Travelers arriving from Chile will find Peru refreshingly cheap as their money goes further on accommodation, food and everything in between. Having said that, a bit of local know-how can bring daily expenditures down even further, allowing a modest budget to stretch for months on end. Here’s how to travel Peru as cheaply as possible.
Eat like a local
Give those gringo restaurants a miss and suss out a local eatery where hearty three course lunchtime specials go for just a couple of bucks a pop. Keep an eye out for smaller, family run establishments or market stalls with a sign out the front saying Menú. Quality varies greatly so it’s always best to choose places that are packed with locals.
Although self-catering can save a bit of coin, it’s not a huge amount considering the time and hassle involved. That said, those traveling in a group will be financially better off by frequenting the local market and cooking up a feast in the hostel kitchen.
Know the buses
There are literally hundreds of companies throughout Peru competing with one another, so it pays to shop around and ask for discounts on last minute departures. Traveling overnight is another solid tip to save on a night’s accommodation. Seat prices vary greatly depending on the level of comfort.
Normal: A fairly small, rigid seat which only reclines a marginal amount.
Semi-Cama: Bigger and able to recline around 45 degrees which makes for a decent night sleep.
Cama: The crème de la crème, cama seats lie completely (or nearly) flat, almost like a real bed. Although much more expensive, they are a godsend on those 20-hour-plus overland journeys.
Stay in a hotel
Backpacker orientated hostels with 10 people to a room might be the best place to meet other travelers, but that doesn’t mean they are the cheapest. Locally operated hospedajes, alojamientos and residencials (all essentially the same thing) offer unbeatable value for money, especially for those traveling in a group. Just be sure to examine the room thoroughly before checking in because some of them can be a bit grubby, to put it mildly.
Know when to take a tour
Guided tours aren’t always necessary as many attractions can easily be visited solo. However, some tours are so cheap the minimal extra expense is totally worth it for the comfort and ease involved. Examples include the Colca Canyon and the Santa Cruz treks, where all the logistics are taken care of for a ridiculously cheap price.
Work out the public transport system
Every city in Peru has a series of buses, vans and trufis (shared taxis) to ferry passengers anywhere they want to go. It might seem a little intimidating at first, but the system can be conquered with some patience and basic Spanish. Check destinations on the windshield and ask a friendly local when in doubt. For those times when a taxi is unavoidable, always agree on a price before setting off.
Pro tip: Download a Google Map (type “ok maps”) of the region you are in and use GPS to keep track of your location, even offline.
Don’t take the train to Machu Picchu
It’s a rip off, plain and simple. Unbeknownst to many, budget conscious backpackers can get to Aguas Calientes by taking a series of buses and taxis to a nearby hydro-electrical station before embarking on a picturesque three hour hike along the train tracks.
Learn the lingo
For backpackers spending long periods of time in South America, taking Spanish classes is a worthwhile investment. Knowing a bit of the language allows travelers to negotiate better rates and effortlessly navigate the public transport system. Being able to interact with the locals and become bi-lingual is a pretty good bonus too.
Watch out for theft
Almost all Peruvians are honest, hard working people. Unfortunately, however, there are a few bad apples who will jump on the opportunity to relieve a rich gringo of their belongings. Keep an eye out for pickpockets in crowded areas and opportunistic thieves on overnight buses. Counterfeit money can be a problem as well.
Be smart with withdrawals
Some ATMs charge additional fees in Peru while others don’t. Experiment to find out which companies aren’t charging and stick to them like glue. Better yet, before leaving home acquire an ATM card that doesn’t charge international withdrawal fees to really save some cash.