Our Story About Traveling In Peru
Peru is one of the most popular South American destinations for backpackers, and for good reason. Home to one of the most intriguing wonders of the world, high-altitude mountains, lush rainforests, plunging coastal cliffs, the best seafood (um hello, they invented ceviche) and a plethora of fluffy llamas to befriend, Peru is a backpacker’s dream. In this backpacker’s guide to Peru, you’ll learn everything you need to know about this incredible country!
Best time to visit Peru
Peru is located just south of the equator, so the seasons are opposite to the northern hemisphere. That said, because it’s so close to the equator, Peru’s weather is not seasonally extreme.
Peru’s winter lasts from May to September. It’s also the dry season, which makes it the best time to visit Peru, particularly if you’ll be trekking or visiting Cusco – which of course you will! Peru’s summer lasts from December through March and is generally much wetter, so bring your rain gear.
In addition to confusing seasons, each area of Peru also experiences vastly different weather. Lima, the coastal capital, is foggy during Peru’s winter (May through September) and feels a bit like San Francisco. The fog and drizzle give way to bright sun and warmth between November and March, which is exactly when the rain is pouring down in the Andes mountains and Amazon jungle to the east.
During our visit in October (when ‘anything goes’ weather-wise) Lima was foggy and cool, Cusco was dry and freezing and nobody knew whether to expect rain during our Inca Trail hike. We had thankfully brought all our rain gear, but we were freezing despite our down jackets and ended up purchasing several warm alpaca sweaters in the local artisan markets. We weren’t the only ones either: alpaca sweaters are the unofficial backpacker’s uniform in Peru!
To cover all bases, bring your rain gear and your cold weather clothes and expect the unexpected.
With a few exceptions, residents of most countries will be thrilled that they do not need to apply in advance for a visa for Peru – this includes UK and US citizens.
Upon entry to Peru, you’ll be asked how long you’re staying. It’s possible to stay up to 183 days on a tourist visa. You’ll then be given an Andean migration card which you’ll need to present when exiting the country – stick it in your passport for safe keeping.
Although a free 6 month visa seems like a blessing to nomads, be warned: if you declare you’ll be staying for the maximum time period ‘just in case’ when you actually only have a 2 month stay planned, you’ll be subjecting yourself to paying a higher tax rate. All foreigners staying more than 59 days in Peru are subject to an 18% tax, which will be added to your bill at most hotels and hostels. If you’re staying for less than 59 days and therefore not subject to the tax, you’ll need to present your Andean migration card and passport as proof of how many days your visa has been approved for. Be sure to keep an eye on your bill if you’re on a tight budget to avoid being overcharged.
That said, if there really is a chance that you’ll extend your stay in Peru, you should request the maximum length of time on arrival as you cannot request an extension on your visa after you enter. In this case, the 18% tax is something you’ll just have to live with.
Peru backpacking budget
The Peruvian currency is called the nuevo sol – sol for short. One sol is worth almost exactly 0.30, or £0.24, which makes for a nice, easy conversion: just divide the price in soles by 3 to convert roughly to USD, or by 4 for GBP.
One giant, flashing, important warning regarding Peruvian sol: watch out for counterfeit money! This is a huge issue in Peru, and fakes can be incredibly convincing. Familiarize yourself with how to spot fake cash in Peru, because no business will accept a counterfeit bill, rendering the money in your pocket completely useless. Similarly, never accept a torn bill from anyone in Peru, because torn bills are a marker of counterfeit money. Even if the bills are real, no business or bank will accept a torn sol.
When it comes to figuring out your Peru backpacking budget, keep in mind that while Peru is generally an inexpensive country, certain destinations and experiences will drive your budget up quite a bit. I’m referring of course to Machu Picchu. Trekking to Machu Picchu will cost around 700 for the classic Inca Trail or a bit less for a different multi-day trek, but that doesn’t include getting to Cusco.
Skip the trek and take the train and you could save several hundred dollars. Cut Machu Picchu out entirely and you’ll save quite a bit, but let’s be honest – why would you visit Peru and not see Machu Picchu? Don’t do that. If you are physically able to complete it, the trek is a rewarding once in a lifetime experience that justifies splurging on. Swallow that backpacker frugality and accept that Machu Picchu is an expensive but justifiable cost when visiting Peru.
Generally speaking, you’ll want to budget around 35 a day per person – including Machu Picchu. Food can easily be found for around 5 a meal and hostels will be under 10 for a dorm bed. Your biggest expenses will be experiences and transport. If you’re guilty of being a terrible saver, read our baller’s guide on how to save money to get that trip booked sooner!
Peru Rail is a stunning, comfortable, luxury train service that you’ll probably only take once: it’s the primary way to get to Machu Picchu if you’re not trekking, and you’ll pay around 50. They have other routes which look wonderful, but frankly they’re not accessible on a typical backpacking budget.
Thankfully, you can take buses all over Peru and they’re generally of a good standard. You can book them online with companies like Cruz del Sur. Most of the seats are wide and comfortable, with pillows, blankets and a footrest provided.
Most buses in Peru are overnight buses. You’ll likely be driving in complete darkness through windy mountain roads at high speeds – a recipe for nausea and an awful night’s sleep! But hey, it’s all part of the fun. I highly recommend bringing sleeping pills, anti-nausea meds, a sleeping mask, earbuds, and several layers of warm clothing to help make your bus experience as comfortable as possible.
There is a private hop-on-hop-off bus service which offers guided buses throughout Peru. We didn’t take them ourselves because the cost is roughly double the price of buying bus tickets individually, but the service was highly recommended by fellow travelers. If you prioritise ease over cost, it might be a good option. Just ask your hostel to point you in the right direction if this is something that interests you.
Getting from Lima to Machu Picchu
Lima and Machu Picchu are on opposite sides of the country and separated by a giant mountain range. But you came this far, and gosh darn it, you’re going to see Machu Picchu before you leave Peru!
If you’re under a time constraint, you’ll need to fly from Lima to Cusco, which costs around 100 each way. Taking an overnight bus will save you a bit of cash (maybe around 30) but after doing it twice we don’t know if the saving is worth the 20 long, nauseous hours! If you do opt for the bus, break up your trip with a few stops on the way, like Arequipa, Nazca, or Ica.
Hostels in Peru
Like any backpacker destination that’s worth its salt, Peru has many fantastic hostels. From party hostels in Lima, to laid-back digs in Cusco and beach front properties in Paracas, it couldn’t be easier to find awesome places to stay when you’re in Peru. Here are a few of our favourites:
- Frog’s Chillhouse – Huanchaco: A surf hostel with chill vibes and incredible views overlooking the ocean.
- Kokopelli Hostel – Paracas: Beach front hostel with a swimming pool and super cosy pod beds.
- Arequipay Backpackers – Arequipa: Comfortable and quiet. No parties here, just a great social vibe and an adorable dog. Her name is Kaila and she’s a boxer.
- Supertramp Hostel – Aguas Calientes: One of the only places to stay in Aguas Calientes, right outside of Machu Picchu, that isn’t a luxury hotel! They serve their complimentary breakfast early enough to accommodate those taking the first bus to Machu Picchu, which we recommend.
Things to do in Peru
Here are the best things to do and must-see attractions in Peru that shouldn’t be missed!
- Hiking and trekking: Peru is renowned for some of the most stunning hikes in the world. Of course, the Inca Trail is the most famous, but there are many great routes through the Sacred Valley, such as the Salkantay Trek or the Lares Trek. We recommend booking Alpaca Expeditions as your guide for either. Other popular multi-day adventures include the Colca Canyon trek near Arequipa and the Santa Cruz trek up north in Huaraz. Not quite up for a multi-day hike? Rainbow Mountain and Laguna 69 are two of the most popular day hikes in Peru! Note that you’ll need a guide to complete any of these hikes – independent hiking in Peru is not recommended.