Peru is a country that has so much to offer, and it knows how to deliver. There is so much to see and do when Peru backpacking that we recommend taking it as slow as possible; we had 4 weeks in the country and still didn’t have time to visit some of the places we’d originally planned to, such as Huaraz. Peru is a beast to tackle, so give yourself a fighting chance by not rushing through this amazing country. If you are short on time though, we’ve put together a 2 week itinerary for backpacking Peru for you to catch the best of the best.
Some general tips for you to note before backpacking Peru…
Save extra money for excursions when backpacking Peru
Peru is land of the tourist trap – and not necessarily even in a bad way. It’s home to so many must-sees, including Machu Picchu and Rainbow Mountain, that you just can’t miss out on. For this reason, Peru has been the country in which we’ve spunked the most cash on organised tours, even if we’ve always gone for the cheapest option we could find. We normally try to stay away from organised tours, but when backpacking Peru there are several things that you can’t do unless you have a proper guide or at least the help of a private transportation company. If you don’t mind travelling with others, G Adventures offers some absolutely fantastic small group tours of Peru to get you through all the highlights – the 21-day Inca Heartland is an itinerary we’d definitely recommend, but there are lots of others to choose from.
Healthcare in Peru is cheap – but you get what you pay for
It was on our first night in Peru, in Puno, that we decided the Bolivia Bug had finally gotten the best of us and we heading to the Emergency Room at 4am. While we didn’t have to wait too long, and our consultation with a doctor cost 12 soles or £2.70 each, it has to be said that the hygiene wasn’t fantastic in this hospital (pools of blood should not be left on the floor of consultation rooms for hours on end, for example). If you happen to fall ill in Puno and can hold out until you get to a bigger, more developed city, we recommend you do. Remember that you will need to bring your passport to register to receive medical attention.
As always, even if the medical bills for consultations in a country are cheap, don’t ever travel without travel insurance. You never know what’s around the corner for you. We recommend Travel Insurance 4 Medical, as we’ve had a great experience with them through our long-term travels.
There is a malaria risk in some parts of Peru
There is a risk of malaria in Peru, but generally only in the north where things get decidedly more jungly. If sticking to main cities you should be fine, but plan ahead for malaria tablets if you want to head inland to explore the Amazon, such as Iquitos. Malaria tablets can be bought over the counter from pharmacies in Peru, and will be a lot cheaper than if you were to buy them at home for North Americans.
Backpacking Peru using independently is easy-peasy
When it comes to getting around on your own without a guide, Peru makes things really simple. Buses in Peru are FANTASTIC. We genuinely looked forward to night buses, because we knew we’d have a comfier sleep on them than the average hostel bed. Always choose a full cama for night buses (180 degrees is a bonus), and where possible use either Civa’s Excluciva range or Reyna in the south. Both have excellent comfort (sometimes even massagers built into the seats!) and great on-board service with full meals. A reason in itself to travel to Peru!
Taking taxis is also very easy in Peru, with Ubers being available in large cities and normal taxis cheap as long as you agree a price first or specify that you want it to be on the meter.
Peru is more equipped for tourism than its neighbours
Years of a heavy flow of tourism have made the Peruvian people fairly adept at catering to tourists who travel to Peru, and the tourism infrastructure is noticeably more developed and efficient in Peru than other countries in the region. We would account the pull of Machu Picchu bringing in foreigners of all ages and cultures to this – Peru has enjoyed international interest for a lot longer than many of its neighbours. This is both a good thing and a bad thing, in our view. On the one hand, it’s easy to find routes between destinations, Peruvian tour guides tend to speak good English (though you may struggle with finding English-speakers outside of the tourism industry), infrastructure is better than some of the other South American countries and there are established ways for travellers to go and visit the attractions of Peru. For beginner travellers without Spanish skills, we would say backpacking Peru is a great place to start.
However, this does of course mean that Peru takes in A LOT of tourists, and some places can feel a little crowded. During the busiest months of June-August, you need to be planning some of your excursions ahead of your trip (especially Machu Picchu) and getting your accommodation booked in before you arrive. It can be a little harder to traipse off the beaten track when backpacking Peru just because there are so many things to see around the country that already have good tourism infrastructure linking them, so you have to really go off piste to feel like you’re deep in the authentic depths of Peruvian life.
Altitude can take some getting used to
Peru actually boasts having the highest permanent settlement in the world, La Rinconada, which sits at over 5000m altitude. While that’s not necessarily top of tourists’ bucketlists, there are plenty of other popular destinations in Peru (namely Rainbow Mountain) that will require acclimatisation. As it’s not linked to physical fitness, you’ll never know how you’ll react to altitude until you’re experiencing it, so give yourself the best chance of acclimatisation by starting low (i.e. Lima) and slowly working your way up to higher grounds. Don’t plan too much physical activity in the first day or two of reaching a high altitude place. If you do struggle with altitude in Peru, pharmacies will stock some medicines to help, but you can also try the local remedy of chewing coca leaves. Make sure you’re drinking lots of water and avoiding alcohol until the altitude sickness passes over.
The entry requirements for Machu Picchu changed recently
In order to control the environmental damage done by so many thousands of feet shuffling all over the historical ruins every year, Machu Picchu has put some new requirements in place for visitors and begun limiting the number of tickets available each day. To see these new rules, check out our guide to getting to Machu Picchu in 2020.
When’s the best time to visit Peru?
As always, we recommend travelling during the shoulder season. That means the best time to visit Peru is October-November or May in our opinion, when it might not be the hottest temperature, but both rainfall and footfall are lower. It’s very worth noting that due to high rainfall the official Inca Trail is closed during the entire month of February each year. We we actually backpacking Peru during the whole month of February though and it wasn’t horrendous by any means.
28th July is one particular date to try and absolutely avoid as it’s hugely popular with locals to travel during the festivities of Peru Independence Day.
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