There’s more to Peru than Machu Picchu. In this quick guide, we compile the basics about travel and backpacking in Peru to help you get the most from your trip.
Peru is a land of incredible changing terrains and historical intrigue. Few countries offer so much beauty to explore and stories to discover. From the vast Amazon jungle to the sweeping Pacific coast, and the masses of desert and Andean mountains in between – this is a country like no other. This guide to backpacking in Peru compiles all the basic essentials for planning your trip. See also our choice of Peru itineraries for suggested routes.
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Peru travel: the basics
Currency: Peruvian sol (PEN). See the latest exchange rates at xe.com.
Safety: Peru is generally a very safe country to visit. The country welcomes millions of tourists every year, and most trips are without incident – violent crime is very rare. Petty crime does occur, especially in cities and busy tourist places, so it’s best to read about the most common scams in Peru before you travel. Get travel insurance to make sure you are protected; we recommend World Nomads.
Language: Spanish is the primary language in Peru, and is spoken by over 80% of the population. Here are some basic Spanish phrases for travellers. Regional indigenous languages include Quechua and Aymara.
Best time to visit: Peru’s dry season (May–October) is a great time to visit as the conditions are great for getting outdoors. The warmer wet season (November–April) is quieter, but heavy rain is frequent, especially around January. May is lovely as the vegetation is still lush from the rain.
Top experiences and attractions in Peru
Best tours in Peru
We recommend G Adventures for small group adventure tours in Peru. We believe they’re the best in the business – they’ve been doing it for years, and only work with the most talented and knowledgeable local staff. We did the classic Inca Trail with them, and it gave us a memory to last for a lifetime – you can read about our experience here.
Another reason we use G Adventures is their strong ethical values; they are committed to treating their staff well and protecting the local environment. They run several tours in Peru in addition to the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. These are their most popular Peru tours:
The Inca Trail is not the only hiking option. Our Peru trekking guide reveals 35 amazing trails from the Andes to the ocean.
The desert oasis of Huacachina is a mecca for adventure. Our guide to Huacachina covers it all from sandboarding to dune buggying.
Discovering the cities of Peru
While Peru is most famed for its stunning landscapes and Inca heritage, the country is also dotted with many vibrant cities that are packed with culture, colour and history. These are the country’s most compelling cities to visit:
Lima is the capital city and Peru’s hub of culture and commerce. Our 2-day Lima itinerary explores what you can do on a short visit.
Iquitos is the largest city in the Peruvian Amazon, only accessible by boat or plane. Find activity ideas in our Iquitos travel guide.
Cusco, the gateway to Machu Picchu, is a spectacular and historic mountain city. Here are our top picks on things to do in Cusco.
Arequipa, the ‘White City’, stands under the shadow of the colossal Misti Volcano. These are the top things to do in Arequipa.
Food and drink in Peru
Peru is fast gaining worldwide recognition for its cuisine, and rightly so. We haven’t found better food anywhere! Below we have compiled some of the classic dishes, drinks and food tours to try in Peru.
What to eat in Peru
Ceviche – the national dish, and our favourite! Raw white fish marinated in citrus and herbs, served with sweet potato and corn.
Causa – a mashed potato and lemon paste dish that comes with a variety of fillings and toppings, as artistic as it is delicious.
Juane – an Amazonian specialty consisting of rice, chicken and olives wrapped and boiled inside a giant bijao leaf.
Lomo saltado – tender strips of beef marinated and fried up with onions, peppers and other veg, served with rice and chips.
Papa a la Huancaína – Slices of boiled yellow potato lathered in a spicy and creamy cheese sauce.
Cuy (guinea pig) – yes, roasted guinea pig is a popular delicacy in Peru, particularly in Andean cities like Cusco.
What to drink in Peru
Pisco sour – the classic national cocktail, comprised of pisco brandy with lime juice, syrup, egg white and Angostura bitters.
Chicha morada – a sweet non-alcoholic drink made from a purple corn grown in the Andes (also used for chicha de jora corn beer).
Inca Kola – this sweet fruity soda, bright and golden in colour, is a national icon and has been made for nearly a century.
Peruvian beer – popular premium lagers Cusqueña, Pilsen Callao and Cristal are owned by the same national brewery, Backus.
La Candelaria, February – major cultural festival held in Puno, with music and dancing on the shores of Lake Titicaca
Arequipa Week, August – a week of festivities, art displays, special markets and music to celebrate Peru’s second city
Getting around Peru
We love to travel by bus in Peru. the dramatic landscapes make for some beautiful road journeys. Busbud is a very useful service for finding and booking the best services.
Peru’s major cities are connected by flight routes, and it can be a good value option if you book in advance. Use Skyscanner to search flight route options and the best prices.
The country’s mountainous geography means there are few rail connections, but those that do exist are spectacular. Peru Rail operates the iconic Belmond Andean Explorer and Titicaca Train journeys.
Accommodation in Peru
Peru welcomes over 4 million tourists every year, and is well set up with a variety of accommodation options for all budgets. Below we have compiled the best budget accommodation in Peru’s most popular cities. Search booking.com to find hotels, hostels, apartments and lodges of all styles.
Packing for Peru is tricky as the climate can be unpredictable, and what you need to take really depends on what you plan to do on your trip. Our Inca Trail packing list covers all the essentials you need to pack for hiking trips, combating the elements and coping with altitude challenges. See also our guides to the best backpacks and hiking boots for outdoor activities.
Money and costs in Peru
Peru is not an expensive country in general, but prices vary significantly depending on location. As you would expect, major cities and tourist hotspots like Lima and Cusco are pricier than lesser visited places.
Our guide to Peru trip costs details what we spent on our own trip through the country, along with tips on saving money and useful tools for budgeting.
One of the best ways to whet your appetite for an upcoming trip is to read about the destination. Peru is a country of great historic and cultural significance, and thousands of books have been written about it over the years. Here are some classics to try:
The Peru Reader by Orin Starn, Carlos Iván Degregori and Robin Kirk (a collection of historic and cultural texts)
The Boiling River by Andrés Ruzo (the adventures of a scientist who tries to find a legendary river in the Amazon)
Get our free brief guide to Peru
Our series of brief guides gives quick information on the essentials you need to know about travel destinations. Our Peru edition condenses the information on this page with some quick travel tips. Get the guide for free by subscribing to our regular emails using the form below.