Backpacking Peru in 2020: The Ultimate Guide
When commencing on a trip backpacking Peru, there are plenty of different things that the average traveler needs to consider. How to get around (easy, Peru Hop), where to change money, and of course, what to do while you’re here. We have compiled a complete guide for you to answer all your questions and make your travels easy. With everything that you could ever need, from a handy language guide, to the different treks that you can challenge yourself with while you are traveling, there are endless amazing things to do in Peru. Whatever you decide, give yourself a chance to have the best time while backpacking Peru as possible. Check out our contents to jump to where you need to go!
- Best time to Visit Peru
- Peruvian Visa
- Transport in Peru
- Accommodation in Peru
- Peru Backpacking Budget
- Cash in Peru
- Best Cities to Visit in Peru
- Things to See in Peru
- Best Routes for Backpacking Peru
- Weather in Peru
- Peruvian Food
- Drinks in Peru
- Is Peru Safe?
- Staying Healthy in Peru
- Vaccinations needed for Peru
- Peruvian Trekking Guide
- Languages of Peru
- Useful Spanish Phrases
- Backpacking Peru Packing List
The Best Time to Go Backpacking in Peru
There are plenty of factors to consider while you decide when the best time to go backpacking in Peru is for you. The first thing you must consider is which regions you want to visit. If you only want to experience the beaches and the coastal region, then it is best to visit in the summer months, November to March when the sun is at its hottest. However, this is also the rainy season in the highlands and in the jungle, and many treks to Machu Picchu close in February due to the heavy rainfall.
If you are interested in visiting any of the places in the highlands (for example, Machu Picchu) then you may wish to visit during the dry season, which is from May to August. It is important to remember that this is the Peruvian high season, and so many treks are more expensive, and the routes are more crowded.
Deciding when the best time to visit Peru is, is a very personal choice with a few different factors to consider. It’s worthwhile to note that February a lot of the most popular things to do are closed (such as the Inca Trail, the Salkantay Trek, and Peru Hop), but if you are interested in the coastal regions, then this could still be a great option for you.
Visas for Backpacking Peru
Visas are generally NOT required to enter Peru as a backpacker (some exceptions – people from parts of Asia, Africa, and communist countries). You simply arrive and can be given up to 183 days of visa at immigration. The first 90 days are free, but can ask for longer and pay a very small fee. If you stay over your allotted time then you will need to pay $1.50 per day for every day you stay over your visa – pay in airport or at the border when leaving. Be aware that if you do this then you will need to pay the fine in cash. Make sure you have it with you or you could run into trouble. You can find out a little more from our official visa advice page here.
Transport in Peru
The best way to get to and from the airport is easily Airport Express Lima. Taxis are known to overcharge, with the standard price being 3x the price of an Airport Express ticket. Once you’re in the cities, it’s quite easy to find your way around, most of the time you will be able to walk to get to where you need to go. In fact, some cities, such as Cusco, don’t allow buses to go through the historical center, meaning that you will be forced to walk or take a taxi. It’s wise to think hard about taking a taxi in Peru, as many times they will overcharge you, and many more times they may not take you exactly where you want to go.
When in Lima, you can use the metropolitano system, which is the fastest and easiest way to get between the different districts. You need a card to access it, but you can always ask a local, and more often than not they are happy to top their card up with your money and let you on. You pay on entry and can exit wherever. Entrance to the metropolitano is less than $1.
The best way to travel through southern Peru, (where most of the attractions are), is by Peru Hop’s hop on, hop off service. A suggested route from Lima to Cusco is the full south to Cusco pass. With many fascinating stops along the way and all just on one ticket, you can spend as much time as you please in each city before hopping on the next bus continuing on your journey.
Accommodation while Backpacking Peru
Hostels in Peru are extremely cheap, helping backpackers stick to a strict budget. Almost all come to a regular standard of lockers, hot water and wifi. It is a good idea to book your hostel in advance online, as you can find “Hostels” almost anywhere, with huge signs offering 20/25 soles rooms (roughly $7). This is an hourly charge, and these places are often reasonably dirty and have none of the expected commodities. If you want to find decent places to stay, then check out some of Peru Hop‘s recommended places.
As you are backpacking in Peru, you will find more and more companies that you can trust for a great time.
Peru Backpacking Budget
A careful backpacker can easily get by on $25-30 a day, but it’s always smart to bring some extra for emergencies or last minute changes of plans. Sites such as FindLocalTrips are an excellent way to find attractions and tours throughout Latin America on a budget while avoiding unscrupulous tourism companies that exploit the local Peruvians. If you speak a bit of Spanish you’ll save money at markets and such as well, since you’ll be able to haggle with the sellers.
Hostels.com and Booking.com are good resources for finding hostels in an area, but they are sometimes missing towns and outdated, so cross reference with sites like Tripadvisor.com to make sure you’re getting the best deal available. Couchsurfing is also beginning to take off in Peru, and can make an excellent alternative to more traditional accommodations, as long as you take the usual precautions mentioned on the website.
Tipping in Peru
It’s normal to tip a guide, generally around $5-$10 per day they helped you. This means that if you go on a 4 day trek, it would be normal to tip the guide around $30-$40. The expected amount is slightly less for porters and cooks, averaging around $3-$5. per day, so for a four day trek, a tip of $12-$20. If you are in a group then it is a good idea to pool your money so that you can give the guide what you feel he deserves.
You never need to tip taxi drivers, or at cheap restaurants. Tipping is only really commonplace in higher end eateries. If you go to a mid-tier restaurant then it is normal to give one or two soles, but nothing more.
All in all, when it comes to tipping in Peru, tip what you feel the person deserves.
Changing Money in Peru
It is 100% guaranteed that while you are backpacking Peru, you will need some Peruvian currency. The Peruvian currency is Soles. In the main districts of Lima and Cusco then you may use dollars in most hotels and restaurants, but you may also struggle in smaller areas and out of the big cities. As always, it is a great idea to have some of the native currency when you’re traveling. Once you’re in Peru, there are a couple of ways that you can change your money into soles.
Street Money Changers (Cambistas)
They may seem intimidating but you will see a lot of these people in the streets of Miraflores, Lima and wear official vests. They give you some of the best rates when exchanging money from dollars to soles and usually wait around near the ATM. However, as with anyone carrying huge sums of money they can be a target for robbery, so for your own safety try not to change too much money at once here.
Banks will provide currency exchange in Lima. The process is straightforward and stress-free in Lima. In the area of Miraflores banks will always have the correct exchange rates along with English-speaking workers. If you want to exchange a less-popular global currency, then banks are most likely your best option. ATMs in banks usually give reasonable exchange rates when you use a card. Sometimes you may be charged a fixed amount of soles for this transaction.
Airports generally have the most expensive exchange rates around. In general it is better to wait to exchange your money, but if you need it immediately, try to do it in small amounts so that you don’t waste too much. This is the least attractive option for those who want to stick to a tight budget while backpacking Peru.
Exchange House (Casa de Cambio)
The exchange houses, or casas de cambio are very similar to almost all exchange houses that you will find around the world. They operate identically as their sole purpose is to exchange money. The exchange houses do this at the correct rate. They can be found throughout the city and they are often some of the safest options for changing large amounts of money. This is the best place for you to change large sums of money while backpacking Peru… However we recommend that you only change small amounts at a time. Slightly more annoying, but much more secure!
Top Cities to Visit in Peru
You can spend more than a lifetime exploring the streets and the valleys of Peru, but here are a small handful of our absolute favorite places. Some are well known to everyone backpacking Peru, like Cusco, some are off the beaten track and a great way to get an organic and unique backpacking experience of Peru.
Often overlooked or misunderstood despite the fact that most travelers will spend time here, (if not only because of the location of the airport) Lima is the gift that keeps on giving. From archaeological sites just outside, such as Caral, the oldest civilization in all of the Americas, to swimming with sea lions off the coast. You can check out our full Lima guide here, and begin to plan your trip.
This tiny village is home to less than 100 local people, but every day fresh influxes of travellers arrive to do one of THE must-do activities in Peru… sandboarding down the famous Huacachina dunes! The local guides take travellers on a tour of these dunes on incredibly powerful (and safe!) dune buggies, flying over large humps in what seems to be a never-ending desert of sand. Snowboarding is world famous, but sandboarding is thrilling, faster and much much cheaper… an absolute must for anybody who visits. Check out our full Huacachina guide.
Arequipa, also known as the White City is arguably one of the most beautiful cities in the country. With a towering volcano and the majestic Colca Canyon, there are a huge number of things to do in this incredible city. To know everything and to start planning your trip, check out our complete Arequipa guide!
Not only the Inca capital, Cusco is the gateway to many of the most incredible things to do while in Peru. From Machu Picchu to the Rainbow Mountain, you could probably spend a month just here, enjoying everything there is to enjoy in each spot before continuing your journey. Check out our complete Cusco guide for everything that you need to know while traveling.
Best Things to Do in Peru
There are huge amounts of incredible things to do, from visiting the floating Islands on Lake Titicaca, to spotting some of the incredible, mysterious Nazca Lines. Whatever you decide to do while you’re backpacking Peru, you owe it to yourself to make the most of it. Here are a couple of our absolute favorite things to do.
Sandboarding and Dune Buggying
Get your heart racing in Huacachina, exploring the desert in a unique and truly amazing way. This is one of Peru’s best kept secrets and endlessly fun. Check out our complete guide of Huacachina to making the most of the largest sand dunes in South America… Our insider tip? Score a tour in the afternoon, so that you can watch the sunset over the dunes.
The lost city of the Inca needs no introduction. Practically every person backpacking Peru will take on this adventure. High in the Andes mountains many people choose to trek here in an effort to get a true Peruvian experience. There is plenty more than just the classic Inca Trail, so check out our guide about the best treks, and everything else you need to know about Machu Picchu, so that you can plan your perfect journey.
Everyone knows about the Grand Canyon, but not everyone knows about Peru’s almost as impressive Colca Canyon. Colca Canyon is actually deeper than its North American counterpart (at its highest, Colca is 6388 meters above sea level). The area surrounding the canyon is inhabited by locals in the traditional colorful towns which are seemingly quintessential to Peruvian life.
Also synonymous to the life of rural Peruvians, you can find hundreds of kinds of birds and plants. 30 of these kinds of plants are different kinds of cactus. One of the breeds of the bird is the famous condor. The condor can weigh up to 12kg, and have a wingspan of over 3 meters, making it one of the biggest flying birds in the world. You can find a viewpoint named the Cruz de Condor in the canyon. This viewpoint is famous for being the best place in South America to see the birds in flight.
The Nazca Lines are ancient geoglyphs etched into the Nazca desert in the south of Peru. Some of the lines are over 2,000 years old and spread over 80km of desert, making flying the best, and the only way to see all of these incredible landmarks. Peru Hop has a stop at the Nazca Lines viewing tower, where you can see three different lines. This is free with the price of the ticket, so a great option if you want to see the lines, but don’t want to blow your budget on a flight!
Found 3 hours outside of Cusco, the Rainbow Mountain is quickly becoming a must see for all tourists and travelers in Cusco, second only to Machu Picchu. At a staggering 5,200 meters above sea level, this mountain is striped with 7 different colours, giving it its iconic name. These colors come from the way that the different sedimentary rocks interact with the oxygen in the air.
Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world at over 3,800 meters above sea level. The closest Peruvian city to the lake is Puno, which has become a gateway to visit the famous floating islands, which are made entirely out of Totora reeds and have been home to the Uros people for centuries. There are two other islands on the lake that can be accessed through boat and are an option for a multi day tour of Lake Titicaca, with Peru Hop.
Backpacking Peru Routes
Check out a full list of the recommended routes to visit. Whether you want to see everything that there is to see while you are backpacking Peru, if you want to stay close to the coast, and even if you want to see what Bolivia has to offer on your journey, there is a route for you.
There are plenty of directions to go! If you want to check out the full range of recommended routes then look no further, simply check out Peru Hop’s full list of passes! Below are some of our favourites!
Weather in Peru
Peru has three distinct regions with three distinct different kinds of weather, it’s important that you think carefully when planning to backpack in Peru that you choose which season is best for you.
The Coast, which is typically dry and warm for most of the year except for June to August, which becomes cloudy and slightly colder, with temperatures of around 17°c.
The Highlands typically have sun and rain all year round. The rainy season runs from January to March, with many popular Machu Picchu trek’s being closed throughout February because of the weather.
The Jungle is relatively unaffected by seasons, having hot weather and heavy rains most of the year.
You can find out about Peruvian weather in different regions in more detail here.
Food for Backpackers in Peru
Peru is famous for its cuisine and if you talk to any local then they will tell you just how proud they are of their food. Backpackers in Peru can rejoice, this food is also exceptionally affordable as well. If is also a great way to sample truly Peruvian food. A must for everyone backpacking in Peru is to try out the menu deal, that can be found practically everywhere. The menu gives a starter, a main and a drink (usually with refills) for a low price, which varies depending on where you are. This food is delicious, cheap, and has the homecooked flavours that many miss while on the road.
If you really want what the locals eat then head to the markets or the food stands that stand along the side of the road. 9/10 the food from here is cheap and delicious, but try to always go to a stand that has a lot of locals surrounding it, so that you can be sure to get the good stuff.
Want to know a little more about food in peru and the different cuisines in the different regions?
Some of the most popular dishes in Peru, and one’s that you certainly have to try are…
Cuy (Guinea Pig)
Perhaps the most famous of Peruvian dishes, Cuy is a highland delicacy and a rite of passage for travelers to sample. Be aware! It comes as a whole guinea pig… head and feet and all.
One from the coast! Peruvians love their ceviche, and it truly is some of the best, and the freshest in the world, a must try while traveling through Peru!
A regular feature in menus across Peru, this dish is a national favorite. With influences from the Chino-Peruvian culture, this dish is an easy favourite for all Peruvians.
This bright yellow dish is another favourite for Peruvians, and comes as a starter. The bright yellow sauce decorated with boiled egg and an olive may not look the most appealing, but it’s a firm favorite with Peruvians and travelers alike
Delicious slices of beef heart, barbequed on an open flame. You can find these everywhere, from on the street for a couple of soles, to in the most expensive restaurants in Peru. They’re a national delicacy and a must try!
A desert that can be found by street sellers all around Peru, these are a backpackers dream. The freshest style of doughnut you can find, delicious, and most of the time, still warm when you order them. What could be better?
Drinks in Peru
There are several typically Peruvian drinks that you should definitely try while backpacking Peru. From soft drinks to alcoholic, there’s plenty for you to sample, and we guarantee there will be one or two that you will love. One of these is Inca Kola. This bright yellow drink may not look appealing, but is a firm Peruvian favorite. In fact, over a decade ago, Coca-Cola accepted defeated and bought 49% of the Inca Kola stocks, accepting that they would not beat the existing favorite.
Another favorite is Chicha Morada. This purple drink is a staple in most Peruvian lives. Previously alcoholic, this beverage is now available, and more popular, as a non-alcoholic version.
When it comes to alcoholic drinks in Peru, you can enjoy Pisco. It is recommended that you take a tour of a Pisco Vineyard on your holidays, which you can do for free with Peru Hop. If you’re more of a beer person, then the most popular brands of beer are Cusqueña and Pilsen, both of which are Peruvian. If you want to try out a few more of the best beer in Peru then there is still plenty to go around!
Safety While Backpacking Peru
A question that plagues backpackers, is the country I am visiting safe? In Peru’s case, the answer is generally yes. There are factors that you must consider, such as where you are visiting and what you plan to take with you. As with every major city in the world, petty crime is reasonably common, so try not to walk around with a huge and expensive camera hanging around your neck. However, in general if you stay in the center of the cities and are reasonably sensible with how you act, you will be fine in Peru.
Something that is important to think about it the way that you travel between the cities. Bus hijackings are not common, but they happen on some routes. There is also the factor of driving. Peru has some of the worst driving in the world, from aggressive driving styles, to overcrowding of buses, to speeding to reach the destination early.
It’s this that separates Peru Hop from normal bus travel in Peru: we put the safety of our passengers over everything else.
At Peru Hop, only the most professional and qualified drivers are chosen. It’s known that bus trips can be a little tedious sometimes, and that’s why we make sure all our passengers enjoy a safe and comfortable trip, only having to worry about what to do once in each destination (tips on what to do will be given, don’t worry!). We personally have had our scares on public buses and know how terrifying it can be sometimes, and for that reason, the drivers at Peru Hop are rewarded based on safe driving and reviews from our passengers (whether you felt safe at all times, etc). This encourages our drivers to be more careful and avoid taking risks that may lead to an accident.
Staying Healthy While Backpacking Peru
There are several key things that you need to know in order to stay healthy while backpacking in Peru. The first, and arguably most important, is that you should not drink the tap water. It is fine to shower with and to clean your teeth, but it is not good for drinking. If you’re going somewhere in high altitude (which you almost certainly will), make sure that you take the appropriate measures to ensure that you don’t get altitude sickness. The best way to avoid this is by arriving gradually (eg. arriving by bus and not by plane), by taking altitude sickness pills before you start to feel ill, by staying hydrated, and by sleeping a lot on your first day. You should be properly acclimatized within the first few days.
It may seem obvious, but it is very important to make sure that you have travel insurance while you are in Peru. We recommend World Nomad Insurance, which you can find out more about here.
Vaccinations For Peru
You must be up to date with standard vaccinations such as the MMR, DPT, chicken pox and polio vaccine. It’s also advisable that you are up to date and vaccinated with hepatitis A and Typhoid.
Some travelers will also want to get a Hepatitis B (if you are planning to get a new tattoo or think you may have a sexual partner in your travels.). If you are traveling to Iquitos and Puerto Maldonado and only the remote eastern regions of La Libertad and Lambayeque then you will need to consider getting a Malaria vaccine, although often travelers choose to take anti-malaria tablets while they are in the at risk areas instead of buying the vaccine. The Rabies vaccine is only really necessary if you are working in a veterinary setting. Cases of rabies in Peru are exceptionally rare, as the only animal that commonly carries the disease is a bat, so if you plan on caving or other sort of activities, you may need to think about it. Yellow Fever is recommended generally for people visiting the jungle, and for anywhere with a risk of malaria.
Treks in Peru
While you are backpacking in Peru, it is almost guaranteed that you will take on a trek, whether it is a multi-day trek, like the Inca Trail or a one day hike like the Rainbow Mountain or Laguna 69. A great place to book these treks is on Find Local Trips, a tour comparison website which allows you to search and compare some of the best companies to take you on each tour.
It is important while trekking in Peru that you
- Acclimatize properly– The altitudes of some treks are unbelievably high, and if you don’t give yourself a proper amount of time to get used to it, you could run into serious problems
- Use an official guide– So that you don’t get lost or worse. All operators on Find Local Trips are licensed and official.
- Bring warm clothing– Nights in Peru, especially in the highland, get bitterly cold. Prepare properly.
Trekking in Peru has some incredible benefits, from totally unforgettable views, to an unbelievable sense of achievement as you reach the peaks of these beautiful mountains. To maximize your enjoyment while you are trekking, it is advisable that you bring
- Good quality, waterproof hiking boots
- Wool socks
- Warm hat
- Sun hat, sunglasses
- Hiking Poles
- A Water-purifying filter
- A good quality waterproof jacket
- A lightweight warm jacket
The best time to take on a trek in Peru depends a lot on you. It is rainy season from November to March, and in February a lot of trails you may find closed. However May to August is high season, so there are more people on the trails and many have a higher price thanks to the increased demand. Deciding when the best time for you to go trekking in Peru is a personal choice, and more often than not, dependant on what time of year you are already planning on backpacking in Peru.
Top 5 Treks in Peru
- 5. Laguna 69- 1 Day
Laguna 69 is a lake high in the mountains of Huaraz with an unbelievable blue colour. It gained its name because it didn’t have a name before the national park was created in 1975. This trek is challenging because of the altitude, which claims many travelers. Make sure that you are properly acclimatized before attempting it! To check out some reputable companies, use Find Local Trips.
- 4. Colca Canyon- 2/3 Days
The best of Arequipa! The Colca Canyon is the second biggest canyon in the world, and in parts, the deepest. It is possible to see the Colca Canyon on a day tour, however we strongly recommend getting up close and personal with it, and there’s no better way to do that than with a trek. You can weigh up the benefits of each using the helpful and easy comparison features of Find Local Trips.
- 3. Salkantay Trek- 5 Days
The Salkantay Trek is the most popular alternative trek on the way to Machu Picchu. Passing through the Salkantay Pass next to the glacier with the same name, this is a challenging but truly beautiful trek. It also allows walkers a chance to see the Humantay Lagoon up close as well, combining two of the most scenic adventures into one. Find a Salkantay Trek that is perfect for you!
- 2. Choquequirao Trek- 4 Days
The Choquequirao Trek is still a relatively undiscovered trek, leading you to a lost city which is commonly believed to have been the last Inca stronghold as the Spanish invaded. Despite its historical importance, this trek is still not on most travers list, meaning that you will likely be able to complete the whole trek relatively undisturbed. Find the perfect Choquequirao trek for you!
- 1. The Inca Trail- 4 Days
Almost every traveler of Peru knows about the Inca Trail. It’s so popular that usually, it needs to be booked 6 months in advance as the tickets sell out so quickly. This trek is perfect for those who want to get a real Inca experience on their way to the magical Machu Picchu. Find your perfect Inca Trail experience!
Language in Peru
The official language in Peru is Spanish, and most people that you meet will speak this. In the larger cities of Lima and Cusco you are likely to find someone who will be able to speak English but in the highlands, particularly in the smaller villages the main language could be Quechua. Quechua is the language of the Inca, and it is still spoken by much of the highland population. There are hundreds of different types of Quechua, depending on the part of Peru you are in. Quechua in Cusco is different to Quechua in Ayacucho. There are dozens of other regional languages, so even if you are a fluent Spanish speaker, it is likely that you will run into someone that you find it difficult to communicate with.
Useful Phrases to Know in Spanish
- Hola/Chao Hello/Goodbye
- Gracias! Thank you
- Donde puedo comer local? Where can I get local food?
- Rico Delicious
- Donde esta la _____ Where is the ______
- Qué tan lejos es? How far away is it?
- Una cerveza por favor 1 beer please
- Cuanto esta? How much is it?
- Nada menos? Nothing less? (Useful when haggling in markets)
- me puede tomar una foto? Can you take a photo of me?
- Señor chofer, podría manejar mas despacio por favor Mr driver, can you please drive more slowly
Peru Packing List
- Warm Clothes and a Waterproof Jacket
No one likes being cold, and especially if you plan on going to Cusco, you will certainly need layers of warm clothes! Make sure you stay comfortable
- Good Walking Boots
Whether you’re planning on doing plenty of treks or just getting to know the streets of the cities, walking boots are your best, most versatile footwear option. If you can only take one pair of shoes, take these!
Crucial for hostel showers
- Roll of Toilet Paper
This one speaks for itself. Particularly while trekking, be prepared! But be aware that even in the cities you won’t always find toilet roll in restaurants and public bathrooms. You will thank us later.
- Plastic Bags
Whether you are wrapping up your bottle or need somewhere to shove damp socks or muddy shoes on day two of a trek, this is a must at all times.
Or even just a handheld flashlight. Needed for night time trips to the bathroom while you’re camping, or finding your phone charger in a dark dorm. Perfect.
Even if you’re not planning on trekking while you’re in Peru (which is arguably a mistake itself), you will undoubtedly end up on a long bus journey that may not have USB port sockets or in a hostel room with less plugs than people. Get yourself a battery pack so you can keep everything charged.
- Insect Repellent
Mosquitos, sand bugs, bedbugs and all sorts of other little critters at times seem as though they were made to bother backpackers. Pack some DEET and don’t worry about nasty disease carrying insects.
Block out unwanted sounds in a dorm. Someone is calling their parents while you’re trying to sleep? The person above you is snoring louder than a train? Just block it out. Fill your ears with the silicone buds and sleep tight.
- Small Padlocks
For your backpack, your locker in the hostel dorms, whatever you want to keep safe, padlock it. A good tip is to keep a spare key somewhere secret.
- Small First-aid Kit
Just enough for the necessities. A few plasters, painkillers, and the illusive diarrhea tablets. Things that everyone will need at some but you definitely won’t want to go and get when your time comes.
Peru is a wonderland for backpackers, and if you follow these tips and do your research before you go, you’re guaranteed to have an amazing time for far less money than you would spend in Europe or North America, while seeing some truly incredible things, and reaching highs that you never could in Europe. Merely visiting Peru is a very easy way to get off the beaten track, and a truly easy and fantastic way to do this is to use Peru Hop, for a great way to save money, and see more.