Tips for Traveling in Peru on a Backpacker’s Budget
This blog is aimed primarily at backpackers who want to travel in Peru independently and on a relatively tight budget. With that in mind, here are some of my top tips for traveling in Peru like an ambling indigent or a total tightwad, both of which I’m pretty good at…
Firstly a quick tip: If travelling to or from the airport to Miraflores Lima. There is now a direct bus link between the two with the new official Airport Express Lima. Free Wi-Fi, USB charging ports, no baggage restrictions and a cheap price make this a really good option for travellers.
Peru Budget Travel Tips
So, in no particular order, here are a few tips and tricks for traveling in Peru as cheaply as possible. Some of these might be detrimental to your physical or mental health, in which case don’t blame me (that’s my disclaimer).
- Avoid travel agencies. Don’t blow your budget on booking a tour with a travel agency if you can visit a site or attraction through a local tour operator. If you are interested in a trip to Peru we strongly recommend to check out FindLocalTrips.com, a tour comparison website which allows you to book directly with the tour operator, thus cutting out the middleman and getting the best price possible.
- Avoid ATM fees if possible. This may well be easier said than done; I’ve been living in Peru for years and still pay annoyingly significant withdrawal fees when taking cash out from my U.K. account. But there may be ways for you to avoid some, if not all, fees depending on your bank (Scotiabank, for example, is part of the Global ATM Alliance and has many ATMs in Peru). Have a chat with your bank before you travel.
- Buy souvenirs from the manufacturer and as far away from touristy locations as possible. Prices in tourist-orientated shops and markets in places like Miraflores (especially on or around Parque Kennedy) or central Cusco might be twice as much as you’d find in regular markets away from the hordes of foreign tourists.
- Don’t provide thieves with easy opportunities. There’s a lot of opportunistic theft in Peru, so don’t leave things where they can be stolen. If your camera is stolen one week in to your one month holiday, you’ll either have to buy a new camera (putting a significant dent in your travel budget) or go home sin fotos.
- Learn some Spanish. Your chances of being overcharged, ripped-off, shafted or otherwise unfavorably screwed are much higher if you don’t know at least a little of the local lingo. Mastering just a few basic phrases along with Spanish numbers will help you haggle in shops and negotiate prices in all kinds of situations, from taxi rides to having your photo taken with a llama.
- Don’t assume that hostels are the cheapest option in terms of accommodation. Hostels often target the foreign backpacker crowd rather than Peruvian travelers, so you’ll frequently find better rooms at better prices in alojamientos and hospedajes (guesthouses), as well as in some hotels.
- Ditch hangers-on and local leeches. You’ll sometimes find that super-(suspiciously)-friendly Peruvians — especially those who approach you in the street — turn out to be total leeches when it comes to foreign tourists and their supposed wealth. They’ll jovially suggest going to a bar or restaurant, but with absolutely zero intention of paying for anything (but keep in mind that men are often expected to pick up the bill for female companions). If you’re traveling on a tight budget and don’t want to pay for others, be a little cautious in social situations.
- Travel by bus. Yep, it may take a while, but slow travelers can save a lot of money traveling with Peru’s bus companies instead of Peru’s domestic airlines, which tend to be quite expensive.
- Travel by bus at night. OK, so this is a little controversial, but traveling by bus at night can save you the expense of a hostel or hotel room. It’s safer to travel by day along Peru’s sometimes treacherous roads, so you’ll have to make your own mind up about the nighttime option. Some roads, of course, are more dangerous than others, and should only be traveled by day (for example, the Tingo Maria to Tarapoto road, which bandits still sometimes plunder at night). The viability of night travel also depends on your ability to sleep on the bus — if you can’t sleep, you’ll arrive exhausted and waste the day recovering from your journey, which kind of defeats the purpose of night travel…
- Rise and shine, it’s breakfast time! And that’s a free breakfast, don’t forget. Your hung-over head won’t appreciate it, but shoestring backpackers should never miss a free meal. Drag your bones out of bed and eat the free breakfast that most hostels provide. Then go back to bed.
- Don’t be afraid to haggle. Firstly, Peru is a haggling nation. Secondly, there’s a good chance that you’re being overcharged, especially by taxi drivers. If the price seems unreasonable, use your Spanish skills for a spot of negotiation.
- You booze, you lose (money, that is). Beer is fairly cheap in Peru, but a whole shitload of beer is expensive wherever you are. If your budget is rapidly diminishing, try to keep the drinking sessions under control.
- Don’t tip like a petrolero. Guys who work within the Peruvian oil business — known as petroleros — typically earn silly money and therefore leave silly tips in bars and restaurants. Wealthy tourists also have a tendency to tip excessively, leaving us mere mortals looking like cheapskates. That’s fine, because Peru isn’t really a big tipping nation. Feel free to leave a tip — it’s always appreciated — but don’t feel like there’s any pressure to do so (apart from in upscale restaurants, where a tip may be expected, and when tipping tour guides etc.). Read my guide to tipping in Peru for more info.
- Cook in your hostel kitchen. If your hostel has a kitchen, cooking for yourself can be a very cheap way to eat. If you can be bothered. And as long as your fellow backpackers don’t steal your food from the communal fridge.
- Set prices in advance — and only pay on completion. This simple rule will help you avoid all manner of financial shenanigans and unpleasant situations.
- Know how to spot a scam. That’s easier said than done, but learning about some of the more common scams in Peru will help you keep one step ahead of unscrupulous estafadores.
- Get to know the local currency. It’s all too easy to make mistakes when handling unfamiliar foreign currency. You might not notice if you’re short-changed, and you might mistakenly hand over too much money. The sooner you get to know the nuevo sol, the sooner you’ll minimize the risk of mistakes.
- Beware of fake money. Peru is one of the leading counterfeiting nations in the world, so always keep an eye out for fake money in Peru, including nuevos soles and U.S. dollars.
- Make use of the Peruvian set-lunch menú, a very affordable lunchtime option found throughout Peru. Warning: while many menús are very tasty and excellent value, some are downright awful, so choose wisely and ask for recommendations. You can read more about the Peruvian menú here.
- Don’t be scared of street food. Unless you spot something obviously wrong with a street-side eatery, don’t be afraid to get stuck in (ignore the chicken feet, which are standard in Peru). Parrillas, the ubiquitous street grills found throughout Peru, offer real bargain meals at night. In Tarapoto, for example, many tourists spend more than S/.20 for a plate of grilled chicken and tacacho at a respectable restaurant, while nearby street grills sell a comparable version for as little as S/.6. The plate might be made of paper and the cutlery of plastic, but I’m sure you can cope with that.
ENTERTAINMENT TIP: If looking for fun at night, or to watch sports during the day, or even a taste of home, visit the Wild Rover Hostels Chain for great food, sports and beer! Entrance to their bars is free even for non-guests
More Tips for Cheap Travel in Peru?
If you have any more money-saving tips for traveling in Peru, feel free to leave them in the comments section below. Thanks, and happy travels.