Peru is one of the most popular countries to travel around in South America, mostly thanks to its iconic Wonder of the World, Machu Picchu.
Travelers flock to Peru to hike the Inca Trail, explore the jungles, and devour their way through the incredible food scene of Lima.
But while the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu get the majority of the attention, there is much more to see and do in Peru if you’re willing to get out there and explore.
From the famous Lake Titicaca to the beaches in the north to the vibrant indigenous culture, Peru is bursting with things to see and do — no matter your interests.
While many travelers just come for a week to see the highlights, you can easily spend a month or more here and not get bored.
Best of all, traveling around Peru is inexpensive. You don’t need a lot of money to visit here (even if you hike the Inca trail).
Use this travel guide to Peru to plan your next trip and get the low down on what to do, my suggestions on where to stay, how to save money, and much more.
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Peru
1. Explore Machu Picchu
2. Check out Lima
3. Fly over the Nazca Lines
4. Relax at Lake Titicaca
5. Hike the Colca Canyon
Other Things to See and Do in Peru
1. Hike the Inca Trail
Getting to Machu Picchu is best via the famed Inca Trail. This multi-day 43-kilometer (26-mile) hike allows you to see the mountains, jungles, and follow the route the Incas used to take. It is a truly spectacular hike, but it is challenging and you may experience altitude sickness. There are two ways to do this hike: you can sign up to be part of an organized tour, or you can hire your own private guide. You cannot hike the trail independently. Tours start around 2,700 PEN for a 4-day, 3-night tour with a reliable, reputable company. The final leg of the hike can actually get a bit crowded, so if you can do a longer 7-day hike you’ll be able to beat the crowds and enjoy the incredible landscape before you arrive.
2. 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 man-made 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.
3. Surf at Máncora Beach
Seafood, watersports, horseback 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 make it Peru’s surfing Mecca. A private surf lesson costs around 80 PEN. Accommodation prices can be expensive from December to March, so it’s best to book in advance.
4. Step back through time at Batán Grande
Batán Grande, also known as the Sicán Archaeological Complex, is an archaeological site comprised of 50 pyramids and tombs, which are thought to date to 100-1000 CE. Located near Chiclayo, this site was once the ancient Sicán capital and has yielded many impressive pre-Columbian artifacts. For example, a gold Tumi weighing almost seven pounds was recovered from one of the royal tombs!
5. Discover Cusco
This colonial city is a major tourist destination and sits on Inca-built stone foundations not far from Machu Picchu. The area is popular with trail walkers, history lovers, and partygoers who come to enjoy the city’s nightlife and festivals. Cusco is the undisputed archaeological capital of the Americas and an essential part of your trip to Peru. Be sure to visit Coricancha (15 PEN) and Sacsayhuaman (free admission) during your visit. For great food, head to Green Point.
6. 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 is the perfect destination for eco-tourism. The nearby Pacaya Samiria National Reserve is Peru’s largest reserve at two million hectares. It’s home to a huge range of nearly 1,000 birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, and more. A 3-day, 2-night tour through the reserve starts from around 1,200 PEN per person.
7. Sandboard in Huacachina
This little town is a desert oasis and a welcome relief after hiking through Machu Picchu. It’s very affordable and hostels here offer great deals for sandboarding and sand buggy tours around the nearby dunes. Two-hour tours cost about 50-75 PEN, which include a sand buggy driver and sandboard rental. Most tours leave around 4pm so you can catch the sunset on the dunes. There is also a lagoon surrounded by palm trees in Huacachina, and you can rent a rowboat to paddle around it. A half-hour rental costs around 5 PEN per person.
8. See penguins in Paracas
Paracas is in the south of Peru and is sometimes called the “Poor Man’s Galapagos” for its impressive wildlife, consisting of over 400 different species. Thousands of birds, as well as large sea lion and penguin populations, call the area home. You can visit the Paracas National Reserve via an organized boat tour. Be sure to go early (around 8 am). A full-day tour of Paracas includes a boat trip to the Islas Ballestas and a bus trip around the national reserve in the afternoon. It costs about 115 PEN.
9. Walk through the White City
Arequipa is a beautiful city with a historical center that was constructed primarily from volcanic rock. Come to visit the gorgeous Santa Catalina Monastery, see a frozen Inca mummy, or just take in the city’s architecture over a glass of wine in the main square. It’s one of the most beloved destinations in the country; everyone who visits here loves it.
10. Go to El Parque de la Reserva
This park in downtown Lima is home to the largest water fountain complex in the world, called El Circuito Mágico del Agua. There are 13 distinct fountains total, including the Tunnel Fountain of Surprises, the Children’s Fountain, and the Fantasia Fountain, whose water jets are synchronized to music during the evening laser light shows. The park is open daily from 3pm-10pm, with beautiful, colorful light shows taking place at 6:30pm, 7:30pm, 8:30pm, and 9:30pm. Entrance is 4 PEN. The park also hosts a lot of events and is a popular place with dog owners too.
11. Visit Chachapoyas
This region in the Andean mountains was home to the Chachapoya civilization that lived there between 500-1432. Today, you can visit Kuelap, the fortified city at known as “The Machu Picchu of the North.” The ruins are accessible via a guided tour, 4-hour hike, or cable car from the nearby town of Nuevo Tingo for 21 PEN roundtrip. Be sure to also visit Gocta, a beautiful waterfall that, at 770 meters (2,526 feet), is one of the tallest in the world. You can get there by taking a tour from Chachapoyas.
12. Tour Trujillo
Trujillo is the second-oldest Spanish city in Peru. While here, visit the archaeological site of Chan Chan, the world’s biggest adobe city ever built and the largest pre-Columbian city. It was built by the Chimu, a civilization that inhabited the area until 1470, when they were defeated by the Incas. Admission is 10 PEN. Be sure to also visit Huanchaco, a small fishing town directly on the beach.
13. See Rainbow Mountain
Chances are you’ve seen these colorful mountains on social media. Over the past few years, Rainbow Mountain has become a huge tourist attraction. Just keep in mind that the colors are not as vivid in real life and the place is super crowded (it’s a very popular site). Day trips and multi-day hikes are available from Cusco, usually starting around 135 PEN per person. There is also an “Alternative” Rainbow Mountain if you want to escape the hordes of people (though it’s also pretty busy these days).
14. Hike the Salkantay
If you want an alternative to the busy Inca Trail, try hiking the Salkantay. It sees a fraction of the tourists and is half the price of the Inca Trail — but just as stunning! There aren’t as many ruins, but there are epic mountain views and summits of up to 5,200m! Hikes can vary in length, but the 7-day hike offers the best views. You’ll need to be in decent shape though!
Peru Travel Costs
Accommodation – A bed in a 4-6 dorm room costs 35-65 PEN while a bed in a dorm with 10+ beds generally costs 25-35 PEN. A double private room costs 115-170 PEN per night. Free Wi-Fi is standard and most hostels also have a kitchen or include free breakfast.
Budget hotel rooms with basic amenities like Wi-Fi, TV, and occasionally free breakfast cost around 85-105 PEN per night.
On Airbnb, private rooms cost around 65-80 PEN while entire homes start at 135 PEN per night.
For those traveling with a tent, wild camping is permitted as long as you’re not on somebody’s land.
Food – Cuisine in Peru varies from region to region, though you can expect to find staples like potatoes (most potatoes in the world originated here), quinoa, seafood, and indigenous animals like guinea pig and alpaca.
Be sure to try ceviche, which is the national dish (it’s a seafood dish with fresh raw fish). Other popular dishes include stir-fried beef, roasted cuy (guinea pig), arroz con pato (rice with duck), and roasted chicken.
A casual meal of traditional cuisine at a restaurant with table service costs around 10 PEN. If you want to splash out, a three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant costs 4 PEN with a drink.
Fast food (think McDonald’s) is 18 PEN for a combo meal. A large pizza is around 28-30 PEN.
Beer is around 8 PEN while a latte/cappuccino is also 8 PEN. Bottled water is 1.50 PEN.
If you plan on cooking, expect to pay 150 PEN per week for groceries such as pasta, rice, seasonal produce, and some meat. However, given how cheap food is here, it’s best to just eat out all the time. Buy snacks and fruit at the markets but eat out all other meals.
Activities – Trips to archaeological sites are likely to be your biggest expense. A day trip to Machu Picchu costs around 190 PEN, a Nazca Lines helicopter tour costs 340 PEN, and multi-day trips up the Inca Trail cost upwards of 2,500 PEN! However, entrances to museums are cheap at under 38 PEN. Surf lessons cost around 80 PEN while activities like hiking and wild camping are usually free.
Backpacking Peru Suggested Budgets
On a backpacker’s budget of 135 PEN per day, you can stay in a hostel dorm, eat out for a few meals at cheap local street stalls and cook some meals, limit your drinking, take the bus to get around, and do mostly free or cheap activities like relaxing on the beach and going hiking.
On a mid-range budget of 400 PEN per day, you can afford a private Airbnb room, eat out for all your meals, drink more, take the occasional taxi to get around, and do more paid activities like going surfing or day-tripping to Machu Picchu.
On a “luxury” budget of 750 PEN or more per day, you can stay in a hotel, eat out anywhere you want, drink as much as you’d like, take some domestic flights, and do a longer multi-day trek to Machu Picchu. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in PEN.
Peru Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Peru is generally pretty cheap, but it is easy to splash out here on food and tours. Here are a few hacks to cut down your costs in Peru:
- Stay at hospedajes – These are family-run hotels and are the cheapest accommodation you can find outside of hostel dorms. Try to stay in these as often as possible.
- Take public transportation – Embrace public transportation to get around — it’s super affordable. And skip the taxis. You’ll save a fortune this way!
- Eat the meal of the day – These are set meals, often including multiple plates, that restaurants offer for 9-13 PEN. Look around for set menu meals to eat out on the cheap.
- 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. Prices are usually cheaper during these months.
- Take the colectivos – These are cheap buses that cost around 2-10 PEN for a ride. They are a bit confusing as they don’t necessarily have a schedule, but there is always a door person whom you can ask if the bus is going to your location. There are not always marked bus stops, so look for gathering crowds.
- Book tours 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 and booking a last-minute tour can save you lots of money. Booking months in advance means paying the premium price but if you can wait your patience may be rewarded. I wouldn’t recommend trying to get on last-minute if you have your heart set on doing it though since it might not work out.
- 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. Just remember to tip your guide at the end!
- Bring a water bottle – The tap water here isn’t safe to drink so bring a reusable water bottle with a filter to save money and reduce your plastic use. LifeStraw is my go-to brand as their bottles have built-in filters to ensure your water is always clean and safe.
Where to Stay in Peru
Need a nice hostel while in Peru? There’s a lot! Here are some of my favorite places to stay throughout the country:
How to Get Around Peru
Public transportation – City buses cost around 0.50-3 PEN per trip. Microbuses (colectivos) are available and prices vary depending on the distance. Trips generally cost 2-10 PEN, though they are a bit hectic and take some getting used to.
Buses – Buses take you all over Peru and are the most common way to get around for budget travelers. The usual price for a 10-hour bus journey is around 40 PEN depending on how nice the bus company is. You can use Cruz del Sur to look up bus schedules and prices. Keep in mind that any journey through the mountains will be a slow ride! Lima to Cusco takes over 21 hours and costs 185 PEN, though you can get a ticket for as low as 39 PEN if you book in advance.
Peru Hop is another reliable and comfortable bus company designed for backpackers. This bus is a hop-on/hop-off service you can take around the country. Three-day journeys from Lima to Cusco start from 635 PEN, while 7 days in Southern Peru costs 754 PEN.
Air – Peru has five international airports (Lima, Arequipa, Cusco, Iquitos, and Piura), as well over a dozen airports with domestic service. LATAM, Avianca, and Star Peru are the main domestic airlines.
Flying between destinations isn’t always the cheapest option, but it’s a whole lot quicker. A flight from Lima to Cusco takes just over an hour (as opposed to the 21+ hours by bus) and prices start around 300 PEN. Lima to Arequipa starts around 255 PEN. You may see a significant price increase in the peak season though.
NOTE: Most of the airlines offer discounted fares for Peruvian nationals, so make sure you’re purchasing the right ticket. Otherwise, you’ll have to pay the difference.
Train – Like the rest of South America, the rail system in Peru basically non-existent. There are nice tourist options though, like PeruRail and Inca Rail, which both run trains between Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu Pueblo (the gateway to Machu Picchu). On PeruRail, tickets start from 179 PEN. Inca Rail also runs between Cusco and Machu Picchu Pueblo with tickets starting around 220 PEN.
From Lima, there’s just one train: the Ferrocarril Central Andino, the world’s highest passenger train, which travels across the Andes to Cerro de Pasco and Huancayo. One-way fare starts from 230 PEN. However, service is limited — sometimes the train only runs once a month.
Car rental – I don’t suggest renting a car here as the drivers are aggressive, the roads are poorly maintained, and accidents are common.
Hitchhike – Hitchhiking here isn’t common or recommend, though it is possible. Just keep in mind that many locals might expect you to chip in for gas. You can learn more at Hitchwiki.
When to Go to Peru
Peru has just two seasons: wet and dry. May through October is the dry season, while November through April is the rainy season. The wettest months are from January to the end of April. This isn’t a great time to visit Peru — at least not in the mountain areas, where roads and hiking trails may become blocked or closed.
Most people come to Peru from the beginning of May to the end of November, with July and August being the busiest months. May and September are great months to visit, as tourism slows down slightly but temperatures are still pleasant.
If you want to spend more time in the mountains, June to September has clear, sunny days (but chilly nights). This is a good time to trek the Inca Trail. It’s also the best time to visit the Amazon Basin, when mosquitos are fewer.
Temperatures on the desert coast can get as high as 25-35°C (77-95°F) from December to April, while temperatures cool off from May-October. In the highlands from May-October, you can expect temperatures to reach 20-25°C (68-77°F).
How to Stay Safe in Peru
Peru is a pretty safe place to backpack and travel around. Your biggest worry is petty theft, which is rampant in the bigger cities and on overnight buses. Don’t flaunt expensive jewelry or belongings. Avoid taking your phone out in public if you can as well. Lock your bags on overnight buses and keep your valuables secure and out of sight. It’s easy to get robbed if you aren’t careful here (especially at night).
Furthermore, don’t engage in drug activity. If the authorities suspect you’ve had even the slightest interaction with drugs, you may be mistreated by corrupt officers.
If you’re doing any hiking, check the weather in advance and bring plenty of water. If you’re hiking to Machu Picchu, arrive early to adjust to the altitude. 1-3 days early can make all the difference!
If you experience an emergency, dial 011 for assistance.
Always trust your gut instinct. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID.
If you’re worried about getting ripped off, here’s a list of common scams to avoid.
If you wouldn’t do it at home, don’t do it when you’re in Peru!
For more in-depth coverage of how to stay safe in Peru, check out this post we wrote that answers some frequently asked questions and concerns.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Peru Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel. They consistently have the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the companies I use the most and are always the starting point in my search for travel deals.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do group tours, go with Intrepid. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get exclusive discounts with them too!
- Grassroots Volunteering – For volunteering, Grassroots Volunteering compiles a list of good local volunteer organizations that keep the money within the community.
- Get Your Guide – Get Your Guide is a huge online marketplace for tours and excursions. They have tons of tour options available in cities all around the world, including everything from cooking classes, walking tours, street art lessons, and more!
- SafetyWing – Safety Wing offers convenient and affordable plans tailored to digital nomads and long-term travelers. They have cheap monthly plans, great customer service, and an easy-to-use claims process that makes it perfect for those on the road.
Peru Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Peru Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Turn Right at Machu Picchu, by Mark Adams
This book recounts Adams’s tale of roughing it through Peru while following archaeologist Hiram Bingham’s original route in search of Inca ruins and ancient cities. The book taught me a lot about Peru, and I am inspired to visit a lot of the sites Adams explored on my next trip there. It was one of the best travelogues I’ve read and a must-read for anyone heading to Peru. I can’t recommend it enough!
Lost City of the Incas, by Ernesto Hiram Bingham
This book is a special illustrated edition of Hiram Bingham’s classic work, capturing the mystery and intrigue of the archaeological sites he uncovered throughout his time in South America. In the early 20th century Bingham went on an expedition through the Peruvian Andes, where he came across the incredible Inca city that made him famous: Machu Picchu. If your main goal is seeing Machu Picchu while you’re traveling through Peru, this is the book for you.
The Motorcycle Diaries, by Ernesto “Che” Guevara
This is the story of Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s eight-month motorcycle journey across South America as a 23-year-old medical student in 1951-52. Guevara left home with a doctor friend of his, and this eight-month motorcycle trip was the start of his path towards becoming a revolutionary. He explores Inca ruins, visits a leper colony, and helps miners and farm workers. Whatever you want to say about his future politics, this story is about a man discovering that the world is bigger than himself, something we all pick up from travel. It’s a good message to remember.
The Last Days of the Incas, by Kim MacQuarri
When Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro showed up on the shores of Peru in 1532, he had no idea that the Inca rulers had just fought a civil war, where emperor Atahualpa defeated his brother Huascar. Pizarro soon clashed with Atahualpa, and despite the Inca warriors drastically outnumbering the Spanish, the Spanish won. A huge payment of gold was paid to the Spaniards, but Atahualpa was executed anyway. A year later, the Spaniards seized Cusco (the Inca capital), solidifying their victory over the largest native empire in the New World. This historical account is fascinating, and so is the consequent Inca rebellion that resulted in a 36-year guerrilla war.
Eight Feet in the Andes, by Dervla Murphy
This is the true story of Dervla Murphy, her young daughter, and a friendly mule who together traveled across Peru. They traveled from Cajamarca near the border of Ecuador all the way to Cusco, covering over 1,300 miles, all at high altitudes. Although dangerous at times (and extremely uncomfortable), Dervla and her nine-year-old have the greatest adventures of their lives while getting to know the hardy people of the Andes. It’s an inspirational and aspirational adventure.
Peru Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Peru travel and continue planning your trip: