grande is an archaeological site comprised of 50 pyramids and tombs, which are thought to date back to between 100-1000 AD. This site was once the Sicán capital and has had its fair share of impressive pre-Columbian artifacts recovered over the years – for example, a gold Tumi weighing almost seven pounds which was recovered from one of the royal tombs.
- Relax at Lake Titicaca – Titicaca is one of the most famous bodies of water in the world. The lake covers over 3,000 square miles and sits at 12,500 feet above sea level and as such is considered the world’s largest high altitude lake. The towns surrounding the lake are tourist friendly and a mix of colonial architecture and bustling markets, while the islands dotted around the lake are largely off the radar for most travelers.
- Discover Cuzco – This colonial city is a major tourist destination and sits on Inca-built stone foundations not far from Peru’s major attraction of Machu Picchu. The area is popular with trail walkers, history lovers, and party-goers who come to enjoy the city’s many colorful festivals. Cuzco is the undisputed archaeological capital of the Americas and an essential part of your trip to Peru.
- Get Your Amazon Fix in Iquitos – Accessible only by boat or plane, jungle-locked Iquitos is the largest city within the Peruvian rainforest. The city sits at the mouth of the Amazon and so is the perfect destination for fans of eco-tourism. The nearby Pacaya Samiria National Reserve is Peru’s largest Reverse and at two million hectares, it is home to a huge range of nearly 1000 birds, mammals, fish and reptiles.
- Sandboard in Huacachina – This little town is a desert oasis and a welcome relief after hiking through Machu Picchu. It’s very affordable for travelers looking to relax and are running out of funds. Hostels offer great deals for sandboarding and sandbuggies around the dunes that surround this idyllic town. Sandboarding costs about 40 PEN and you don´t have to book in advance. There is also a lagoon surrounded by palm trees here too. You can rent a rowboat to go around. A half hour trip costs 5 PEN per person.
- See penguins in Paracas – Paracas is in the south of Peru, and is sometimes called the “Poor Man’s Galapagos” for its impressive wildlife: thousands of birds, as well as large sea lion and penguin populations live along the water. You can visit the Paracas National Reserve via an organized boat tour. Be sure to go early (around 8 am). A full day organized tour of Paracas includes a boat trip to the Islas Ballestas and a bus trip around the national reserve in the afternoon. It cost about 50 PEN.
- Walk through the White City – Arequipa is a beautiful city with a historical centre that was constructed primarily from volcanic ash from the nearby volcanoes. Come to visit the gorgeous Santa Catalina Monastery, see a frozen Inca mummy, or just to take in the city’s architecture over a glass of wine in the main square.
- Hike in Huaraz – Not to be confused with Juarez in Mexico, Peru’s Huaraz is a great (and perfectly safe) destination for adventure-seekers. The mountains here are stunning, and there are fantastic multi-day trek options for those looking for some outdoor activity.
- Go to El Parque de las Aguas – This park in downtown Lima has a beautiful water fountain and is open from 3-10:30 pm, Tuesday-Sunday. There’s an amazing light show at night too! It costs 4 PEN to get into. You’ll find a lot of events hosted here and it’s a popular place with dog owners.
- Visit Chachapoyas – This region lies in the Andean mountains and is home to the Chachapoya civilization that lived there between 500 and 1432. Today, you can visit Kuelap, the fortified city at known as “The Machu Picchu of the North”. Be sure to also visit Gocta, a beautiful waterfall that is one of the highest in the world. You can get there by taking a tour from Chachapoyas.
- Visit Trujillo – On your way to Mancora, stop in Trujillo, a small fishing town directly on the beach. While here, visit the archaeological site of Chan Chan, the world’s biggest adobe city ever built. It was built by the Chimu civilization that live before the Incas from 850 and 1534.