For young whippersnappers and seasoned voyagers alike, Peru is fast becoming one of the most popular travel destinations in South America. Its success is reflected in the ever-increasing influx of tourists (growing annually at a rate of 25 per cent since 2008), eager to sample the delicious melting pot of different cultures, cuisine, landscapes, and archaeology.
Peru is most famous for its ancient civilisations, in particular the Inca. Few tourists would consider a trip to Cusco without wishing to visit the formidable Machu Picchu. There is also the inevitable flight over the Nasca Lines and even perhaps a voyage through the Amazon Rainforest.
However, these trips are usually planned well in advance, as tours can be booked from the comfort of your own home or through a travel agent. They may be a little costly, but are certainly worth spending on if you can afford it. Flights to Peru can also be painfully steep, particularly if you are coming from Europe.
With this in mind, by the time tours have been booked and flights paid for, travel budgets are often on the lower end of the scale. Fortunately, Peru is not an expensive country in terms of accommodation, coach travel, and for the most part, activities. Don’t fall into the trap of booking everything in advance online, as you will end up spending more than necessary. With just a little planning and a keen eye, there are some fantastic things to do and see in Peru that won’t burn a hole in your pocket.
To help give you some inspiration, we present eight of our favourite budget activities in Peru:
Barter at the markets in Lima
“Love at first sight” is not a phrase often associated with the capital city of Lima. The weather is often drab and the air polluted, making this concrete jungle seem rather grey. However, the city is a stopover for international flights, so it is likely you will have to spend some time here. Fortunately, there is plenty of colour to be found at the Inca Market in Miraflores, where you can do a spot of souvenir shopping and make the most of Peru’s bartering-culture.
Bartering in the markets can be quite the challenge, and there are few things more rewarding than striking a good deal. On top of this, it’s a great excuse to start up a rapport with some of the locals. There is always a temptation just to socialise with fellow hostel-goers, which is fine, but you will probably find your experience of Peru is much-enriched if you get to know some of the people who actually live there.
Have a giggle at the Larco Museum
Another popular attraction in Lima is the Larco Museum, which has an absolutely fabulous collection of pre-Columbian art. Located in the Pueblo Libre District of the city, the museum showcases over 4,000 years of Peruvian history. The collection is both vast and varied, with cases and cases of ceramic figurines partaking in huge range of ritual and domestic activities. There is even a ceramic vessel depicting a man picking his nose!
The most popular aspect of the museum is the gallery of Moche erotic art. The Moche produced some of the finest examples of pre-Columbian pottery, and also the sauciest. Phallus-shaped vessels, masturbating skeletons, and some truly unabashed sexual acts are all depicted in impressive detail. I challenge anyone to walk through the exhibition with the straight face.
Entrance: 30 PEN (less than US$10)
Go horse riding in Arequipa
Arequipa, also known as the ‘White City’ is located in the southern region of Peru, and is a popular destination for travellers due to its vibrant culture and stunning countryside. Most of the hostels advertise horse riding trips on the outskirts of the city, providing the perfect excuse to partake in a little budget adventure.
Trips last a couple of hours, and previous experience with horses is not required. You will get the chance to ride across the stunning countryside in full view of Mount Misti, a volcano with a height of almost 20,000 feet. Paths tend to be a little off the beaten track, thus providing a sense of adventure while avoiding any real danger.
Chill out with the condors at Colca Canyon
If you are planning a visit to Arequipa, consider sparing an extra day to book a trip to the nearby(ish) Colca Canyon. The colourful Andean valley is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, and boasts some of the most spectacular views in Southern Peru. It is also home to the magnificent Andean Condors, which are often sighted at close range from the canyon walls.
Morning trips to Colca Canyon can be booked from most hostels in Arequipa. You will have to get up very early in the morning to make the bus journey of 100 miles or to the canyon, but it will all be worth it when you turn up in virtual solitude to watch the condors glide through the air before your eyes. Once you have taken in some of the splendid views, you will be taken to on of the nearby villages where you can purchase souvenirs or have your picture taken hugging a llama. As silly as it sounds, it’s a rather fun way to top off the morning.
Go to Lake Titicaca for the ‘Disney’ experience
Lake Titicaca is on the border between Peru and Bolivia. By volume of water, it is the largest lake in South America, and is quite a sight to behold: a panorama of perfectly calm, deep blue water dotted with islands of all shapes and sizes. Among these are the Uros, a group of 44 artificial islands made of floating reeds. The reeds are used by the islands’ communities in everything from building houses and boats to cookery.
Several of the Uros are open to the public, and for a small fee – around 20 soles (£5/$8/€6) you can book a half-day tour from Puno that includes a 45-minute boat trip to the Uros, a tour through several of the islands, and an opportunity to interact with the communities who live there.
The experience is more of insight into times gone by than of the current way of life here: the majority of the Uros tribe have moved to the mainland in order to gain better access to schools and hospitals. Those who remain on the islands wear the traditional bright outfits during the day to please the tourists.
That being said, the native dress is visually stunning, and you may even be encouraged to don the traditional garb yourself for a fun photo or two. You can also pay extra for a trip on the traditional reed boats, which I thoroughly recommend. If you get the opportunity, sit down for a good old chat with community, as you will get a much more interesting and informative insight into their current way of life than you would through a camera lens.
Play football at high altitude in Cusco
Cusco is most famous for its historical attractions and spectacular architecture. However, it’s also a popular city for hostel-goers to let their hair down and party. There is a multitude of clubs, and cocktails can be purchased at a very low cost. Combine alcohol with high altitude, and a couple of drinks on a night out can leave you with quite a hangover.
If this is the case, force yourself out of bed and sign up for a morning of football at high altitude. Again, most of the hostels will organise daily activities such as this to keep you amused on your trip. A game of football provides the opportunity to get out of the hustle and bustle of the centre of Cusco and try something a bit different.
Be warned, even the most athletic individuals can massively under-perform at high-altitude. A couple of minutes running about will probably leave you panting on the ground. On the plus side, you will return to your hostel feeling fit, refreshed, and ready to explore the city.
Spend the day working on an Inca farm
If playing football is not your cup of tea, but you still want to get physical outdoors, sign up to spend a day working on an Inca farm on the outskirts of Cusco. You will spend the morning being taught about the crops that grow in the region, traditional forms of farming, and some of the medicinal qualities of local plants and herbs.
With hoe in hand, you will then be put to work turning the earth and making it fertile for the crops. After you have really broken a sweat, the farmer on hand serves up a delicious lunch on the edge of the field. Again this is a great opportunity to get a real insight into local traditions and culture, away from the tourist traps located in the centre of the city.
Peru is a haven for lovers of international cuisine, offering a vast array of mouth-watering dishes including lomo saltado, anticuchos, and tender alpaca steak. One of the most popular dishes in Peru is ceviche: raw fish marinated in citrus juice and spiced with chilli, accompanied by a selection of side dishes including sweet potato, plantain, and avocado.
If you cannot bring yourself to try some of the more imaginative Peruvian delicacies (guinea pig, or cui, immediately comes to mind), at least sample a plate of ceviche, as the unique texture and flavours of this dish are truly a match made in heaven. Most restaurants in Lima will serve up ceviche for a moderate price, but if you head to the coastal areas in Northern Peru, you are sure to find restaurants serving it a fraction of the price.
Do you have any budget tips to add? Leave a comment