Peru is one of the most popular countries to travel around in South America.
Travelers spend months backpacking Peru. People flock here to hike the Inca Trail and see Machu Picchu. Vacationers devour their way through the incredible food scene of Lima.
But, while those areas of the country get the most attention, the entire country is incredible and has a ton of things to see and do.
Come explore the jungles, see the Amazon, head to Lake Titicaca, or to the beaches in the north. Learn about the local indigenous culture, try the coca tea, and practice your Spanish. Eat your way through Lima!
There is a lot to do when you travel in Peru.
You can easily spend a month or more here!
Thankfully traveling around Peru is also very inexpensive. You don’t need a lot of money to visit here (even if you do the Inca trail). You get a lot of bang for your buck whether you backpack Peru or just come for a two-week trip!
Use this travel guide to plan your next trip to Peru 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 Nasca 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 26-mile (43 kilometers) 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 certainly challenging and you may suffer from 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 2,165 PEN ($650 USD) though you will want to spend money and invest in a reliable, reputable company. Recommended companies are listed at the end of the page.
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 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.
3. 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 make it Peru’s surfing Mecca. Prices here can be expensive December to March so it’s best to book in advance.
4. 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.
5. 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. Be sure to visit Coricancha and Sacsayhuaman 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 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.
7. 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 50 PEN ($15 USD) 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 around 5 PEN ($1.50) 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: 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 115 PEN ($34 USD).
9. Walk through the White City
Arequipa is a beautiful city with a historical center 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.
10. 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.
11. 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 ($1.20 USD) to get into. You’ll find a lot of events hosted here and it’s a popular place with dog owners.
12. 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.
13. Visit Trujillo
Head to Trujillo, the second oldest Spanish city in Peru. 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. Be sure to also visit Huanchaco, a small fishing town directly on the beach.
14. 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 draw. 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 beat the crowds!
15. 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!
Peru Travel Costs
Accommodation – You can find hostel dorm rooms as low as 24 PEN ($7 USD) per night, although most are in the 40-50 PEN ($12-15 USD) range. Expect to pay 70-150 PEN ($21-45 USD) 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 ($12 USD). On Airbnb, you can find shared rooms starting around 38 PEN ($11 USD) and entire homes starting at 135 PEN ($40 USD) per night.
Food – You’ll find a wide range of food across Peru, with different specialties in each region. Street stalls and markets have very cheap food (3-6 PEN/$1-2 USD). A cheap sit-down restaurant, meal with local dishes will cost between 12-20 PEN ($4-6 USD). For a Western meal in an average restaurant, you will pay 32-48 PEN ($10-15 USD) in Lima and Cusco. Outside the big cities, you can usually find a set meal for about 10 PEN ($3 USD). If you plan on cooking, expect to pay 150 PEN ($45 USD) per week for groceries that will include pasta, vegetables, chicken, and other basic foods.
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 your other meals.
Activities – Trips to archaeological sites are likely to be your biggest expense with a day trip to Machu Picchu costing around 190 PEN ($56 USD), a Nasca Lines helicopter tour at 340 PEN ($102 USD), and multi-day trips up the Inca Trail cost hundreds of dollars per day! However, entrances to museums are pretty cheap at under 38 PEN ($11 USD).
Backpacking Peru Suggested Budgets
On a backpacker’s budget, you will spend between 100-170 PEN ($30-50 USD) assuming you’re staying in a hostel dorm, eating at cheaper local restaurants and markets, and using local transportation. You will get a few activities like museum admissions on this budget as well. If you’re going to hike the Inca Trail or drink a lot, you’ll be on the higher end of this spectrum – and maybe even over!
On a mid-range budget of 420-505 PEN ($125-150 USD) per day, you can afford a private room at a hostel/cheap Airbnb/hotel, eat anywhere you want within reason, take intercity buses for longer journeys, take an occasional taxi, any tours, and afford the Inca Trail tours!
For a luxury budget of 960 PEN ($265+ USD) per day, you can stay in nice hotels, fly between cities (like Lima to Cusco), eat out at the nicest restaurants, and enjoy more expensive activities like flying over the Nasca Lines. With this budget, the sky is the limit!
Peru Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
How do you save money in Peru then? It’s very easy as the country isn’t that expensive in the first place. If you avoid fancy hotels and expensive meals, you won’t spend a lot of money here. However, here are a few hacks to cut down your costs in Peru, especially if you plan to do a lot of tours:
- 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 – 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 ($3 USD).
- 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 ($0.30-0.60 USD) 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 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 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. 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.
- Save money on rideshares – Uber is way cheaper than taxis and are the best way to get around a city if you don’t want to wait for a bus or pay for a taxi. The Uber Pool option is where can you share a ride to get even better savings (though you can get your own car too). Currently, Uber is available in Lima, Cusco, and Arequipa. You can save $15 off your first Uber ride with this code: jlx6v.
Where To Stay in Peru
Need a nice hostel while in Peru? Here are some of my favorite places to stay throughout the country:
- Loki Hostel (Lima)
- Pariwana Hostel (Lima)
- The Point (Lima)
- Global Family Backpackers Hostel (Lima)
- 1900 Backpackers Hostel (Lima)
- Loki Hostel (Cusco)
- Kokopelli (Cusco)
- Wild Rover Hostel (Cusco)
- Pariwana Hostel Cusco (Cusco)
- Hospedaje Turistico Recoleta (Cusco)
- Arequipay Backpackers Downtown (Arequipa)
- MB Backpackers (Arequipa)
- Loki del Mar (Mancora)
- The Point Mancora Beach (Mancora)
- Misfit Hostel (Mancora)
How to Get Around Peru
Transportation – Lima has brand-new, clean intra-city buses. These buses are safeish (petty theft is common) and cost 0.50-3 PEN ($0.15-1 USD) per trip. Microbuses (colectivos) run as well, and prices vary depending on the distance, but will always cost less than 2.50 PEN ($0.75 USD). They are a bit hectic and take some getting used to.
A taxi around Lima should cost no more than 50-70 PEN ($15-21 USD). In Cusco, taxis will cost between 33-66 PEN ($10-20 USD). Uber, the taxi alternative, operates in two cities in Peru: Arequipa and Lima.
Buses – Buses will take you all over Peru and the usual price for a 10-hour bus journey is around 40 PEN ($12 USD) 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! From Lima to Cusco takes over 21 hours and will cost you 185 PEN ($55 USD).
Peru Hop is another reliable, comfortable bus company designed for backpackers. Three-day journeys from Lima to Cusco start from 535 PEN ($159 USD), while 10 days in Southern Peru cost 670 PEN ($199 USD). This bus is a hop on/hop off service you can take around the country.
Air – Peru has five international airports in Lima, Arequipa, Cuzco, Iquitos, and Piura), as well as 18 other airports with domestic service. LATAM, Avianca, and Star Peru are the most reputable domestic airlines.
Flying between destinations isn’t always cheapest option, but it’ll certainly get you around a whole lot quicker. A flight from Peru to Cusco for example will take you just over an hour (as opposed to the 21+ hours by bus) and prices start around 118 PEN ($35 USD) – in this case, cheaper than the bus. Lima to Arequipa starts around 255 PEN ($75 USD). 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-exisitent. 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 $54, while Inca Rail starts from around $60 USD). Inca Rail also runs between Cusco and Machu Picchu Pueblo with tickets starting around 235 PEN ($70 USD).
From Lima there’s just one train: the Ferrocaril Central Andino, the world’s highest passenger train which travels across the Andes to Cerro de Pasco and Huancayo. One-way fare starts from 255 PEN ($75 USD). However, service is limited – sometimes the train only runs once a month.
Hitchhike — Do not hitchhike in Peru.
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 really 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 77°F-95°F (25°C-35°C) from December to April, while temperatures cool off from May-October. In the highlands from May-October, you can expect temperatures to reach 68°F-77°F (20°C-25°C).
How to Stay Safe in Peru
Peru is pretty safe place to backpack and travel around. Your biggest worry will be petty theft. Petty theft is rampant throughout the country. Don’t flaunt expensive jewellery or belongings around. Don’t take your phone out. Watch your stuff at all times! Lock your bags on overnight buses. It’s easy to get mugged if you aren’t careful, 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. Be a smart traveler.
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, get out of there. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it when you’re in Peru. Follow that rule and you’ll be fine.
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 to Peru. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Peru, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get exclusive discounts when you click the link!
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engline which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. (If you’re new to Airbnb, get $35 off your first stay!)
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- 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).
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all bookers.
- STA Travel – A good company for those under 30 or for students, STA Travel offers discounted airfare as well as travel passes that help you save on attractions.
- Grassroots Volunteering – For volunteering, Grassroots Volunteering compiles a list of good local volunteer organizations that keep the money within the community.
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Peru Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading to Peru, in this section, I’ll give you my suggestion for the best travel backpack and tips on what to pack.
The Best Backpack for Peru
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 a different backpack, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack with more tips, advice, and other backpack suggestions!
What to Pack for Peru
- 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
- 6 T-shirts
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 8 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 in search of Inca ruins and ancient cities while following archaeologist Hiram Bingham’s original route. The book taught me a lot about Peru, and I am inspired to visit a lot of the sites Adams explored on my trip there next year. Like him, I fully plan to turn right. It was the best travelogue I’ve read in the past year and has inspired me to visit a lot of the places he did in the book.
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 and I think that is something we all pick up from travel….and 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) – now having defeated 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 (hence the name “eight feet”). 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.
My Must Have Guides for Traveling to Peru
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Kristin Addis writes our solo female travel column and her detailed guide gives specific advice and tips for women travelers.
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My best-selling book will teach how to master the art of travel so that you’ll save money and have a more local, richer travel experience.
Peru Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Peru travel and continue planning your trip: