This guide is written by George Alvarez, our resident Peru specialist! After traveling most of Central and South America, he settled in Lima and has made it his task to discover everything this breathtaking country has to offer and share his experiences. Learn more about George here.
This ultimate guide to Peru covers everything you’ll need to know about visiting this incredible South American nation.
From where to visit and what to pack, to visa requirements and my own tips, let’s get stuck in!
My Experience Backpacking Peru
I first arrived in Peru right at the start of this long, one-way backpacking trip I started back in July 2021.
My main reason for this was to head into the Amazon and take Ayahuasca, and just kind of see the sights from thereon after.
Honestly speaking, those 3 months that then followed in Peru were some of the best of my life, and is a testament as to why I’m living here now (and also why I won’t shut up about this country either!).
During this time I visited pretty much all corners and in-between of Peru, including popular areas like Cusco and Arequipa, whilst also venturing off the beaten path to places like Chachapoyas, Yurimaguas and Ayacucho.
You’ll find that there’s two sides to Peru.
The first is the touristy one, which is found throughout the southern backpacker loop (Lima, Ica, Arequipa, Cusco etc).
Whilst it’s good for experiences and meeting people, it’s overrun with tourism and less authentic.
The other side is the non-touristy one, which can be found in Northern Peru and the more remote areas (Cajamarca, Ayacucho etc). These areas are as unpolished and Peruvian as it can get, which means a both raw and visceral experience.
Some of my favourite things in Peru include the food (Papa Rellena is now a daily staple for me), flying around on a mototaxi, Arequipa, Yumbilla Falls, as well as Kennedy Park with all those cats just chilling and accepting pats as they please.
This period has, of course, not been without its lows too.
Food poisoning and altitude sickness were an all too common bane for me, catching me out more often than I would have hoped.
I did also have more issues with locals here than I did in any other country on this continent, but the destinations and sceneries more than made up for this little inconvenience.
Language: The main language spoken is Spanish, however there are also many indigenous languages spoken such as Quechua (mostly in the Andes and Jungle regions).
Currency: Peru uses the Peruvian Sol. Certain ATM’s do also dispense US Dollars, however these are used in few areas such as Lima, and are not reliable as your only means of purchasing.
Safety: Peru is one of the safer countries to visit within this continent, although you’ll still want to be cautious on public transport with your belongings, and also in certain areas of Lima and near the Ecuadorian border.
Vaccines: All travellers will want up-to-date vaccines for Peru, which include Hepatitis A & B, Typhoid and Yellow Fever. Those heading into the jungle will also want extra shots of Malaria or Rabies to prevent any more serious complications.
Religion: The majority of Peru is Catholic, which can be seen with its annual calendar full of religious events. It’s even more prominent in smaller towns and cities such as those located within the Andes.
Power Sockets: Peru uses both a two prong and three prong adapter depending on where you are. They also used 220 volt electricity, so be sure to get a solid adapter before leaving.
Local Sim Cards: Very important unless you want to rack up the costs using roaming! The very best providers are Claro and Intel, who offer a variety of different plans. I personally recommend Claro, which in my experience has had better coverage throughout Peru.
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Here you can spot many rare and exotic animals such as Pink River Dolphins, Jaguars, Snakes and Pirañas (you can even spend a day fishing for these nasties too!).
Iquitos is also a popular place to come and try Ayahuasca, which is a powerful plant medicine that is renowned for its healing properties for both the mind and body.
If you’re interested in this, then I recommend checking out Dreamglade, a retreat centre I can personally vouch for.
There are no roads to Iquitos, so to get here you’ll either need to fly from Lima, or take the multi-day boat ride from Pucallpa.
This is my all-time favourite destination in Peru!
Why, you may ask? Because here there's incredible waterfalls, a more humble way of life, mesmerising ruins and also a unique culture.
Chachapoyas is firmly off the beaten path of those heading around Peru, meaning you’ll be among the few tourists here.
Gocta Falls is the top sight here, although I also recommend visiting the lesser-known Yumbilla Falls - which at a height of 895m, is the fifth tallest waterfall in the world.
You’ll also want to visit the ruins of Kuelap that are perched on top of a mountain, which was once the kingdom of the Chachapoyas Culture. We recommend heading on this guided tour which includes hotel pick-up and drop-off.
The best way to get here is to fly to Tarapoto from Lima, and then take the 8 hour bus over.
The capital which most often overlook, however those who spend more time here may just end up loving it (like in my case).
The best areas to stay in are within Miraflores and Barranco, which are situated along the rocky cliffs of the Costa Verde that overlook the Pacific.
Surfing is a popular activity to do regardless of the time of year, and whilst here you’ll also want to head to the Larco Museum in the Pueblo Libre district, which is home to one of the most comprehensive collections of Inca artefacts in the continent.
The San Francisco Catacombs are another must-see, which are the second largest of its kind in the world (after those in Paris).
Whatever your interests, there are tons of things to do in Lima so don't miss out on spending some time in the capital.
There are daily direct flights to Lima from most continents, although you may find it cheaper to connect through Panama or Colombia if coming from further afield.
Peru is mostly known for its dizzying Andean peaks and sweltering Amazon Jungle.
However in the north, you’ll also find some stunning beaches which are very much needed after all of those tiring hikes.
Máncora is the most popular hotspot of all here, and is the best place to base yourself.
There are numerous quality beaches such as Las Pocitas and Punta Sal, where the conditions are also great for surfing (the waters will be more warm and comfortable compared with those in Lima).
Máncora is also known for its party and bustle, where you’ll find a great variety of nightlife and eating options both in town and along the main beach.
The bus from Lima to Máncora takes a lengthy 24 hours, so the preferred way of getting here is to first fly to nearby Piura, and then take the 2 hour bus to the town.
Here's a guide to Máncora that you might find helpful if you're planning a visit!
The undisputed hiking capital of Peru,Huaraz is a must-visit for those looking for some truly unforgettable treks and sceneries.
There are also some picturesque alpine lakes to explore too, such as Parón and the more difficult Laguna 69.
Huaraz itself is a typical, bustling Andean city, and is the best place to base yourself in this region. The city can be reached by Lima by bus, which takes around 6 hours.
Rounding off our top-10, we have the mysterious city of Nazca.
It’s best known for its Nazca Lines, which are perfectly etched into the nearby desert.
Over 2000 years old, these giant lines (some of which measure up to 130m long) form various sacred symbols, such as that of a Spider and a Monkey.
The best way to see these is by going with a reputable plane tour, who will point the many different geoglyphs out for you.
Whilst here, you’ll also want to visit the Chauchilla Cemetery, a chilling site which contains perfectly-preserved remains of those from the pre-Hispanic era, along with a variety of important artefacts.
Nazca is located 384 km south of Lima, with a direct bus taking 7 hours.
My 15 Favourite Things To Do In Peru
Now in no particular order, I’m going to go through 15 of the very best experiences I had in Peru, which I also recommend you try out too!
Like with any destination, there are places and activities that are just a rite of passage so you don't want to leave them off your itinerary.
For the ultimate Peru backpacking trip, try to include as many of the activities below as possible!
Amazon River Boat Tour from Iquitos
One of my first (and best) memories in Peru was riding along the Amazon River on a small wooden boat.
From Iquitos you can head to the nearby port town of Nanay, where you can hire your very own boat and driver for the day.
There are plenty of different spots worth stopping at along the way, including Mariposario, which is home to many exotic butterflies, of which you can also release one.
Along the river there’s also areas for catching Pirañas, getting to know the Bora Tribe as well as visiting the Serpentario which is home to two giant anacondas.
Hiking Mateo in Huaraz
The Cordillera Blanca is home to many unforgettable hiking treks and experiences, and I for one will be coming back soon for more.
Whilst in Huaraz I headed on the day trip up to the peak of Mateo, a 5150m snow-capped mountain.
This organised tour is great to head with, since you’ll need to drive for a few hours (leaving in the very early morning), which allows you to get a few more important hours of rest in.
Once there you’ll begin the hike, which involves rope climbing up rocky terraces and bypassing large boulders.
You’ll then reach the snow-line, and use crampons to finish the remaining part.
The hike up takes around 2/3 hours, and at the top you’ll have incredible views of the Cordillera Blanca and its stunning lakes beneath you.
Here's some more information about other treks in Huaraz if you're interested!
Exploring the Ventanillas de Otuzco from Cajamarca
The beauty of this particular ancient ruin is that it’s a very humble site, with virtually no other tourists or over the top facilities here.
Its main purpose was to serve as a necropolis, and here you’ll find a giant cliff which had been carved out to house the remains of several members of the Cajamarca culture (which preceded the Incas).
Whilst you can’t see any actual human remains per se, instead you’ll see dozens of windows into the giant rock, as well as a collection of ceramics and artefacts that date back as early as 200 A.D.
Walking the path to Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is an incredible site, don't get me wrong, however for me the experience was all about getting there.
Although I haven’t done it, I’m confident that the classic Inca Trail is the best option (given all the great reviews I’ve heard from others travellers and friends that have taken it on).
However I instead chose to do the more economical option of walking the train track to the nearby town of Aguascalientes, which I highly recommend.
During this 2/3 hour walk, you’ll pass by some enormous mountains, jungle vegetation as well as some enthusiastic locals (well, enthusiastic to sell you food and drink, which are still very much needed).
It’s a great way to get lost in your surroundings, and whilst the most popular way to get there, you’ll still find parts where it’s just yourself and nature.
I’ll admit I was a little hesitant at first, given my cousin used to have a guinea pig as a pet… however I also really wanted to try everything no matter what would end up happening!
Whilst I’ll leave the surprises up to you, I actually found it to be alright, although it can be expensive in the more touristy places.
Cuy can be found all over Peru, however it’s best in its native Andean regions, with Cusco being one of the best places to try it.
DEVA Cocina Andina is a great place that I can recommend just a couple of blocks south of the Plaza de Armas.
Be sure to let us know how your first experience went when trying this Andean staple!
Choosing Your Peru Itinerary
Once your heart is set on visiting this beautiful country, now comes the fun part of fleshing out your Peru itinerary.
Remember this country is pretty big, so distances between destinations will also need to be accounted for.
Below I’ve created several options for you depending on how much time you have available.
All of these itineraries follow the same pattern, where the two-week one will carry on from where the one-week left off, and so on etc.
Of course you can switch the destinations around if you'd rather explore more of the Amazon or spend more time in the Sacred Valley. That's the beauty of creating a Peru backpacking itinerary - the options are endless!
Days 1-3: Lima - We first start in the capital, and this will be enough time to visit major sights such as the Larco Museum, explore the districts of Barranco and the Historic Centre as well as a hike up to the viewpoint of Morro Solar.
Days 4-5: Huacachina - Two days is enough to visit this desert paradise, where you can go Sandboarding, ride a dune buggy around the desert and live it up in town. Any more and you may start to feel bored here…
Days 6-7: Paracas - Our last two days will be spent exploring the Ballestas Islands, and also the Paracas National Reserve. Paracas is also a great place to go windsurfing too. From here we’ll take the 2 hour bus back to Lima for our flight.
2 Week Peru Itinerary Ideas
Lima > Huacachina > Paracas > Nazca > Arequipa > Lima
Days 8-9: Nazca - Continuing on from Paracas, we’ll now spend a couple of days in the mysterious city of Nazca. The must-do activities here include flying over the Nazca lines and seeing the Chauchilla Cemetery.
Days 10-14: Arequipa - This is an amazing city, and if you have more time then aim to spend at least 5/6 days here. The stunning Colca Canyon is a must visit, along with hiking either of the two major volcanoes; Chachani and El Misti. From Arequipa you can either take the bus back or fly to Lima.
3 Week Peru Itinerary Ideas
Lima > Huacachina > Paracas > Nazca > Arequipa > Puno > Cusco > Lima
Day 15: Puno - Here we’ll visit the gorgeous Lake Titicaca, where the Uros islands are a highlight. Unless you’re planning on visiting the Bolivian side, I recommend spending just the day before hopping on a night bus to Cusco.
Days 16-21: Cusco - The most popular destination of all, Cusco has a tonne of things to see and do. The Machu Picchu hike will take you two days minimum, and you can also visit highlights such as the Sacred Valley and Ausangate National Park. If you have more time, I recommend spending around 7 days here. When heading back to Lima, you'll want to fly (which is still cheap), since the bus will take you 22 hours.
4 Week Peru Itinerary Ideas
Lima > Huacachina > Paracas > Nazca > Arequipa > Puno > Cusco > Iquitos > Lima
Day 21-23: Cusco - With a few more days in Cusco, we’ll now have the opportunity to go on the legendary Inca Trail. You can also spend a night in one of the cute towns of Ollantaytambo or Pisac.
Days 24-28: Iquitos - Last but definitely not least, we’ll now finally head to the Amazon Jungle. You’ll want to head on a multi-day trek here to see the very best highlights and exotic animals. You'll have to fly to Iquitos from Lima, so it’s worth booking a return flight.
When Is The Best Time To Visit Peru?
Peru is an extremely diverse country, with a variety of biomes ranging from jungle and mountains, to the desert and tropical northern coast.
Whilst this is awesome from a trip point of view, it can otherwise make things complicated when it comes to the weather.
The overall best time to visit Peru would be during the dry season, which for most destinations runs from May until September.
This period is characterised by comfortable daily temperatures and little rain.
The only downside is that many areas in the Andes can get pretty chilly, so be sure to bring extra layers with you!
The wet season has its advantages too, since it’s usually warmer in most of the country (making places like Puno more bearable).
As well as this, it’s also a great time to visit as it's the low season, which means accommodation and flight costs are cheaper.
The obvious disadvantage of heading during the wet season is the fact that it rains more, but a good ol’ poncho will be your best friend here!
We recommend checking out WeatherSpark for specific destinations.
A special case to mention here is The Amazon jungle, since it’s going to be pretty hot and wet year-round.
May until October is the dry season, where the river banks shrink and give us a better chance of spotting rare mammals such as the elusive Jaguar.
Those who want to head deeper by river, or see more marine species such as Pirañas, will want to head in the wet season (from November until late April).
Backpacking Peru: Sorting Your Peru Visa
Of course every country is different, so you’re going to need to research what your specific requirements are for entering Peru.
The majority of foreigners entering Peru will be given a 90 day Visa on arrival.
Unfortunately Peru no longer gives tourist visa extensions, so 90 days is the maximum you’ll have here. Every extra day you stay will currently (December 2022) incur a fee of 4.60 Soles (which is just over a dollar).
This Peru guide by LimaEasy is a great read for more information on Peruvian Tourist Visas!
How Do You Get To Peru?
There are several different ways of getting to Peru, however for most of you reading, the only suitable method will be by flight.
Flying into Peru
The main international hub in Peru is the Jorge Chávez Airport, which is located in the capital of Lima.
It’s one of the best connected airports in the South American continent, and is really easy to fly to from major cities within the Western Hemisphere.
Routes that I’ve found to be the best in terms of prices are from Mexico City (Mexico) and Medellin (Colombia).
Whilst there are direct flights from other continents around the world, you may find it cheaper to first stop in Panama or Mexico on your way into Peru.
Crossing Land Borders
Peru is bordered by 3 countries - Ecuador, Bolivia and Brazil.
The two first ones are the most common and easy to cross from into Peru.
Ecuador lies north of Peru, and the land border will take you into Tumbes.
This is not the safest border, so I personally recommend doing this crossing only during the day.
Bolivia is located south of Peru, which is split with Peru by the mesmerising Lake Titicaca.
Most head by bus from Copacabana to Puno on the Peruvian shore of the lake, and having done this I have to admit it was a very easy, no fuss crossing.
The other way is by lake, however this will be on a hydrofoil boat, and will be more expensive (as it’s an all-in-one tour style package).
Brazil borders Peru to the east, within the dense Amazon jungle.
Those who made it to Tabatinga on the Brazilian side can cross into Peru by boat - a ride that takes multiple days before arriving into Iquitos.
Getting Around Peru
Not too far ago, in a closely distant past, getting around Peru would have been a serious ballache.
The terrain here is split between coast, rugged Andes and dense jungle, meaning it would have taken days to travel between different places.
Thankfully there have been improvements in many places, but some routes and lesser developed areas are still going to be a challenge, albeit a lesser one thanks to the invention of the good ol’ aeroplane.
Most major cities have their own regional airports, which means you can cut travel times to a small fraction.
You’ll almost always need to fly from Lima to the destination (or vice versa), since smaller cities don’t often connect up too well between themselves.
Whilst you’ll save on time, flights do cost more than buses of course.
Having said that though, domestic flights in Peru can be pretty cheap (especially with airlines such as Sky), so be sure to compare with buses.
I recommend using SkyScanner to compare all routes and providers.
On some routes it’s mandatory to fly, unless you have lots of time to travel there in an alternative way.
The main one here is when heading to Iquitos, as there’s no roads leading here.
The simple flight from Lima takes just 2 hours, whilst the combination of buses and boat from the capital will take you multiple days to get to this jungle city!
By far the most simple way to get around Peru is by bus.
Pretty much all major destinations are reachable within 18 hours from Lima (whilst this still sounds a lot, just trust me that this is a very good thing when compared with other nearby countries).
There are many bus companies that serve different portions of the country.
Some of my go-to’s include Otursa and MóvilBus.
You can compare all routes, providers and departure times here on RedBus.
Whilst you’d think buses here are going to be crammed and uncomfortable, think again!
Of all the countries I’ve visited in Latin America, Peru surprised me the most when it came to bus travel.
They have 180° convertible seats, and the drivers are pretty solid too (they drive safely as well as needing zero stops on long-haul rides).
The only downsides are that the bus can get quite cold (they never turn off the AC), and that locals don’t know how to use headphones.
If you want guaranteed good sleep, then bring extra layers as well as quality noise canceller headphones.
Travelling around Peru by boat is another method, which is more common between destinations along the Amazon river.
The most popular route is from Pucallpa to Iquitos, which takes a lengthy 4 days!
Whilst it’s not the quickest, if you have the time it’s really worth it since you’ll head deep into the remote Amazon and see incredible wildlife along the way.
The only real other option of getting around Peru would be driving, however I really recommend against it personally.
However, I recommend using Booking.com and Airbnb when looking for accommodation. Here you’ll be able to use the map on each app to focus your search to these better areas.
It’ll also be easier to find what's best for your particular budget too.
For those living the backpacker lifestyle, you'll find no shortage of quirky hostels in Peru!
However, there are also plenty of mid-range and luxurious options too if you don't mind splashing the cash.
Peru Travel Guide: How To Dress
Peru is quite a conservative country, so you’ll still find many locals wearing traditional Peruvian garments out and about (even more so in the Andes).
Also, as many are still poor, it’s best to leave flashy accessories and designer suits at home.
Not only for your own personal safety (all kinds of eyes will be looking at your Rolex, and not just the good kinds either), but there’s simply no need.
In parts of Lima you can get away with this, as well as in more tourist-heavy areas such as Máncora and Huacachina.
What To Pack For Peru
As we covered earlier in this article, Peru is home to numerous climates and environments.
This can make packing somewhat confusing, however not impossible as we mention here in our comprehensive Peru packing list.
In all likeliness you’ll be visiting Cusco, which means you’re going to want to bring warm layers.
This city along with other popular spots in the Andes (such as Huaraz) are notoriously cold, given their high altitude.
A solid pair of hiking boots is an essential bring for all of those treks you’re going to be heading on!
There’s also going to be hot areas too like Máncora, the Amazon Jungle and Huacachina (the latter during the day at least).
Shorts, vests and a nice pair of flip flops will come in handy in these areas.
Given Peru has so many different microclimates, it’ll take a champion strategist to work out exactly what’s needed in every place.
For those of you (like me) who don’t have the desire or time to work everything out, then you’re going to want to bring a solid raincoat regardless.
Whilst some areas like Lima and Arequipa have very little rain, there are other areas that are prone to downpours. The Amazon Jungle is one of these regions and it's going to be quite wet regardless of when you head there.
Brad LOVES these flip flops and I have to say they’re the best pair he has ever bought. They are high quality, comfortable and you can open beer bottles with them (oh yeah!). He uses them for the beach, walking up mountains, long walks, everything and they last long!
You’re going to want to document your travels and if you want a camera that takes high quality pictures and super high quality videos, then I suggest the Canon G7x Mark II. It’s what we use for 80% of our pics and videos. Get a Go Pro for cool underwater pics.
Rather than carrying around actual books, a Kindle is a far more practical item to have with you, and you can download as many books as you want for just a few dollars each. The Kindle Fire also lets you browse the internet, so saves you taking a tablet with you as well, if you're that way inclined.
If you're keen to learn more about the history of Sri Lanka, then this is a great book. It covers everything through from ethnical origins of Sri Lanka's population, all the way up to modern day tourism.
Lonely Planet have long been the go-to provider of travel guide books for all countries around the world. Personally, we have never paid for one, but instead look out for them in hostels and hotels! But they certainly are in-depth, so long as you get the latest edition. Which is crucial for Sri Lanka. We read a Lonely Planet Guide book for Sri Lanka that was dated 2004 and which described how hostile and dangerous the country is! Which, I suppose, it was at the time. What with the civil war and all ...
Personally, we always opt for Rough Guides as opposed to Lonely Planet. They do some great itinerary and off-the-beaten-track suggestions. So, if you’re looking for more travel inspiration, then go for Rough Guides.
This Divided Island is an incredibly popular book that has been nominated for, and win, some very highly praised awards. It offers deep insight into what life was like during the recent Sri Lankan civil war.
Island Of A Thousand Mirrors looks at the deep rooted conflict that exists between the Tamil and Sinhalese peoples of Sri Lanka. It does so through the eyes of two young girls, each of whom who come from a different cultural upbringing but still wish to remain friends despite their differences.
Finally, here are two books, completely unrelated to Sri Lanka, but which Cazzy enjoyed during her time here. Cecelia Ahern is her favourite author and Marble Collector and Flawed proved to be yet another two great novels by the world-renowned author.
Peru has been a special country for me, and I tend to hear the same from friends and other travellers who also make the visit.
Those who want an action-packed adventure, to see epic landscapes, as well as explore a rich culture will love Peru.
Like with any country, however, it does of course have its downsides but these are pretty minimal here (especially when compared with other South American nations that are either more dangerous or expensive!).
Peru has become quite touristy (mostly in the south), which can sometimes feel over the top or repetitive when visiting many different stops (especially with those gawking vendors who won’t leave Gringos alone).
However there are also many areas to explore where you can get to know the real, authentic Peru.
I hope you’ve found this backpackers guide to Peru useful!
If you have any questions then please comment below, or likewise if you have any of your own pro tips to help other travellers then feel free to share.
Here are some other guides that include nifty travel tips and tricks to help make sure your Peru trip runs that much smoother:
I’m a freelance writer who specialises in writing about Latin America. I absolutely adore this part of the world, and have made it my de facto home. I’ve been travelling these continents for many years, and don’t plan on stopping anytime soon!