The Top 10 Tips For Backpacking Peru

Even if you’re a seasoned traveler, there are always things you wish you’d known before you arrived to your destination. Each country has its own little quirks and eccentricities that are common knowledge to locals but may be news to first-time travelers. Here are just a few things you may wish you’d known before coming to Peru:

1. Don’t just be a typical tourist.

Yes, Peru is famous for Machu Picchu, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, but that’s not the only place you should visit. Colca Canyon, the second deepest canyon on earth is definitely a place to discover as well as Lake Titicaca at more than 4,000m above sea level home to the floating islands. And let’s not forget the hidden gems most travelers don’t know about: the Secret Slave Tunnels in Chincha, Huacachina the desert oasis home to the biggest sand dunes in South America, or the Paracas National Reserve where the desert meets with the sea to create unbelievable scenery. Whatever way you get to or from Machu Picchu, make sure you stop along the way to see these incredible destinations as you will probably only come to Peru one time in your life.

Top 10 Tips - Paracas National Reserve

2. Learn how to spot fake money

Unfortunately, Peru is one of the world leaders in counterfeiting money, with bogus versions of both the local currency of nuevo soles and foreign currencies such as the dollar or the euro being produced here. As such, here are the details to look for:

  • Watermark – You can see the watermark when you hold the banknote up to a source of light. The image itself appears in light and dark shades created by density variations in the paper. Each sol note uses the face of its principal character with an object just behind it as the watermark (for example, the face of Raúl Porras Barrenechea with a book behind his head on the S/.20 note).
  • Security thread – Each banknote has a security thread running from top to bottom, slightly offset from center. Along the length of the thread, you will see “Peru,” the denomination of the note, and the initials BCP. The S/.100 and S/.200 notes have holographic threads adorned with tiny symbols representing fish.
  • Number alignment – Each note shows a partial image of its relative numerical denomination on front and back (known as the Registro Perfecto). When held up to the light, these two parts align perfectly to show the complete number.
  • Latent image – On the front of each note is a colored box (near the bottom left-hand corner). Raise the note to your eye and tilt it horizontally; you should see the note’s value appear in the box.
  • Micro impressions – On the front of each note (bottom left-hand corner) you will see the note’s denomination. The numbers are filled with micro impressions of the word “Peru” or the initials BCP (or a combination of both).
  • Color-shifting ink – On the front of each note is the note’s denomination in a glossy color. This figure is printed in color-shifting ink. Rotate the note and you will see the color change, with variations of purple, gold and green.
  • Fluorescent images — The notes contain various fluorescent images that can be seen under UV light.

Top 10 Tips - soles

3. Eat the lunch “menu”

Cities and towns in Peru are filled with small restaurants offering a special fixed-price “menu” for lunch. These simple establishments are typically family-run and offer a choice of two or three different meal options (often with a starter, drink and even dessert included) for as little as $3 USD. This is one of the best ways to get the most out of your trip to Peru, both by saving money and taking the chance to taste the excellent local cuisine.

Top 10 Tips - peruvian menu

4. Don’t be shy about haggling

Like many places in the world, Peru has a culture of haggling. Prices in many markets are flexible and sellers will frequently offer an initial price that is substantially higher than the actual value of the product being sold. While a favorable exchange rate compared to your home country may make it tempting to just pay the original asking price and avoid the hassle, you’ll definitely save quite a bit of money (which can, in turn, be spent on other activities or souvenirs) if you put in the effort to bargain a little bit. A good rule of thumb is to have the price that you’re willing to pay in mind before you approach the vendor. Be firm about your budget limits, but also polite and willing to negotiate. Eventually you should arrive at a price which is fair for both parties.

Top 10 Tips - market

For information on booking a tour, comparing operators and reviewing prices we recommend to use a comparison website for tours and activities across South America.

5. Don’t rush

Peru is one of the best countries in the world for travelers: with its incredibly diverse variety of natural wonders and its world-famous cultural and historical sights, there is something here for virtually everyone. Because it has so much to offer, many people who come to Peru are a bit overwhelmed with their options. It can definitely be tempting to rush from place to place in an attempt to see everything. It’s worth bearing in mind that it’s totally impossible to see every amazing thing that this country has to offer in one short trip–an entire lifetime may not even be enough! With that in mind, the best idea is to spend a good amount of time in each destination and truly get to know it before moving on to the next.

Top 10 Tips - Arequipa

The best way to enjoy Peru without rushing is to take a hop-on, hop-off service where you can stay in each destination for however long you want. Check out How It Works page to learn why Peru Hop is one of the best ways to discover Peru!

6. Bring toilet paper and soap everywhere

There’s no delicate way to put this, but the public bathrooms in Peru are not always kept to particularly high standards. Only the most upscale establishments will be stocked with toilet paper or soap, so you’ll be thankful later if you remember to carry some with you at all times for when the need arises. It’s also important to remember that in Peru, like most of Latin America, you typically dispose of toilet paper in bins next to the toilet rather than by flushing it, due to outdated sewer systems.

toilet paper and soap

7. Buses are better than planes

While there is a budding budget airline industry in South America, the frequent delays and canceled flights can become annoying very quickly. The primary form of long-distance travel has become buses for most travelers in Peru due to the scenery you get to enjoy. Use these long-distance rides to practice Spanish, get some reading done, research your next destination, etc.

peru job bus

8. Set prices in advance

This is another good tip for saving money while traveling. It’s always smart to negotiate the price for services before you partake. This especially means asking and negotiating with a taxi driver what the final price will be before you even enter the vehicle. It’s also important to clarify what exactly is included with your purchase in order to avoid hidden charges (for instance, if you’re taking a tour, are all fees, taxes, entrances to national parks, etc. included?).

Set prices in advance

9. Check the weather

Peru contains an incredible variety of climates (30 out of 32 possible types, according to one classification) despite being only about one-sixth the size of the continental United States. Within its borders, you will find dry desert, sandy coastal beach, chilly highlands, tropical rainforest and more. Two destinations can seem very close to one another on a map, but in reality have drastically different climates. For this reason, it’s important that you regularly check the weather when traveling to different areas of Peru in order to avoid torrential rain, mudslides, snow and other potential hazards.


10. Do your research

Tourist agencies and transit companies are abundant in Peru. These can range from very cheap options where safety and comfort can be a major issue to luxurious options rivaling first-class plane travel. It’s definitely smart to thoroughly research your options before you travel over-land in Peru. We may be biased, but for your money, Peru Hop provides the best combination of safety, convenience, comfort and price available–make sure to check out what we offer while you’re doing your research.

We hope these 10 tips have helped you prepare a little bit for your once-in-a-lifetime trip to Peru. If you have any other questions about how to get ready, just let us know in the comments below!

10 Tips For Backpacking Peru